They're called the 'Futurists' (and they want to change the outdoor world)

Cellphones are shut off. The tweets have stopped streaming out. It’s a Wednesday night in January, and 60 young “influencers” have gathered to talk. The setting, a café in downtown Salt Lake City, serves as a discussion room for the Futurists, an ambitiously-named, invite-only group of twenty-somethings (and a few in their 30s) charged with visualizing the future of the outdoor world.

Futurist Project .jpg

Setting for a Futurist meeting

“We are committed to the outdoor industry and want to have a voice in its future direction,” said Stasia Raines, one of the group’s founders.

Raines and cofounder Deanna Lloyd organize the Futurist meetings in conjunction with the twice-annual Outdoor Retailer trade show in Utah. It kicked off last winter with 17 attendees but ballooned to more than 50 people in August who met in the upper room of a brew pub near the convention hall.

I attended the January meeting this year along with gear designers, marketers, athletes, other journalists, and environmental activists from around the U.S. Despite the social atmosphere and free food, the Futurist meetings are not networking events. Business cards are banned during the discussion times.

futurist project.jpg

Instead, for two hours the group is focused on conversation and the sharing of ideas. Raines and Lloyd moderate. You share ideas and move table to table, talking through a list of questions and topics with a diverse group of young go-getters who otherwise would rarely be in the same space.

“It pulls down professional barriers,” said Yoon Kim, the founder of startup media company Blogs for Brands. “By guiding the topic of conversation, the setting requires all parties to be a bit vulnerable. There’s a trust factor that is built from that process.”

Kim received a grant for a media project via a relationship he built during a Futurist meeting. “The group has introduced me to folks who were more willing to give me one-on-one time because we’ve developed that trust factor by sharing common goals and visions,” he noted.

Raines and Lloyd are currently planning the fourth Futurist meeting for this summer. The group, which gets support from The Outdoor Foundation and the Outdoor Industry Association, has ambitious goals and the ear of a small but influential segment of the outdoor world. We talked to Raines for a few more details on the future direction and current state of the Futurist group. —Amy Oberbroeckling

Describe the Futurist Project in one sentence.

We are a collection of people who come together to try and thoughtfully shape the future of the outdoor industry.

Who is a candidate for the group?

Our goal is to continue seeking out young “up and coming” leaders in the industry. We hope to attract those that share a commitment and passion for the outdoors. We want them to have a voice in the industry’s future direction.

Futurist Logo.jpg

The Futurist Project is supported by Outdoor Nation

What causes and issues do Futurists see as being most pressing?

A huge topic of conversation right now is accessibility to the outdoors and accessibility to the outdoors industry. We realize that the average outdoorsman is not necessarily the same person we are seeing on the Outdoor Retailer show floor. We want to make the outdoors more accessible to everyone.

What issues do you hope to discuss at the next Futurist meeting?

We let the group determine direction at our gatherings, and the specific issues we address will be up to who attends. We are building the plane as we fly it.

Futurist Taking Notes .jpg

Take note. Key ideas are written and used to facilitate future discussion

What effect do you hope to see five years from now from this group?

We would like to see the project be a go-to resource for providing the outdoor industry with information from our community. Eventually, these meetings can become a place where future industry leaders get together, collaborate, and find even more ways to contribute. This group is a place where young folks in the industry can grow and mature together as they share and elaborate on common ideas and goals.

—Amy Oberbroeckling is an assistant editor. Contact Outdoor Nation for more information on the Futurist group.

Stasia Raines & Deanna Lloyd .jpg

Futurist group founders Stasia Raines (right) and Deanna Lloyd

Posted by Jon Davis - 02/27/2013 02:04 PM

“We want to make the outdoors accessible for everyone.” But not our meetings, because, hipsters. Or secrets. Or the Man, or something. How is the outdoor industry supposed to gain any real insight into what “everyone” wants when only 50 people meet in a pub to discuss their hobbies? That sounds more like a college fraternity.

