Articles & Media

What Does "Change Management" Mean in Today's World?

 

I get together with a number of colleagues from my network from time to time to explore areas of professional interest that overlap with foresight / future studies, for example organisational development, change leadership, and coaching. These sessions are not designed to come up with a full diagnosis and comprehensive set of soltuons, but an opportunity to "shoot the breeze" over an intersting question.

 

A common thread for all of us is a desire to understand how an emerging and potentially radically different future might look and feel to people. We ground our thinking on what we experience in our day to day practice, explore the similarities and differences in our observations and understanding of the potential implications of plausible solutions for a human focused future. You can read about our first meeting, Collaborating for a New Future below.

 

At our last meeting, we considered the question, What does "change management" mean in today's world?

 

We are not necessarily seeking answers, but the questions we pose are though provoking. The key themes to emerge from this recent discussion were Agility, Change Forces, Human Centricity, Leading Change and Organisational Culture. There were a number of questions and observations that emerged under each theme. Here some examples of critical questions:

 

Agility – How does culture impact the ability of the organisation to respond quickly and effectively to change?

 

Change Forces - How do we recognise when is the right time to change? In addition to political, economic, social, and technological drivers, what does the pace and scale of change mean for the organisation?

 

Human Centricity - What role does the human body play in how we naturally / instinctively experience change? Are our natural responses to uncertainty pitting us against change processes as well as the change situation?

 

Leading Change – What are the crucial skills and capabilities required to help leaders facilitate change? What are the critical characteristics of effective change? How do we enable human-centric change?

 

Organisational Culture - What role does culture play in how organisations operate, change, lead, and grow during periods of uncertainty? How do we create environments at work (within the context of change) that employees are content in?

 

Also of note and worth considering in the context of your own organisations when you embark on change programs:

  • Does your organisation acknowledge “not knowing” as part of learning and developing rather than weakness?
  • How do you develop a sense of value in uncertainty and change?
  • Does your organisation have a mind-set of experimentation and action to prevent it becoming "stuck" in the present?

 

Image Source: Gerd Altmann https://pixabay.com/photos/away-feet-shoes-road-surface-4610699/

Informing Choices Mini-Pod - The Future of PR

 

As our world changes, so does the way we consume information which of course has an impact on how we communicate. Technology will play an ever greater role in both consumption and creation of communication.

 

So in this episode we talk about the future of PR with public relations and strategic communications consultant Islay O’Hara. We discuss how the current pandemic has changed the PR landscape, the evolution of PR strategy and execution, the impact of demographics on delivery and engagement with messages, and the role that emerging technology might play in the future.

 

You can listen to the podcast here

 

Image Source: Gerd Altmann https://pixabay.com/illustrations/interaction-social-media-abstract-1233873/

Foresight Video Shorts

 

For this set of videos, we start with an overview of seven technology tipping points that have the potential to radically change aspects of our world. We also take a look at farming, robotics, and gene technology. The videos are from Digital Trends, Mashable, and World Economic Forum.

  1. Seven technology tipping points we will reach by 2030. Via World Economic Forum.
  2. This farm is turning a desert green as it looks to the future. Via Mashable.
  3. CRISPR is a method that could help you burn fat. Via Digital Trends.
  4. This farm is run by robots and AI. Via Mashable.
  5. This could be the beginning of home robots. Via Mashable. 

Image Source: Hans Braxmeier /  https://pixabay.com/photos/telescope-by-looking-view-122960

Informing Choices Mini-Pod - The Future of Women in Life, Society, and Business

 

With gender equality increasingly prominent on the social agenda, in this episode we explore just a few of the issues and drivers that are enabling a change in the role of women in life, society, and business.

 

Alex Whittington is a futurist, educator, researcher, and writer with an interest in strategic social foresight. In this Informing Choices Mini-Pod episode, we talk about how the role of women is evolving, how changes have been accelerated through the pandemic, how technology may impact the role of women in the future, and the potential influence of Kamala Harris’s election as Vice-President Elect of the United States.

