I’m sorry, but I just can’t afford it
Pray let me introduce you to a bleak, blunt fact of the futurist’s working-life:
…where futurists work ain’t where the money is.
In this so-called ‘economy’, where money drives everything and short-termism rules the roost, there’s almost no way to make living as a futurist, in developing the understandings and tools and techniques that will be needed for the future.
But if the futures-work doesn’t happen, then neither does the future: it stops dead before it even has a chance to get started.
So here’s the dilemma: someone has to do that work, otherwise the future isn’t going to happen. But somehow they also have to find a way to get paid, otherwise in this, yes, definitely-insane economy, they’re not going to be able to make any kind of living, and thence won’t be able to do the work.
That pretty much describes my personal situation for the past seven years.
I’ve proved my point, and my competence in the futures for enterprise-architectures and the like: pretty much everything that, seven years ago, I’d insisted was essential for enterprise-architecture, is indeed now slowly being taken up. A fair few of the tools I’ve developed in the meantime – the tools that, yes, will be needed for the next stage of whatever enterprise-architecture becomes – are likewise indeed slowly being taken up.
But the keyword there, unfortunately, is ‘slowly‘: it’s all happening very very slowly, with a gap of maybe five to ten years between when the futures-work happens, versus when someone starts making serious money out of it. And very, very few people have paid anything towards helping that work happen – because, yes, futures-work is not where the money is, and most people still don’t realise that it doesn’t ‘just happen’, it’s very real work, and has to be paid for somehow.
There are a fair few people who do ‘near-futures’ work, six months or so ahead of the market: that’s the nominal value-proposition of many of the big-consultancies, for example. I’m one of the very few whose work is primarily at the equally-essential longer time-horizons. Which, again, means that I’m that much further away from the money.
Looking around, seems that just about everyone else in ‘the trade’ who does any kind of far-futures work does it only as part of their other paid-work: it’s a kind of sideline, not their main work. Most if not all of the other people I see at conferences and the like are fully paid-for, either by their employer, or as a paid presenter, or both. And it seems that just about everyone assumes the same applies to me: that someone else has already paid for my work, and that it’s therefore ‘free’.
Which, unfortunately for me, they haven’t, and it isn’t.
To be blunt, what I do is also damned hard work: few people seem to have any grasp at all just how hard it really is. It’s not just the sheer effort of trying to think things through and sense out suitable options for a viable future; it’s also the emotional work of dealing with people who seem to delight in trashing every scrap of it, ceaselessly, because they don’t understand it and can’t be bothered to understand it and reject it outright because it isn’t what they already think know about the past. Sigh…
A futurist’s work consists of dealing with relentless and often personally-intense dilemmas, such as:
- closely focused on the present, and the future, and the past, all at the same time
- constantly open to new possibilities, yet simultaneously applying strict discipline and rigour
- emotionally wide-open, to sense out the subtle undercurrents, yet maintain a skin thicker than rhino-hide to cope with all the insults and abuse
And, to again be blunt, those dilemmas in themselves create other kinds of costs that need to be factored into the overall cost-equation: constant self-doubt takes a serious toll, for example, whilst severe depression, risk of burn-out, and an intense, relentless sense of loneliness and isolation are routine occupational hazards here.
So, no, folks, I don’t just sit on my backside and pontificate: everything I do comes out of damned hard work, in many, many different forms. And for the past seven years I’ve worked flat-out, trying to render something usable out of the fragmented, inchoate, incoherent, seriously-dysfunctional mess that currently passes for ‘enterprise’-architecture. But this is where it gets hard…
All of that work has been paid for – if that’s the right term – almost entirely out of my own pocket. This has been my full-time job for seven very long years: and to do this job properly, I have had no space for any other source of work or source of income. And the income just hasn’t been there: at best, low-end of four-figures gross-income, per year, for seven years. Yeah, just think about that for a while: just how long would you be able last on almost no income? Watching the savings dwindle away to nothing, at an additional opportunity-cost of well over half a million at today’s pay-rates for enterprise-architects, just so that someone else can make a serious fortune a few years down the track? Just finding ways to deal with that fact alone has made the work much, much harder, in every possible way.
And that has had huge, huge impacts at a personal level, in every form of cost. To give just one example, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been one of the most active thought-leaders in enterprise-architecture, for many years now: but of the ten conferences I’ve been asked to speak at this year, not one has actually paid anything for me to do so, or provided any kind of cover for the typically three to five days it takes prepare and present a reasonable-quality session; and only two out of the ten have been polite enough, or respectful enough, to realise that I’m doing a heck of a lot of work on their behalf, and have actually offered to at least pay my expenses for travel and accommodation. This year, as in every other year for the past seven years, I’ve given a heck of a lot of direct, deeply-researched in-person help to a lot of people in enterprise-architecture, some of them very-highly-paid professionals; but other than one very-supportive colleague in Latin America, no-one has thought to pay even a single cent towards covering my very real costs in doing so. And at the same time, I see case after case of people doing very poor-quality ‘EA’ work yet being paid very high sums for not-doing it. That fact galls, to say the least: it hurts every damn day.
So here’s the news, folks: I’m sorry, but I just can’t afford to do this any more. Not this way.
If you don’t value any of my work in way, well, that’s fine, that’s your choice – my fault for being so stupid as to waste a serious slice of my life and virtually all of my savings on something that no-one else wanted anyway.
Yet several people have said that they do value my work, that they do want me to keep on going on this, continuing to find ways to make some form of real enterprise-architecture or equivalent viable for the future. But reality is that I just can’t do it any more – not this way.
(Nor, by the way, can any other futurist afford to keep on going this way – I’m by no means the only one in this futurists-don’t-get-paid boat. It’s hard for all of us…)
Right here, right now, for me personally, this is crunch-time: I’ve no more reserves of any kind – financial, emotional or otherwise – so I either have to find some kind of alternate way to make this work, or else close the whole thing down, for good.
Hence, if you do want me to be able to continue in this, then I’m going to need serious help from you – or from someone, at any rate.
I’m going to need help in finding a business-model that actually works, and that would help me recoup at least some of the enormous costs of the past few years.
I’m going to need help in bringing my work down to a more concrete, practicable, directly-usable form, so as to cut down the time-gap between the raw futures-work of initial development versus the point of practical application and monetisation.
I’m going to need help in quite a lot of technical spaces – graphics, for one, and app-development, for another, to deliver the kind of toolset that would actually be of some real use in enterprise-architectures and much, much more.
And I’ll also admit I’m going to need help in dealing with the sheer emotional and other pressures of doing this kind of work – because, make no mistake, that part of the work is probably the hardest of all.
That’s it for now, I guess.
Over to you.