The group is probably doing great things. But the strategy seems a bit odd. Or off. Or something. But since we’re not invited, I’ll guess we’ll never really know.

Posted by Joe - 02/27/2013 06:51 PM

Agree with Jon’s points. If you want to make the outdoors more accessible to everyone, maybe start with a group that isn’t “invite only” and age-exclusive.

The last thing the greater outdoors segment needs is another group that takes itself way, way too seriously. How exactly did this group of four dozen “future leaders” decide it necessary to draft a blueprint for the future of the outdoors? I think I’ll be content letting the outdoors continue to do that and enjoying it like usual.

Posted by Yoon Kim - 02/27/2013 06:56 PM

Hey Jon,

So good insights here – I just want to add a piece of information that may have been overlooked.

The event is open to anyone who applies. In fact, there was a public invitation to apply to industry professionals through as many media outlets that were willing to send out the call (and as far as I understand, everyone who applied was accepted).

Unfortunately, the event is limited to industry professionals because it’s at Outdoor Retailer and OR is a tradeshow. OR is much more inviting than other shows (I’ve been to a total of 12 trade shows in my life) but that’s the reason it’s open to industry pro’s.

Definitely not an exclusive club by any means. If you want, I can send you the link to apply.

Posted by Joe - 02/27/2013 08:15 PM

But the cafe across the street from OR is open to the public, no? It’s not like you won’t find folks that are passionate about the outdoors in the greater SLC area.

Posted by Kp - 02/27/2013 09:55 PM

A buncha white priveleged “industry professionals” feeding their egos in their own little made up exclusive setting. And I’m sure their tweets were all sent out the minute they adjourned..so their industry friends could all hear about the important stuff they’re doing.

Way to do gods work, people.

Posted by Yoon Kim - 02/27/2013 11:12 PM

Hey guys – You have it wrong. This is not an exclusive gathering – hence the numbers blowing up from 17 to 50 in one go. If anything, the question is not getting people to sign up, but getting people to commit!

Anyone who wants to be part is a part – but you have to be young (defined as a Millennial) and you have to work in the industry. And there’s nothing wrong with that – college student organizations only allow college students – industry organizations only allow people who work in the industry. It’s just the nature of the event.

And it’s not a “bunch of white privileged people.” Comments like that aren’t helpful because that’s the exact stereotype all of us have been working so hard to break (if you notice by my name, I’m not white and neither were a good number of the room).

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is instead of criticizing us, why don’t you join us? There’s similar gatherings all over the country.

http://outdoornation.org/page/summits-2

Posted by Greg - 02/28/2013 08:02 AM

This is an outstanding venture. We really need a group like this to develop interest in the outdoors among today’s 18 to 30 age group which spends too much time in the presence of different types of electronic screens. From reading information from different publications and postings in the past, this group is looking to increase outdoor use among people of all races and is especially interested in getting more minority participation in outdoor adventures of all kinds from whom there is little interest. I frequently hunt, hike, fish and am outdoors almost as much as indoors and my constant companion is a black man and one of my best friends. However, we see almost no members of his race anywhere we go and he constantly complains about that lack of interest . The Furturist Project is looking for ways to increase interest among that group especially but also among all individuals that will be taking over the use and conservation of our outdoor world when we “elders” pass on. Before heaping criticism on this very special project, you need to become more informed about what the Futurist Project is trying to do. Look at other articles that have been written, use Google, make telephone calls but for goodness sakes, don’t belittle the best outdoor use advocates we have had in many years. Think Sierra Club twenty years ago.

Posted by Tyler - 02/28/2013 11:23 AM

Is this an attempt at a think tank? It’s a poor one. A group focused on age as a condition for “membership;” that’s truly bizarre. It’s my assumption as well as others’ (see comments above) that it’s mostly white middle-to-upper-classers (and if that’s not the case, why are 100% of the pictures of white people?). Even in the background there isn’t a lot of diversity in the room.

