The iQ Zeitgeist: Futurists Forecast the World of Tomorrow

As part of the 2nd birthday celebrations of Intel’s IQ platform they have published a 2 part article interviewing 7 international futurists. I am one of them and I feel in pretty good company  as you can see by the list below. Due to space considerations my answers were edited down so I am putting up links to the articles here but also publishing my answers in their entirety:

Brian David Johnson is a futurist at Intel Corporation. His charter is to develop an actionable vision for computing in 2020.

Dan Abelow is an American inventor, author, speaker, and technology consultant. His latest patent-pending invention, the Expandiverse, is new technology to build an advanced Digital Earth today.

Daniel Burrus is a technology forecaster, the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, and the author of six books, including The New York Times bestseller ”Flash Foresight.”

Paul Higgins is an Australian futurist and keynote speaker with a Masters degree in Strategic Foresight; a guest lecturer at Victoria University (Melbourne Australia); a tech editor on Tumblr; a partner at Social Venture Partners International (Melbourne); and a very slow triathlete.

Whitney Johnson is a Managing Director at Springboard Fund, and co-founder of Clay Christensen’s investment firm.

Frank Rose is the author of “The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories” and a correspondent for Wired.

Vivek Wadhwa is a Fellow at Stanford University; Director of Research at Duke University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at the Pratt School of Engineering; and Distinguished Fellow at Singularity University; and was listed as one of 2013′s 40 Most Influential Minds in Tech by TIME Magazine.

You can read the articles at:

The iQ Zeitgeist: Futurists Forecast the World of Tomorrow Part 1

The iQ Zeitgeist: Futurists Forecast the World of Tomorrow Part 2

 

My answers to the questions in full are below. For those of you who want to read more on some of these issues please refer to my ongoing series of major disruptors here on this blog :

1. Every piece of technology we own or online service we consume has Gordon Moore’s 1965 law as a common denominator (Moore’s Law = # of transistors doubling in microchips about every two years). Based on this, how do you think the tech landscape will change in 2 years, 4 years, and 8 years from now? Describe what a typical person’s day might be like at the office and at home.

[Paul Higgins]

Our view is that we have reached the point where with all this technology in the hands of hundreds of millions of people who are all capable of innovating both the hardware and the software platforms it is the height of arrogance to forecast what will happen. What I do know is that there will be enormous change and innovation based on the disruptive effect of these technologies.

2. Which technologies do you think will have the biggest impact on the humankind by 2025? 2050?

[Paul Higgins]

By 2025 I think that the most impactful technology beyond what we are seeing today likely to be driverless cars and while by 2050 artificial intelligence is likely to have the greatest impact. It is possible that large scale implementation of driverless cars can be done in many countries by that date although it is likely to be a little slower. Driverless cars have the capacity to create wholesale change across our communities with significant reductions in road trauma, requirements for hospital resources, and greatly reducing the capital investment needed in cars. The effects will go wider than this with significant impacts on the car manufacturing supply chain worldwide, elimination of the taxi industry, airport parking, and big changes in road and public transport infrastructure as well as urban planning.

The effects of significant levels  artificial intelligence are almost unimaginable. Combined with improvements in robotic technology they have the capacity to wipe out large swathes of current jobs and I am unsure whether the new jobs that are created will replace them. If this occurs we may see a fundamental restricting of the economy and a complete rethinking of people’s relationship to work. My fear is that this will be played out as a have and have not type of scenario and while here may be a strong chance of a rosy future that some science fiction paints the path to that future my be traumatic and tumultuous.

 

3. What technology / innovation that’s currently in development are you most excited about?

[Paul Higgins]

Rapid developments in artificial intelligence are the most exciting from my point of view, both in their capacity to enrich our lives but also from a risk point of view. The problems with artificial Intelligence capabilities have been a lot more stubborn than many people envisaged they would be and we commonly underestimate the capacity of our own brains which we should stand in constant awe of. However developments in both understanding of the brain, increases in computing power and the development of systems able to understand natural language and concepts are all driving us forward faster than in the past. Major projects such as The European and US Brain projects, and the development of technologies such as neuromorphic computer chips promise big leaps in our understanding and capacities over the next decade.

 

4. What will the role of tablets be in the future? How do you see personal computers evolving as they’ve gone from desktop, laptop, ultrabook, 2 in 1 and tablets?

