I was at a job interview a while back and the interviewer noticed that I had “futurist” on my social network profile and asked me the question above. So I responded with “there are different kinds of futurists?” The question took me aback because I figured that everyone pretty much knew what a futurist was – one who envisions and creates future scenarios along many different axis (economic, social, demographic etc.) and attempts to use those scenarios in order to develop plans, products and services. And she responded with “Well, are you one of those ‘crazy’ kinds of futurists?” I asked her to elaborate, since futurists all have a bit of a crazy bent: “You know, always thinking about crazy out of the box ideas, thinking that the world is going to go in all these weird directions, kind of nutty” So while I assured her that I wasn’t one of those “crazy” futurists, I got to thinking, well, we do have to attempt to project future scenarios and some of those scenarios could get to be pretty extreme.
That’s not to say that they are any more or less valid than others. Envisioning a future is easy (well to most futurists I know) – envisioning the right future, well that’s nearly impossible. So some scenarios may seem crazy, but then flying planes into buildings was never thought of as a viable terrorist option until 9/11. Who knows, if the US government had futurists on staff looking at the trends in terrorism prior to that, maybe we would have thought the unthinkable and possibly could have changed the course of those events.
That’s what a futurist should do – think the unthinkable, so that it becomes thinkable. And if that seems crazy, so be it.