How to Become a Futurist

When you’re an association executive, that’s the job.

young woman looking at futuristic digital display, how to become a futurist

© Oscar Wong / Moment / Getty Images

The timeline of humanity demonstrates that how we do things, how we think about things, and how we communicate with each other always changes. This requires us to effectively figure out how to wisely transition from the past, through the present, into the future. Yet while the transitions and changes may be different, the process of effectively transitioning is timeless, applicable to all generations, and is best led by “futurists”—people who study and predict the future based on current trends.

For REALTOR® associations, the character traits of futurists usually reside with the association executive.

I recall listening to a skit my kids were watching on Sesame Street, which was trying to teach viewers about consequences. The idea was to think about the current situation, consider a course of action and evaluate how that action would change the way things were. It sounds pretty boring on paper, but in reality, this practice is the beginning of being a futurist.

Why is being a futurist important? Because it minimizes how much the future catches you by surprise. When you are part of an association, this is important. But when you are an AE, being prepared for the future is your job.

So, can you become a futurist, or is it a mindset you are born with? Yes and yes—but in both instances, it requires training and clarity.


  1. Know the difference between a wave and a tide. Waves are fads, and tides are trends. Be curious beyond what you see, looking instead for the root causes. Be prepared to challenge your own understanding. This may be the most difficult task because unless you are willing to do so, you may be getting in the way of what you need to see.
  2. Look for the small signals, not the big signs. By the time you see the big sign, the future is upon you. For example, 30 years ago, the melting in the Arctic told scientists who were looking for the small signs that the planet is warming. Want an example you can see at home? Put a pat of butter in a saucepan on the stovetop and turn the burner to low. While you know that eventually the entire pat of butter will melt, it does so at the edges first.
  3. Become a historian. Because you cannot see into the future, the only data you have available is the past. While history does not exactly repeat itself, patterns do repeat. Consider how the printing press, invented in approximately 1440, raised concerns that the device could lead to the spreading of multiple perspectives and viewpoints—and potentially misinformation. Today, the internet and artificial intelligence raise the same concerns regarding truthfulness, or lack thereof.
  1. Define how you are doing things. At any given time, two trends are likely to exist simultaneously. One tracks how you do things today, and the second tracks how you will do things tomorrow. During times of stability, the former is the dominant pattern. In times of change, the latter emerges.
  2. During times of change, learn as if you are an “orphan.” Residential real estate practitioners playfully refer to those moving into a new home more than six miles from their previous residence as orphans, or sometimes immigrants. Regardless of which term is used, the notion behind the label is that everything is new—shopping, schools, municipal practices—and even the routes to work or to visit family members change. Associations should think of themselves no differently as the paradigms within which they currently exist start to change and innovation becomes imperative to survive.
  1. Be collaborative. The ability to be a futurist requires multiple perspectives in a collaborative environment. Interestingly, while many entrepreneurs are futurists when they create their enterprises, they frequently fall into the trap of surrounding themselves with people who tell them what they want to hear—a leading cause of why most new businesses fail. One of my favorite insights into the importance of diverse thinking states, “When two or more people think alike, all but one is unnecessary.” Finally, “Make it so.” When put into practice, that line frequently uttered by Patrick Stewart in his role as Jean-Luc Picard, captain of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Enterprise, is both a command and a wish. It assumes that everything needed for the journey is in place. It further assumes that once the journey begins, life happens. So, your ability to complete the journey depends on your ability to adjust the course, because far too much is outside your control.

Future Forward

To further prepare for the journey of being a futurist:

  1. Become a generalist when gathering information.
  2. Find a mindless activity to occupy your conscious mind. Your subconscious mind may then create something quite useful.
  1. Attend industry gatherings and ask questions.
  2. Be childlike in your curiosity and do not accept, “We have always done it that way.”
  1. Put forward ideas with as much background as possible and listen to feedback.
  2. Write down ideas to coalesce them into concise, logical thoughts before sharing.

Written by Bob Taylor, RCE, and CEO of the Grosse Pointe Board of REALTORS® in Michigan.


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