 

[Paul Higgins] I think that we will naturally move towards wearable systems that will become more integrated into our lives. I cannot recall who said it but there is a line that I like that goes something like “it is when the technology disappears when it gets really interesting”. So in the not too distant future the use of smartphones and tablets will seem a little archaic. Wearable technology is at its early stages now and people are still fumbling around for a solution or combination of solutions that really work. However we tend to forget that tablets of different kinds were around for a long time before the iPad got such widespread adoption. Ongoing increases in computing power, changes in user interfaces, continuing miniaturisation and reduced energy requirements, plus rapid trialling of different systems and business models will move us a long way down this path in the next five years. The interfaces we deal with are likely to be even more intuitive than the ones that we have today and be a combination of wearable technology, cloud computing and projected interfaces that can be easily controlled through speech and motion.

 

5. Will humans ever decide to forgo real-life companions for virtual ones?

 

[Paul Higgins] Absolutely on several fronts. If we finally move to uploading our own consciousness (which I have significant doubts on) then virtual artificial companions are likely to be indistinguishable from “real” ones anyway. Before that in a world where we have had pet rocks, and people (including my 7 year old niece) have named their Roombas, and increasing people seem to be living alone I think that it is highly likely that semi-intelligent virtual companions are not far away.

 

6. What can we do today to prepare for technological advances of the future?

[Paul Higgins]

I always think of this in terms of a dog getting in a car and being driven along with the window open. They just accept the technology and embrace it and do not care about the technology as such, more about the experience. They just hang out the window with their tongue out and exude pure enjoyment. I think that the best thing that we can do is to embrace new technology and experiment with it continually. I do despair at times though that we are using these great technologies for trivial purposes and that some of the brightest brains in the world are focused on trivial applications because that is where the money is. We need to think a lot more deeply about the human and social applications of existing and new technologies because in the end that is all that really counts. I get depressed about technology when I read stuff like Michael Lewis’ latest book Flash Boys which describes about the use of technology to get a few milliseconds ahead of the market and cream off huge amounts of money without adding any value. At the same time I am enormously buoyed by the large numbers of people who I meet and work with who are totally engaged in making the world a better place. Last year I spoke at the Nexus Youth Philanthropy Summit in Australia and was blown away by the people in the room , mostly in their twenties, who were all doing fantastic things with technology and in particular social applications. It made me tired just to read their biographies but gave me enormous hope for the future.

 

7. Which prediction of yours didn’t come true (if any) that you were most disappointed about?

[Paul Higgins] In our work we actually eschew predictions as we believe that prediction does not work at any meaningful level of detail. Instead we work with people to envisage multiple futures and then to work with the uncertainty that is inherent in that approach and the real world. That has changed over time and we work a lot closer to the present than we used to. Having said that one of my big misses in picking up how things might we be used was the use of cameras on phones. I certainly did not consider how much they would be used and how important they would become in a personal and a political sense.

 

8. What films or books do you think best represent the future of technology? Will the world become The Jetsons soon?

[Paul Higgins] I am an avid reader of science fiction, both for enjoyment and for thinking about my own work. In that area I tend to read further in the future than our work is based. My favourite authors/books are:

 

Iain Banks and the Culture series. Sadly he passed away last year way before his time. The depiction of a society where work is no longer required and where idiosyncratic AIs run much of the systems, and structures is both highly entertaining and stimulating to think about.

 

Ramez Naam who wrote Nexus and Crux and who is on the short list for the Arthur C Clark award this year writes about nanotechnology and the possibilities of inserting it into our brains in order to both have more capacity, but also to commune with others. Couched in a political battle between idealists and governments seeking to control the technology it provides an interesting social perspective. I am also proud to have him as a Twitter follower.

 

Hannu Rajaniemi who wrote Quantum Thief and Fractal Prince and the upcoming Causal Angel writes really interesting fiction on the far future and harnessing of quantum physics. So dense that I have to go back and re-read the previous one to fully understand the next one.

 

Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl is a favourite. It depicts a future world where there is conflict between the haves and the have nots where there has been environmental and technological disasters including climate change that are hinted at rather than described.

 

David Brin writes superbly on all sorts of areas of future technology and the dangers of ecological collapse, and is another Twitter follower I am proud to have,

 

And of course William Gibson, whose seminal book Neuromancer contributed significantly to my interest in science fiction and the field in general.

 

I would recommend that people read widely of these authors and others to think of all sorts of possible futures rather than nominating a particular book or film that best represents a future which is inherently unknowable

 

 

 

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My job advice to my nephews and nieces for 2025

I spent a few days over the Christmas break down at my parents house near the beach on the Mornington Peninsula and hung out with my brothers, sisters in law, and my nephews and nieces.

During one of our later night discussions which are always willing but friendly one of my sisters in law posed the question of what my view was on what they should be advising their children on their future work prospects and directions. We had a bit of a discussion on that but then I sat down and collated a few thoughts for them and some things I think they should read. This is the gist of that advice:

Bottom line is that I believe that we are at the edge of a technological revolution in robotics and artificial intelligence.

