“So, do you look in a crystal ball or something?”
That’s one of the most common quips Jim Bottomley hears when he shares that he’s a futurist.
The Vancouver Island man is always hesitant to share what he does for a living because he’s been perceived as highfalutin or stuck up by some.
“It’s not about ‘pie in the sky’ sort of predictions,” said the 63-year-old. “I want to help people understand the future of humanity.”
Simply put, a futurist is someone who helps make predictions and possibilities of the future based on trends, technology and research.
Although predictions are the name of the game, he can’t tell you what the interest rate will look like in two to three years. One of the key rules he follows is not giving solid numbers, as he says it’s destined to be wrong.
Bottomley never imagined that he would end up becoming a futurist, but the stars aligned for him back in the 1980s.
He was working under the pet foods division of Quaker Oats Co. when his boss asked him whether they should invest more into cat food or dog food. Bottomley conducted interviews and extensive research to give the best presentation to the board. He determined that cats were the leading trend, and the team moved forward with his suggestion.
From that moment on, his path to becoming a futurist was set.
Fast forward, Bottomley has worked with all sorts of clientele, anywhere from political parties to cosmetic companies. He said he enters any conversation with a new client by asking them what they are trying to sell. By their response, he can tell whether they’re headed towards success or failure.
“Take the Ford F150, for example,” said Bottomley. “Some would say, ‘you’re selling a truck.’ You’re selling intimidation. Big protective vehicles seem protective, and customers are always looking for safety.”
He pointed out other companies, like Revlon, depend on emotional benefits. While chatting with their marketing executives, he helped their team determine that they weren’t just selling lipstick. They were selling hope.
Bottomley said the timeline for how long he spends researching and preparing a presentation to each client ultimately depends on the industry’s scope. During his time working for the American dairy industry, the clients felt like their consumers didn’t fully understand the effort farmers put into their milk and beef products.
Bottomley helped them navigate the situation by suggesting that the addition of a cow on the carton’s side with a farmer might improve public reception.
“I had no idea what a futurist was until I met him myself,” said Doni Eve, a friend of Bottomley’s since 2016 and member of the Sooke Writers’ Collective.
“He’s done a fantastic job carving out a niche for himself, and I’m surprised at how much research he does to understand the challenges companies face. He’s just a vibrant and engaging person to be around.”
Since the first wave of the pandemic, Bottomley said speaking gigs and interested clients have dramatically dropped.
“Trends change,” said Bottomley. “I have no plans to retire anytime soon, but it’s hard to predict how quickly business will bounce back and whether it will be as successful as before. But you’ve just got to take your shot.”
Looking ahead, the Sooke man has focused his efforts towards writing Hypnotizing Lions, a psychological thriller novel centred around an escape from a prison psychiatric hospital. He’s been working on it since 1984 and plans to release it later this year.
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