“Growing up, it was never a dream of mine to become a futurist,” says Susanne Forchheimer, a Research Manager at IFTF. “I didn’t even know it existed as a profession. It wasn’t until graduate school, where I was studying media technology that I first ran into the topic. Initially, I was skeptical. Why were futures thinking and scenario development mandatory parts of my media technology degree?”

Accustomed to quantitative data in her work, Susanne was put off by the fact that “the future simply didn’t have any data to pull from. As a person who had gone through school relying almost exclusively on data to tell an accurate story, this felt new and scary.”

Unlike Susanne, who was initially suspicious about foresight, IFTF Research Director Jeff Yang approached foresight with a sense of enthusiasm ignited by his childhood love of science fiction and comic books. “Speculative fiction—tales that leaped off the page into the stratospheric reaches of the possible—kindled a burning desire in me to think about the future as a curious explorer of technology, psychology, and cultural anthropology,” he says. “Wait, a world might physically be possible that was shaped like a giant ring? Humans could survive on a desert planet by automatically recycling their own perspiration? How would we be able to tell the difference between AI and human beings in an immersive virtual reality? These questions sent me diving into other books, and off into conversations with other people, digging into the science and math behind the stories, and the sociological constructs behind the imagined worlds.”

As for Susanne, futures thinking “began resonating” with her after she completed her course in graduate school. She used her training in engineering to take a systematic approach to futures thinking by looking at both quantitative and qualitative data and combining it with the practice of storytelling, creativity, and imagination. “It’s truly an art form,” she says. “It was uncomfortable at first as I was coming from such a tech-oriented mindset, but it intrigued me as I got more practice. I felt more agency to think about the future with clarity and take action in the present.”

Meanwhile, Jeff’s path led him from science fiction to journalism. “I wrote for decades about a lot of the real-world emerging technologies and cultural concepts that were increasingly moving from science fiction to science fact. The step from there to working in foresight was a short one: I was brought in as an outside expert for some of the things I'd covered as a critic and reporter, and eventually, an inside expert and strategist. From there, I gained an immersion into the tools, perspectives, and methodologies of futures thinking—which ultimately closed the loop for me by introducing me to a world that combines both speculative imagining and data-driven foresight.”

Jeff and Susanne share an excitement for the power of combining data and imaginative creativity. “It's a fascinating intersection to occupy, and it enables us to be tellers of strategic stories about the future—not predicting what will happen, but projecting what might. And the journey has just begun.”

Every futurist has a unique origin story, one that gives their foresight a particular style. What’s your origin story, and how does it affect your approach to foresight? Are you happy with the path you’re on? If not, what tools can you use to chart a new path for yourself?

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