Envisioning the Future — As Told by a Futurist

If your organization wants to anticipate (and ultimately accommodate) your consumers’ behavioral trends, how do you get from rows & columns to real-world scenarios that can guide business decisions?

You call someone with a very specific set of skills. Someone like Ali Draudt.

Ali is among a small group of Futurists whose role includes sifting through data to predict what consumer trends could look like. To most, this sounds a lot like a well-informed psychic predicting the future, but for those in the field, it’s most certainly not.

“One of the things I do is create scenarios that are highly feasible, but that’s not actually the value,” says Draudt. “Even though they’re really fun to think about, the value comes in tracking them backwards, what we call backcasting. You need to first define a time period, create a scenario, and then backcast it to the present and say, ‘All right, what would potentially mitigate my ability to get to this in the future?’”

See how Ali breaks down her role, what she looks for, and what she believes could happen in the near future.

Envisioning the “Future”

When asked about how she approaches this seemingly overwhelming job, Ali says, “it comes down to a rigor of research, to really knowing the subject matter and digging into it, to asking people who are experts in these areas, because I’m not an expert in every area that I write on.”

“I’m trying to pull together expert opinions, and more importantly, I’m trying to pull together divergent expert opinions, so I’ll ask people who fundamentally disagree with me why they disagree, and then I can actually change my models that way because you don’t want to be talking to an echo chamber.”

Although she breaks this process down into basic steps, Ali says there’s a lot of nuance that goes into this type of analysis. One of the most obvious is knowing when something is a trend versus a mere fad since that can have a huge effect on future scenarios.

Separating Trends vs. Fads

“One method of filtering that I use is called the pace layer analysis,” says Draudt.

Imagine a bullseye where the center represents the slowest methods of change and each layer outside of that represents an increasingly slower method of change.

“It goes from culture and governmental, then societal, and lastly the fastest one is fashion, or I would argue technology, and that’s the one that changes the most,” says Ali. “So, if you look at trends and things that you’re reporting, do they fall into fashion [or technology]? It might be shifting pretty quickly. Do they fall in cultural or governmental? Then that might be a megatrend.”

Things to Watch For

Through her experience, Ali has analyzed a lot of data, researched many subjects, and created many scenarios. While some ideas have proven to become reality, others have been completely off.

“Designing better solutions for people has translated into, ‘How do we start designing better worlds for people and getting our society, our company, ourselves to a future that we think is optimal,’ which may not necessarily be an exact projection from what’s happening today,” says Ali.

She sees a change in consumers’ mindset as one of the largest megatrends today. “We’re familiar with the term business-to-consumer,” Ali says, “I think that’s flipped right now. I think it’s now consumer-to-business.”

“People are no longer going to say, ‘Hey, I need car insurance probably. I’m going to survey the world to find it,’” she says, “the younger generations want you to come and find them first.’”


This article was originally published on Forbes BrandVoice blog.
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