Inside the Creative Mind of Futurist Yvette Salvatico

Who she is: Futurist Yvette Montero Salvatico is the former head of the Future Workforce Insights division at The Walt Disney Company.

What she does: There, she led the effort to establish an internal area of strategic foresight expertise, dedicated to identifying future workforce trends and assessing their potential impact on human capital strategies. In 2011, she joined futurist Frank Spencer as a principal at Kedge, a foresight and futures, innovation, creativity, and strategic design consultancy.

Why she does it: “In the 21st Century world of complex ideas and practices, successful leaders, businesses, and entrepreneurs must learn to adapt, be resilient and flexible, and create transformational strategy,” she says.

Asking the Right Questions

By Hope Katz Gibbs
Truly Amazing Women

Hope Gibbs: We’re thrilled to have you as a speaker on You have given keynote addresses for numerous audiences, and you’re an expert in the discussion of the future of talent and learning in the workplace. Tell us about some of your speeches, and what you hope audiences will take away.

Yvette Montero Salvatico: I’m so excited to be part of such an amazing group of professionals on! I offer a variety of keynotes on topics ranging from talent to innovation, and all are customized for each audience.

In each speech, I leverage our most recent trend-scanning analysis to offer the audience the latest insights. And rather than just providing a laundry list of the emerging issues, I explain the patterns that are forming from the convergence of the trends. For example, my keynote about Generation Cohort addresses one of the most critical issues facing companies today: generations in the workforce.

Our research suggests that the transformational shift in society and business—along with the convergence of emerging technology, social change, and entirely new landscapes of complexity—are causing the well-defined concept of the socio-historical generation to begin to fade.

Generations are giving way to passion-oriented cohorts. In this speech (as with all my offerings) I want the audience to understand that recognizing trends is not enough. We need to make sense of the patterns that are emerging from the collision of many trends. I also hope that they feel empowered to own their future by realizing that their actions today are creating whatever future ultimately unfolds.

Hope Gibbs: One of my favorite speeches that you offer is “Five Trend Clusters Around the Future of Talent and Learning.” In this keynote, you share how managing talent in these “postnormal” times requires new approaches and mindsets.

Yvette Montero Salvatico: Few would argue that we are living in a turbulent time. In fact, the military has coined a term for the unsettling environment we have been struggling to operate in over the last several years. They call it VUCA, which stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.

In a VUCA environment, organizations and individuals must become more agile and their strategies more resilient. Trends in society, technology, and the economy are all converging in unexpected ways, forever changing the way people view work. The organizations and institutions that anticipate this value shift and make the appropriate course adjustments will be positioned to profit from the opportunities that result.

Using Strategic Foresight tools and methodologies, we have created a glimpse into the future of talent management much more clearly than we could get from any crystal ball. This view is the result of our environmental scanning analysis and is presented in five trend clusters.

Each of these clusters is made up of several trends, which are in turn developed through a series of actual news or research scan hits from the last six months. The clusters we explore in this keynote are: Postnormal Times, Globalization 2.0, Social Technology and the People Cloud, Corporate Brain Drain … Entrepreneurial Brain Gain, and Holistic Workforce and Talent Approaches.

In addition to the scanning insights, I often broaden the presentation to include three unique narratives of possible futures that were developed based on the trend information. These scenarios transport the audience to the years 2015, 2017, and 2023 and allow them to actively explore how their strategies today may or may not be effective in the future.

Hope Gibbs: Your experience at Disney, which included creating and leading its Workforce of the Future Initiative, provided you with a unique perspective on how to make trends, research, and foresight actually work in the real world. Tell us about your time at America’s favorite theme park.

Yvette Montero Salvatico: My career at Disney spanned 13 years and included a lifetime of experiences, initially within Finance and then in Human Resources. The best part of working at Disney is the opportunity to work with the smartest people you will ever meet. This type of environment continually challenges you to raise the bar on your own performance.

When I was asked to create and lead a new team focused on the future of work, I was fortunate to be able to leverage my decade of Disney experiences and working relationships. And you’re right, this role was the best training ground for how to make foresight work in a corporate environment. Traditionally, strategic foresight is a very academic field, with its own jargon and complex methodologies.

Introducing the foresight discipline in its purest form into an organization with a strong culture and embedded processes can be almost impossible for obvious reasons. Instead, we made the foresight tools “Disney” friendly, recognizing that you have to “meet people where they are,” not where you wish they were.

Another key lesson I learned was the importance of change management. For a corporate foresight effort to be successful, it needs to become part of the way work is done, not just an initiative. I’m excited that I’ve been able to continue to support Disney’s foresight efforts from the “outside” through my role at Kedge.

Hope Gibbs: How did you get into being a futurist?

Yvette Montero Salvatico: Honestly, I didn’t even know strategic foresight existed before I was tasked to create the team at Disney, but once I discovered the field, I fell in love! I felt like I had truly found my passion, my calling.

I believe I’ve been a futurist (without knowing it) for a very long time. In fact, what I have found in working with clients is that there are a lot of “futurists” out there who don’t realize that they embody this unique skillset. Once they are formally introduced to the discipline and the tools, it’s like a whole new world of possibilities opens up for them—as it did for me.

For close to two years, while I was forming the Disney futures team and getting the work off the ground, I had the opportunity to meet nearly every futurist in the field. While all offered unique perspectives, it wasn’t until I connected with Frank Spencer from Kedge that everything really clicked.

He shared his insights on creating a foresight competency within a complex organization and was instrumental in propelling our in-house team forward to success. So when Frank shared that his firm was growing so quickly that he was considering bringing on a partner, I jumped at the chance.

Hope Gibbs: Tell us about your firm, Kedge.

Yvette Montero Salvatico: Kedge is a foresight, innovation, and strategic design firm. We help our clients uncover emerging trends and issues that will impact their business, discover unseen opportunities for strategic development and advantage, and thrive in a world of complex ideas and practices.

We believe that to be successful, leaders, businesses, and entrepreneurs must learn to adapt, transform their strategy, and create innovative ideas and products. In addition to promoting an aspirational framework in our client interactions, we also strongly believe in teaching our partners to fish. From our keynotes to our multi-month engagements, all our offerings include tangible tools and models that participants can begin to use immediately.

Understanding the origin of our firm’s name also provides a unique insight into our approach.

A “kedge” was one of the anchors on a sailing vessel that held a very strategic purpose. When there was no wind to fill the sails and push the vessel forward, the kedge would be taken by a rowboat to the location where the ship wanted to go. Once it was dropped, the vessel would be pulled toward its desired destination.

Likewise, we believe our Kedge can help firms pull their business or social initiative toward its aspirational future instead of waiting to be pushed around by the whims of trends and developments.

Hope Gibbs: As we head into 2013, what are some of your forecasts for the new year, and beyond?

Yvette Montero Salvatico: There is one forecast I share with all of my clients—their organizations will continue to need individuals with resilience (the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn), coupled with the critical skill of futures thinking.

In this environment where chaos and complexity are the “new normal,” only those organizations that cultivate a culture of future thinkers will thrive. Rather than rely on forecasts from futurists like me (and countless others), firms need to develop the capacity to create their own futures by gathering, interpreting, and capitalizing on the trends for themselves.

Hope Gibbs: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, Yvette!