A few years ago now, I gave an interview to people who were developing career resources for people who wanted to be foresighters. I found a copy of my email the other day and thought it would be useful to reproduce on my blog, so here it is (with some editing to keep it current).
What kind of person does it take to succeed in running your own consulting company?
Someone who has a clearly defined vision and purpose for running the business in the first place – without that, you wander all over the place in terms of work, taking what comes. It sounds easy enough but it’s taken me nearly 10 years to work out the purpose of my business. Of course, you need business skills to keep on top of the financial side, and social skils – website, social media, marketing, networking. The ability to deal with uncertain cash flows is also important because in my experience not everyone will pay on time!
What do you think is the best training to be a successful consulting futurist?
Training in foresight first and foremost: anyone can call themselves a futurist (which is why I don’t call myself that) and that’s why the professional field has a hard time positioning itself effectively. Then knowing about sales, negotiation etc is critical to find the clients you want to work with and who want to work with you.
How would you describe your ‘futuring style’?
Practical, open and collaborative. Working with staff as well as senior managers is important for me. All my projects begin with a step where staff are invited to share their views about the future of their organisaiton – that’s important for me if we are going to move beyond the idea that only senior managers can think strategically.
Why futures? WHat was the moment when you said this profession is for you?
I remember it well. Joseph Voros worked with me to set up a foresight system at Swinburne University of Technology and it was building in momentum nicely. Joe left to become an academic and we got a new Vice-Chancellor to whom I reported. He wasn’t interested in the least about foresight (his brain was good enough he once said to me). About six months after he arrived, I realised he had taken every foresight element out of the strategy process and had effectively taken over my job, leaving me to do things like government reportiong, quality audits and student surveys. That other other things that happened made me realise I had a values clash with me, which was one reason to leave, but the other, more life changing realisataion was that I could not work in any organisation that didn’t value foresight and actively use it. That was the moment I realised I wanted to do foresight as my career. I decided to leave Swinburne, moved to Victoria Unviersity which was more foresight friendly, and three years later left to set up Thinking Futures. I know now that I see the world in ways that are more inclusive, more open and more empathetic.
What kind of future do you think consulting futurists have and where do you wish to see growth in the field?
The future is ours to shape. Right now, we seem to be constrained by thinking of the field as too diverse, as have too many methodologies, as having no common core and while that is probably correct if thinking in conventional terms, we should be able to move beyond that to imagine a future where consulting futurists are valued. My work is about capacity building rather than ROI outcomes so for me, doing myself out of a job would be a good outcome. For me, growth is needed in terms of how people in organisations understand how to use the future today, and to integrate that knowledge into inhouse programs and workshops on a continuing basis. Bringing foresight people into help in the initial stages is probably needed, but the aim should always be to embed foresight into the DNA of the organisation.
What would you tell the little girl or new female grad student who is interested in foreisght/futures studies?
Go for it. Trust yourself. Be persistent. Be brave and move out of your comfort zone. building your profile well and early on. Make connections in your field and and nurture them. Share your thinking as much as possible.