Bob has been helping organizations around the world prepare for and shape the future for nearly forty years. As a distinguished fellow at IFTF, he draws on his training in the social sciences and his extensive experience at the edges of multiple disciplines as he interacts with top leaders of business, government, and nonprofit organizations to encourage thoughtful consideration of the long-term future. He was IFTF’s president from 1996 to 2004 and served on its board until 2010; before that he created and led the Technology Horizons Program. The author or co-author of eight books, Bob is a frequent keynote speaker for large groups and also leads small workshops for creative teams. His best-selling Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present was selected as one of the top business books of 2007 and was followed by the complementary Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World, now in its second edition with contributions by the Center for Creative Leadership.
MAKING THE FUTURE
“Listening for the future is hard work. Leaders must learn how to listen through the noise of a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world. But leaders can make a better future. We need not and should not passively accept any future as a given. Disciplined use of foresight can help leaders make better decisions today. There is short-term value in long-term thinking.”
Research and Creative Focus at IFTF
Bob was the first full-time social scientist hired at IFTF and evolved over the years into a forecaster focused on organizations, technology, and human values. Today he researches, writes about, and teaches the skills leaders must possess in order for their organizations to thrive, given the external future forces delineated in IFTF’s ten-year forecast. While trained in quantitative forecasting methodologies, he communicates his foresight through accessible language, meaningful stories, and immersion experiences. His writing, speaking, and teaching bring IFTF’s foresight-to-insight-to-action model to a broad and influential audience.
Impacts of technology: When he joined IFTF in 1973, Bob was one of the first social scientists to study the human and organizational impacts of the ARPANET, the prototype for the Internet. He created and led a research program on emerging information technologies—now called the Technology Horizons Program. He has a special interest in how information technologies can facilitate networking, minimize distances, and take advantage of differences.
Leadership skills and executive development: Bob brings a futures lens to bear on current models for leadership and executive development. He argues that in a time of accelerating disruptive change, traditional leadership skills and training are not enough. His research, writing, and teaching address questions like these: What are the leadership skills that will be needed in order for organizations to thrive, given the external future forces of the next decade? How does a leader resolve the constant tension between judging too soon and deciding too late? How does a leader turn a VUCA environment into a place of vision, understanding, clarity, and agility?
Video-enhanced workshops and immersion experiences: Bob creates video-enhanced experiences of immersion in the future for large and small groups, seeing immersion in the future as the most powerful way to learn about leadership in the present. In every talk he does, he uses brief video clips to help bring the ten-year forecast to life and make it seem immediate and personal. He sees such immersion experiences as a way to allow leaders to dive in and learn in a first-person way without playing for keeps until they are ready.
Futures methodology: Bob is working with Kathi Vian and Jacques Vallee on a methodology for anticipating futures that seem impossible, in both a positive and a negative sense, because the coming decade will probably bring more of these. In this work the researchers are looking at different types of “impossible” futures and imagining how to develop skills to engage with them in constructive ways and to think practically about them.
Reciprocity-based innovation: Bob is developing his next book around the topic of reciprocity-based innovation—a concerted strategy for giving away economic value in intelligent ways, in the trust that the organization will generate even more new value for more players in return, by orders of magnitude. He is designing the book so that it can be used directly by leaders in workshop-style sessions that cycle from action (the future that is already here) to foresight (from IFTF’s ten-year forecast) to insight in order to spin off reciprocity-based innovation ideas.
Recent Projects and Programs
- Custom forecasts. Bob has been creating custom forecasts for leading organizations such as Procter & Gamble, Campbell’s Soup, Tesco, Hallmark, AB-InBev, and Intuit. He works with CEOs and other senior executives in these organizations to help them understand and respond to the external future forces most likely to disrupt their business over the next ten years.
- Keynotes for large audiences. About once a month, Bob delivers a keynote address that draws on IFTF’s latest ten-year forecast to introduce skills that will help leaders make a better future. Recent audiences have included TMRE (The Market Research Event), the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP), the American Council on Education (ACE), the Pet Industry Retail Association, the Conference Board Leadership Development Conferences (East Coast and West Coast), the Army War College, Fidelity Investments, the Gartner Group, the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes (CEEP), and the Pacific School of Religion / Graduate Theological Union.
- Leaders Make the Future workshops. Bob has done recent workshops based on his books for top teams and rising-star leaders at a wide range of corporations, including Kellogg’s, Disney, Intel, Walmart, Syngenta, Johnson & Johnson, UPS, and McDonald’s. In the workshops he uses foresight from IFTF’s ten-year forecast to kindle insight and action.
- Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World, Berrett-Koehler, 2009; second edition with contributions by the Center for Creative Leadership, 2012
- Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present, Berrett-Koehler, 2007
- Upsizing the Individual in the Downsized Organization: Managing in the Wake of Reengineering, Globalization, and Overwhelming Technological Change, co-authored with Rob Swigart, Perseus Books, 1994
- GlobalWork: Bridging Distance, Culture, and Time, co-authored with Mary O’Hara-Devereaux, Jossey-Bass, 1994
- Lead author, Leading Business Teams: How Teams Can Use Technology and Group Process Tools to Enhance Performance, Addison-Wesley, 1991
- Groupware: Computer Support for Business Teams, Free Press, 1988
- Teleconferencing and Beyond: Communications in the Office of the Future, McGraw-Hill, 1984
- Electronic Meetings: Technical Alternatives, Addison-Wesley, 1979
BS, School of Commerce, University of Illinois (attended on a basketball scholarship). MDiv focused on comparative religions, Crozer Theological Seminary (where Martin Luther King, Jr., attended divinity school). PhD in sociology of religion, Northwestern University.