When I first heard the word futurist, what popped into my mind was something in the realm of science fiction, but in fact, futurists are a real group of people doing their every day job. A futurist is a real career in which major corporations, investors, or governments, will pay an individual to predict the state of the future and how they expect society will function. Webb is one of these futurists, who analyses data to make predictions and create risk management strategies.
You may wonder what credentials a person must have to be a futurist, well Webb has a very diverse background. She graduated from Indiana University Bloomington in 1997 with a B.A. in game theory, economics, and political science. Following this she moved from the United States to rural Japan, where she taught as an English teacher and worked as a freelance journalist for most of her 20s. After moving back to the United States she then earned a M.S. from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2001. In 2006 Webb founded the Future Today Institute, a leading foresight and strategy firm. The firm works to research future risk and opportunity, providing data driven forecast methodology. The Future Today Institute’s team of futurists calculates potential disruptions to society, business, and government, while providing clients with the tools to make educated decisions. Today, Webb runs the Future Today Institute as CEO, and is is a professor of strategic foresight at the NYU Stern School of Business.
For the past 12 years, Webb has developed and presented the Future Today Institute’s yearly Emerging Tech Trend Report. The report identifies tech and science trends through higly developed toolkits and frameworks of strategic thinking.One thing that is particularly unique about this report is that in 2016 Webb chose to make her research and framing open source and completely available to the public for free. It is now currently in its 12th year of publication and has accumulated over 7.5 million views. All of the identified technology and science trends as well as applications of these trends, are backed by extensive research and data. In Webb’s 2019 Emerging Tech Trends Report at SXSW, she said,“Like a great marriage, great futures take a lot of work…Wonderful, amazing, happy futures are the result of really, really hard work.”
Becoming a futurist is not only a unique path to take but one that many people may have never heard of until now. It is currently not an area of study at any major college and doesn't seem to be a mainstream career path. That being said, what does Webb’s career as a futurist entail? In an article for Medium, an online publishing platform, she wrote,“ I work at the fringe, connecting a series of dots that, at the beginning, seem to be completely unrelated. Accurately identifying trends and understanding how they’ll shape tomorrow is really more of a science than an art. It involves gathering research, looking for explicit and implicit patterns in that data, applying those patterns to the consumer, determining whether consumer and the marketplace is also ready for change, and then pressure-testing trends to determine what will stick.”
As technology continues to grow and the limits on our own power as humans continues to shrink, society as we know it will never stop changing. It is becoming more and more difficult to navigate the future and what that will look like in 50 years, 100 years, or even 1,000 years. The rise of futurists as a career, seems not only probable, but extremely necessary in the years to come. People like Webb play an important role in how we will shape and view our new future.