Futurists do not gaze into crystal balls but do have counter-intuitive abilities with strong imaginative faculties to create concepts no one else has thought of before. They lead foresight and innovation in global boutique innovation management firms with clients such as car manufacturers and banks among others.

In the creative digital age with new geopolitical alignments, today more are at the forefront of shaping the future. To study as a futurist there is overseas a Master of Philosophy in Future Studies degree, a two-year postgraduate programme that includes modules in foresight research, demographics, systems thinking, technology, scenario planning, trends forecasting and strategic management.

The future studies profession began in the 1960s and gained global attention in the 1970s with Shell’s use of scenario planning to lead its foresight. At the time, the futurists aligned the field with economics, mathematical modelling and technology. As a result, the ‘softer’ elements of foresight, such as demographics, social development, sustainability, family dynamics, anthropology and design, subsumed under hard science, tech gadgets and economic data.

Nowadays, with more women futurists, the approach has changed to reflect both elements of foresight.

Amy Smith was the founder of MIT DLab and the driving force behind the International Development Innovation Network of which many countries are members. I doubt whether Malta has subscribed. The MIT DLab is the design innovation lab of the world’s number 1 rated university, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, USA.

According to Amy Zalberg, chief executive of the World Future Society, the global professional body of futurists, this was because the term ‘futurism’ also came with a reputation that still lingers a bit today and says: “Life magicians, crystal ball gazers, sort of flakey, that’s the reputation that followed for a while. Because the field itself had to struggle to be taken seriously that put more pressure on folks to demonstrate that they were scientific. And it was coded masculine.”

Malta must start training its people now to become futurists

Why do we need futurists?

If we want products and services to meet our growing unmet needs, we have to encourage our people to become futurists, design innovators, scientists and inventors.

Being a futurist is not a nine to five job but a lifestyle rooted in a deep and abiding commitment to create a preferable future for the world. Futurists spend a lot of time answering the ‘What if?’ questions, developing scenarios and exploring ways to address unmet consumer needs.

After digesting tons of research data they manage to find novel solutions to problems and the resilience to not give up through the stage-gates of innovation.

Malta must start thinking about the future now – it must study its potential to grow over the next 35 years as from now and if there is that potentiality for growth (which I am sure there is) this presents a significant opportunity for innovators to contribute to wealth creation but the risks are high.

By using a trend-based approach to innovation this radar could help increase the success rate of Maltese start-ups. Areas which come to mind and that need to be addressed by futurists in Malta are the increase in poverty among the aging population, school drop outs, the future of our courts without lawyers as only five per cent of law graduates are working there, traffic congestion and brand innovation in various sectors including tourism, among others.

This year there are three innovation summits being held in Los Angeles, Berlin and Copenhagen where foresight and thought leadership from the futurists contribute to papers, new industry frameworks and global conversations.

Moreover, researchers are out there around the world, across America, Germany, India, China, Russia and South America tracking emerging trends and technologies that may disrupt our clients’ business or enhance their innovation portfolio. The government is no exception.

Malta must start training its people now to become futurists. The Hubert Humphrey programme sponsored by the US government is one place where we can send Maltese nationals through this US programme to do Future Studies in the US unless theUniversity of Malta or Mcast engage in the services of futurists from overseas to introduce Future Studies in their programme.

Anna Mallia is a lawyer.

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