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It's the Business of the Future to be Dangerous

Things to ComeThe title of this post is a quote from Alfred North Whitehead. What I like about the line is that it can be read in a couple of different ways: the role "the Future" plays in our lives is to be the danger to come, that is, to symbolize the rising challenges; and being dangerous is the "Business of the Future," i.e., risk is the industry of tomorrow. Both are likely true.

I've had to introduce myself to a variety of audiences with some frequency lately, and the question of what job title I use remains troubling. I tend to default to "futurist," because it's requires the least explanation -- everyone knows (or think they know) what a futurist does, and what I do falls close enough to that fuzzy concept for people not to be confused by what I say. But that's a dissatisfying term, in part because there's quite a bit of baggage associated with the term (from design movements to trend-spotters), and in part because "futurist" doesn't acknowledge the connection to the present (in the way that, say, "foresight" -- with its suggestion of looking ahead while standing here -- does). Making clear that what we do today builds the world we live in tomorrow remains a critical part of my work.

My business card says that I'm the "World-Builder-in-Chief" at Open the Future, and that feels closer, in that the mix of snark and wonder nicely sums up my attitude. But that one requires some explanation, and could still leave people feeling confused, especially if I'm not doing explicit scenario or world-building work.

"Foresight engineer" and "paradigm engineer" -- both of which I've seen elsewhere, and toyed with for myself -- have the double drawback of (a) sounding far more techie than I'd like to imply, and (b) sounding like a play on "sanitation engineer" as the replacement title for garbage collector.

"Tacitician" -- in that my job is to uncover the hard-to-spot threads and connections we know are there, but can't put our finger on? Too easily mistaken for "tactician."

"Provocateur" -- I probably couldn't put that on a business card and get past Homeland Security, and (in my experience) executives have a habit of pronouncing this as "provocateer" -- like "Mousekateer."

"Scenario planner," "scenarist," and "scenario designer" aren't bad, but I do more than scenarios in my futures work. Need something a bit broader.

"Tomorrow Scout" -- sounds like the title of a really earnest and cheesy comic book from the 1950s. Maybe one that's recently been revived and re-imagined by Warren Ellis as being about a sullen, probably alcoholic, more than a little crazed futurist who has seen what new Hells tomorrow has in store for us, but can't get people to listen, let alone change their behavior. A Cassandra for the 21st century. No, I'm not talking about myself.

(And as my mind wanders from this vision, I discover that there are no links for the term "Nostranomicon," a conceptual mash-up of Nostradamus and the Necronomicon. This post hereby corrects that oversight.)

Any suggestions?

So I'm now back home, complete with a new virus picked up from my hundreds of good friends at South-by-SouthWest. (Seriously, it's actually kind of scary how many bloggers in attendance at SXSW now report being sick. It's biological warfare against the blogosphere, I tell you.)

Given that this last month or so has been a bit, um, stressful (hard drive crash, trip to London, horribly sick, trip to Wisconsin then Austin, sick, with my normal work continuing throughout), blogging here has suffered a bit. Let me just say that I will get back to the "The Big Picture" as soon as possible, and have a multitude of things running through my head that I need to get out onto pixels.


For CRN you call yourself an Impact Analyst.

How about this on your card

Jamais Cascio
Participatory Strategist
"Opening the future"

That way you have both a job title and a tag line, (all the better for people to remember you by).

I actually like "scenarist" rather a lot, especially as an opening gambit in a conversation about "so, what is it that you do?" It's elegant. And, hey, don't give Mouseketeer too bad a rap, I think it might have possibilities if you can chisel past the ip issues...

I've had this rolling conversation with Michele B. for quite a while - futurist carries a lot of unfortunate baggage in popular culture, and one can't control for all the variations. There is also the issue of the title immediately drawing people's attention to their own conception of the future and what the cartoon of it looks like, and it's often hard to get there heads back into the present, where you need to start. I think it also is seen as a risk by senior executives, who don't want to be caught talking to a futurist any more than consulting an astrologer. I haven't come to terms with the title either, but it is a big reason why I chose Changeist as the name of my business. I realized what I am most concerned with, and tuned to, is identifying emerging points of change and understanding their interactions and impacts, and less about looking out to the future with little concern to the changes that may drive it.

I think "futurist" is best, especially because people with that shingle tend to acknowledge limitations of foresight. People with funky new titles seem to also bring a new certainty.

Can't resist an opportunity for neologisms! How about "Possibility Constructor"? In general, I wouldn't let the word possibility pass by without a second look: I think it has a touch of that gleam-in-your-eye feel I think you're after.

Future(s) Profiler

Do you need a job title? After you speak, how many people don't understand what you do?

A few weeks ago I was on a plane and talking to the dude next to me. He was a "Technology Evangelist" for a small tech firm. He was in sales. His made-up title did nothing to obscure the fact that he was in sales, it only made it more clear that he wished he wasn't.

What do you do? Tell people that.

Future Strategies Designer?


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