Wendell Bell is a Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Yale University and is known as one of the most respected members of futurist community.

September 1, 2021


5min read

Sam Frentzel-Beyme

Innovation & Insights

What Can You Learn From a Futurist?

The Short of It

  • Skepticism is a powerful tool to challenge one's own beliefs.
  • Knowing what you think and having the moral courage to share what you believe are different.
  • Social order and hope are important to preserving what makes us human.

Wendell Bell is a Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Yale University and is known as one of the most respected members of futurist community. In 2008, the Association of Professional Futurists selected Bell's two-volume work The Foundations of Futures Studies as one of the ten most important futures studies books.

In a 2007 interview with Richard Slaughter in the Journal of Future Studies, Wendell Bell summarizes what he’s learned over his career.

“Focusing on what I think I’ve learned as a sociologist-futurist, I think are the following main things:


This includes challenging my own beliefs. This is not to say that I don’t have strongly held beliefs. I do. But I also try to test them, to find out if , indeed they are true. So much harm in the world seems to be done by “true believers”-religious, scientific, political, or whatever-who are unwilling to consider the possibility that their beliefs and the actions based on them are wrong.

Moral courage.

What I have in mind specifically is the courage to tell our best friends and other members of groups to which we belong (family, religious, ethnic, race, teammates, or whatever) that they are wrong if in our judgment they are wrong.

The importance of social order.

People take social order for granted for granted-until they lose it. A key to any kind of peaceful and cooperative human interaction is social order, and “everyday life” that allows each and every individual to go about his or her life with a sense of dependability and security following their personal values, carrying out their chosen daily chores, and pursuing their life goals.

The importance of hope.

How do we maintain hope? I can only hint at an answer here, because it would take too long to explain fully. But one example is that we remind each other that the 20th century was one of the bloodiest in history-two world wars that killed and maimed millions, the Holocaust, the Gulags, the Korean War, Vietnam, the killing fields of Cambodia, the genocides-on and on it goes. And yet, even with all that killing, life expectancies at birth increased greatly during the same 100 years. In the United States for example, life expectancy increased nearly 30 years, or more than 60 percent.

“That fact (as well as many others) makes us stop and reflect on all the other things going on in the world-despite the hate and the killing that now try to monopolize our attention. All the time, there are doctors healing the sick; researchers finding new ways to improve human life and health; people building houses, educating children, planting trees, picking grapes, feeding the poor, caring for the aged, preaching kindness and understanding, sweeping floors, repairing roofs-and doing a thousand other things to contribute in some positive way to human well-being.

“So, we take a deep breath, open our eyes to the wider world, renew our faith in people, and try to do what little we can to be worthy of these heroic legions of ordinary people who aim to live responsible and caring lives in the human community.”

Related Articles