Meet the Experts : Fiona Harkin

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Meet The Experts
In this month’s edition of Meet the Experts, Fiona Harkin, our foresight editor, explains how LS:N Global trends and foresight are formed as well as the trends she's most excited for in the coming year. 

: How would you describe your role and area of expertise at The Future Laboratory?
I’m the Foresight Editor here at The Lab, which means I oversee the direction of the analysis content on our subscription intelligence platform, LS:N Global, and contribute to the global foresight direction across the business. We often describe LS:N Global as the ‘engine’ of The Future Laboratory, so my role involves not only managing the fast-flow daily analysis that keeps our subscribers informed on the short term, but also our long-range view on an ever more unpredictable and variable future.

: How do you go about forming the trends and foresight on LS:N Global? 
Well, there are no crystal balls involved, that’s for sure. Our methodology was one of the first to put a framework on what was often considered an esoteric industry: that of trend forecasting. Our business is strategic foresight – and with that comes a rigorous methodology, starting with the global drivers that define our evolving needs as humans. We also track demographic insights across generations and then combine this with our team’s sector expertise, ranging from retail and tech to health, wellness, food and drink. For me personally, it’s about ideas-gathering and being on the ground at global events, from SXSW to Cannes Lions, and spotting the outliers – those off-the-wall concepts and ideas that initially have you shaking your head and then pausing to think further. 

:  Why do you believe that trends and foresight are so important for businesses in 2023?
Foresight tools are not something nice to have, they are an absolute necessity for any business. Why? It is becoming harder to extrapolate the future in the face of fast-paced change and in the face of our ‘normacrisis’ era, where the one certainty is uncertainty. Traditional trend forecasting models – and trend cycles – are either broken or being put to the stress test as businesses struggle to plan for a rapidly shifting near future, let alone a longer-term one. Truly innovative businesses demand an evolved approach to trend forecasting and strategic foresight, in which The Future Laboratory has long been a leader. We understand that resilience is the new currency for our clients.

: Tell us about one of your most recent and most exciting projects at The Future Laboratory. 
Our new Beauty, Health & Wellness macrotrend exploring Longevity Lifestyles has been fascinating to work on, exploring how we can live not only longer but healthier lives and the shift this will bring to a multitude of sectors. But it also raises a few existential issues around how our approaches to different life stages will change – and how our attitudes to death will evolve.

Published by:

4 July 2023

Author: Fiona Harkin

Image: The Future Laboratory


Left: Fiona Harkin, foresight editor, The Future Laboratory. Right: AI imagery by The Future Laboratory.

: What was your plan B career?
Who the heck has a plan B? Honestly, I just made it up as I went along, trying to be as truthful to myself as I could be. Looking back, I suppose I was unconsciously uncompromising in following what I was passionate about.

Having said that, I did check out of this industry for a while. I opened a couple of businesses of my own and it was a massive learning curve, which, I suppose, is LinkedIn hustle goblin speak for saying that it had some bum-skidding lows, not least Brexit and a global pandemic. Yeah, never again. But the thing about failing is that you’ve got to have a good place to land, and I have consistently fallen back on the experiences of my career. And I bring all this experience back into my role today.

: What led you to working in strategic foresight?
I never set out to work in this industry – which was still developing when I graduated – but I did set out to follow what truly interested me. By way of a BA in art history from The Courtauld Institute and an MA in fashion journalism from Central Saint Martins, I found myself working with words, trends and tech. 

I’ve written on many different topics, from the latest tech trends to future-gazing consumer predictions and the future of retail to the latest cultural, design and arts insights. I’ve even dabbled in science fiction too. What I love most is the constant learning – and then translating all that into really useful business information and seeing clients work successfully with it.

The very best bit? It’s a role that has taken me around the world, from São Paulo, Singapore and Moscow to Miami, Austin, Tel Aviv and Las Vegas. Unofficially, this involved dancing to Boney M’s Rasputin on a table in a Moscow nightclub; being given a virtual makeover in the online world Second Life while fending off indecent digital proposals; trying to cut it in a Boys’ Own world of chinos, Swiss Army backpacks and check shirts at various North American tech conferences before Women In Tech became a thing; being covered in fake tan for The Mirror; queueing until 3:00am in Texas rain nursing a pulled pork sandwich and a coronarita just to see my ultimate film crush unveil his latest arthouse flick; being allowed into one of Rio’s largest favelas to meet the talented women making the most beautiful clothing; getting lost photographing a cemetery in Buenos Aires; standing in an art installation of misty, rainbow-coloured rain in a fishing shed on a remote Japanese island; and having milk poured on my cornflakes by an immaculately turned-out waiter at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Paris.

I think it’s the best job in the world.

: What would be your go-to karaoke song at one of The Future Laboratory’s infamous karaoke nights?
If I sang anything, I would be fired. I may be half-Irish with a family full of naturally talented singers, but the melody gene skipped right on past me – not before giving me a sharp kick in the shins on the way. I value my career way too much to vocally let rip.

: Your favourite way to unwind? 
A fat glass of icy Calvados with tonic and a classic sci-fi movie playing in the background while building Lego with my seven-year-old boy and with my two chihuahuas curled up next to us. Either that, or skiing the Hobacks in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with Blur’s Song 2 playing. It's a place where you have no choice but to focus on the moment and just staying in one piece. I didn’t manage to achieve the latter.

: Your go-to working snack and after-work tipple?
The odd sneaky Fry’s Turkish Delight from the corner shop may happen (cooled for 10 minutes in the fridge). After work, it’s a dirty – no, filthy – three-olive gin Martini for me, please.

: What trend are you most excited about for the year ahead? 
I’m a misophoniac (no, it’s not a sexual thing, just Google it) so the rising need for quiet and new tools that can help establish personal aural boundaries are most appealing. But beyond the personal, it’s the potential of quantum computing to really supercharge digital processing power and bring forward more of the kind of tech-driven paradigm shifts we’re navigating right now with AI.

‘Foresight tools are not something nice to have, they are an absolute necessity for any business. Why? It is becoming harder to extrapolate the future in the face of fast-paced change and in the face of our ‘normacrisis’ era, where the one certainty is uncertainty.’
Fiona Harkin, foresight editor, The Future Laboratory

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