 

You can listen to the podcast here

 

Image Source: Lars Nissen https://pixabay.com/illustrations/eye-iris-city-skyscraper-2040986/

Leading Change with Foresight for Growth –

Integrating Foresight with Change Methodology

 

By Jennifer Bryan and Steve Wells

 

When we implement change programs, how often do we future proof the change by exploring the future? Do the programs we put in place simply seek to change the past and present and how well does that set us up for an increasingly uncertain future characterised by exponential change? We argue for the integration of foresight to human-centric change programs to help enterprise design, create, and implement effective, future focused change that focuses on people.

 

What is the Future and Change Context?

 

The world is increasingly subject to significant change and while the focus is often on the potential implications of exponential technology developments like artificial intelligence, robotics, adaptive manufacturing, augmented and virtual reality for example, political, economic, and social change are also happening at break-neck speed. This range of future forces—together with the current pandemic—act on life, society, and business and add to our personal and organisational sense of complexity and uncertainty.

 

In the past, we have been confident in our predictions about how the external environment is evolving and been able to come to consensus about the way ahead. Increasingly we are far from certain about how the outside world is evolving and are less able to reach consensus about how to proceed. It's this situation that we believe calls for a new focus to leading change in organisations, and that’s not easy. There’s a temptation to always do what we’ve always done. But then we get what we’ve always got; except the reality is that the world moves on and we risk being left behind.

 

Putting People at the Heart of Change

 

Change management is about people but this statement of the obvious too often gets lost in over-complicated methodologies and technology focused approaches to change. Leaders get seduced by the glitter of the gizmo and forget to pay attention to the ordinary every-day needs of the people who will make the technology sing.

 

Typically the people side of change is an after-thought and noticed only once things are not working as planned.

With the current environment especially, a number of questions arise concerning the nature of change and the human face of change. There needs to be a new mind-set to accept and embrace exponential change, to do so with more than an eye on plausible multiple technology-centric futures, and on enabling a more human-centric future.

 

Which Future?

 

Are we building a change programme that takes us toward a single, perhaps preferred future, or to help us prepare for a number of potentially different futures? Building flexibility, agility, and resilience into change programs by exploring plausible scenarios is crucial for the future growth of our enterprises and the wellbeing of employees.

 

Using the ABChange Model in the context of these different future scenarios enables leaders to generate a pathway that includes the people and ensures they are taken along this journey of transition and change.

 

This approach ensures an organisation’s greatest asset is paid proper attention to, whether changes are seen as radical or incremental. It marries the person and the change task together in the different future scenarios.

 

Many leaders find leading people through change intimidating because there are emotions involved, sometimes difficult conversations, and it takes people out of their comfort zones. With the current environment, we have all been very much outside our comfort zones for a whole variety of reasons. However, bringing together two frameworks that enables us to plot a journey towards plausible futures and help inform how we can lead in, and into the future, gives leaders the ability to really focus on the priorities for the business to not just survive but to grow.

 

Questions

  • How do you make sense of the current change context in your enterprise?
  • How do you assess and meet the needs of the people in your organisation subject to change?
  • How much effort do you put into setting change programs for the future rather than the present?
  • How do you integrate futures studies / foresight into your change programs?

 

Image Source: Patricio González / https://pixabay.com/illustrations/man-forest-trees-buildings-horizon-5606892/

Informing Choices Mini-Pod - The Future of Change

 

We have become accustomed to thinking of change as a constant but we are increasingly becoming accustomed to the pace and scale of change accelerating.

 

Jennifer Bryan is an experienced change consultant and in this second Informing Choices Mini-Pod episode, we talk about the pandemic has changed our perspective on change leadership? We explore the lessons we can learn and apply to future change programs and look at the role foresight can play in supporting change leadership.

 

You can find the podcast here

 

Image Source: Gerd Altmann https://pixabay.com/illustrations/butterfly-wave-wing-beat-chaos-4847628/ 

Foresight Video Shorts

 

Creativity is sometimes thought to be beyond the scope of artificial intelligence (AI) but this week, AI created art makes it into my set of five videos together with robotics. So I am recommending these short videos from UNILADTech, World Economic Forum, and Mashable.  

  1. This robot can build a house in just two days. Via UnilladTECH.
  2. As if real snakes weren't scary enough, now we have to look out for robotic snakes. Via Mashable.
  3. Denmark leading the world in climate change commitments. Via World Economic Forum.
  4. This exhibit is filled with art made entirely by artificial intelligence. Via Mashable. 
  5. This robot's fingers have joint-like wires allowing it to mimic human hands in real time. Via Mashable. 