Advances in robotics that include cheaper and better sensors and intelligence capacity will move them beyond manufacturing and into cooperative manufacturing, and assisting and replacing humans in all sorts of physical tasks.

Advances in artificial intelligence due to massive increases in computing power and moves towards much better natural language computers/semantic knowledge/deep machine learning will move computer intelligence out of just replacement of easily routinised jobs due to data crunching capacity, and into many more areas of human work – e.g. computer assisted journalism

There are really two scenarios here – that we will see more changes than we can imagine as in the industrial revolution, and more and more jobs will be created, or large slabs of jobs will disappear for ever and not be replaced, and that will cause significant disruption and competition for work unless we move to a new way of having an economy. Now you can take the Luddite view or you can take an optimistic view but the key to thinking about the future is to create a strategy that deals with multiple possible futures as well as you can, whilst understanding that most of the futures you can think up will probably not go close to mapping what the world will look like.

Just to put this in context my youngest niece will probably not enter the workforce until at least 2025, and more probably 2030 and will then have a working life which is likely to extend to 2080 so we are talking about long time frames here.

So what advice would I give to a parent of a 5-15 year old at the moment.

The key is involvement in :

  • Jobs that are not easily routinised – my brother mentioned plumbing and other trades and he was right– the capacity to carry out a complicated task that is different every time and interact with people will still be highly human centered.
  • Jobs with high levels of manual dexterity – robotics still find that hard to master although some systems of surgery are better than people already.
  • Jobs that require high levels of empathy and capacity to interact with people – e.g. aged care, teaching, although stuff like retail is likely to become more data and network facilitated than through an individual shopping experience.
  • Jobs that require the capacity to coach and facilitate networks to perform rather than the current emphasis on managers and hierarchies – requires empathy as well.
  • Jobs centred around the ability to find insight in data – assisted by AI but value added by people.
  • Jobs that are highly creative and require visions and connection.
  • Jobs that cross the boundaries of the jobs types I have listed above.
  • Jobs centered around the ability to code

In terms of thinking about this more I would recommend looking at the following

Better Than Human: Why Robots Will — And Must — Take Our Jobs – by the fantastic Kevin Kelly

Algorithms, Robots and the Future of Management – a previous post by me with a great addition from my friend and colleague Stowe Boyd

I also recommend you read Stowe’s :Beneath the chatter about the Future Of Work lies a discontinuity which I think is more about the near future than the long future.

The IFTF report on future work skills – details drivers and skills

In the end we can give all the clinical and logical advice we like but the most important thing for them to do is to pursue what they are passionate about with a weather eye out to the fact that you need passion, skills and a market to make a living and:

  • If you have passion and skills but not market you have a hobby
  • If you have skills and a market but no passion you will be mediocre or burnout
  • If you have a market and passion but no skills you will fail in an increasingly competitive world

The great thing about the modern world is that skills are easier and easier to gain, and markets can span the globe for an individual or a small organisation. So passion is the cornerstone.

Paul Higgins

Some readers have requested some further links and reading on these issues. Here are  a a few from our scanning database:
Robots Can’t End Amazon’s Labor Woes Because They Don’t Have Hands

This was written by RACTER, a computer program that can generate original English language prose and poetry at random

SWARM Quadrotors (Aerial Robots): Coordinated Flight of Small Quadcoptors Interacting with Humans

A Mind-Controlled Exoskeleton Will Kick Off the 2014 World Cup

Brainlike Computers, Learning From Experience

My Best Future Thinking and Strategy Books of 2013

Here is my list of the best books I have read this year in case you need a little light holiday reading:

The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run or Ruin an Economy

As always a simple explanation of complex issues. I particularly liked the section on currency given all the issues around BitCoin at the moment

The Retail Revival: Reimagining Business for the New Age of Consumerism

Retail is under considerable pressure all around the world at the moment and this is a great book for looking at both issues and solutions.

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

A fascinating read that I devoured over a couple of days. Great insights into the Amazon Business through the lense of looking at Jeff Bezos. Contacts I have had with Amazon employees indicate there is some dispute about some of the historical issues but the present day is well reflected.

Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better

I saw Clive Thompson speak at the Maker Faire in New York in September and was immediately compelled to read this book. I was particularly intrigued by his concept of video becoming the new thinking tool as a successor/complementary system to language, and paper.

The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work

Another great piece of writing from Scott Berkun who describes his time in the distributed workforce at WordPress.com in a clear and entertaining way.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

A great story of Joshua Foer’s journey in the world of memory championships. Have used some of the techniques since reading the book.

The Antidote: Happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking

Just had to buy this because of the title (which gives you some insight into the inner workings of my mind). A good coverage and thought provoking discussion of the issues.

Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder

Another book from the great and curmudgeonly Nassim Taleb. Not as good as previous ones in my view but still worth the read.

Please note that all the links to these books are Kindle book links because that is how I buy non fiction books now and I love the fact that if you really want to read one of these you can have it in 60 seconds.

In terms of fiction my two favourites for the year are:

The Windup Girl  BY BACIGALUPI, PAOLO

The Narrow Road To The Deep North  by Richard Flanagan

On my holiday reading list are:

A Naked Singularity

Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution

A History of the Future in 100 Objects

Not sure what that says about me and whether anyone would like to be on holidays with me but it is what it is

I hope everyone has a safe and happy Christmas and New Year and look forward to interacting with you in 2014

Paul Higgins

Futurists, What are they good for?

An article was published today in the Sydney Morning Herald about futurists:

Grappling with the day after tomorrow – Futurists are struggling with mixed fortunes in their field of commerce.

I was interviewed for the piece in August last year and am mentioned in passing via a quote about my work from one of my key clients, the YMCA. The article starts off :

“Soothsayers, pundits, fortune tellers and a long history of failures have given predictions a bad name. So why do otherwise intelligent people continue to stake their profession on predicting the future?”

and continues in a similar vein. I would like to take issue with several points made in the article. I encourage you to go and read the whole article so you can judge for yourself if my comments are made in context:

1/ “Australian futurists reckon their chosen field is moving from the kooky fringe to the commercial mainstream”

I would be very surprised if any of the professional futurists mentioned in this article would consider the field as being regarded as kooky. However the article is written in a way that implies that. I would certainly agree that there are kooks and charlatans who try and predict the way things will be. My advice to clients and audiences who ask what the future of a certain industry might be in ten years is that I will guarantee only one thing : “that such a view will be wrong” That does not mean it is not useful to think through what the future might be. It is just that in a  complex and fast moving world long term predictions mostly don’t work. I have written and spoken a fair bit on the fallacies of forecasting. If you are interested you can read more on this by going to:

How to pick a good Futurist from a snake oil salesman

2/ “BHP Billiton, Telstra, Westpac, Western Power, MLC, Foster’s Group, BNP Paribas Australia and Sara Lee are among scores of companies named as clients on futurists’ websites, though in many cases this may mean only that they have had a futurist in as a guest speaker……………Inquiries to several other firms about their engagement of futurists yielded coy responses, though Telstra confirmed it engaged futurists ”from time to time to assist with various areas of our work”. Colliers International, St George Bank and the NRMA were among companies listed as clients on futurists’ websites that professed no corporate memory of it when contacted.

I have not worked with any of these clients so this does not refer to me specifically. Our work is divided roughly into about 1/3 speaking engagements, 1/3 short consulting engagements, and 1/3 longer strategy engagements which may last up to about 18 months. It seems like sloppy “gotcha” journalism to call a very large company and ask for their response on a particular project. The spokesperson has no interest in following up such a request diligently and the process seems designed to get the answer that was written rather than to properly assess worth of the foresight practitioners involved.

3/ “Those who do admit to working with futurists speak of the benefits in vague terms”

As I am referred to in the paragraph after this statement I thought I should respond in more detail. As the work we do is primarily focused on assisting others to think differently about the future it is less able to be quantified as compared to a change management process,or a sales training program, or a software delivery project. I often think about a presentation that I saw Edward de Bono do a few years ago where he likened the process of innovation in ideas being like telling a good joke. Before you tell a joke the punchline and the thread of the story are not obvious. After the joke has been told they are. Helping people in finding new possibilities is a bit like that. Once the idea or the strategies have been created they often seem obvious in retrospect and therefore allocation of credit in a quantitative way is impossible. We worked for a client last year in generating a wide range of new possible ideas given possible changes in the future. When these were presented to the CEO by the senior manager who had worked with us he said ” I could have thought of these”. To his credit the senior manager had the courage to respond “but you didn’t did you, and if it is that easy give me two more right now”. To which there was no reply.

I come from a background in science and research and farm animal production ( I have a First Class Honours Degree in Vet Science and a Bachelor of Animal Science for research into poultry diagnostic tests). In addition I grew up in a household that was steeped in analytical processes and measurement given my father has a PhD in Metallurgy, one of my brothers is an engineer and the other holds an MBA. In all of that background and work analytical processes and measurement of results were vital, and in fact it was one of the things that attracted me to the fields I became involved in. However the training I received in doing my Masters Degree in Strategic Foresight widened my horizons and my skill sets and we have to recognise that not all things are measurable in the same way. We should always seek to measure results but we must also accept that quantitative measurement of some things is impossible. My key measurement of our success is that apart from some Google Adwords advertising as a conference speaker we do no advertising. All of our work comes from word of mouth and references from existing clients. That would not happen if we were not providing value to those clients.

