Garry Golden, futurist, doesn't predict the future, but he has some (complicated) advice

Garry Golden, a professional futurist, stopped by the Denver Public Library last night to, well, talk about the future.

Not in a very concrete, fortune-telling, predictive kind of way, but rather in the more abstract forward-thinking, advice-giving, philosophical realm.

This is the work of the futurist.

You may be wondering, as we did, what a futurist is. Fear not! Golden, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, took time out at the beginning of the event to explain to the crowd, which included local business and civic leaders, what a futurist actually does.

"What we are trying to do is expand the notions of what could happen -- that's the fundamental activity of the futurist," said Golden, who has a masters degree in future studies from a program that he said was rooted in sociology. It's basically about how folks anticipate changes, he said.

"You might imagine that this is the greatest job in the world, until you shadow me at a cocktail party," he said.

Strangers avoid him once he is introduced as a futurist. Some ask him what stocks they should buy. Others bring up Star Trek.

But they're quite misguided, he said.

"We associate thinking about the future in our society...with this misdirected notion of prediction," he said. "I have many strong opinions about the future...but...foresight is not about trying to predict the future."

His discipline, he said, is a pragmatic approach to thinking ahead. Futurists try to help clients clearly understand the indicators of change that are important to them. Successful work with clients, he said, means they are not surprised by outcomes, since they've thoroughly considered potentials.

In other words, really preparing for the future?

The rest of his presentation focused on trends in society that he says are important for organizations and businesses to pay attention to as they try and improve their operations and look toward (what else) the future. He focused on shifts toward "local," which, he said is "becoming something that more cities and communities are looking at with fresh eyes." He discussed the value of crowd-sourcing, the importance of place, and the growing user culture that is driving innovation. Important opportunities exist in gaming mechanics, he said. Individuals, he added, are becoming data factories. And lots more future-thinking 21st century stuff.

Though he said he's not a fortune-teller, he did offer one forecast, if you will, toward the end of his presentation.

"In twenty years, it is likely, in of the world that libraries and museums, non-school institutions, will grant more certifications of work skills than all schools combined -- your technical schools, community colleges, high schools, graduate schools.... Our civic institutions will train, vet, certify skill sets in volumes that will dwarf those that are currently granted in our schools today. That is the provocation to think about. What if that were true?.... That's a very different future," he said.

We'll check back in twenty years.

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