When you hear the word futurist, what comes to mind? You might think about those fortune teller stands at the fair — for $50, you can learn at what age you’ll die, if you will ever find true love, and address any other deep-seated insecurities. But where fortune tellers will root their predictions in divine forces and mystical unexplained powers, futurists make their predictions based on stone cold facts. A futurist is a kind of consultant who makes predictions based on future trends they identify. Their point of view can even impact how companies design products or how communities run their outreach, which makes being a futurist officially one of the coolest jobs of all time.
“When I was younger I didn’t know this job existed, so I often ask myself how I ended up with it,” Ford’s in-house futurist, Sheryl Connelly, tells Bustle. “What I really wanted to do was be an artist. But when I look back I feel like it was divine intervention or that it was my destiny.”
Futurists like Connelly spend their days recognizing trends, explaining why they’re recognizing it, and suggests how the trend might make an impact on a global scale — so that brands can take advantage of that forward-thinking insight for their future products. Sound complex? I agree, which is why I was surprised to learn that it’s a field that anyone can fall into — among other mind-blowing facts about this job. Here are 12 things all future futurists should know about this unconventional career path.
1. It Doesn’t Require A Particular Degree
You don’t need to study futurism in order to be a futurist. In fact, many students may not even realize that this job exists. Connelly made her way into futurism by accident— she began working at Ford’s call center, answering the 1-800 line. “I studied finance in undergrad, I went to law school, I had an MBA,” Connelly says. “I never thought I was preparing for a role of a futurist, and don’t think that’s the secret recipe so to speak, but for me — finance taught me the fundamentals, the MBA taught me how to apply strategy to the real world, and the law degree has been very helpful in terms of research.”
But! If you *do* want to study it, there’s now a program for that. “You can get a degree in futuring now — in Texas or Hawaii,” Connelly says. “Anyone can do it: if you have discipline, and constantly ask how and why and where, and back it up with very well articulated point of view, then you’ll convince others.”
2. There’s No Fortune Telling Involved
A common misconception is that futurism is all palm reading, tea leaf-ing, and tarot card interpreting — but this couldn’t be further from the case. “To have the title of futurist is daunting, because people scoff and giggle,” Connelly says. “They want to know where your crystal ball is, or what the winning lottery number will be. These are real frequent questions I receive!” In reality, futurism is about being able to back up your point with a very rational, well researched, persuasive argument.
3. You Must Pay Close Attention To Trends
The key to being a futurist is identifying trends, being able to explain why they’re important, as well as what the underlying drivers are and what the implications will be to the world at large. “Trends start to become a common vernacular in big businesses,” Connelly says. “It helps us communicate more efficiently, because people from all different departments can refer to them.”
4. It Involves A Lot Of Reading
A futurist will spend the majority of their time collecting and analyzing information, in order to develop their unique vantage point. “I spend a lot of time reading,” Connelly says. “You have to do the research to come up with your point of view, and then once you have that, the rest of your time is spent cascading and communicating it throughout the organization.”
5. Your Work Will Have Global Implications
When you start thinking like a futurist, you can’t help but apply your ideology to every train of thought that enters your mind. “As a futurist, I’m always asking people to step back and take another look,” Connelly says. “It creates a much broader viewpoint: you no longer focus on just local effects, but you try to see the big picture. It’s all connected.”
6. You Will Collaborate With A Lot Of People
Since trend reporting and referrals have become a shared commonality amongst different industries and professions, futurists will often work with many different people: from engineers and designers, to PR departments or CEOs. “An important step is collaborating and working individually with several teams,” Connelly says. “Together, you’ll look for ways to integrate your insights. What’s really critical is that you’re constantly finding ways to bring people on board.”
7. Patience Is A Virtue
When you’re predicting future trends and phenomenons, the truth is, you won’t be able to see the immediate impact of your work — at least for some time. That’s where patience comes in. “I always focus on some form of manifestation so that the work can make a difference,” Connelly says. “But you won’t always know the ripple effect that you’ll have, so you’ll have to be patient.”
8. You Can’t Actually Predict The Future
Of course, futurists don’t actually predict the future for a living. “As a futurist, my job is to remind people that no one can predict the future,” Connelly says. “What I do is push back on the status quo and expect the unexpected. I consider the physical realities, the economic affect, etc.” Instead, they take into account all possibilities and extremes, and try to prepare for a range of different outcomes.
9. Your Work Can Impact The Way Products Are Designed
As Ford’s in-house futurist, Connelly’s work has impacted the company’s product design by reminding them that a large portion of the population is aging. “There’s a big segment of the country that will soon be over the age of 60, and we need to start thinking about how we can service their needs,” Connelly says. “When someone gets older they have delayed response time, impaired vision, and limited range of motion. My job is input this to designers and engineers, encouraging them to address the needs of an aging population before the fact, but to do it in a way that appeals to consumers that are both 16 or 61.”
10. You’ll Learn To Think Differently
Once you’re a futurist, you’ll begin questioning everything you do and it’s impact on society — it’s an unavoidable side effect of the job. “As you start to think this way, you apply it to every train of thought,” Connelly says. “This is what a company would do, but how can I apply this to my family? Or to my community? Or even my kids? It’s about sparking new ideas by constantly asking yourself ‘If this, then what?’”
11. Most People Practice It & Don’t Even Realize it
We are all futurists at heart and probably don’t even know it! The reality is, most of us know that we can’t actually predict the future, but we still subconsciously try to do so everyday. “When you get married, you assume it’ll last a lifetime, and when you make an investment you assume it will pay off in the long run,” Connelly says. “But what happens if those things don’t play out? That’s where futurism kicks in.”
Despite her thrilling, constantly-evolving career path, Connelly hopes to encourage anyone who might feel frustrated or lost in their current professional fields. “I do the orientation for new hires, and I know that there’s someone in the audience that feels the same way I did,” Connelly says. “Thinking, ‘I’m not sure I’m on the right path, how did I get here, where am I going?’ I really believe things work out how they’re supposed to,” And hey, if a futurist predicts that good things lie ahead — their vision is bound to become true.