'You must be able to think freely'

Ian Pearson is a futurologist for British Telecom. His work involves tracking and predicting new developments in technology and society.

How did you become a futurologist?

I started out as an engineer, knowing a lot about information technology, and from there I learnt more about other technologies. Nowadays, I look at social and political trends too. You're tracking stuff as it comes over the horizon - if there's a brand new invention out there, you have to work out how it's going to affect society.

What's the best route to becoming a futurologist?

There are two ways to become a futurologist: either you become an expert in a specialist field, or you can join a future consultancy or institute straight after university. Some futurologists are tightly focused on predicting developments in one area where they have strong expertise. Others are more general, like me.

What skills should you have to predict the future?

The most important skill by far is to be able to think freely and not be constrained by prejudice or other people's attitudes. The second most important ability is to be able to link things together - how social and economic changes affect the whole system.

It's not a job you can do straight out of school, because you need to take into account all of the complexity of today's world.

What advice would you give to someone with their eye on your job?

Be interested in it. If you don't have a burning curiosity to find out what the future holds, it's probably not the job for you. If you are interested - go for it. There are lots of companies doing this kind of work, and I can't imagine a better job.

Why do you love your job?

The freedom. I can do pretty much what I like. I might be advising an oil company, or a magazine - you can flit around like a butterfly, and get involved in a lot of interesting, different fields. I do a lot of media work, which is fun, and I travel a lot. No one tells me what to do. Ideas come from keeping your finger on the pulse and knowing what's happening in the world, so I might spend the morning reading the newspapers or just gazing out of the window, thinking.

What's not so great?

The biggest downside is being laughed at. People think we're talking complete nonsense - total twaddle. They laughed us off the stage when we first talked about text messages. They couldn't believe that people would write a text when they could just call and have a conversation - but of course, we were right. A computer 10 years from now will bear absolutely no resemblance to computers today, but change happens so gradually that most people don't notice.

What's the salary and career path like?

Like every job, you have to start at the bottom and work up. You might start as a junior analyst at a future consultancy and move up to partner level.

You could set up your own consultancy, and you could do freelance work. You're not going to be a multimillionaire unless you're really, really good at it - but a consultant futurologist at the top of their field could easily be earning a six-figure salary.

For information on careers in futurology, go to www. shapingtomorrow.com. Ian's site: www.btinternet.com/~ian.pearson

Ian Pearson contributed to making 'Nostradamus', to premiere at 9pm on 17 May, exclusively on the Discovery Channel