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December Inkandescent Speaker of the Month: Futurist Andy Hines
A lecturer and executive-in-residence at the University of Houston’s Graduate Program in Futures Studies, Hines brings together his experience as an organizational, consulting, and academic futurist for the grad students he teaches.
He co-founded and is currently on the board of the Association of Professional Futurists, and he has co-authored five books:
- “Teaching about the Future: The Basics of Foresight Education,” Palgrave Macmillan, 2012
- “ConsumerShift: How Changing Values Are Reshaping the Consumer Landscape,” No Limit Publishing, 2011
- “Thinking About the Future: Guidelines for Strategic Foresight” (Social Technologies, 2007)
- “2025:Scenarios of US and Global Society Reshaped by Science and Technology” (Oakhill, 1996)
- “Managing Your Future as an Association” (ASAE, 1994)
Hines has also authored dozens of articles, speeches, and workshops, and won several awards, including the 2003 Emerald Literati Awards’ Outstanding Paper accolade for best article published in Foresight for “An Audit for Organizational Futurists” and the 2008 award for “Scenarios: The State of the Art.”
Most recently, he appeared on KRIV-26 News to talk about the future of libraries, and the CBS “Early Show,” to talk about an MTV-commissioned study: “The Future of the Youth Happiness.”
We talked to Hines about:
- What it means to be a futurist
- His popular book, “ConsumerShift,” and what the future of consumerism looks like
- The study he did for MTV about the future of youth happiness
- The future studies program at the University of Houston: Who attends, what he teaches, and what kind of jobs are out there for futurists
- His previous work at Kellogg, and the type of work a futurist does for large corporations
- His own plans for the future
Scroll down to read our Q&A.
Click here to listen to our podcast interview with Hines on The Inkandescent Radio Show.
Click here to meet more of our Inkandescent Speakers.
THINKING ABOUT THE FUTURE WITH ANDY HINES
Be Inkandescent: Tell us what it means to be a futurist. I don’t think everyone knows what exactly it means.
Andy Hines: One day we are hoping that the Department of Labor will list futurists as an occupation. Futurists are people who make their living helping companies get a sense of where they want to go and how to get there. Basically, we help organizations and individuals get a picture of the future, and then we help them along their journey so they get where they want to go.
Be Inkandescent: Can you give us an example?
Andy Hines: Typically, I will use companies as an example, but it could be government agencies or even an educational institution. All organizations have planning activities. Futurists help them make a five-year forecast or a strategic plan by bringing a set of methodologies and techniques we have developed that provides a more systematic way to think about how you make those future plans, how you create a vision of where you want to go. In essence, we bring the tools that help organizations do that.
Be Inkandescent: Your book, “Thinking About the Future,” was a great primer for how to do it for yourself, that was published by the futurist think tank Social Technologies. It seems still relevant to me. Do you use it currently?
Andy Hines: Yes, quite often. The customers for foresight are all over the place. Whether it is businesses or governments, they were saying, “Yeah, we know we want our staff to be more future thinking in how they work with their clients in the Embassy.” We were basically talking about the principles in “Thinking About the Future” book as the basis; what are the basic things we do? In that book, as you mentioned, it is all practical steps. It demystifies what futurists do; it is actually a repeatable process that we use all the time and sets out the steps. It is kind of a guidebook for if you were ever going to do some kind of future activity. It gives you the essentials on how to think like a futurist.
Be Inkandescent: Surely a lot of people really grasp these concepts, but I also believe lots of business owners and leaders in the US and abroad consider “futurists” to be crystal-ball readers. From my personal experience working with futurists, I know it’s anything but that. So, can you tell us how the average entrepreneur can think about the future—and use the tools in your tool kit?
Andy Hines: That’s a great question, and something that we focus on—especially in the beginning of a speech, or when we’re working with the team of a new client. We try to say, “Here is how it actually works,” and they go, “Oh my, that is something I can do.” After about an hour, I can usually get a group to say, “Hey, we can do that.” That is one of the key things to say—it is not just hocus-pocus or intuition.
Be Inkandescent: Can you share a concrete example of what you do?
