Futures studies can seem like both an esoteric art and a complex social science, impenetrable to the neophyte and indispensable for the modern leader. That is true to a point – yet it can also be described as “reading the news and asking what it means.” Foresight, futurology, futurism, or more generally, “futures studies” is a mature intellectual discipline which explores how organizations can look at uncertainty, risk, and opportunity in a way that produces more value that just marching forward with yesterday’s assumptions. Born of in the Post-World-War-II crisis of nuclear proliferation, the professional skillset then matured in the corporate environment of Royal Dutch Shell, and since then, futures studies has become a vital toolkit for executives at businesses and governments around the world.
What follows is a partial, incomplete, biased list of books that will acquaint you with futures studies. When you are done reading these books, hopefully your interest will become more of a voracious fascination.
1. Invitation à la Prospective (An Invitation to Futures Studies)
The progenitors of futures studies could surely be found in France. Yes, there was Jules Verne, who basically made the roadmap for science fiction and technology foresight, but the most prominent founders were likely Gaston Berger and Bertrand de Jouvenel, two men who arrived at this concept of “prospective” from the discipline of geopolitical analysis. For them, the future was the only place man had any power over his fate, so in the rubble of the War, they codified how and why to look at the future.
The French consultancy Futuribles carries on this legacy under the leadership of Hugues de Jouvenel. This brief, concise book explains what futurists think and why, laying out a new philosophy of leadership. Best yet, it is available for free download.
2. On Thermonuclear War
If you want to understand how futures studies came into existence, you must understand the absolute urgency which created it. Herman Kahn was one of the leading intellectuals to understand the threat posed by nuclear proliferation and why, if man wanted to survive, a superior ability to understand the future was required. The landmark work On Thermonuclear War basically invents the practice of forecasting and scenario planning to help military and civilian leaders understand a complex future when all of life was at stake.
You may not read all of it, but check out this free download and get familiar with its subject matter.
3. The Art of the Long View
Peter Schwartz was part of the corporate team at Royal Dutch Shell which produced one of the most successful applications of futures studies to date. Using trend analysis and scenario planning, the team at Royal Dutch Shell came to understand that the world was on the brink of an oil crisis and positioned the company to achieve maximum value as a result.
This best-selling book is about Schwartz’s personal recollections and philosophies about how to use foresight in an organizational context, and still holds us decades later.
4. Creating Futures (Manuel de Prospective Stratégique)
In France, futurists are not seen as quirky crystal ball readers, but as a central part of intellectual life. France’s Michel Godet is likely the most prominent of all futurists, a best-selling author whose OpEds appear on page 1 of the country’s major news papers.
Godet’s indispensable book is Manuel de Prospective Stratégique, or “The Strategic Foresight Handbook,” which gives incredible detail about how to apply futures studies in a leadership context.
The English version of this book is called Creating Futures and has been largely overlooked. It is written in an accessible style that any business or government executive can consume, understand, and apply quickly.
5. Future, Inc.: How Businesses Can Anticipate and Profit from What’s NEXT
The debut book by (Competitive Futures’ Managing Partner) Eric Garland fills a gap in the futures studies lexicon by breaking the process into six easy steps, dubbed the Future Intelligence Process. Using the future of beer as case study, the book simultaneously makes futurism simple and covers the advantage it has created for some of the world’s most successful companies.
6. How to Predict the Future…and WIN!!!
Eric Garland’s follow-up to Future, Inc. broke new ground in the field of futures studies by not just explaining how leaders can gain foresight, but all the reason they probably won’t. Using case studies, human psychology, and sarcasm, Garland explains why the 2008 crisis revealed that futures studies still has a long way to go.
Other books on futures studies to consider
These are but a few books on a large and varied field. Check out these other titles for inspiration:
- Futuring, The Exploration of the Future – Edward Cornish
- Future Savvy: Identifying Trends to Make Better Decisions, Manage Uncertainty, and Profit from Change – Adam Gordon
- Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Conversation – Kees van der Heijden
- Futurethink: How to Think Clearly in a Time of Change -Edie Weiner
- Seeing What’s Next: Using the Theories of Innovation to Predict Industry Change – Clayton Christensen
- Five Regions of the Future: Preparing Your Business for Tomorrow’s Technology Revolution – Joel Barker