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Merle O'Brien

Futurist Profile


Merle O'Brien


Head of Foresight & Innovation Thought Leadership: Lacuna Innovation

Education: MPhil Future Studies (USB) BA (UCT) FPRISA

Merle answered a few questions about her perspective and on being a futures thinker.


You identify yourself as an African futures thinker or practitioner. How would you describe to the woman or man on the street what it is that you do in this regard?

I analyse rising trends to identify unique opportunity spaces in which to make interventions and innovations that changes the way the future will unfold and impact organisations.

How many years have you worked as an African futures thinker / practitioner?

Ten years

In which countries or places have you had working experience as an African futures thinker / practitioner?

New York, USA
Bhubaneshwar, India
Cape Town, RSA
D'Kar, Botswana
Desktop research creating the African Trendstar

In what languages have you undertaken futures / foresight related work or research?


What is it that motivates you to work or participate in the foresight / future studies / related field

A deep and abiding commitment to use my creativity create a more beautiful, peaceful and sustainable world.

What goal/s would you most like to reach with your work as an African futures thinker / practitioner?

To disrupt the future of the future of Africa - I hope to achieve this with the African Trendstar - a cloud-based trends management platform with 100 trends and 500 inspirations on which to map unique opportunity spaces for innovation in Africa.

Who or what most influenced your thinking as a futures thinker / practitioner, and how?

Donella Meadows, Dr Elizabeth Dostal with Biomatrix Systems Thinking, Prof. Philip Spies's approach to human-centred innovation, Prof. Andre Roux who was my MPhil Supervisor for my thesis entitled: the paradigm of creative intelligence: ancient wisdom of Africa, China and India as applied to the challenges of the 21st century.

What is your main disciplinary background? (i.e. your primary training / qualification)

Creativity - Aside from lecturing Brand Innovation, Design Thinking and Integrated Communication Management, I am professionally trained in Indian classical dance and music, as well as drama and sculpture - As a futurist, I specialise in the creative, experience and knowledge economy.

How do other people describe you and how do you describe yourself?

Others describe me as… graceful
I describe myself as… creative



What is one of your favourite quotes about the future?

“The best way to predict the future is to create it” Abraham Lincoln

How would you describe the state of African futures thinking right now?

    In a state of limbo.

What is, in your opinion, the main barrier to uptake of futures knowledge by African institutions and organisations?

At this stage, African organisations and institutions are not open or mature to innovation, they have a ‘if it’s not broken don’t fix it’ approach. For Foresight, innovation and development to progress, new ideas must flourish in a society but when the media and corrupt governments foreclose on the truth, stagnation happens. Academically, foresight and innovation fall in different streams - although both is usually led by corporate Research & Development units. But not many local companies have dedicated resources for this and when they do, they rely heavily on their marketing department to speak to the market.Typically these units do not connect to turn foresight into innovations. In the last few years, with the corporate shift toward design thinking, digitalization, experiential marketing, sustainability and intrapreneurship, these fields have moved into the common space of Front End Innovation, but Africa's knowledge base of future studies has not kept abreast with market shifts and most modules are outdated to prepare futurists for the new world paradigm.

If you were to give advice to someone who wants a career in African foresight / future studies, what would you say to him or her?

Being a futurist is not a 9 - 5 job but a way of honoring a deep and abiding commitment to creating a more sustainable world.

What are your recommended readings for every African futures thinker / practitioner?

  • Buckminster Fuller - Critical Path
  • A Brief History of Time by Stephan Hawkings
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Design thinking - anything by Tim Brown
  • The Noetic Science paradigm - IONS
  • Biomatrix Systems - Dr Elizabeth Dostal
  • Ubuntu Philosophy

What are your recommendations for other favourite futures resources: websites, newsfeeds, mailing lists, associations, etc.?


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