Predict Trends, Not Fads: Thinking Like a Futurist

By Elsbeth Russell • August 14, 2015

In the first Game Changer session on Aug. 10, Sheryl Connelly shared “How to Think Like a Futurist,” to a packed room at the Cobo Center.

Sheryl Connelly
Sheryl Connelly, Ford Motor Company

Connelly has led Global Consumer Trends and Futuring for Ford Motor Company for over a decade, sits on a Global Advisory Council to the World Economic Forum, and in recent years was named by Fast Company as one of the Most Creative People in Business and TechWeek’s Top 100 Innovators.

She encouraged association executives not to be afraid of the future, but to think like a futurist to change their approach to long-term planning and strategy. “Strategy has two legs, where you are and where you want to go,” she said.

At the start of the session, Connelly offered tips for those looking to think more like a futurist:

1. Recognize that no one can predict the future, but everyone tries.

2. The past is not a good indicator of the future.

3. Beware of SWOT analysis, which is based on in-the-moment thinking. Remember that your strengths aren’t decided by you, they are decided by the marketplace.

4. Explore the things you cannot control. Connelly suggested thinking in terms of STEEP: Social, Economic, Environmental, Political and Technological. It’s important when considering an issue, she said, to look at the implications for each and pay attention to the ripple effect.

5. Be provocative. Challenge assumptions and suspend biases long enough to wonder, “If that were to happen, would we…” Connelly suggested conducting a Wild Card Analysis, looking at things that have a low probability of occurring, but when they do, they have a large effect on the human condition.

6. Be plausible. Connelly said this may be the most important part of thinking like a futurist. It’s important to “balance provocation with plausibility,” she said. Look at what is causing people to change their values, and make sure you are following trends and not fads, which come and go quickly.

7. Seek out contrarians. Sometimes the “Debbie Downer” is the most important person in the conversation, Connelly said. Listen to those who question organizational ideas to make sure you’re considering all sides of a situation.

8. Challenge the status quo. Plan for multiple futures.

Bottom Line: “If the future scares you, the best way to predict the future is to create it,” Connelly said.


Elsbeth Russell is a senior content strategist at Naylor Association Solutions.