Real “up and comers” in any industry don’t have to call themselves such. You’re not a “future leader” if you have to tell people you are. This seems like a real self-promotion/attempt at seeming important. Sorry to pan it, but innovation and “driving the industry” takes a lot more than gathering in a restaurant and talking about whatever comes to mind.

The outdoors isn’t one-size-fits-all but OR attendees really are pretty homogenous. Trying to build a think tank out of OR will just result in more of the same. I truly hope this is not billed as representative of all outdoor users everywhere.

It’s hard to get behind a group that, even if it ever does accomplish anything, is by nature exclusionist. But whatever, I’m not a twentysomething, what could I POSSIBLY have to offer such a stellar group of future leaders, right?

Posted by Jon Davis - 02/28/2013 02:47 PM

@Yoon—

Chalk up my confusion to the part of the article that says, “invite only,” and makes no mention of any sort of openness at all. After a second reading, it’s more obvious that unlike me, the Futurists are members of the OR profession. But the article does use the term “everyone.”

Also ironic is the line, “Futurist meetings are not networking events,” which precedes this: “Kim received a grant for a media project via a relationship he built during a Futurist meeting.” Most of us millennials know by know that business cards are kind of a silly relic, but if you ask me, it looks like you’ve been networking like a boss. :)

I’m not criticizing you or the group’s mission. I’m just pointing out some observed inconsistency.

Cheers.

Posted by Joe - 02/28/2013 02:55 PM

You didn’t answer my question Yoon, which I think is an underlying question that a lot of us have. Since this event was held in a public setting, not in an OR conference room, why was it limited to OR attendees?

I really can’t wrap my head around how this is beneficial to anyone. Wouldn’t the “future leaders” of the industry want to actually hear from the folks they’re trying to sell product to, as opposed to just dictating things unilaterally? An industry that’s focused on something as simple as natural, wide-open spaces creates a lot of complication – fostering a new generation of back-slapping insiders telling themselves what they want to hear is not going to help.

Posted by Kevin Fonger - 02/28/2013 05:09 PM

Hi all,

I thought I would add my two cents in here. I have been to the past two Futurist events and I have found them very beneficial and insightful. The outdoor industry as a whole is faced with the challenge of a changing culture, a changing consumer in the future, and a shrinking number of current consumers. This group has partially been formed to be proactive to get more people outside enjoying the outdoors.

To answer the question on age, here is what I have to say. For age, it is important to allow fresh minds to come up with new ideas. We are very fortunate to have seen great outdoor industry growth over the years with direction from older generations. While they have done a good job, they don’t always “really” understand the market and their employees, and they often want them to conform to what is and what has been instead of accepting and adapting to change. This is not for all organizations, but there are plenty out there with an old school way of thinking. By capping the age in the group, it is am attempt to keep out some of those older ways of thinking. Is it an exact science? No. But it is an effort to generate change and keep out potential older and dated views. If you’re familiar with focus groups, you should know how even one person can change the group dynamic and the way people think.

All white people – While the majority of the group was white, we are making efforts to change that and it will take time. We want to see change and this includes increasing diversity among us. This will not happen overnight, but change is in the water.

Exclusive? Well, kind of, but there is a reason for that. If everyone in the world was allowed to attend, it would be like wrangling cats. By having current outdoor industry professionals and a few outsiders who the leaders see could provide great insight, it is more manageable. This was only the second meeting of the group and it will be developing over time. Think of a fortune 500 company, do you think it would be effective to have every employee attend a board meeting to speak to the future of the company? While many employees might want to attend, it’s not always the best use of time and resources.

The Futurist Group is a good start to make change and this article was most likely intended to provide a little insight into what is happening on the inside of the outdoor industry. Most of the group wants to let people know that we acknowledge the problems and challenges we face and we are making steps to correct them and do what we feel is best to get more people outside and active.

