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Deciphering Futures Studies
Futures Studies draws upon multiple local and global fields of knowledge such as economics, politics, sustainability,security and technology

Futures Studies draws upon multiple local and global fields of knowledge such as economics, politics, sustainability, security and technology to enhance your ability to identify opportunities and mitigate risks – thereby providing a clearer vision of a potential future.

In their piece Futures Studies: Theories and Methods, OpenMind discusses one of the key reasons why Futures Studies is increasingly important to organisations:

“As the world has become increasingly risky – at least in perception, if not in fact – futures studies has been eagerly adopted by executive leadership teams and planning departments in organizations, institutions and nations throughout the world. While futures studies sits comfortably as an executive function by providing the big picture, there remain tangible tensions between the planning and futures frameworks. Planning seeks to control and close the future, while futures studies seeks to open up the future, moving from ‘the’ future to alternative futures.”

What is Futures Studies?

Futures, Futurology, Strategic Foresight, Prospective Studies or Prognostics – these are the some of the names that Futures Studies goes by. Sohail Inayatullah, one of the world’s leading experts in Futures Studies, defines this field as “the study of possible, probable and preferred futures, and the world views and myths that underlie them”.

Futures Studies is claimed by many to be a “new” field of study. However, Ziauddin Sardar (The Namesake: Futures; futures studies; futurology; futuristic; foresight—What’s in a name?, 2009), a London-based scholar, award-winning writer and cultural critic, points out that the field of Futures Studies has been around longer than some people think:

“As a subject of inquiry with a body of learned literature, recognisable knowledge base, and definable contour of concepts, methodologies, practices and processes, futures studies is now well over 50 years old. Indeed, some people trace the history of futures explorations much further. But there seems to be little awareness of this history.”

Despite the confusion around the naming of the field, or how long it has actually existed, the growing interest in Futures Studies highlights how modern society is increasingly becoming aware of the impact of the rapid rate of change, and how a dedicated area of expertise is needed to help us plot our path into the future.

Why is Futures Studies important?

Futures Studies is about designing the desired future for your organisation. Also, Futures Studies is inextricably linked to strategic management and strategic planning. This means it is concerned with making better decisions – decisions that will future-proof your organisation. It involves the systematic exploration of possible and desirable futures to improve your decision-making abilities and to put into place the policies, strategies and actions needed to realise them. Scenario planning, a component of Futures Studies, is critical to the success of organisations.

Even some of the greatest minds have suffered a lack of foresight. The examples below highlight why a futurist education is critical to ensure continued success:

  • “There is no reason for an individual to have a computer at home,” Ken Olsen, Chairman of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), 1978.
  • “I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked to the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out this year,” Business book editor of Prentice Hall, 1957.
  • “Everything that can be invented has been invented,” Charles H Duell, Commissioner, US Office of Patents, 1899.
  • ”Airplanes are interesting toys, but of no military value,” Marsall Ferdinand Foch, 1911.
  • ”Worldwide demand for cars will never exceed one million, primarily because of a limitation in the number of available chauffeurs,” a research report to Mercedes Benz, 1901.

Who should consider a qualification in futures studies?

Futures Studies will appeal to graduates involved in long-term decision-making, strategic planning and/or management. This field of study is not limited to those who undertook specific paths of education.

What are the benefits?

  • You will significantly enhance your decision-making and strategy-setting skills by improving your understanding of the elements that influence the future.
  • You will gain greater knowledge of the complexity, pace and impact of global change.
  • You will acquire the professional and intellectual skills required for recognition as a professional futurist.
  • The skills you develop will help you build a career path to senior management roles in public and private institutions.
  • You will receive an officially recognised postgraduate qualification in Futures Studies.

USB’s Futures Studies programme

Futures Studies is a necessary tool for leaders, managers and strategists who want to successfully navigate our rapidly evolving world. The University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) is the only business school in Africa to offer a Postgraduate Diploma in Futures StudiesMPhil in Futures Studies and PhD in Futures Studies. If you are interested in finding out more about USB’s Futures Studies programmes, visit our website. From here you can download the programme brochures, or access each course and get a detailed breakdown on each path. You can also find out more about how this programme will impact your future from one of our Futures Studies alumni, here.

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