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Technology Forecasting: Think Like a Futurist

January 15, 2016

[Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.]

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Futurists are scientists whose specialty is futurology, or, the attempt to systematically explore predictions and possibilities about the future. Specifically, futurists examine how solutions emerge from the present. No crystal ball, no Ouija board, just solid methods and tools.

Futurists tie relevant dynamics together to get to the probability of a technology’s potential success using:

  • Qualitative analysis that can be operationalized (i.e., turned into something measurable or quantitative) or used as a narrative to support certain findings or conclusions.
  • Quantitative analysis is [or should be] the use of numbers – in whatever form – to gauge probabilities.
  • Mixed methods combine both qualitative and quantitative and can provide rich detail as to how society may/may not accept and adopt a particular technological fix.

Q: Are futurists always correct?

A: That’s not really the point.

[What? Seriously?] Yep. Futurists aren’t fortune tellers, psychics or soothsayers. Futurists take the long view, researching and analyzing patterns, trends, behaviors, gaps, needs, and wants, and couple those with a smidgen of imagination. Oddly, the futurist’s success does not depend upon a track record of being correct 100% of the time. On the other hand, we could easily conclude that one would be a pretty crummy futurist if they were wrong most of the time. (In that case, the aspiring futurist should probably not quit their day job.)

As to being wrong, some of the coolest surprises in research arise out of lessons learned. Technology forecasting is about the big picture with a focus on a roadmap to get there. Roadmaps are developed rationally, which is why some of the wilder SciFi technology predictions don’t always come to fruition, especially in the way the predictions were imagined.

Technology forecasting has become a critical component to developing strategy. Forecasts of this type provide the framework for technology management plans and, therefore, answer the question of how to get from the present state to the goal state. Even if an organization is not classified as a technology company, technology forecasting matters because technology is inherent in our everyday work.

Challenge: As you move through your day, take mental note of some of the problems you encounter that you’d like to see solved. Think about the current state and imagine the desired state:

  • How would you systematically get there?
  • Is it realistic?
  • What would be a potential timeframe?
  • What about the people involved: is the change reasonable?
  • Can major constraints or challenges be overcome within the context of ROI?

Innovation is not accidental, and it isn’t always logical. If imagined solutions might not work today, perhaps they will be in the [near or mid-range] future.

Thinking like a futurist requires adopting a systematic approach that deviates from our current comfort zones. After all, can you imagine a futurist saying “because we’ve always done it that way“…Nah, me neither.

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