 

Image Source: Hans Braxmeier /  https://pixabay.com/photos/telescope-by-looking-view-122960

Informing Choices Mini-Pod - The Future of Coaching

 

While thoughts turn toward the future as the pandemic and its implications continue to roll forward, Informing Choices are introducing the Informing Choices Mini-Pod. This is a podcast series designed to provide insight to how we enable a very human future.

 

Host Steve Wells will talk to experts across domains such as coaching, communications, change management, education and training, health and wellbeing, sustainability, and societal shifts plus others to explore guest’s perspectives on the future.

 

In this first podcast, Steve talks to professional executive, life, and career coach Marie Wright who discusses the future for coaching. We consider how coaching needs are changing during the pandemic and explore what the implications for coaching might be in future subject to exponential change. Listen to the podcast here

 

Image Source: Gerd Altmann https://pixabay.com/illustrations/head-heads-compared-to-part-4983119/

Foresight Video Shorts

 

From health and wellness, to mobility and education, technology presents many options for positive future development. This week I am recommending five short videos from Startup Selfie , World Economic Forum, Mashable, and The National:  

  1. Put on these glasses and you suddenly have a running partner.  Via Startup Selfie 
  2. Is this how technology will change our world by 2045?  Via World Economic Forum
  3. This projector will transform any surface into a touchscreen. Via Mashable
  4. Airbus reveals a falcon-inspired Bird of Prey concept plane. Via The National
  5. World’s Most Sophisticated Roadway For Autonomous Vehicles and Self Driving Cars. Via Startup Selfie 

 

You can see more of these videos, vidoes on other topics, and articles on this page.

 

Image Source: Hans Braxmeier /  https://pixabay.com/photos/telescope-by-looking-view-122960

A Very Human City in 2035

 

To many, the coronavirus pandemic of the early 2020s came out of the blue, although many commentators suggested that in fact, it didn’t. Futurists, among others, had warned of a future pandemic on many occasions in the past and governments had even held exercises to understand the potential implications. In the event, it was a case of experimenting and learning on the hoof to cope with the tension between political, economic, social, and technological drivers. But the pandemic also accelerated a number of drivers already in train; the decline in physical stores, the growth in on-line retail, the growth in home and remote working, the acceptance of on line meeting and collaboration tools, and the growth in automation.

 

This scenario looking back from 2035 explores a number of plausible developments that might change how we live our lives.

 

Home

 

The gentle vibration of my Sleep-Easy mattress slowly entered my consciousness at the pre-set time. I open my eyes to see the dawn breaking; a piece of emerging daylight against the backdrop of the Lake District’s Langdale Pikes; the sound of Stickle Ghyll murmuring over nearby rocks and the more distant sound of the ghyll dropping down one of the numerous waterfalls filled the room with increasing volume.

 

The combination of visio-walls and audio projection usually put me in such a good frame of mind for the day ahead. Like much of the other technology installed in the apartment created in the old Selfridges store, refurbished for “contemporary living,” I thought the novelty would wear off; but not at all. I am able to choose the scene and sound combination in each room to suit my mood and the time of day.

 

When I first viewed the show apartment using the estate agent’s virtual reality experience system, I was still dubious about choosing a living space in the middle of the building, without windows, and with a bio-access system. Direct natural light and a real view of the outside world came at a premium that was a little out of my price range. But the visio-walls and audio projection system throughout the apartment gives me access to an almost limitless range of outlooks. As it turned out, it was a gamble worth taking; I love my apartment, and the iconic building I live in.

 

The Building

 

The building has nine storeys: two levels below ground hosting services, utilities, recycling, energy storage, and data services; the ground floor providing resident reception, building security, a number of communal and private meetings spaces; five residential levels; and the communal roof terrace and garden.

 

Inside the building the hallways and landings are provided with both powered and natural light. During the day, specially designed sunlight tubes draw light into the heart of the building; each one topped with a funnel shaped mirror that tracks the sun across the sky during the day to maximise access to natural light. The inner surfaces of the tubes are in effect projection surfaces and automatically project artificial light into the building when needed. 

