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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Getting a handle on a changing world

Like a 40 mile an hour wind at our backs, the world is constantly changing. How can you get a handle on all these changes, and how do you discern which ones are important and which are just passing fads. Consider an in-house futurist.
As the New York Times recently advertised on their website for a Futurist for its R&D group, the ideal candidate:
• is highly imaginative and well informed about the social and technology trends affecting creation, distribution and consumption of all forms of media now and in the future
• has an innate curiosity and a passion for ideas; with a facility for market research data and who can use it to vividly paint a picture of how the world around us is evolving
Every day, we get sucked into busy-ness - putting out fires, creating reports, attending meetings, answering emails. Which doesn't leave much time for thinking about what really matters - navigating the future. Someone needs to be able to look hard into the distance while others are watching for what's coming around the next corner.
Beyond the traits mentioned by the NY Times, your futurist:
• should voraciously read not just industry and trade pubs, but also general business news - because big insights and ideas typically come from outside your industry
• must listen for "the buzz", and keep abreast of influential thinkers, bloggers and publications
• must understand and empathize with end-users - their feelings, concerns, motivations and practices
• should be empowered to serve as company protagonist - challenging conventional wisdom and practices, pushing you to think beyond the usual to reach for the extraordinary. 
Last but not least, your futurist will help you provide a critical and differentiating "right-brain" perspective in a left-brain dominant world.

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