This is going to discuss a book called The Futurist <by a guy named Ottmer>. But before I discuss the book … this overall topic is one of my favorites … ahhhhhhhhhhhh … let me clarify … one of my favorite cynical topics … the fact that there are these bullshit slinging presenters and trend watchers wannabes who make an amazing living off of sound bite thoughts.
Do I begrudge them the ability to find a sound bite? Nope.
What I do have a grudge against is that I, and many other people, then have to invest an inordinate amount of energy explaining to people that the sound bite is just that … a sound bite … a simplistic meaningless irrelevant concept in the real world.
And then I found a book with someone who apparently has the same cynical attitude with regard to these ‘trend spotters.’
<note: I wish I had written this book>
I have a stack of books next to my bed which invariably has some books that have been waiting a while to be read. I just finished The Futurist. In case you don’t want to read this well written quasi-fun, quasi-cynical fictional look at the “buzz creator” future trends world, here is nutshell look at these pop-culture bullshit artists using the opening speech at the Futureworld conference (a fictional conference) by JP Yates (a fictional person/futurist) in the book:
I realized this morning over breakfast that I’ve spent a good portion of my life seeking the approval of people I can’t stand. Including myself.
The truth is, I know nothing. Understand nothing.
I try. I am not lazy. But the more I try to understand something the more intertwined and complex it seems. The more I realize I am out of the proverbial loop. The literal loop. The existential loop. The more I think of things the more I question whether anyone is properly looped. In fact, I challenge the very existence of the loop, proverbial, literal or metaphorical. So this is a fundamental problem, being out of a loop that I don’t even believe in.
Most books or movies or creation myths have a hero who knows all there is to know about at least one thing. And he uses that gift to overcome an obvious and blatant evil adversary. He has insider knowledge. Special gifts. Ingenious ways of getting to the core of things. The answer. The solution. The truth. He knows what’s right and wrong. He knows what’s next. And he knows what to do about it.
I don’t understand the present let alone the fucking future.
Yet we claim to understand. Pretend to. Some actually believe it, that they do know. You know the people. The ones who talk about such things with such cocksure passion that you think, shit, maybe they do know, maybe they really do. They speak in absolutes. Blacks and whites. They speak with soothing partisan simplicity. They speak with their hands and use Powerpoint like a sword. They quote people you ought to know more about. They work on a privileged higher plane and posit their views with a condescending subterranean confidence, convincing you not to worry, that forces are at work on other levels, levels that simple folks like us cannot even begin to fathom, so it’s best not to worry your pretty little head about it and trust them, the experts, that this is the way it is. And the way it will be.
People get rich and powerful operating this way, perpetuating the myth of the uber level, the exclusive loop. Dispensing their wisdom and opinions and edicts to the masses. Breaking down the conflicting moral, political and economic issues of 52 billion people into a binary proposition. Yes or no. War or peace. Good or bad. With us or against us. Ginger or Mary Ann.
Presidents work on this level. And dictators. Talk show hosts. Professional wrestlers. Actresses on the steps of the capitol. Conservatives. Liberals. The members of VFW Post #442. CEOs. Madison Avenue. Wall street. Sesame Street.
They’re all in the loop. All working on another level.
I don’t believe in the scared loop or the secret level.
In fact, I think the more people claim to absolutely know, the more clueless and insecure thery absolutely are. Of course, I can’t be sure of this.
Which brings me to us. And to me. Who do we think we are? Who did I think I was?
How can I call myself a futurist when I missed the most cataclysmic event of our time? How can I predict tomorrow when the world is on fire today?
How did I see reality TV coming but miss this?
And let’s be honest: we all did.
We make all these pronouncements but none of us ever goes back to check on their accuracy. Shit, if the people in this room were right just 1percent of the time, we’d all be telecommuting from Tahiti, eating dinner in a pill form, and having literal sex with our virtual selves. But if you talk shit long enough, sooner or later you may actually be right, and if by some fluke that is the case, watch out, because any successful prediction is always followed by the cannibalistic scramble for credit – the blood grab to brand an original thought as your own.
We all want to be the first to be there to identify a “click moment”, but we live in a world that may never click again.
We’re great at telling people the future they need to buy into instead of the present they should be making the most of.
And what’s hilarious is that we all believe it. That we are geniuses. That we are all responsible for and deserving of our wealth. More deserving of the privileged life than, say, a teacher or a mason. A cleric or a hot dog vendor. Despite the fact that 99% of us did not create our good fortune. The markets did. Or luck. Or heredity.
I believed it.
But not anymore.
You see, we may be able to identify cool, but we can never invent it. Cool is never manufactured. You never try to be cool. It happens.
Same goes for goodness. And truth.
And the only truth I know …is that I know nothing. And even though you may dress the part – the missoni scarves, the yellow jumpsuits, the tiny glasses, the all-whites, the all-blacks, the Nehru’s, the sandals, the glittering gadgets – none of you know anything either. Sorry about that.
We are not innovators. We are fucking abominations.
To paraphrase someone smarter than me, who still knows nothing, the philosophical task of our age is for each of us to decide what it means to be a successful human being.
I don’t know the answer to that, but I would like to find out.
In the meantime, I know absolutely zilch.
I am the founding father of the Coalition of Clueless.