Andy Hines: In a recent talk here in Houston, I was talking about the future of energy. We painted three scenarios of what the long-term future of energy could look like. One scenario emphasized the much greater use of alternative energy and Houston becoming the alternative energy capital of the world. As an entrepreneur sitting in the audience, you might think: “You know what, that might be a place where I place my bet. I think that scenario looks very plausible for my business, and my industry, and I am going to go ahead an make an investment in that.” It is interesting that a couple of futurists have been advising venture capitalists. Literally backing up their future visions with their bets. Saying they think it is an industry or area that has a lot of potential, and we are going to fund where we think it is going. That’s very exciting, and better than just betting on a racehorse, for instance, in terms of planning properly for the future.
Be Inkandescent: When we worked together in 2006 to 2008 at Social Technologies, you did research for MTV. Tell about that study on The Future of Youth Happiness.
Andy Hines: One of MTV’s challenges is to convince advertisers, and the public, that they understand where youth is going; that is their core audience. They have to convince people that they are going to develop programming that is in tune with where youth want to go. So MTV commissioned us to do a study on what we called, “The Future of Youth Happiness.” My colleagues and I went around the country and talked to kids about the future, which was really cool. One of the big insights that I still remember and use today is what one of the participants said, “I’ve never met my best friend.” Her best friend was a virtual friend. What I call the digital natives, the younger kids, they are making no distinction between their physical and digital friends. Bam, the lightbulbs went on and we were able to go and dig up some data on that. That has been a really useful insight for illustrating how the generations are different from each other.
Be Inkandescent: I thought another fascinating finding was that the youth surveyed said technology didn’t make them happy—but not having it made them unhappy.
Andy Hines: That’s right. There were some other findings in the study like that about how they felt about religion, and family, and marriage that were really interesting, because their overall approach to happiness was very practical. Where the Boomer Generation thought that happiness was a birthright, Millennials say that if you want to be happy, you have to go out and get it. It was a very activist sense that if you want something, it is your responsibility to get it. We ended up characterizing them as the “make a difference generation.” It was very comforting and reassuring. They actually have their heads on pretty straight.
Be Inkandescent: What do you see as the future of the work force especially given these insights you have about the Millennials?
Andy Hines: Let me sum it up by saying that when you ask a lot of people how they are doing, professionally especially, and they say: “I am in transition right now,” well, that is the new norm. We used to have the idea that we would get in a career and stay in one position for a long time and maybe there would be a transition. Now, we do something for a while and then there is a transition, and then we do something else. The next thing you know, you are doing that for 10 years, and you realize that is now the pattern. One skill or project leads you to something that is related, but different. At the end of the day, you have put together a career that is much different than you thought it would be when you started. I think we are just recognizing that this kind of pattern is now becoming the “traditional” career path.
Be Inkandescent: We’ve also talked a lot about how, increasingly, people will be self-employed.
Andy Hines: Absolutely, remote work is really revolutionizing the possibilities. To be clear, I think there is still a huge value in face-to-face interactions. It is just going to be more strategic in the coming years. Rather having to all get together from 8 to 5 and sit together even though we don’t really interact, that kind of thinking is going away. We may do some work from our office, but when we need to get together, we will. It is just being more strategic.To me, in future work, I think the key thing we want to manage is the really strategic use of that face time. We can do so much off-line, by ourselves, working whenever we want to work. But we still need to manage the main event, which is when people get together to meet and talk and interact. We are trying to sort out that balance; finding the right ratio between working by yourself in a home office versus getting in and mixing it up with your colleagues. We are sorting that out, but I think that is where things are going to get interesting in the future.
Be Inkandescent: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges in this trend?
Andy Hines: There’s the difficulty of becoming an entrepreneur if you’re not used to it. Some people are just naturally drawn to it, they are very comfortable with it, and they are very good at managing their own time and schedule. If you’re one who needs to be disciplined, then you have to learn a new skill set. So I think there may be a training opportunity there and maybe it is at the university level. I know that when I am teaching my grad students, we talk a lot about how this may be the type of work that you find yourself in and that it’s important to be thinking about that now. We really don’t spend a lot of time talking, teaching, or training the young kids about how the basic structure of work is changing. Our institutions are still assuming that somebody is going to go work for the same place and go into an office building from 8 to 5 for the next 10 years, but those are pretty rare instances. I think there is a great opportunity in helping people, especially younger people, make those transitions.
Learn more about Andy Hines on his website, andyhinesight.com.