NYTimes loses its futurist (or "doomed from the moment they decided it should be called ‘futurist’")

paidContent reports that Michael Rogers, the NYTimes Futurist, is leaving his role after two years on the job. Doesn’t surprise me – no job with that title was ever going to last or accomplish its goal.

The original listing for a futurist turned my head (grew up in NYC-area w/ intense attachment to the local papers) when it was first posted and i pinged a friend at the Times to get a sense of what they were thinking. He offered to connect me with the executive doing the search but I passed.

Around the same time a silicon valley headhunter contacted me to be the “Head of Innovation” for one of the major namebrand consumer Internet companies which had lost its way a bit. Reporting directly to the CEO (who has since left), this person was going to come up with all the revolutionary ideas to reinvent said company.

So with a little bit of rancor I told the recruiter here’s what i’d do if i took the job. On Day One I’d get up in front of their middle management and say “I’m changing my title from ‘head of innovation’ to ‘helper of innovation.’ And i’m quitting one year from now because there will be no need for me when everyone in this company has the ability and confidence to spread innovation. I’ll spend the next year helping the executive team define what they mean by ‘innovation,’ what’s preventing every employee today from being as innovative as possible, and what will be the framework for funding, measuring and prioritizing innovation going forward. And then my job will be done. I’m not your savior and i don’t think i’m any more capable of innovation than you are. I’m working for you and your goal is to make my job irrelevant.”

Oh that recruiter L-O-V-E-D me – wanted to take me into the CEO’s office right away. It amused me that essentially telling the CEO they were wrong and misguided was going to be the quickest path to an offer. Passed on the opportunity but always wondered if they hired someone. Their continued ‘innovation’ challenges suggest they either did not or, ironically more likely, they actually filled the role but with someone who thought they could be Moses as opposed to broadly changing the culture.

On a related note, with regards to the NYTimes Futurist – and i should say, i don’t know this Michael Rogers guy – he’s probably perfectly niceget rid of the stupid title next time — there’s no upside to a cutesy fancy title like that.

First it’s going to attract the wrong people who get a hard-on for the loftiness.

Second, why don’t you just stick a frickin’ “my co-workers are going to hate me” sticker on the guy’s back. Here’s an easy suggestion – if out of context it sounds like a line from Office Space, don’t create the role at your company.

Third, especially since the Times has seen better days from a P&L standpoint and you’ve got angry shareholders with torches, WTF do you think is going to get cut eventually from the budget? Every time your comptroller looks at the headcount costs this “Futurist” line item is going to piss him off. Raised nails get pounded down. Instead choose something mundane – i would have called it “Director of Retail Operations” – THAT sounds like a job that survives budgets cuts. Not “Futurist.”

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