 

The building is mostly self-sufficient when it comes to energy generation. Electrical power is provided through a mixed portfolio of technologies with solar, wind, and by harnessing the piezoelectric effect from surfaces inside and around the building. Excess energy is stored in the battery bank in the basement and redeployed when required. Artificial intelligence (AI) manages the energy generation and distribution process; matching production with demand.     

 

Starting My Day

 

Making my way through to the kitchen-diner, Martin—my at home personal digital assistant—greets me, using exactly the right words, phrases, and tone of voice that matches my demeanour. Having switched the kettle on for my morning cup of tea—some things just don't need to change—Martin reads my messages to me. He prioritises my business and personal messages based on my completed and planned work activities and my recent personal conversations with family and friends. Using the same information, he tells me about relevant social media activity across the platforms I subscribe to. Martin knows my work and personal interests and so also filters the news feeds, providing me with a personalised morning news and sports compendium.

I move into the living room and asked Martin for the office visual configuration. I am no techno-geek but the ability of my room to reconfigure the visio-walls and my desk for work; the lighting, computer configuration, wall projector, work related news and information feeds still make me smile.

 

I started my work by reviewing my prioritised activities. Reviewing questions from the presentation on asteroid mining I gave the day before was top of the list. Having indicated my responses to each question, Martin set about contacting each person with my reply. There were also additional materials from the underlying research that needed to be integrated with the slides, a task to which Martin is again well suited. The system held all the information needed to meet my client’s requirements and that being the case, he could distribute the materials in line with the brief.

 

In addition, 12 of the people attending my presentation were seeking to connect with me. I asked Martin to go ahead with all those in relevant business sectors who also have more than 500 of their own connections on social media. I enjoyed giving the presentation very much—not just for the content—but the fact that it was the first time I had appeared as a hologram at the event venue, without leaving my living room/office. Twenty-three percent of the attendees were also represented by their holograms; the remainder were present in person. The ability for speakers and delegates to interact as if we were all at the event in person, was incredibly useful. I can see this style of event changing the events sector significantly and rapidly. 

City Transformation

 

The changes to the historical retail heart of the city seemed irreversibly permanent. Increasing automation across the white collar jobs sector and new working practices through the 2020s had rendered many city-centre based service jobs redundant. And yet, the re-emergence of residential communities in the heart of the city seemed to create a much more human place to live. The pace of change has been astonishing; an explosion of science and technology developments on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic has driven business and social change. But thankfully—and arguably just in the nick of time—government and local authorities had for once, harnessed the opportunities.

 

Owners and developers of a significant number of the taller buildings across the city gave the south facing facades over to vertical farming, providing fresh produce often to those people living and working in the buildings concerned and across the immediate locale. There are also operational synergies in the agricultural process and work and living spaces within the buildings. Automated irrigation systems and climate control technologies monitor and adjust humidity, temperature, and airflow so that the building environment is optimized both for human occupants by day and plants by night, to satisfy workers and optimize yields, respectively.

 

A similar contemporary cottage industry feeling was emerging as the cultured meat / in vitro meat sector began to grow. Time will tell if manufactured meat will really take over from the real thing, but slowly and surely the new products are gaining ground on traditional and increasingly expensive natural meat.

 

The introduction of autonomous electronically powered transport in the centre of the city was game changing. Five short years separated the banning of petrol and diesel vehicles and the banning of manually driven cars, vans, buses, and trucks in 2030. Many streets were designed with wider pavements and sidewalks, taking advantage of virtual trackways which were introduced into the road surface allowing pedestrians and traffic to occupy the same space. The transformation of Oxford Street and Regent Street into garden avenues with autonomous traffic making its way alongside social green spaces was extraordinary. And of course air quality was measurably improved.

My Half Day

 

With my work commitments complete by midday, I decided to head for the Trafalgar Square Courtyard. The square really isn't that far from my apartment but I thought I would take a ride share-pod there and stroll back.  As I made my way out of the building, Maggie, building receptionist / security AI robot greeted me cheerily. I waited 30 seconds for the Local Motors 3D printed ride share-pod to arrive. Already aboard were two other passengers. I recognised one of them and we exchange pleasantries; sharing perspectives on sports, the weather, and work. Some things—the human things—really don't change.