4/ “The sweet spot on which futurists depend for most of their living is 10 to 20 years hence. It is seen as a comfortable psychological space in which the futurist’s best stab at where things are headed is accepted as plausible and the client can plan to make the necessary changes”

I can only speak about the work that we do but 10-20 years tends to be too far away for practical value in my view. Our work has changed over the last decade to be far more focused on how do you create a strategy which deals with the fact that forecasting does not work and that “best stabs” are somewhat useless. You can read more on our approach by looking at:

How to make Strategy SEXy

5/ “Susan Oliver, the only Australian futurist invited to Kevin Rudd’s Australia 2020 Summit, insists on the case for futurist approaches but says it is getting harder in practice. ”I am not sure that we can engage in long-term planning because the world is changing too quickly in unpredictable ways,” she says. By this logic, the futurists who see rapid change as their meal ticket may be confusing their preferred with their probable futures”

Given the problems around the future summit I was probably lucky not to be invited. Our work centres around helping people deal with that rapid change and our job is to use tools which are appropriate to what is happening, not pick the tools first. This last statement in the article is a bit of a smartarse one liner that might good for a laugh but demeans what should have been a decent critique of the field of futures studies and futures consulting. It is a shame that such a decent critique did not take place.

I remember sitting in a room of graduates when a well known international futurist came to visit Swinburne University. There was a lot of bemoaning by the graduates that “we are not listened to enough and we should be because we do great work.” In response after listening for a while I said ” well maybe no-one listens to us because we are not that good at what we do?” There was complete silence in the room and the discussion went back to complaining about the lack of foresight and long term thinking in the community and with clients. Putting that aside (which has some truths to it)  I would like to make some contributions to the critique:

1/ I think there are problems because the role/job of foresight practitioners/futurists is too ill defined. The range of what we do merges into what people would define as strategy or management consultants. Unfortunately that is probably not going to change much because I am firm believer that we have to continue to change and evolve in relation to the needs of clients and the community. If you are a vet people mostly know what you do. If you are a futurist it is never going to be the case. We just have to suck it up.

2/ I think there is far too much emphasis by futurists on forecasts or in the case of the approach described by Phil Ruthven in the article on long term trends and historical cycles. People such as author Jim Collins (Good to Great, etc) make a tremendous amount of money analysing companies historical performance and then distilling the practices that supposedly achieved that great performance. The trouble is that by the time that data is collected and analysed things have changed. There have been several analyses of performance of the target companies after the studies have been done and many companies highlighted as great actually under perform in subsequent periods (anyone interested in looking that this further should read The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenweig).To be fair on the forecasting front the SMH article did mention Philip Tetlock’s work on forecasting which is a great critique of the problems with forecasting.

3/ There is a tendency (and I would include me in this category) not to challenge clients enough. In the interests of maintaining consulting income or with the flimsy excuse that “we will get in their first and then change after the first lot of work gives us entry” we do not push people to think hard enough to think differently and challenge the status quo view of the future. We are trying to change that by having an internal business model rule where we intend to reject about 1/3 of the clients that approach us on the basis that they are not pushing hard enough to think differently and are not willing to be challenged. We also push in our keynote presentations -see The Provoker for a description of that style. In recent feedback at a conference I was scored just above 8 out of 10. Analysis showed that almost 1/3 of the audience gave me 10 out of 10 but 10% gave me 1 out of 10. That is a response we actually look to achieve because unless some people reject an idea or a way of thinking it is not radical enough to move others to action. The profession needs more  of that I think. Anyway that is enough of a rant from me, I would be interested in other people’s point of view

Paul Higgins

How to make Strategy SEXy

When I tell people that I am a futurist the reactions fall into two broad categories.

  • “That is so cool” – to which my response is generally “can you go and tell my 15 yr old because he in no way thinks I am cool”.
  • What the ****** is a futurist. That happened to me yesterday when I was sitting in the audience for the launch of a new Horizon Scanning tool that we are working on with the Department of Premier and Cabinet here in Victoria. The group in the seats behind me were saying “what is a futurist, there is supposed to be one here?” My general response to that reaction is : we help people think differently about the future so they can shape their strategy.

I like to show people the Futurist Meme from http://www.wfs.org/content/what-people-think-i-do-meme-futurist

because it is largely true from a number of perspectives and I do like to think that what I do is about helping people get a few more pieces of the puzzle about what the future might hold.

Because the future is inherently unknowable we need to take the possibilities that we see and put them into a forward strategy because while the world is highly uncertain, complex, and rapidly changing we still need to do stuff.

