Rebecca Ryan

Rebecca Ryan, who led our Velocity2040 community visioning process, is trained as a futurist and an economist. She helps clients figure out what's next by leading foresight processes for organizations and communities, and teaching about the science and art of strategic foresight.

Trend: What's it like to be a futurist? How'd you end you up doing this?

Ryan: It's mostly awesome to be a futurist! It suits my personality and interests. I enjoy learning about trends and looking for patterns. I was trained in Macroeconomics, so this is a natural extension. And I feel called to leave the world better for future generations, so my profession resonates with what I feel I'm on Earth to do.

I fell into this in the way that many people do. I had a gnawing sense that I needed to make a career shift from teaching people about generations. And then the recession happened, all my business dried up, I had to lay off most of our staffand I got depressed. One day I learned that 'futuring' was a profession, and I started to lay the groundwork to transition to this. The most significant step was taking the five-day professional course on foresight at the University of Houston.

Trend: You engage on a deep level with many communities, does anything about Chattanooga strike you as truly unique?

RR: Many, many things strike me as unique. For starters, Chattanooga 'gets' futuring because the current generation is very aware of what happened in the 1980s, when the last 'futuring' process was used. That's very unique. Most communities do not have the visceral experience of foresight, like folks in Chatty do.

Also, Chatty has done VERY well over the last several years, so it's a step ahead of many communities that are only just now regaining confidence after the recession.

Another thing that's unique about Chattanooga is that elected officials and staff at the City and County respect each other and work together. That is increasingly unique. I just saw a video of a school board meeting in another U.S. city where school board members were physically going after each other. So Chattanooga's civility is remarkable to me.

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Finally, Chattanooga and Hamilton County are really starting to grow into their 'entrepreneurial culture.' A lot of communities TALK about having this, but you actually do ... and that 'can do,' 'take risks' culture can be a positive contagion in a community. This is what makes Silicon Valley singular: trying and failing is okay.

All of these answers are about the 'soft skills' and attitude of Chattanooga. I realize that you might have wanted me to gush about your mountains or natural beauty, but in my experience a community can have all of the 'hard assets' and still be a disastrous place to live and work.

Trend: Do people make jokes about you "seeing the future"? What's the funniest one you've heard?

RR: They try, but none of them are very good. I would remember a good joke about being a futurist! The better jokes are about economists. My favorite economist joke is 'If you laid every economist end-to-end, you still couldn't reach a conclusion.'

Trend: What's your biggest hope for our community after working with us?

RR: I want to come back to Chattanooga in 10 years and see a truly united community where racial wounds are healing and people of all backgrounds and upbringings are working together side by side in a way that lifts everyone up.

Trend: Doing this type of work, do you find yourself critiquing communities you visit for leisure? What are some common threads of issues you notice communities facing across locations?

RR: I'm a Zen Buddhist, so I try not to critique. But of course, I notice things. Cities have personalities, just like people do. They have pain. They have energy. They have frustrations. The thing I'm thinking about the most, because it is pervasive across communities, is how the 'prosperity paradox' can play out in the future. What I mean is that most cities have many 'good trends,' like wages are going up, and jobs are growing. But at the same time, more people are becoming homeless and falling off the economic ladder. Somehow, this tension must get resolved. If you read carefully, that's woven throughout the Velocity2040 plan.