Reinventing Business

Happy Birthday, Futurists! A Movement Turns 104


Italian writer and Futurist Marinetti, circa 1910

Photograph by Albert Harlingue/Roger Viollet/Getty Images

Italian writer and Futurist Marinetti, circa 1910

If you see any futurists today, don’t forget to wish them a happy anniversary. Feb. 20th is considered the movement’s birthday, as it was on this date in 1909 that Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, an Italian poet, technophile, and promoter of the arts, had his The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism published on the front page of Le Figaro.

Marinetti’s manifesto was both anarchic and visionary. Marinetti championed the rise of a new age of mechanized transport and technology to usher in a blur of innovation and disruptive societal change. He also glorified war—calling it “the world’s only hygiene”—and was one of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s earliest and most vociferous supporters, which helped lead to the movement’s demise. Marinetti’s aim for futurism—to embrace the future and systematically predict its path—proved enduring.

Today, futurists are as common at Washington think tanks as they are on Madison Avenue and in Silicon Valley. They tweet a lot and write books on corporate change management. Marinetti would never have seen it coming. On the 104th anniversary of the movement’s founding, here is a look at Futurism 3.0, by the numbers.

On LinkedIn (LNKD), there are 4,361 professionals who proudly fly the “futurist” flag, using the descriptor as part of their current or previous job title. Yes, there is such a thing as an “ex-futurist.” (An additional 541 go by the Italian futurista and 132, the French futuriste.) There are 3,249 self-described futurists listed on Twitter.

Professional Title Number
Futurist 4,361
Futurista (Italian) 541
Futuriste (French) 132
Futurist + social media 1,331
Futurist + “change management” 1,017
Futurist + art 935
Futurist + author 639
Futurist + life/career coach 342
Futurist + information technology 304
Futurist + “political science” 263
Futurist + “New Age” 233
Futurist + futurology and/or “future studies” 173
Source: LinkedIn
   

Tech heavyweights Intel (INTC), Google (GOOG), and Microsoft (MSFT) employ futurists, as do the big accounting firms Accenture (ACN) and Deloitte. Futurists are most likely to be found in the fields of management consulting, in IT, and also in advertising and marketing, which points to either the versatility of the discipline or the unimaginative overuse of the moniker. More than half (54 percent) of professional futurists listed on LinkedIn are social-media consultants and/or “change management” specialists. They easily outnumber futurist artists (935), perhaps the only group of LinkedIn futurists familiar with the movement’s roots.

Branding yourself a futurist appears to be easier than you think. Just 4 percent of futurists on LinkedIn say they are students and/or graduates of futurology or futures studies. For futurists, the future is bright indeed.

Here then are some notable futurist predictions:

The Good:

In his 1970 best-seller Future Shock, America’s best-known futurist, Alvin Toffler, wrote of the dawn of the “super-industrial society,” later to be called the “information society.” The book offered survival strategies for individuals to cope with “information overload” and the coming “digital revolution,” concepts Toffler coined.

The bad:

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home,” Ken Olson, founder of Digital Equipment Corp., proclaimed in 1977.

The “way out”:

Ray Kurzweil, noted futurist, author and, now, Googler (GOOG), predicted two years ago that by 2045 humans will have achieved a state of “singularity,” or full merging with their technology, making us approximately 1 billion times more intelligent than we are today.

Warner writes about innovation for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow him on Twitter @bernhardwarner.

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