The retail Courtyard at the redeveloped Trafalgar Square is a popular draw in the city. It provides retail and entertainment experiences for those that still favour going out. One of the truly innovative features is the 4D printed sky canopy which is suspended from a series of eight towers above Nelson's Column. Completely covering the square, the canopy changes shape, form, colour, and transparency depending on how the space beneath is being used.

 

The redeveloped space is as much a draw for residents as it is for visitors, just as it had always been. New technologies had helped to create a range of retail experiences with “pick up and walk out” (the Amazon-Go concept from the 2000’s that many retailers subsequently adopted), permanent digital wall stores, and space for 3D printed “Pop Up” stores.

 

Increasingly, experience was crucial in the new world of retailing with virtual reality and augmented reality immersive opportunities to try before you buy—including the ability to touch, taste, and smell products—a standard feature of the customer experience. Many retailers provide delivery by autonomous vehicle or drone. Dedicated drone delivery areas and personal drone drop off areas are common place. The vehicles and drones themselves are connected with others in the vicinity with ground and building sensors to ensure safe and efficient traffic management.

 

Having placed two orders, I headed home, reflecting on the changes I had seen between 2020 and 2035. 

Reflection

 

The transition between the analogue world of the 2010s to today’s digital world had been difficult as many had predicted. But the potential implications of accelerating automation, changing work practices, and new technologies brought government, academics, pressure groups, business, and futurists together to craft vision, policy, and strategy for a very human future.

The retail failures of the late 2010s accelerated through the pandemic period and consumed some of the biggest names in the sector. They were just one symptom of wider economic and social change gathering pace in the post pandemic period. As a result, it was a matter of some urgency that local authorities looked at new ways of invigorating town and city centres.

 

As retail businesses reduced their physical store space or left the shopping areas of towns and cities all together, developers took over the many historic buildings and with a favourable planning landscape and a raft of new building technologies (robotics, 3D printing, new materials for example) set about converting some of the most prominent historic buildings to residential use. This action helped preserve the city’s architectural heritage by preserving the exterior facades of the buildings but giving a new lease of life to the interior.

 

The rapid and significant investment in technology infrastructure including connectivity, information integration, AI, the development of a truly smart city, but most importantly, adopting new mind-sets and new ideas of leadership across government and business have been critical in avoiding what could have been a social disaster, and have instead led us towards a more human future.

 

Image Credits:

Human City: Mabel Amber / https://pixabay.com/photos/people-friends-couples-park-3755342/

Autonomous Mobility: Mystic Art Design / https://pixabay.com/photos/auto-vehicle-forward-future-2651594/

City Transformation: jplenio / https://pixabay.com/photos/london-skyscraper-the-scalpel-sky-3833039/

Reflection: Michael Gaida / https://pixabay.com/photos/architecture-skyscraper-1727807/

Foresight Video Shorts

 

Isn’t it extraordinary that we see technology impacting every aspect of our lives and every aspect of enterprise? It seems whatever the domain, there’s a new tech solution coming soon. This week I am recommending five short videos from World Economic Forum, GiGadgets, and Awsome Stuff 365: 

 

  1. Three things every organisation should know about going digital in the “new normal” via World Economic Forum 
  2. CityHawk, the emission free flying car via GiGadgets 
  3. Do you want to try new tasty cocktail … or vocktail via GiGadgets
  4. Instant translation without internet via Awsome Stuff 365  
  5. The plan to make clean power more profitable via World Economic Forum
     

You can see more of these videos, vidoes on other topics and articles on this page.

 

Image Source: Hans Braxmeier /  https://pixabay.com/photos/telescope-by-looking-view-122960

Collaborating for a New Future

 

We know that the world is increasingly subject to significant change and while the focus is often on exponential technology developments like artificial intelligence, robotics, adaptive manufacturing, and augmented and virtual reality for example, political, economic, and social change are also happening at break-neck speed. The pandemic has added another dimension to an already fluid change environment, adding to our personal and organisational sense of complexity and uncertainty.

 

In the past we have been confident in our predictions about how the external environment is changing and been able to come to consensus about the way ahead. Increasingly we are far from certain about how the external environment is changing and are less able to reach consensus about the way ahead. It's this situation that often calls for a collaborative effort.

 

Foresight

 

I am increasingly convinced that foresight can, and should, be more widely used to help individuals and organisations think about building flexibility and resilience into everything they do, by exploring plausible scenarios. It is in this context that I have been connecting with Organisational Development, Learning and Development, Human Resources, Strategy, and Change Management professionals to explore the overlap between these domains and foresight.

