Future is his vocation.
He can’t predict what tomorrow will bring – he’s no clairvoyant – but Harry Gatterer has a well-founded grasp of where our world is headed in the coming years. Many refer to him as a futures researcher, but he sees himself more as an inventor and developer, who uses his expertise to empower companies to make the transition into the future.
“I’m the kind of person who finds joy in a blank sheet of paper. That’s when I feel most comfortable, not when faced with a set form. This sense of openness is also what most attracts me to the future,” he explains. “To a certain extent, the future is already determined, because we reap what we sow in terms of past decisions. But plenty is still open for us to decide – what could be more open than the future?”
I’m the kind of person who finds joy
in a blank sheet of paper.
How it began
“HOW CAN WE DO SOMETHING NEW?”
At the Zukunftsinstitut, Gatterer pursues his vision of sharing this way of thinking with the world. His career path began on quite a different note, however: “At 20 years old, I owned my own furniture store.” It may not sound like a job with a great future, but this native of Tyrol already had forward-thinking instincts. “We didn’t sell furniture, we sold a lifestyle,” he recalls. What is now a common strategy was a revolutionary success over 25 years ago.
“As a 20-year-old starting a business, you don’t ask yourself, ‘How have other people already been doing this?’ Instead, you ask yourself, ‘How can we do something new?’ That’s what led me to the idea of explicitly focusing on the idea of the future,” says Gatterer, although he would need to take a few more detours before arriving at Zukunftsinstitut and its founder Matthias Horx, a luminary in the field of trend research.
“The future is already here. How to interpret the present to see the things to come.“
If you’re always on the defensive, you also block out new thoughts.
BUILDING SMART KNOWLEDGE NETWORKS
But what is a future researcher’s bread and butter? “That’s harder to define,” says Gatterer. Some of his employees, who are recruited from a range of scientific disciplines and diverse personal backgrounds, focus on traditional research, collecting data, processing it, and generating qualitative and quantitative assessments.
What’s most important, however, is discussion with a wide network of forward thinkers. “These are people who are in the position to think beyond the collective consciousness of a society, and whose methodologies grant them a broader perspective.”
THE BIG DIFFERENCE FROM OLD TREND RESEARCH METHODS
“That’s probably the biggest difference from old trend research methods. Trend forecasting was once like a crystal ball in the hands of a few, well-known individuals. That approach isn’t good enough anymore. These days, it’s about building knowledge networks so that each issue can be addressed with the right group of people.”
Zukunftsinstitut sees itself as a haven, where these people feel comfortable and can let their thoughts run free. In Gatterer’s view, an atmosphere that facilitates free thinking is a key ingredient in being able to adequately contemplate the future. “Unfortunately, it’s still a rare occurrence, even in universities. There, anybody undertaking scientific research finds themselves continuously on the defensive rather than generating new ideas,” he asserts. “Defense vs. critique is an important duality in science – the same holds true in our practice, but if you’re always on the defensive, you also block out new thoughts.”
“Let the questions work themselves out. The future isn’t about rushing and speed, as we’re often made to believe. Not everything needs to be super fast, fancy, disruptive, and overly digitalized. That’s just one facet of the truth. Of course, there will be changes.”
“You need to adopt a more systematic thought process than usual. Basically, you need to learn to think three or four steps ahead. Because the straightforward path, the supposedly correct one that leads to the first conclusion, is often wrong. Don’t rely on a linear way of thinking – think about cycles and feedback loops.”
“Excessively looking outwards isn’t looking into the future. Looking at your own effectiveness is looking into the future. As an entrepreneur and as a human, you need to look at your place in your environment, know you own effectiveness, and be aware of what is happening in the world around you.”
“You need to fundamentally believe in the future. If you don’t, why would you concern yourself with the future? We use the term ‘critical optimism’ for the future, because of course we also need to take into consideration the crises that negatively impact and affect people.”