To do that we use the acronym SEX for strategy. Partly because it is easy for people to remember  and partly because sex is sort of involved. Sex stand for Strategy, Experimentation, and eXploration.:

Strategy

Strategy is about what we know enough about to create a hard, detailed plan. This can be the case even in the face of considerable uncertainty. For example if we look at agricultural research in the face of climate change there is a huge amount of uncertainty. Even if we put aside the arguments between those that believe in climate change being largely man -made and those that do not there is still considerable uncertainty in the macro models. Beyond that once we drill down into specific geographical regions the uncertainty is much higher. In the face of that uncertainty research into improving the water utilsation of plants is still very useful. If climate change does not occur then those plants will still be useful in areas that were previously too dry to grow them. If the actual regional outcomes are far different that the median models then the plants will still be useful somewhere, even if it may be far away from what was envisaged when the research began. Strategy is about creating a detailed, defined plan that fits how the organisation actually works rather than fitting the organisation to the plan. It is also about finding things to do that are successful in multiple forward scenarios.

Experimentation

The reality is that we live in a complex, rapidly changing and uncertain world. Most people respond to that  by trying to create certainty through forecasts or spreadsheet models derived from MBA programs that give the aura of robustness. The reality is that in a complex, disruptive world there are many things that will blind side us. This is hard for many people to accept, and especially for the smartest people in the room who have a hard time accepting that they cannot know the answers, Or even if they do, they have a hard time admitting it to others. This is where sex comes in……

Species and ecosystems respond to inherent uncertainty in their environment by having diversity, and populations or ecosystems that do not have that diversity are very brittle in the face of change. That diversity is fueled in part by sex and the exchange of genetic material. The parallel in organisations is to have an exchange of ideas and perspectives that are driven into many small experiments and trials that we are continually putting in place at the edges. Then as the environment changes we have multiple, pre-made approaches and capabilities that can respond to the changes. This requires a cultural change that accepts and even rewards failure, and also accepts that we have to feel our way forward.

It is our strong view that this experimentation is best carried out via a group of organisations so that we get a variety of ideas and perspectives, and also share resources  and risks in trying out things.

eXploration

No matter how good our strategy is, and how well we are experimenting at the edge we also need to keep our eye out for what might happen. This allows us to change our detailed strategy as necessary but also inform our thinking and and design of experiments and trials. This exploration needs to be both lateral and vertical.

The science fiction writer William Gibson is famous for saying “the future is already here it is just unevenly distributed”. There are lots of new and different things happening in different industries, different cultures, different areas of expertise and different countries. I am also fond of the saying that “good artists copy, great artists steal” Get out and have a look at what you can bring back into your organisation or industry and change how things work. That is the lateral approach.

The vertical approach is about deeper understanding. It is about getting below the surface of trends or ideas and understanding what is really driving them. It is about looking at the drivers from the point of view of behavioural economics, metaphors, philosophy, etc and getting a deeper understanding. It is about dropping the stuff you see into thinking frameworks and models so you can understand more deeply than anyone else and design approaches and strategy that others have not thought about. It is at the heart of business model innovation.

If you work out a way to put all this together in a way that suits how your organisation really works then you can create an organisation that can strategise and feel its way to the future more successfully.

Paul Higgins

p.s. – next month we are starting a collaboration process on experimentation with a number of organisations, and yesterdays launch with Dpt of Premier and Cabinet is about a formal scanning model for exploration. If you are interested in either of those approaches contact me at paul@emergentfutures.com

My Favourite Applications

I was asked yesterday to do some guest lectures on the influence and future of web technologies to Digital Media, Education and Creative Arts university students. In some ways I  find that a bit daunting because they will have grown up with the web. It got me thinking about what to talk about and I guess a perspective from an old fogey who has lived through the changes is worthwhile. One of the things I get asked a lot after keynotes and workshops is what applications do I use and why?  I am getting a new laptop delivered today (maybe my last one ever because of tablet developments) and it got me focused on what were the first applications I would load on to it to get me going and to coordinate with my other devices and work colleagues. So here are my top web based cross platform technologies (after of course basics like a Chrome Web Browser)- in order of importance.

1/ Evernote

If I had to pick one application it would be Evernote as it has become the core of what I do.

We use it to store all of our environmental scanning material which then feeds into client work, keynote presentation preparation. For example we generally have a 3-6 month lead time for presentations so on top of our core scanning notebook I collect  cross links to the notes in our system under specific presentation titles to go back to once we start to put together a narrative

I use it to track project notes because I can record it on my desktop, my iPad and my android phone.