“We are not innovators, we are fucking abominations.” <note to everyone: awesome>
Have I felt this listening, or reading, to some of the popular trend spotter ‘gurus’? You betcha.
Do I wish I had written this? Absofuckinglutely.
Ok. The book.
It is the kind of book that may remind you of Joseph Heller (Good as Gold and maybe a business version of Catch-22).
By the way … a ‘futurist’ is one of those nifty bullshit words business nowadays uses for those pop psychologists who identify trends and recognizers of ‘future cool.’
And I also loved the book because it permitted me a glimpse into why I could have never been a successful ‘futurist’ … well … beyond the fact I suck at identifying meaningful trends of course … and that is futurists need to be blindingly optimistic with regard to prosperity … and I would be screwed because I am too pragmatic.
That said. If you are a cynical pragmatist like me and you care about this topic you will love this book.
Each chapter has a paragraph summary of former achievements of the protagonist/Futurist.
“He once spoke before the graduates of a Bible college in Virginia about the future of God and one week later delivered the keynote address to the Adult Video Distributors Conference in Vegas about the future of porn, and received standing ovations at both.”
<awesome … and real life practical truth>
Another. The Futurist as described by one analysis in the book:
“He used to believe that things were getting better. He thought that science had a heart and that progress had a conscience. Then came doubts, followed by questions and alarming insights. Soon this high-profile, big-ticket trend prognosticator was prophesying doom and gloom.
He began to criticize the present, and he warned of a more damaged tomorrow if we refused to change. He gave heads-ups and watch-outs, supported by facts and scientifically validated forecasts and cautionary tales. But this kind of outlook left his audiences feeling troubled, which was not the desired effect. It was suggested that he might want to put a bit more of a smile back on his work. So he switched gears and began telling those audiences what they wanted to hear.”
That is a truth.
I guarantee it. Seth Godin. Faith Popcorn. Tipping Point guy. First of all they are not sharing unique ideas … they are simply <mostly … just to give some ideas the benefit of the doubt> taking other people’s ideas … or thoughts … or portions/fragments of thoughts … and re-presenting them not only with gusto but also in a slightly different sound bite <sic: bullshit> way to capture the interest of whomever they are writing to and for.
“The futurist was never cutting edge or far ahead of the curve. He was often only just a few minutes in front of the pack, or a couple seconds ahead of the global zeitgeist, or at least of the middle american one. It is rare, and a gift, to be able to see something was going to be big in a mainstream way months and sometimes years before your hipsters, your early adapters, your so called thought leaders embraced it.” – The Futurist
Look. I understand that Futurists are trapped in between telling the truth of today and the hope of tomorrow.
And I do not begrudge someone making a living selling some hope … but … once you begin making a living doing something like this at some point you reach a place where you have a choice of telling the truth or simply selling “possible hope.”
Hey. I say that and I am clearly in the “possible hope” guy category.
The trap gets more difficult if you actually get something right.
Here is how it works.
Once you get one big thing right people will tend to forget all the previous things you got so very wrong. Even better?
Sometimes the evangelical following will then step up and try to find ways to make all the wrong prognostications, past present and future, seem right.
The book protagonist tells his fellow experts, “If the people in this room were right just 1 percent of the time, we’d all be telecommuting from Tahiti, eating dinner in pill form and having literal sex with our virtual selves.”
The truth of a trend spotter or a ‘futurist’ is that they steal the thoughts of others and repurpose them for slightly different purposes under the guise of ‘recognizing disparate facts that impact the bigger picture.’
And they also benefit from the fact that in this world it becomes acceptable to not to know the answers to the questions that the world asks every second of the day.
It’s okay to not know what you want, where you want to go and who you want to become.
It’s okay to wonder.
It’s okay to question and ask.
And it is okay to not to know<although those listening then take it as gospel>.
And what’s not okay is to stop wondering.
Ok. All that said.
Here is a truth <and Futurists clearly understand this>.
The people they are talking to don’t really want wisdom.
Those people just want shortcuts to getting more.
Therefore if the message doesn’t match the ‘more’ desires ultimately it doesn’t engage the listeners because it doesn’t contain the inevitability of something positive.
It may sound cynical but nowadays a message needs a sense of some guarantee that prosperity will never end <that is a thought from the book>.
And therein lies my biggest issue <and my love for the Futurist book> … the fact that trend watchers are seeking future prosperity versus discussing present prosperity.
It’s a big topic and I really wanted to simply suggest that everyone read The Futurist f you have any thoughts on this type of thing (although I have a separate post coming up where I use a fabulous quote from a really smart guy who suggests if we spent the same amount of time on present thinking as we do on future thinking our present, and future, would be a shitload better).
Oh. And what do I mean about using old/other people’s ideas?
The “Manifesto of Futurism,” written by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was published on the front page of the French newspaper Le Figaro on February 20, 1909. it proclaimed the desire of the author, and his fellow Futurists, to abandon the past and embrace the future. The point here on the whole concept of a “Futurist” is that their very existence is disdainful of the present.
Should we have an eye to the future? Absolutely. To not do so is to remain stagnant with regard to thinking.
Should we ignore the present? Absolutely not. If there was ever a time that a Futurist discussed the present now would be the time.
It is an excellent book if you like this kind of stuff.
It is cynical enough to make you ponder some of the mumbo jumbo you have probably absorbed over the past years. And I guess, in my mind, that is a good enough reason to read the book.