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Thinking Like a Futurist: Key Skills for Future-proofing and Preparing  if You Don’t Want to be Disrupted!

Foresight Documents
  • 08 Oct 23
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Thinking Like a Futurist: Key Skills for Future-proofing and Preparing if You Don’t Want to be Disrupted!

Key Takeaways:

  • Futuristic Thinking is poised to become an indispensable skill in the future. In the present, predicting the world's trajectory has become increasingly challenging, as simultaneous changes stem from multiple converging factors. Numerous unprecedented crises demand immediate and agile responses.
  • Many countries and leading organizations prioritize the cultivation of Futuristic Thinking among their personnel.
  • Futurists will play a pivotal role in preparing organizations for the future. They aid in strategic planning, enhance organizational cultural analysis for future integration of talented individuals, foster marketplace differentiation, and provide nuanced insights into pros and cons.
  • Futuristic Thinking is a trainable skill. Therefore, everyone should cultivate and refine this skill to be ready to tackle challenges and stride confidently towards the envisioned future.

 Currently, the world is undergoing rapid transformations, transitioning from a foreseeable future to an era of uncertainty and heightened vulnerability. Simultaneous changes can arise from a multitude of converging factors. Thus, we must no longer perceive change solely through one lens. Furthermore, many unprecedented crises emerge, demanding immediate and adaptive responses. Without altering our approach, we risk being inadequately prepared and ultimately disrupted.
One way to comprehend these developments, prepare for opportunities, and confront challenges in the future is through the practice of Futuristic Thinking. Futurists employ skills to envision the future, utilizing Futuristic Thinking, a highly significant and essential aptitude in both the present and forthcoming eras.
Why is Futuristic Thinking crucial both in the current era and the future?
Looking back several decades, who would have thought that mobile phones would evolve to perform such a multitude of functions, or that Artificial Intelligence (AI) would make human life easier and work more manageable? However, there have always been individuals who could foresee these developments well in advance – the futurists.
Futurists possess the skill to envision the future and employ Foresight or futures studies to systematically comprehend what lies ahead. They integrate diverse forms of data and various factors, encompassing both qualitative and quantitative aspects, to analyze together. The answers yielded by Foresight are not singular, as the possible future scenarios are diverse, resulting in scenarios.
The Foresight process begins by looking back to trace various transformational paths. Subsequently, there's Horizon Scanning, involving the constant and regular monitoring and analysis of changes. This involves detecting Signals, which differ from the Trends we're accustomed to. Signals are small indicators that might not be significant as present Trends but could develop into major Trends in the future. It's crucial to identify these Signals and analyze how they might become driving forces for various changes.
The next step involves creating a Web of Impact, drawing on multiple disciplines and expertise, from business knowledge and societal understanding to technology, environment, psychology, and even health. This encompasses values, attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions that will change in the next 10 to 20 years. From here, various future scenarios are developed.
Upon completing these steps, strategists and strategic planners can translate these scenarios into plans, strategies, or organizational guidelines. This Foresight process can be applied to organizational planning, whether in government or private sectors, and even on a national scale to drive economic and national development.


Image credit: The Times

When discussing renowned futurists, Ray Kurzweil inevitably comes to mind. In 1990, he foretold future trends through his book "The Age of Intelligent Machines," accurately predicting 115 out of 145 events. Kurzweil's prophecies have been strikingly accurate. Some of his significant predictions include the foresight that before the year 2000, computers would surpass human expertise in chess. Indeed, in 1997, IBM's supercomputer Deep Blue defeated the world chess champion, Garry Kasparov.
Another noteworthy prediction was that the internet, once a novelty, would become an everyday necessity by 1990. Kurzweil also claimed that the internet wouldn't merely grow in user count, but would eventually pervade every aspect of life. Despite having just 2.6 million users out of a total of over 5 billion people back then, internet access wasn't straightforward.
Imagine if we could foresee the present trends and the emergence of powerful Generative AI technologies like ChatGPT, DALL-E, and Midjourney a decade in advance. This would give us ample time to prepare ourselves adequately for the opportunities and challenges they bring. At the very least, it would be better than being unprepared, as Generative AI has both positive and negative consequences.
Generative AI could enhance human efficiency while potentially replacing some tasks, as per Goldman Sachs. The advancement of General AI might lead to global job displacement, affecting over 300 million workers worldwide. The concept of upskilling and reskilling would be vital to be ready for the forthcoming wave.


