Gary Golden-professional futurist

[This was a live-blog of Gary Golden’s keynote at PCNC 2012. I’ve gone back and edited it slightly, mainly for grammar and flow.–jpb]

Gary Golden is a futurist. Apparently traveling to the future is good, because he looks very young. Golden’s card does read “futurist.”

What does a “futurist” do? According to Golden, futurist thinking is grounded in sociology. This field grew out of a NASA program, which attempted to look forward and try to predict social change. This brand of thinking looks at how society adapts to change, and in part, how individuals address change. Golden mentions that a futurist tries to introduce some “structure” to change.

A futurist is interested in understanding how the world is changing and seeks to address these issues from the “outside/in.” According to Golden, often, institutions are trying to address change from inside/out, which doesn’t work and leads to problems. Perhaps this is why the last 20-30 years has been so bumpy in the U.S. (my own point of view).

Golden recounted a funny anecdote of how things went when he initiated conversation with his working-class parents about attending the program at the University of Houston, in futurist thinking.

Difficulties of being a futurist are tied to people’s perception that a futurist is basically a “fortune teller,” or a predictor of the future. Too often, people want him to predict things, sometimes in a wishful way. Being a futurist doesn’t mean that you are an acolyte of Nostradamus.

Fundamentals of Foresight:

-Identify and monitor change.

-Forecast and explore implications of change.

-Communicate change and what it might look like and involve.

Gary had the following quote:

Every day I make and effort to go toward what I don’t understand.
–Yo-Yo Ma

We need to move from emphasizing the supremacy of “I-shaped” individuals when selecting candidates, which is what we used to look for; now, we’re looking for “T-shaped” individuals; these people have depth of expertise, but also can do other things; ”well-rounded,” might be a term we could use to characterize.

Several times Golden utilized an activity where he put a prediction up on the screen and asked his audience if they thought it was true, or false. In one case, he used the example of a visionary entrepreneur like Richard Branson, and a venture focused on urban/suburban retreat centers looking to unplug and turn inward. This was actually false and he provided an example of how most of the room stood up (I did) thinking it was true.

I also was wrong about true/false game, question #2 about Google and an application called “Smarterer.”

So how do libraries figure out the skills needs? Are mere degrees enough any more? If you have a degree in history, but have other qualities, does that make you more valuable.

There are tremendous amounts of data being produced around “soft” social tipping points. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and other sites are tracking data that tie into where we are headed as a society.

Golden’s talk is a fascinating one. The changes in cognitive development, as well as other workforce changes, like robots enhancing productivity–how is this going to impact our workplaces in another decade, or two? Can libraries meet these needs and be more adaptable than current workforce delivery points?

Golden’s premise is that our schools and colleges will be our last institutions to adapt to the changes that are occurring. If that’s true, who steps into this void? Can libraries do this?

Generational change in the United States and our economy:

-1950s to 1990s; west to west economy=National Independence

-1990s to 2000s; East to West economy=Low Cost Outsourcing

-Beyond 2012; South to South economy=All global growth is in emerging economies/global interdependence

Collaboration is now an essential skill; other 21st century skills:

-Critical thinking and problem solving


-Technology Literacy, media literacy

-Flexibility and adaptability

-Social and cross-cultural skills

-Creative thinking and innovation

-Productivity and accountability


-Global awareness

Golden’s examples of changing business models and economic shifts brings our focus back to locally-produced foods. Business models are turning back towards local and regional production.

Another example is manufacturing transition occurring. Low-volume or “additive” manufacturing. How can libraries leverage this paradigm shift? Libraries can support “maker” culture. This is also tied to DIY sensibilities. Making and designing things is now back “in.” Libraries can foster and cultivate this.

Golden’s last example is in healthcare and wellness; healthcare is now being delivered locally, in homes. Broadband and technology is driving this. Doctors don’t necessarily have to see you for everything. With an aging population (like in Maine), how is Maine supporting these skills. Libraries need to drive the enhancement of technology skills. Libraries can be the “evangelists” for open/civic software applications.

Outputs to outcomes–see the Knight Foundation.

Place is more important than ever before. Place and where people are “centered” matters. See secret cinema, flash mobs, etc.

Libraries can help communities leverage the positive collaboration and “open” workplace aspects of co-working.

Transformative change is now happening around the learner. Khan Academy-“flip the classroom.”

Libraries need to understand that humans are now “personal data factories.” More data created in 2010 than all of existence, prior. What are people connecting to via “unstructured” data streams, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. Librarians need to understand what people “like.” Leveraging this by developing feedback mechanisms, is where libraries can lead.

Can libraries grapple with the “I don’t understand” button?”

The most valuable form of data isn’t descriptive, or predictive, it is prescriptive!! Libraries needs prescriptive data gathering for patrons, so they can be guided into the future and succeed.

FMI on Gary Golden, you can visit his website.