 

These are some of the questions that come to my mind:

  • What might never be the same again after Covid-19?
  • How do we develop organisations in a post-pandemic world?
  • What might the learning challenges be in a post-pandemic workplace?
  • What changes might the pandemic accelerate in the future of work?
  • How does the pandemic impact executive mind-sets about the near future?

Collaboration

 

I wondered if other professionals saw the same potential as me in exploring the role foresight might play across these other professional domains, and set about finding out. On Tuesday 25th August, seven of us met on Zoom to start the exploration. Who knows where this might go in the future, but the initial connecting conversation was so interesting; and all we really did was share the nature of our interest in coming together to collaborate.

 

A common thread for all of us was a desire to understand how an emerging and potentially radically different future might look and feel to people. We felt a need to pose real and tangible questions in the knowledge that understanding and answering them can lead to complex and uncertain solutions. We felt the need to ground our thinking on what’s around us, value and explore our similarities and differences in our observations, and understanding of potential implications of plausible solutions for a human focused future.

 

Observations

 

The discussion focused on three broad themes: Optimising our Humanity, The Context for Exponential Change, and Characteristics of Plausible Futures. 

 

Optimising our Humanity – Looking at enabling a more human future and the critical importance of relationships, relating to each other, and considering organisations as patterns of relating. The development of new skill sets and capabilities will be required to facilitate the development of new mind-sets, new perspectives on leadership, and ultimately personal flourishing.  

 

The Context for Exponential Change – At its core, already increasing complexity and uncertainty has been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic, which in turn has caused us to look more critically at environmental, economic, and social sustainability. We can see that the future is being made in the present – in front of our very eyes. Making sense of exponential change requires new approaches and challenges existing academic models and their real-world application in areas such as evolving working practices.

 

Characteristics of Plausible Futures – The combination of political, economic, social, and technology forces for future change—accelerated by our experiences of, and responses to the pandemic—are enabling us to question economic norms, urgently explore matching technology developments with human need, consider how smart urban centres could enhance the way we live our lives, consider the benefits (and risks) of radical science and its role in our future, and profound change in education.

 

Conclusion

 

In this one collaborative session, we uncovered a sense of both similarity and complimentary difference in how we view the current and future worlds. We saw different emphasis across different domains from understanding technology, the role of women and family in the future economy, how thinking the same way will not help us deliver different solutions to new challenges and opportunities in the future, and how sustainability across the environment, economic, and social domains will be critical in putting people at the centre of our future.    

 

Needless to say, this is not the end, but the beginning of a journey. I am very curious about where and how this network of like-minded people will take the conversation.

 

Image Credit: Gerd Altmann /  https://pixabay.com/illustrations/system-web-news-personal-figures-927147/

Foresight Video Shorts 

 
As always we see examples of new and emerging technology playing a potential role in many societal and environmental domains. Increasingly the limit to “what’s possible” with technology, seems to be our imagination. This week I am recommending five short videos from World Economic Forum, Mashable, and GiGadgets: 
  1. Sweden could be cashless by 2023 and other countries are following via World Economic Forum
  2. These SolarPower windows are perfect example of sustainability via Mashable
  3. This sloth-looking robot is designed to move very slowly to support environmental monitoring of endangered spiecies via GiGadgets
  4. Could this be when AI replaces humans at creative tasks? via World economic Forum
  5. This indoor vertical farm grows produce without soil or natural light via Mashable 
You can see more of these videos, vidoes on other topics, and articles on my website at www.informingchoices.com.
 
Image Source: Hans Braxmeier / https://pixabay.com/photos/telescope-by-looking-view-122960

The Post-Pandemic Future of Commercial Real Estate

 

How might accelerated growth in online retail and home working drive the repurposing of commercial real estate?

 

As the world continues to come to terms with the Covid-19 pandemic, I can’t help but imagine that two trends we see accelerating—growth in on-line retail and working from home—are set to potentially result in the transformation of city and town centres across the country.