I use it for check-lists for travel for the same reason

The web clipper allows me to clip interesting articles and reports for about 30 minutes in the morning which then syncs effortlessly so I can read them on my iPad when travelling

I photograph workshop worksheets and maps and share those with clients afterwards.

The system allows export of all the data so we can keep offline back ups and get our stuff out any time that we want to.

Bets of all it is free although we pay for the premium version

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I pray every day that they stay as a stand alone business and do not get taken over by Microsoft especially.

2/ Drop Box

For those not familiar with it Drop Box allows you to place a folder on your hard drive and anything that is saved in there is synchronised to the cloud and then synchronised to any device you have the application loaded on to.

I use drop box to:

Share a folder with my farm manager so I can see his reports and back up database files any time that I want to from wherever I am

Share a folder with Kim our office manager so I can see all our scanned documents (which is most things) at any time

Keep all the images that we use for presentations so I can access them from any device for preparation.

Save a copy of keynotes before I travel to present (I am paranoid about not having a presentation work so I save one on the hard drive, one on a USB stick, a separate portable version on a different USB stick which I put in a separate bag, upload one to Prezi (see below), and download one from Prezi to my iPad)

Share client documents for workshops and project work

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3/ Kindle 

I no longer buy any non fiction books it printed version (I still like a printed book for fiction reading in bed and on planes and one of the people that prompted this post told me the other day he buys eBooks and prints them!!!)

The convenience of being able to carry so many books with me that I have notes in and being able to access that on desktop, iPad and smartphone is fantastic for me ( I mainly use the iPad). The convenience of having a book delivered to me 1 minute after making a  decision to buy it, and to have access to a much wider range of publications than I ever could locally is great.

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4/ ABC iView

This is more an entertainment one and local to Australia than a work one but we use it a lot. I rarely watch TV when it is on these days, preferring to time shift my viewing habits. iView works seamlessly and we use it a lot on the iPad either stand alone or plugged into the TV. It allows you to create a watch list and to watch programs and remembers where you were if you only watch part of a show. That is useful because I am often up well before Jo and Miles and watch a bit on my iPad while having breakfast.Image

5/ TweetDeck

I use TweetDeck more on my computer than I do on my iPad because I am not that keen on the iPad app and find it hard to integrate my overall workflow with it on the iPad.

I use Tweetdeck to organise my Twitter stuff and have several columns set up inside it than I find useful:

A Follow column which is for all the people I follow. This is too large a group to look at all the time but I try and dip into “the stream” 2-3 times a day for serendipity.

A mentions column to track where I am being mentioned and re-tweeted

A direct message column which is set up with a pop up notice so I can respond to people

A “my perspectives list” which is a core group of people I follow assiduously on a daily basis for scanning and information purposes If you want to see this – it is a public list at https://twitter.com/#!/futuristpaul/my-perspectives-list)

A scheduled updates list because we tend to queue tweets to get a spread over different parts of peopel’s day in different parts of the world and to manage workflow on our side.

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6/ Skype

Which we use all the time for internal communication and for travel, both on the laptop and on the iPadImage

7/ Prezi and Prezi Viewer

We use Prezi for all our presentations and I love using the Prezi Viewer application on my iPad because I present without notes and like to do multiple run through and rehearse presentations. Having it in a format the looks just like my presentation on my iPad allows me to rehearse multiple times on planes and taxis and hotel rooms and get the flow down pat. I usually give it one more run through just before going on.Image

8/ Carbonite

Carbonite is an on-line back up system. Like most people I am variable when it comes to making back ups and also wanted an offsite solution so that if we had a fire or a burglary we would be able to recover all our important data. It is a set and forget system that works in the background and backs up all the files that you designate and can be accessed from other devices. Image

9/ Got to Meeting

We use Go to meeting all the time for on-line internal collaboration meetings, for practice run through of presentations and for draft presentation checks with clients that want them prior to workshops or keynotes

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So there you go and it certainly demonstrates how integrated web services are to how we work these days.

I would be interested in any suggestions from others on their favourite applications that I should try.

Paul Higgins

The Key Driver of Change for the Future

Key Drivers of Change


As a futurist I am often asked what the future will look like. Apart from the fact that there are many possible futures, presenting one view of the future limits people’s thinking.

I would much rather talk about multiple futures and the major drivers that will shape those futures. This is because the audience I am talking to can then take away that information, critically review it and how it applies to their own circumstances as things change. This provides far more value.

