I gave a presentation for the student association of futures studies at the Turku School of Economics. The students had organized a career day, during which a few futures thinkers told about their work. I was glad to be one of them.
Based on the questions I got from the organizer, I wrote my script in the form of an interview, so it can be easily used in other contexts as well. The 40-minute presentation consisted of three major themes.
How did I end up doing what I do?
I’m a sociologist by education. I was and still am interested in how the society and communities function. Sociology is a good foundation for futures thinking. I have no formal education for futures studies, even though I admit it could be useful.
I have always been fascinated by the energy and creativity of youth subcultures. I did my master’s thesis about the graffiti subculture in Finland. My focus was on the graffiti writer’s ”career” within the subculture.
Trends are often created in subcultures. Subcultures may be trends in itself. That was a logical starting point when I started doing trendspotting for the Finnish agency 15/30. They are also specialized in youth research. I got hooked right away.
I had no career plan. I still don’t. I’m nevertheless quite aware of what I’m good at, and what I should learn more about. I work around my core passion: understanding the present and the future by writing, thinking, and speaking. I’m happy that I’m able to do this with my interesting and intelligent colleagues at Kopla Helsinki, and with the people of Futures Specialists Helsinki.
During the past years, I’ve been interested in the changing nature of knowledge work. First of all, I wanted to understand how my own work is changing, and how I should develop my working methods. I have been writing a lot about work, and that has created a demand for speeches and presentations too.
What have I learned so far?
My approach is a combination of futures thinking, sociological thinking and consumer insight. I want to use both quantitative and qualitative data as much as possible, but there needs to be room for visionary and imaginary thinking as well. I want to anticipate positive futures, even though the world seems quite confusing at the moment.
Finnish companies are quite aware of trends and foresight and working methods related to them. It’s getting better all the time. The trend analysis done among big Finnish consumer brands is usually of high quality. The companies use both Finnish and foreign agencies.
I’m naturally a quite abstract thinker. With clients, you have to be really concrete and hands-on. I’m working on that all the time. The clients do not like theories or obscure terminology.
Trend agencies often create their own words for trends and exaggerate things. It’s a double-edged sword. By overemphasizing change we often fail to see what’s permanent in human behavior. I come up with new terms if it’s absolutely necessary. On stage, you have to be a little bit of a showman, otherwise, it’s simply too boring.
In business, it’s always about the benefits. What do we gain by understanding trends? Do trends lead to innovation and new products? How is foresight related to strategy? You have to be able to articulate the benefits as clearly as possible.
What kind of advice can I give?
I don’t know where the jobs are. Who does? In this situation, you may need to create your own job. Quite a few futurists work independently and have their own little companies. They are able to move across different sectors, from private to public and non-profits.
It may sound cheesy and narcissistic, but it’s good to build your own personal brand. Write a blog, be active on social media, create different kinds of face-to-face networks. It’s not about advertising yourself. It’s about making your work transparent. Don’t hide your expertise. With an interesting online presence, you can be found. It’s a sign of passion.
Information is like food. If you have a bad diet, you end up thinking lousy thoughts. Optimize your information streams. Be aware of the bubble effect. Read things other people don’t read. Also, meet different kinds of people all the time. Move between the highest quality science and the scary forums in the deep web.
Be ready to unlearn. Lifelong learning requires unlearning. Identify your rotten thoughts and get rid of them. Thinking is complex and social. Many of our mental frameworks date back to the industrial era. In the new world of work, we have to abandon many of our old assumptions. The best practice is not the next practice.