Every month or two, out of professional curiosity, I do a trawl of LinkedIn and a few other job sites to see who is hiring for positions in the field of foresight, futures research, innovation, and other fields related to my area of practice. In my usual rounds last week, I came upon a posting for a Senior Manager, Foresight Activation at that most venerable of American chocolatiers, Hershey. I did what I usually do when I come across such a job: I post it to my network on Twitter.
I have a reason for doing this: as I mentioned last year, there are fewer positions for people who want to work in the fields of strategic foresight and futures research than the people who want them. Typically, only global brands, larger government bodies and nonprofits have both the resources and mentality to look at what’s coming beyond the next few product cycles or public programs. The university programs that train in strategic foresight are turning out a few dozen graduates per year, but the number of opportunities for these people to go straight into a job in their field of study are scarce. There are a lot of talented people out there. There aren’t as many jobs. This isn’t the MBA pipeline. There are more who come with innovation chops, but again, fewer opportunities.
Imagine my surprise, then, when Robinson Meyer of the Atlantic posted a short piece on the Hershey opening on Saturday. And then the Wall Street Journal got hold of the story on Sunday. Then it got a little ridiculous. The idea of a futurist for a confection company struck a chord. There was lots of speculation over what the heck a chocolate futurist (hand up, that’s my term) might do. Someone from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation gave it a shoutout. The thing had legs.
Most people haven’t come across the phrase “strategic foresight,” and probably find it a bit opaque. Indeed, from what the job description says, Hershey’s (which, I should add, is not one of my clients) is adding to a team that is already in place to get a better view of possible futures ahead of the company. More importantly, the company appears to be looking for someone to help more effectively move this knowledge around inside the company and apply it new products. This is a good thing. Hershey wants to integrate how they see the future unfolding with what goes into its product development pipeline.
A candy company, though? How many futures could it have, you ask? Why not just keep cranking out those delicious candy bars and Kisses? It’s more complicated than that. Cocoa prices, like those of other commodities, can be volatile. Prices can depend on long-term weather patterns, or regional politics. Values around demand can change. Tastes can be impacted by new buying power in emerging markets, products from well outside the traditional confectionary markets or changing social patterns. Economies of scale can shift dramatically. New production techniques like 3D printing can change how we can the product. And that’s just shooting from the hip. Try working out the timing all of these possible changes and how they might or might not interact, and then decide which to bet on when planning new products. In short, chocolate’s future isn’t much less complicated than that of oil when it comes down to it. This isn’t Shingy, it’s strategy.
So yes, it’s interesting that this iconic brand is beefing up its ability to see forward. Hopefully it’s a sign more companies are doing the same, but with job postings that are less of a viral hit. The best news would be if these roles became so commonplace that no one noticed. That’s something I could bite into.