 

Retail Revolution

 

Observers would point out that the trend for customers to increasingly focus on internet based shopping rather than attend a physical store has been with us for some time. While there remain successful retail businesses in the physical space, the squeeze is real; just look at the well-known names that have gone to the wall over recent years.  The pandemic has accelerated the change in our shopping habits; from walking through the front doors of our favourite store, to click and collect services or home delivery via on-line shopping in pursuit of personal safety and convenience. In addition to the giants of the UK retail sector, even smaller businesses—including restaurants and cafes—have found a way to provide home delivery and click and collect services.

Multiple factors such as:

  • Evolving consumer habits,
  • Automation of store check-out processes and stock management,
  • The imperative to cut costs in an uncertain operating environment,
  • The rise of new store concepts such as stores without physical check-outs,
  • The use of immersive technology so customers can ‘try before they buy’ without ever leaving home, and
  • Reducing need to maintain stocks in multiple retail outlets,

all combine to question the viability of a similar level of retail floor space we have seen even in the recent past.

So what happens to vacated real estate in cities and towns as traditional players move into highly automated ‘dark stores’ based out of town, with limited convenience and ‘show stores’ in urban centres? An excess of retail space in major cities and towns will depress prices and act as a driver for the repurposing of buildings.  

 

Home Working for Profit and Convenience

 

One thing many people have learned to do throughout and after the period of national lockdown is work from home. Whilst the degree of productivity or otherwise can often be associated with each worker’s family situation, there is little doubt that after lockdown experiences many employers will take a critical look at their office space needs. Can enterprise continue to function without the people coming physically together in a central location? Are the collaboration and video conferencing platforms robust enough to support the employer’s and employee’s needs? Will employees value the time they can re-claim from not commuting? Clearly the answers to these questions will vary from person to person and between different enterprises. But, has the pandemic become a tipping point for many employers to move out, or at least reduce their presence in expensive city-centre locations?

Clearly many workers do feel that the need to always be in the office no longer exists. Perhaps there is a need for teams to come together for particular events but as competence in the use of on-line tools has improved, many people will not feel or have the need to travel to a central location.

 

Whilst working from home is a practical option for many, it isn’t a realistic option for some. So perhaps commuter towns will see a number of serviced office operators enter the market to provide for localised remote working; perhaps occupying real estate previously used as a supermarket.

 

Meanwhile, an excess of office accommodation could emerge in major cities and towns that will depress prices and act as a driver for the repurposing of buildings.  

 

Combinational Impact

 

We already see projects designed to repurpose unused office accommodation for residential use. So let’s imagine for a moment that we see vacant retail and office space in significant quantities. Perhaps the repurposing can be accelerated to ensure that:

  • Residential communities form in city and town centres to create human focused environments which in turn changes the need for mobility.
  • Small community focused businesses are allowed to grow and thrive to serve their own local populations.
  • Old housing stock can be retired quickly and the component materials recycled were possible, and sites turned into green spaces.
  • Local authorities are able to provide suitable accommodation to help address the issue of homelessness.
  • The opportunity to improve the quality of housing stock with a positive knock on impact to peoples’ health and wellbeing is taken.

To help enable this transition, we might expect that regulations are designed to ensure that repurposed retail and office space is converted for residential use in a way that minimises environmental impact through energy-efficient materials, and that new housing can be provided at an accelerated rate.

 

Clearly there are issues of the funding required to facilitate this transition. But new technologies such as autonomous mobility, artificial intelligence, 3D printing and construction, new materials, and immersive technologies like augmented and virtual reality, together with the consumer habits and home working trends that have accelerated through the pandemic, could prove to be the tipping point that enables a transition to more human cities and towns.

 

Image Credit: photosforyou - https://pixabay.com/photos/company-stock-industry-3368699

Foresight Video Shorts

 

It is extraordinary how so much of our lives could be enhanced by the development and deployment of emerging technologies. Some of them might simply brighten our day, others could change lives for the better, while others might help to limit the damage to our world from climate change. This week I am recommending five short videos from Paula Piccard, World Economic Forum, Interesting Engineering, and Tech Insider:  

  1. Augmented Reality brings bus stop to life! via Paula Piccard
     
  2. A team from Manchester University have invented a graphene sieve that turns salt water into drinking water. This could revolutionise water filtration and provide safe drinking water for millions of people via World Economic Forum
     
  3. Electric planes, air taxis and other aviation innovations for the next 5 to 20 years via Interesting Engineering 
     
  4. Google AI computers have created their own secret language via World economic Forum 
     
  5. This expanding furniture would be great for a small living space via Tech Insider

 

Image Source: Hans Braxmeier /  https://pixabay.com/photos/telescope-by-looking-view-122960

Business Diaries Podcast – My Business Story

 

I had a great opportunity recently to share my business story with The Business Diaries podcast thanks to Lisa Settle and Islay O'Hara.

