Tim Longhurst's Blog

In honour of futurist, Jan Lee Martin

August 9th, 2011 · 4 Comments

Few people have had as powerful an influence on my life as futurist and educator, Jan Lee Martin. It is with a heavy heart that I write this, because last night, Jan passed away.

This biography I found on the web introduces you to Jan as a professional, if you don’t already know her by reputation:

Jan Lee Martin has always lived in the future. As public relations manager for IBM in New Zealand in the 1960s, she participated in the early excitement of the computer revolution. She was a manager at a time when young people, and especially young women, were not expected to be managers.  And she began a career in public relations when very few people knew what that meant.  (She says many still don’t.)

For nearly 20 years she ran her own public relations consultancy in Sydney, working with senior executives of government, private and not-for-profit organizations to improve their internal and external communication with stakeholders.  It was when she sold that consultancy, and began to explore the boundaries of change, that she met the field of future studies.  In the mid-90s she and some of Australia’s leading futurists established the Futures Foundation as an independent centre for learning about the future.

Seven years later, the Foundation merged with the Future of Work Foundation, and Jan was able to hand over the chair and concentrate on other activities. For some years she continued to edit Future News and contribute to the website, and she still works on special projects with colleagues in the futuring community.

She is a regular speaker at conferences in Australia and elsewhere; has worked as a senior executive coach for a major bank; occasionally writes for media; and maintains her family and community interests in Sydney and at Pearl Beach on the Central Coast of New South Wales.  She has a special interest in changing ideas of what we mean by success; in changes in the way we measure performance (and success);  and in the changing relationships between organizations and others in their host communities.

Jan Lee Martin is co-chair of the Millennium Project in Australia (a WFUNA organization), a professional member of the World Future Society and a member of the World Futures Studies Federation.  She has contributed to many publications including the Australia and New Zealand Public Relations Manual, the standard text in communication degree courses; and The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies, the  standard text in futures studies degree courses.  She is a member of the editorial board of the international Journal of Futures Studies and is listed in the World Future Society’s Directory of people who write and speak about the future.

Jan Lee Martin is co-chair of the Millennium Project in Australia, a professional member of the World Future Society and a member of the World Futures Studies Federation.

No biography can ever capture a person’s essence, and this is especially true of Jan… She was so deeply committed to understanding our world and helping make it better. It was that spirit that I found so inspiring.

For 30 years Jan Lee Martin and Peter Lazar have been a dynamic duo – two communication professionals who, having established successful public relations practices, became powerful advocates of the application of foresight and futures studies… Playing leadership roles in the establishment of a futurist community in Australia.

A decade ago, Jan and Peter came and spoke to Communication students at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst. I was in the audience, and their presentations, at the intersection of communication and futures were life changing. For me, I went from believing that I would be a communication professional (working in organisational communication), to discovering a new possibility – helping organisations grow in all facets by collaborating with them in pursuing inspiring futures.

A story about Jan from the boardroom

A few years later, Jan was speaking at a boardroom presentation of partners at Ernst & Young. I was a budding futurist and she was kind enough to include me so I could come and see her in action. I reflect on this moment because it goes some small way towards capturing what made her so inspiring:

Initially, the audience (mostly men) were openly hostile to the concept of a “futurist” presenting to them. One of Jan’s opening slides was an illustration of a teddy bear who sat rather pensively in the corner of the frame, confessing that the more the bear learns, the more the bear realises how much there is to learn! A disarming slide, filled with humility – not a quality a large accounting firm had seen much of in the boardroom, I’d imagine!

As Jan introduced the audience expertly to her perspectives, the participants began to come around. The presentation was a wonderful balance of science and sociology, of modern thinking and ancient wisdom. Models and ideas that are – ridiculously – still not embraced by corporate Australia were introduced in such plain English and in such a compelling manner… Jan’s sense of purpose was obvious, the positive nature of her intentions was clear. She was – as ever – so grounded and so generous. She told the story of the professor with the glass vase… The vase has room for rocks, pebbles and sand… But only if we start by putting the rocks in first… Jan recommended us all to fill our “vases” first with the ‘big rocks’ of family and friends. By now the audience were in… Now leaning forward, Jan shared with us a quote of her own, something she had penned back in 1988… ““Like any living system, including you and me, an organisation depends upon successful relationships if it is to survive and prosper.”. This pearl of wisdom is perfect for Jan, as it combines those two fields she brought together, communication and futures.

Professionally, this is a very sad time for the foresight and futures community; a movement that is still young, but a movement that Jan played such an important role in sparking and amplifying in Australia.

Jan Lee Martin brought her professionalism, diplomacy and generosity to a practice that needed a credible, passionate advocate. Her passing is a great loss to our community.

Jan’s commitment to identify “inspiring ways to create the future” lives on in the lives of the many people she touched through her lifetime, not the least of which is mine.

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Category: Communication and connection

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