Foresight in Local Languages
I started professional life as a French-English translator while finishing college, working with West African students coming to the US to learn new about management techniques and technology. I learned a lot about my charges' home cultures, infused my "proper" classroom French with a Senegalese flavor, and hopefully taught them a little about databases along the way. I quickly moved on to be a business writer, helping an English-language business publisher research non-US markets, often comprised of getting past the first person to answer the phone in Italy, Russia or Greece. From there, I landed as a technology analyst, helping business people understand what was happening at the fast-moving edge of the Internet—weeding through the thickets of buzzwords to get to the actual business and human realities.
In one of those tech analyst roles, I helped create a product that allowed clients in different departments to make sense of the same set of intelligence, say, about a new product introduction—financial implications for the money people, possible marketing fallout for the marketing folks, and how it might affect development roadmaps for the product managers. This was based initially on commercial rationale: it allowed our research to be sold to several audiences at once. But it also created within our team a greater flexibility to think about how emerging change would impact the many parts of an organization in different ways. Because of the fast pace of the work (and the speed of change), we became pretty agile at seeing what was coming, processing the pattern and explaining it quickly to each audience.
For the last eight years or so, I've been lucky enough to work as a professional consulting futurist, helping a wide array of "consumers," from researchers to designers to marketers to strategists to educators, understand, anticipate, and adapt to change. Even a decade on after that first job I still act as translator, helping to digest and communicate complex concepts to people in many roles, in ways that make not only linguistic but cultural sense—interpreting, sensemaking and advising from the listener or readers' point of view.
Stepping into the futurist's shoes, my experience has told me to do the same whenever possible—to always strive find a way to bring insights into the "local language," in terms of the business and organizational culture, and how that culture tends to think about change, experimentation and permission. And where possible, I consider how to create stimuli that serve the dominant learning modality, be it visual, auditory or kinesthetic.
So, when working with makers and other creatives, particularly where developing and prototyping are involved, discussion of "hacking","modding" or "wireframing" the future often resonates more. Using familiar frameworks and concepts calls participants to action, invites them to dig into the future, find out what makes it tick, and make it their own—to reprogram it and/or construct it. With a food company, this might be another set of metaphors describing formulation, fusion and experimentation. With a bank, it may have more to do with ideas of trust and networks, and so on.
There is a lot more to unpack here, and each engagement brings new ways to create "handles on the future" as I often talk about. As futurists, we aren't here to dazzle with entertaining anecdotes, impress with clever aphorisms, or bludgeon with models. We are here to help realize constructive, positive change, and to get better at doing so with each interaction—to drive better futures, as we say around here. We learn from local cultures to enrich our approaches. And, as I learned early on in language class, we do so more effectively if we can speak and understand as they do. Otherwise, we can't build the mutual respect to enable them to see as we do.