I worked in the Canadian federal government for over 25 years so I thought I was schooled and up-to-date in management jargon. After all, during my quarter century in the bureaucracy, I had to deal with everything from a vision and strategies exercise to the creation of a management "dashboard" to monitor all aspects of the organization.
As far as I was concerned, there was nothing new under the sun when it came to the creative use of language to describe essentially ordinary tasks. But it looks like I was wrong. I've been retired from the government for five years now and it seems I've already fallen woefully behind in my understanding of today's bureaucratese.
This revelation came to me recently while reading a newspaper column in which the author was identified as a strategic foresight consultant. I'd never heard this job title before and, in fact, wondered if it qualified as a legitimate job at all.
I tried wrapping my head around this trinary piece of jargon to divine its true meaning. But the more I pondered the phrase, the more I realized I didn't have a clue as to what the job entailed. I was clearly out of touch.
A strategic foresight consultant sounds like someone who develops strategies to cover future situations. But if that's the case, why not just call yourself a planner?
Clearly there must be more to this than I imagined. Maybe the job wasn't just about planning; maybe it had to do with fortune telling, a kind of psychic management.
To assist me in my investigation, I did an on-line search and checked out the web site of another self-styled strategic foresight consultant. Surely, I figured, this would enlighten me as to what the phrase meant.
Sadly, the site only muddied the linguistic waters, at least for me. Like Alice passing through the looking glass, I found a whole new set of words that mystified me.
The web site's owner described how he was experienced in "scenario-based strategic planning" which again, to my untrained mind, was nothing more than planning. Needless to say, I was wrong.
Apparently "scenario-based strategic planning" covers a wealth of different activities, namely "horizon scanning", "drivers analysis", "back-casting" and "wind-tunneling." It sure sounds like I'd be getting my money's worth from such a service but unfortunately I was no further ahead in my attempt to divine what that service actually was.
It looks like it's no longer enough to offer your planning services to business or government as a simple consultant. As with so many other things, in today's world, you have to specialize. You can't just be a consultant; now you have to be a foresight consultant or a hindsight consultant or an insight consultant. And to further distinguish yourself from your contemporaries and competitors, you may even have to tack on some important sounding but essentially meaningless prefix like "strategic" to your job title.
I think these folks who call themselves strategic foresight consultants are what we once called futurists. They're basically science fiction nerds who predict future advances in technology. What these people have cleverly done is turn their obsession with science fiction into an actual paying job. If your company needs to know how it can adapt to the upcoming Star Wars world, there's a specialist who can tell you what you have to do or at least pretend to tell you.
Now that I know what a strategic foresight consultant is, I have to admit that I'm a little jealous. Maybe if I had adopted a similar approach to my endeavours in the past and come up with a few new buzzwords, I'd be swimming in work, too.
I suspect a strategic foresight consultant could help me in my pursuits. Instead of simply calling myself a writer, it might be time to adopt a new title like linguistic ordering advisor or strategic phraseology counselour or creative word placement consultant. Better yet; maybe I could be the guy who comes up with all these new buzzwords and jargon in the first place -- a veritable prince of pretension.