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On the mindset of futurists

During my fieldwork, I observed how futurists share a particular way of looking at the world. They do not only share skills, but also a mindset. How do futurists describe their collective mindset? Open-minded, anti-disciplinary and growth-oriented, amongst other things. Futurists also appreciate their ability to unite analytical thought with intuition. Some futurists have described that their career as a futurist started with something as simple as ‘wonder’, by asking: “how could it be otherwise?” Journalist Krista Tippett eloquently wrote about wonder: “wondering is a useful way to begin to speak of a shared vocabulary of mystery we might embrace across our disciplines, our contrasting certainties, our doubts” (2016: 164). Wonder is a way to slow down, to distance ourselves from what we think we know, and to see the world for what it is today. Furthermore, wonder can help transcend disciplines, face complex issues and embrace uncertainty. Especially in combination with rational, analytical thought. Wonder implies no judgement, but a search for common ground.

The conversations among futurists about balancing intuition with analytical thought were not always positive. Futurists have struggled to balance the two. From the outset, I noticed that methods serve futurists to help them validate their work, as proof that the future can be systematically studied. However, validation is only one part of the futurists’ job. Daring to openly use intuition is the second; wishing they could rely more on their intuition but afraid of the implications (such as how their audiences will respond). As a consequence, scientific methods and data grew as the principle underpinning of futurists’ work. This phenomenon is not only specific to futurists but also a struggle in other fields. For example, renowned botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer recalled the moment she recognized that she had approached her teachings as solely from a technical perspective; “I was teaching the names of plants but was ignoring their songs” (2013: 43). From that perspective, the methods and data used by futurists serve as a mere vehicle to help others speak the language of the future.

This observation reminds me of the work of eminent scholar Max Weber (2004/1917-1919), who observed in the early 1900s that bureaucracy evolved at a fast pace. Weber described how the process of rationalization helped Western countries to organize their societies. As a result, a highly developed bureaucracy is in place, in which there is a tendency to rely on validation, figures and models – predominantly rational and intellectual means. According to Weber this development had a cost; he coined it ‘disenchantment’. Weber argued that problems were solved with technology, not with magic or faith. As a consequence, the inexplicable hardly had a (pronounced) role in societies. I interpret disenchantment as an invitation for futurists to reflect on the value of wonder, especially in the rationalized, scientific world we created over the years.

If you would like to continue reading, please reference Chapter 7 of my PhD thesis Becoming Futurists that you can download here under ‘research’.


The text above is derived from Chapter 7 of Becoming Futurists, captured by Tomas Mutsaers