One of the frameworks that we use to look at what might happen is the Three Tees – Technology, Trust, and Transparency. These three are shaping change but they are also interacting with each and changing each other as we move into the future. This is how I think about them:

Technology

Despite the fact that people love to get their hands on new technology I see technology as secondary in the processes that are driving change. If we look at the IT and telecommunications (ITC) area of technology as an example, we have moved from single function devices to technology platforms. A smartphone is essentially a portable mini-computer and people are building different applications and using those applications in different ways every day. This means that the technology is the ticket to play in the game, not the main game itself. It is what is built on top of the technology that counts.

However the ITC technology is fundamentally changing the world in other ways as well. The technology is driving connections all over the world that mean anything that can be digitised can be moved around cheaply and easily and processed in the most effective place. It is also allowing mobility of communications, work and play that are altering how and where we use the technology.

Trust

What is really driving change is the social application of technology. Kevin Kelly, the author of What Technology Wants says social use of technology is making prediction of what might happen very difficult. You might produce a piece of technology or an application to be used on that technology and have a view about how that might be used. Once that technology or application is in the hands of 5 million people they will all have different thoughts on how it might be used and they will innovate in ways you never thought of.

So social use of technology is increasing levels of innovation and change and how that is shaped is largely being driven by trust. If someone I trust recommends that I try an application on my iPad I am likely to do it. In order to populate that iPad with useful applications when I first played with it I reached out to people that I know and trust through email, through Twitter, and via Tumblr the micro-blogging site that we use. That behaviour is being replicated all over the world through social networks, cafe rating sites, hotel complaint sites, etc. If someone I know and trust, or someone who is connected to someone I know and trust tells me something is great I am far more likely to try it. If they give the same business or product a bad rating I am likely to avoid it. Humans have done this for thousands of years; the technology is just amplifying the behaviour and widening the network of people who can take notice. This brings us to transparency.


Transparency

The combination of social networks and the technology that is enabling them is rapidly increasing the level of transparency occurring in all aspects of our lives. Here are just a few examples:
  • You can now use your mobile phone to read bar codes and product labels and get information on that product before you buy it. There are services available that will also give you a price comparison on the same product for shops in your area based on your location being recorded by GPS on your phone.
  • Just recently Real Time Farms has been started by an engineer from Google who describes the service as: 

“Real Time Farms is a crowd-sourced, online food guide, and we’re all about connecting you to fresh sources of food — items you can trust, whether eating in or out,” he explains. “We aim to be the IMDB of food transparency.”

This is opening up where food comes from and displaying it in easy ways for people to find out and also share information with people in that network.

  • Another start up in the transparency area is www.Gri.pe where people can post up their complaints about products and services and seek to have them addressed. The key to this site is that it shows those complaints to all the connections that people have. I recently looked at a complaint that a consultant I know put on their site and it reports the complaint was influencing 487,000 people. Now I am sure that the real number that is influenced is lower than that but it is still a substantial number.


So the technology is enabling connections and forming a platform to build applications on. The social use of that technology is changing how the technology and applications are being used. One of the prime outcomes from this is a rapid change in the transparency we all face and a lot of that change is being driven by the levels of trust we feel for people , products, or organisations. So why is that important.

What Does This Mean and What Should You Do?

I think that these changes are primarily for the good. What they will do is provide greater reward for good behaviour, great service and great products. They will punish bad behaviour and bad products at a much higher level than in the past. They will also mean that branding and marketing will have to change significantly because trusted information and real experiences will become far more important than marketing messages and hype.

This will apply to small business, large business, not for profit organisations, and government alike. Just think of the example of a not for profit organisation that is not telling the whole truth of what they do, or where only a small proportion of donated money goes to the actual cause. That organisation is at much greater risk of being found out and then that message getting out to a much larger number of people. If this makes people and organisations more likely to behave in an ethical manner then I am all for it.

When I talk to people about these changes their first response is they do not have the time to jump in and be involved in these social networks, monitoring what is being said about them and responding. That they are too busy just getting their day to day jobs done. While I can sympathise with that view my response is:

  • First and foremost concentrate primarily on providing a great product, a great service, or great customer service. This is more important than ever and its importance will only grow. These social networks and connections will amplify good signals and bad signals alike. You cannot manage them by being on the networks and influencing the conversation. You primarily manage them by delighting your customers.
  • The conversation about you or your product will happen whether you get involved or not, so not getting involved is not going avoid the issue.
  • Have a good look at using these sorts of technologies and networks to improve your marketing or reduce the costs of your marketing. I recently attended a presentation from the banana industry. They described how they have managed their marketing in the face of significant reductions of marketing dollars due to the crop damage the industry has faced. Innovative use of social media enabled them to gain more marketing exposure than they had when they had much more money. Necessity is the mother of invention and they freely admit they were forced into an action they should have done earlier and voluntarily.


In this article I have not even touched on the increased competition that technology is bringing to our worlds through global connections and the destruction of business models. More on that later