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Futures Studies? Is that a study field? Do you need a crystal ball? Does this mean you can predict the future?

These are some of the questions that are asked when one speaks about Futures Studies.  To put you at ease, if you do ever want to venture into the field of Futures Studies, you don’t need a crystal ball and no predictions are made.

Why study the future?

But what then is the purpose of Futures Studies? The best response I have found thus far is by Prof Phillip Spies, founder-director of the Institute for Futures Research (IFR) at the University of Stellenbosch Business School: “The ultimate purpose of Futures Studies is not to predict the future. Its ultimate purpose is to create a desired future through better foresight development and better long term decision making.”

People who venture into the field of Futures Studies are often referred to as Futurists, therefore aim to assist organisations to make sense of where they want to go. Futurists are typically trained to identify current trends and then help map out possible future scenarios or future states for the organisation or even an industry.

The one great benefit of Futures Studies is that the future does not exist and therefore there is a vast landscape of possibilities. You might have also noticed that the plural form of future is specifically used and the main reason for this is that there is always more than one future, therefore Futurists will also ways refer to multiple plausible futures.

What skills does a futurist then bring to a business?

In the world we currently live in there is the danger to be so focused on survival and the day to day activity that the idea of looking to the future seems almost absurd, but to survive during a major disruption, organisations should undoubtedly be more innovative, creative and think out of the box.

A good Futurist is therefore trained to assist an organisation strategically and creatively and therefore raising awareness of different options. To unpack what this means, Prof Andy Hines, Associate Professor and Programme Coordinator at the University of Houston’s Foresight (FORE) Graduate Program, explains it best: “The strategic entails bringing a greater understanding of the future to bear on current decisions. Herein lies strategic planning, scenarios, forecasting, technology assessment and the like. The creative entails bringing fresh thinking to businesses stuck in their self-constructed ‘boxes’ and generating new ideas and business opportunities. For this, we have environmental scanning, trend analysis, cross-impact matrixes and a host of creative thinking tools.”

In summary, a futurist’s services should ultimately translate into good decision making in the current for the long term. Helping organisations to rehearse for the future so that when that future presents itself the organisation is prepared and ready or allowing the organisation to now already start making decisions to enable the desired future. So here’s to creating the futures we all want.

Watch: Doris Viljoen, Senior Futurist at the IFR, shares a few key reasons why a futurist can assist during a crisis.

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