Image credit: Envatoelements

If we possess foresight, we can proactively upskill and reskill ourselves from the outset, whether as individuals or within the context of organizations. A strategic approach might involve devising strategies to cope with the advent of Generative AI, investing in this technology, exploring ways to harness it to enhance organizational productivity across various sectors, and ensuring that employees are proficient in utilizing this technology effectively.
Governments, too, play a significant role in shaping the trajectory of technological adoption. By investing in Generative AI, they can bolster their countries' competitive advantage. Furthermore, adjusting educational curricula to incorporate upskilling and reskilling programs empowers the populace to effectively engage with this evolving technology. This strategic approach not only prepares individuals for the dynamically changing job landscape but also positions them for roles where the unique human touch remains irreplaceable by technology.
Therefore, individuals with forward-thinking skills akin to those of futurists are poised for greater success. Their ability to anticipate future events provides them with a distinct advantage. Armed with such foresight, they can effectively prepare to navigate through these transformations, setting them apart from those who remain unaware and unprepared for the shifts that lie ahead.
Why do present organizations require futurists to assist in facing digital disruption?
Many organizational leaders understand the necessity of preparing their organizations for the future, yet they still encounter numerous challenges. While it may be relatively simple to analyze current data and strategize for the next 1-3 years, what about 5 or 10 years from now?


Image credit: Envatoelements

The World Economic Forum has indicated that a staggering 75% of current organizations are not prepared for changes within their own industries and related ones. Additionally, almost 40% of CEOs don't believe their organizations will have economic viability in the decades to come if they continue with business as usual.
Clearly, it is a significant challenge to define a clear direction for the organization's future path and how to differentiate from competitors. 
Presently, many organizations are beginning to take a keen interest in foresight and are emphasizing the importance of having a workforce that possesses future-focused skills. This is essential for analyzing outcomes, devising strategies, and creating action plans. Countries like Singapore, Finland, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia have adopted this approach, as well as leading international organizations like the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). They are utilizing future-oriented perspectives to plan economic, social, governance, and national security developments in the long term. It's not surprising that this profession is highly sought after by prominent organizations.
Even in Thailand, the importance of future outlooks has been recognized. For instance, the Electronic Transactions Development Agency (ETDA) has established the ETDA Foresight Center. This center functions as a think tank, tracking signals and trends in electronic transactions to form the basis for developing future projections. These insights are then used to formulate policy recommendations and drive economic and social development.
This movement encompasses various activities, including the establishment of tools and databases, case studies, and cross-sectoral collaborations both domestically and internationally. The aim is to provide accurate and trustworthy future-oriented studies that can inform planning and adaptation for future changes. This serves as a starting point for fostering collaboration and partnerships among various entities going forward.
How can futurists help improve our organization? 
Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, various dimensions, such as the economy, society, environment, and technology, have undergone significant changes. Organizations that fail to adapt quickly will face severe consequences. However, this is not the last event that will accelerate change in our world. In this uncertain world, there are many other events posing ongoing challenges to organizations, both in terms of strategic planning and responsiveness.


