The world around us is changing rapidly, although anyone who has been around a while on this planet recognizes that in one way or another, discontinuous change is the status quo. What really matters is what that change is made of and how much of a role we play in shaping it.
Futurists, coaches, sustainability advocates, gerontologists, and many others have a vested interest in understanding and shaping change in ways that impact the future for the better. Yet there is a trend in these fields and many others that seems decidedly stuck in the past: an antiquated notion of professionalization.
Experts and experts-in-training understandably want to ensure that their field has credibility and the potential to make a living. I agree that both are important. In my new book Gray is the New Green, I am wholeheartedly in support of making money from doing what we love and getting beyond the shame so many of us hold about valuing profit. Without profit, we cannot make a difference in the world. It’s that simple.
But the trend I’m seeing seems to neglect the most important part: futures that matter. Professionalization just for the sake of earning a credential and making money goes hand in hand with the outmoded view of education as a means to an end, rather than a means in and of itself. Futurists, for example, are talking about bringing more of academia into the field, building programs that more clearly (and more narrowly) define what a futurist is for the sake of earning credentials and therefore a living. But credentials do not equal profit. There’s an enormous gap in that equation—the people we serve.
In a world increasingly recognizing the value, even the necessity, of holistic thinking, I think it’s a mistake to focus on narrowing our field rather than broadening it and seeing where it intersects with our other skills, gifts, and experience. Further, focusing on professionalization is a focus on ourselves when the problem with our field lies with a lack of focus on the needs of the people we serve.
Credentials are a valuable way for people to distinguish among individuals in a field, and I absolutely support the idea in theory. But in practice, if those credentials are simply built upon another floor atop the ivory tower, they will distance us even further from the people who need us most.
When people tell me that they don’t really understand what a futurist is, answering with a list of futurist jargon does not really answer their question. What people really want to know when asking what “futurist” means is “What does a futurist mean to me and my organization or business? Why should I care or champion professional futurists?”
That is the question we should be answering as professionals, and it applies to every field. Simply replace “futuring” and “futurist” with the field relevant to you and see how well you and your colleagues are answering the right questions.
If we can’t teach others what futuring means and why it matters, we can have as many acronyms as we like at the ends of our names. They won’t matter, and neither will futurists.
Do you see similar trends in your field? What can you do to refocus the conversation?