Posted by Dale - 03/01/2013 01:43 PM

It is discriminatory. Innovation is stifled any time a group is restricted due to physical or philosophical belief. The idea that a 50 year old can’t think outside the box as well as a 20-something is preposterous.

Posted by Grannyhiker - 03/01/2013 04:02 PM

I agree with Dale and others. I’ve done more thinking “outside the box” in the 12 years since I retired than I did in the years previously. That’s especially true with backpacking. Remember that it’s often we older folks who shape the future by taking our kids and grandkids out in the wilds and teach them our love for wilderness. I’m not the only one who does this, and those kids, not the exclusive 20-somethings, are the future of both backpacking and wilderness preservation!

Posted by ec - 03/01/2013 05:19 PM

you should be outdoors doing the stuff and brainstorming around camp …

not in a yuppie cafe …

Posted by joe - 03/01/2013 06:00 PM

Maybe you guys should just stop publicizing your activities. Every time you try to explain them, they just look worse. Now you’ve basically said that old folks can’t come up with fresh, new ideas. Call me crazy, but listening to input from many different demographics and then combining some of the best elements usually leads to better actions than just listening to one group, especially one that, by definition, has less experience and inflated egos, as evidenced by quotes about “future leaders” and older folks don’t “really” see what’s going on, but apparently those that have been interning for a year and a half do, etc.

Do what you want, but I’d suggest doing it quietly. Or at least have an industry PR rep to spin your activities into something that doesn’t sound so self-congratulatory and condescending.

Posted by Yoon - 03/01/2013 07:35 PM

@Jon Davis

Good points. So yes, it’s “invite only” with the caveat that if you apply (apply means sending an email to collective [at] thefuturistproject [dot] org with your age and reason for wanting to be a part of the conversation – see conversation topics below), you’ll most likely be “invited.” Again, there are summits like this all across the country. outdoornation.org/page/summits-2

And yep – there wasn’t mention of the fact that there were public calls for applicants and nominations. I don’t think Amy knew of those.

In terms of the grant – the event gives four grants to further ideas that support the missions listed below. I was the only person who applied for a grant so…I received one.

In order to attend, you have to be ready to talk about…

- making the outdoors more inclusive to people of color, people of lower income, urban populations, etc.

- mentorship of folks who normally wouldn’t go outdoors

- cleanup projects like urban area cleanups, beach cleanups, or what not

@Joe
So you had two questions. I’ll answer both

So question 1: “Since this event was held in a public setting, not in an OR conference room, why was it limited to OR attendees?”

So technically, the dinner is not limited to OR attendees. If you really want to be a part of the conversation (see above for the conversation topics) and don’t have a badge into the show, they try to arrange a badge (with no guarantees but they promise to try).

Question 2: “Wouldn’t the “future leaders” of the industry want to actually hear from the folks they’re trying to sell product to, as opposed to just dictating things unilaterally?”

The goal of the dinner isn’t to address business issues – but issues I mentioned above.

And comments like, “Maybe you guys should just stop publicizing your activities,” and “a “buncha white priveleged “industry professionals” feeding their egos in their own little made up exclusive setting.” are just so wrong! No one is seeking attention and everyone is trying to address issues that have plagued the industry for decades. The fact is – as a group – we’re acknowledging that there is a problem and we’re trying to be a part of the solution!

Anyway, it sounds like both of you guys are extremely passionate about making the outdoors more inclusive to everyone – so I’d totally encourage you to look into the summits or send an email letting the folks know that you want to be a part.

Posted by r. McElrath - 03/04/2013 10:52 AM

In my job as an equipment developer,my employer has found that I provide valuable feedback not only on what works now, but what didn’t work well in the past. I help them prevent repeating mistakes. I know these things because I worked during those times. You’re exclusion of ‘older folks’ (geez) is typical of a generation that thinks they know everything. Sadly this principle never holds true, and I’m predicting that your egos will be your downfall. Wisdom never thrives in an environment of exclusion.
But hey, sounds like a good excuse for a party, and +1 for a neat logo.

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