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Seeing change before it happens: The intentional futurist

3-minute read

November 19, 2021

What does it mean to become an intentional futurist?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “futurist” as “one who studies and predicts the future, especially on the basis of current trends.”

An intentional futurist is a twist on this definition—and a cut above the ordinary futurist. The intentional futurist is constantly impatient, perpetually uncomfortable with the status quo, and rigorously committed to act. The intentional futurist is also fiercely undeterred when challenges or criticism threaten to block progress.

Throughout history, progress—in business, technology, science, medicine and countless other fields—has been driven by intentional futurists. No doubt, that pattern will continue. But it’s important to recognize that today’s model of an intentional futurist is new: This is someone who relentlessly seeks data, trends and insights to anticipate change before it happens—to boldly, with hyper-awareness, confront current realities and work to adapt, reinvent and transform their business.

Today’s environment requires leaders to be built for change and that is why becoming an intentional futurist is so critical.

The economic fallout of COVID-19, reaching into every corner of the globe, has been a wakeup call: Relying on patterns from the past is no longer enough. Black Swans—unexpected events of large magnitude and consequence—are, by their nature, surprises, but we need to use every tool, every piece of data and all technologies to become more attuned to and prepared for global shifts and opportunities.

To see change before it happens.

We all need to become intentional futurists. The leadership challenge is urgent: Recent research from Accenture indicates that only 6% of executives are completely confident in their organization’s ability to foresee and respond to future disruption.

Intentional futurists are the kind of leaders who will not just survive, but thrive, as the world continues to change rapidly and radically.

Accenture’s Business Futures 2021: Signals of Change report gives leaders guideposts to anticipate and become intentional about the future:

  • Learn from the future by constantly seeking new data and insights garnered from inside and outside the organization’s four walls. Intentional futurists use AI-based analysis to find patterns, anticipate trends and detect new sources of growth opportunities. For example, AI is transforming agriculture at a time when climate change makes feeding the world more challenging than ever. Advanced agricultural technology employs sensors, cameras and connectivity to collect and process historical and real-time data on planting conditions, weather patterns and crop health. AI enables farmers to manage at the individual plant level and optimize their production of consistent, high-quality crops.
  • Prepare for globalization’s next phase. The COVID 19 pandemic has disrupted our sense of “where”—eliminating the notion of location from things like product experience, requiring businesses to reimagine how customers experience their product or service from nearly anywhere. As our world becomes more interconnected, consider three things: organizations poised to lead are pushing decision-making authority to people at the “edges” of their operations. They are applying technology to blend virtual and physical environments and connect people and places, reducing the importance of physical location. They are restructuring their supply chains and moving production to the point of demand. This kind of change requires new ways of thinking about organization and control.
  • Serve stakeholders broadly, creating value wholistically—not just shareholders. More than ever before, society is holding companies responsible for their entire ecosystem, including their suppliers, partners, investors and other stakeholders. It is not enough to be purpose-focused. Companies are being engineered to be purpose-run. They are focused on making social responsibility sustainable. And intentional futurists are taking notice. Indeed, 83% of executives responding to our survey said that rethinking the management of their organization to further a multi-dimensional view of value creation will be important to their business success over the next three years.
  • Create scientific companies. Scientific disruption is enabling the creation of better, cheaper, and more sustainable products and services. High-performing organizations in every region are already combining advances from across the sciences to drive systemic change. As a result, more companies across many industries are applying science to tackle the world’s fundamental challenges.

Intentional futurists are the kind of leaders who will not just survive, but thrive, as the world continues to change rapidly and radically. They will accelerate innovation and growth by seeing the future and seizing it with intention.


Annette Rippert

Group Chief Executive – Strategy & Consulting