Popular Mechanics Article on “Real Occupation” of Futurists & Insights from Glen Hiemstra

Popular Mechanics published an article by Lara Sorokanich about Futurists. The article, “How to See the Future,” discusses the work that Futurists do and the Futures Studies degrees that qualify many of them.  I reached out to the interviewed Futurist, Glen Hiemstra, and he shared deeper insights with me below.

“Enter the futurist: you probably never knew the job existed, but it is the totally real occupation” whose professionals leverage data and research methods to determine how systems will evolve. The August 15 2016 Popular Mechanics piece discusses futurists and how they apply foresight to corporate, government, and academic environments.


Many people’s titles today include the term “Futurist.” Yet it is a small field of professional futurists, those with degrees in strategic Foresight or who work primarily in foresight. This article cites the Association of Professional Futurists http://apf.org/, of which I am a member, as composed of around 400 of these futures experts.


The author of the article focusses mainly on the trend facet of futuring and asks futurist Glen Hiemstra of http://www.futurist.com/ “what he looks at when spotting trends.” Mr. Hiemstra starts with these three questions or tests to apply to trends:

  • Is the potential future technologically feasible?
  • Is it economically viable?
  • Is it socially and politically acceptable?

I reached out to Glen Hiemstra after reading the article and he has generously shared with me further information on his three pronged approach to futures work: forecasting, developing pictures of possible futures, and defining preferred futures. This last area, defining preferred futures, is a key aspect of foresight work and is Mr. Hiemstra’s area of expertise at http://www.futurist.com/.

Glen Hiemstra Generously Shared the Following Insights with Me:

I have always defined futurist work as consisting of three major streams:

1-Forecasting – developing methodologies for anticipatory thinking and then making observations about probable futures –  trends and developments – best exemplified by the various forms of environmental scanning.

2-Developing pictures of possible futures, best exemplified by scenario planning and also by science fiction writing. Exploring “what if” possibilities.

3-Defining preferred futures, a process for assisting organizations (or individuals for that matter) to envision preferred futures and then refine those images into a preferred vision and from there into a set of strategies or steps that will move them in the preferred direction. This activity may, and usually does, involve preliminary steps that involve the first two forms of futurist work.

My own work has involved all three primary activities. I am an avid consumer of those who specialize in forecasting or imagining possible futures, and I work with clients to make sense of the patterns of change and opportunities that these forecasting and imagining activities produce. In some of my work – presentations for example, or certain workshops – the task starts and pretty much ends with an exploration of future trends and their strategic implications.

With some clients, normally involving a deeper involvement, there is a desire to produce a new vision and plan, and in these engagements we spend time developing images of preferred futures, and then sorting and refining those images until we produce a true new vision for the preferred future. We define that as a picture – it may actually involve visual as well as word images – that describe where the organization wants to be on some time horizon. Behind that vision we might identify the enduring organization values – if the vision describes where the organization wants to go, the values answer the question “why would we want to go there?”

While a preferred future vision can be developed in a single retreat or workshop, most often such work involves deeper engagement with an organization over time, with a series of retreats, workshops and meetings. Often there is some process for involving not just a task force or management team, but also for seeking input from a wider circle within or even from everyone in an organization. The vision work then usually leads to a process for defining values, mission, strategies, actions and some kind of follow up or monitoring process for tracking how well the organization is doing in seeking its vision.

-Glen Hiemstra


Visioning the future that we want is as critical as seeing the alternative futures hinted at by the trends. These value propositions contributed by foresight work are becoming widely recognized in a world of change.

Thank you, Popular Mechanics and author Lara Sorokanich for the insightful piece on futurists and for covering the work of futurists.

Thank you deeply to Glen Hiemstra who went above and beyond in responding to me and elucidating that key area of futurists’ work of preferred futures. http://www.futurist.com/


– Joe Murphy, from librarian to student futurist


Sorokanich, Lara. “How to See the Future.” Popular Mechanics. 15 Aug. 2016. <http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/news/a22354/how-to-see-the-future/>.


One comment

  1. […] Glen Hiemstra, the futurist interviewed for the article, very generously shared further insight with me about which I wrote previously.  […]

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