Therefore, organizations must rely on futurists to provide a clearer picture of the future, allowing them to prepare for upcoming opportunities and challenges. Here are five key ways in which futurists can transform your organization:
1. Enhance strategic planning capabilities
By forecasting the future before strategizing, enabling creative thinking that goes beyond current problem-solving and better preparing the organization for the future.
2. Provide culture analysis and talent attraction
Identify the culture that will drive organizational success and pinpoint future opportunities, enabling the attraction and retention of talented individuals who seek an organizational culture that aligns with their values and offers valuable learning experiences.
3. Create market differentiation 
Futurists study the market, identify opportunities for innovation, analyze future trends among competitors, and provide actionable strategies to help organizations stand out in the market
4. Uncover deep insights from stakeholders
For example, analyze customers' needs for the next 10 years to understand how products and proposals can be adapted and changed to meet their expectations.
5. Foster preparedness for the future 
Engage in horizon scanning activities to anticipate what lies ahead and cultivate a shared understanding among individuals within the organization regarding recommended practices and responses.
It can be seen that having futurists in an organization can bring significant value. Based on common perceptions, one might think that futurists must be individuals in the technology field, with advanced degrees or specialized education. The good news is that anyone can learn and organizations can cultivate a futurist mindset and foster future thinking skills among their employees.
Unleashing the Futurist Thinking Approach Anyone Can Learn


Image credit: Envatoelements

Let's explore what it takes to develop a futurist mindset. Here are some key aspects: 
1. Mastering the art of questioning
Strategically planning from the past to the present is crucial because it indicates our current position. Regardless, we should set goals to hypothesize and evaluate the impacts of our decisions today.
2. Embracing curiosity and courage to start a new
Be open to new and challenging ideas, share thoughts and concerns with others, while being receptive to counterarguments and different perspectives. 
3. Embracing uncertainty and diverse perspectives 
Understand that organizations can have multiple future scenarios and various options depending on the interactions within the organization (e.g., employees) and external entities (e.g., partners, customers).
4. Avoid hasty decision-making 
Beware of biases that may lead to distorted conclusions. Avoid using phrases that create prejudice, such as "That will never happen" or "This is just a passing trend."
5. Be (wildly) creative
Explore signals, trends, and new ideas about the future to the fullest extent. Don't dismiss any ideas proposed by the team or partners, allowing for discussions and exchange of creative thoughts. 
6. Seeking trends or ideas about the future from current situations
Find trends or ideas about the future from organizations or researchers with a creative perspective on the future. Consider works presented by creative designers, poets, philosophers, writers, musicians, or creators who oppose or challenge widely accepted culture or values. Also, listen to children's opinions, providing numerous new ideas and perspectives about the future. 
7. Adopting a long-term perspective
This includes envisioning the future in 5, 10, and 20 years. Furthermore, if we start to look at the future in 50, 100, 200, or even 500 years, we will realize that everything can change. This opens up exciting opportunities and limitless creative ideas about the future. 
8. Focusing on mutual benefits for all parties 
When analyzing and predicting the future, consider the mutual benefits for countries, organizations, and communities. Strive to move forward together. 
9. Being cautious in forecasting the future
Future predictions often involve biases, inclinations, and various limitations. Predictions should focus on trends and creating expectations that can change over time. The design of the future is an ongoing process and should be regularly reviewed. 
10. Keeping the question "What should we do?" for the end
During the process of designing the future, we may encounter ideas that make us eager to turn them into reality within a few years. However, these ideas often have a high chance of not being future-oriented due to insufficient or incomplete information. To achieve unrestricted and innovative thinking, it is crucial to complete the future planning process and keep the question "What should we do?" as the final step. 
As you can see, developing futurist thinking skills is not difficult or distant. It requires training and, most importantly, an open mind to listen and gather opinions from team members. These skills are highly beneficial in our daily lives, helping us plan our personal future and contribute to the development of organizations and countries. 
Now it's your turn! We invite you to imagine what your future or your organization will look like in 5, 10, and 20 years. What are the possible scenarios, challenges, and how will you plan to cope with them? Finally, the Foresight Center by ETDA hopes that you, as a reader, will take part in shaping the future and be prepared for whatever comes your way.

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a technology that operates intelligently, reaching advanced systems capable of simulating human thought processes. This includes tasks like calculation and data analysis through complex machine learning algorithms trained on large datasets.
  • Generative AI is a specific type of Artificial Intelligence designed to have the ability to "create" new content from existing datasets using generative models. It can be applied to various tasks such as image generation, data processing, and music composition.


The Systems Thinker, Insight and Foresight, World Economic Forum, Salika, CNBC, VOX, Guardian, Fast Company, Futurist


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