 

By way of context, the Business Diaries is a quarterly storytelling event where Lisa and Islay uncover the stories that shape business owners. The podcast then allows a chance to explore each entrepreneur’s story in more detail, focusing on a career curveball.

 

You can listen to my story incuding how a curveball influenced my journey here

A Very Human Future

 

A very human future is a future in which society harnesses technological bursts of possibility to bring about a better world. Our lives, society, and business are being disrupted by exponential technology development which if left unchecked, could represent the beginning of a dystopian future for all humanity.  So what are the choices open to us? What are the domains of policy, strategy, and action that can help us to enable a very human future? This three minute video explores the headlines from each of the 12 action domains; action which could help to inform the choices available to us to safeguard humanity from harm and enhance opportunity for everyone.

Foresight Video Shorts

 

As countries all around the world work through the Covid-19 pandemic, we see trends accelerating as responses to the crisis create opportunities for change. Technology is a critical component of the change landscape of course and so it’s important to keep abreast of future ideas, developments, and scenarios especially as the world around us changes so fast and potentially so radically.

 

This week I am recommending five short videos from Futurism, Seeker, World Economic Forum, Mashable, and UNILAD Tech:  

 

1. Extended Reality (XR) for retail experiences via Futurism 

 

2. Progress with Computer Vision opens up new surveillance applications via Seeker 

 

3. AI gets more aggressive as it becomes more advanced via World Economic Forum 

 

4. This flying robot can transform its shape in midair via Mashable
 

5. This little guy could one day be the ultimate robopet via UNILAD Tech

 

 

Image Source: Hans Braxmeier /  https://pixabay.com/photos/telescope-by-looking-view-122960

The Post-Pandemic Future Recalibrated

 

As our collective attention begins to turn towards the future and the post-panedmic period, many questions arise. Here I would like to address two: How do we navigate to a new landscape? And, how should we consider the next futures of organisations and work?

For this article, I am drawing on the new book, Aftershocks and Opportunities – Scenarios for a Post-Pandemic Future for which I am a co-editor and contributing author.

 

Navigating a New Landscape

 

If we think about the world as we came into the COVID-19 pandemic, we were constantly talking about a more complex, multifaceted world. There were issues around how globalisation was working, tensions around economy and trade, ongoing regional tensions and conflict, and as a society we were coming to terms with increasingly pervasive technology.

The emergence of COVID-19 added a new dimension to those complexities; limiting economic activity, the rapid creation of funding mechanisms for businesses and furlough schemes for employees, challenging the notion of globalisation as nations sought supplies of critical products from local producers, and also the use of pervasive technology to monitor individuals’ health as part of track and trace strategies.

 

The pandemic and governmental responses to it have highlighted issues of sustainability—the UN Sustainable Development Goals are a wonderful template to help us think through the different dimensions of sustainability. The goals cover health, cities and communities, jobs and economic growth, all of which have been brought into sharp focus during the pandemic. One of the interesting factors to have emerged has been the positive impact on the environment through lockdowns and resulting travel restrictions. There are some interesting lessons both on the importance of sustainable economics and a sustainable society together with the positive impact that we can have on the environment if we choose to take action to limit harmful emissions.

As we move through the pandemic a critical question relates to not wasting the opportunity of a crisis: should we seek to restore the old order or work toward a total system reboot? On the one hand, many people talk about the folly of going back to the way we were; returning to the old normal. Equally, there are many complications and uncertainties about the impact of a total system reboot. So perhaps “radical and revolutionary” is beyond reach for now, and maybe rapid evolution will prove to be the name of the game.

 

The love of facts has become a critical issue; from understanding the underlying assumptions built into models supporting governments’ policy decisions designed to cope with the pandemic to information shared on social media platforms both knowingly and unwittingly false. Many people fell foul of dangerously inaccurate information in the early stages of the pandemic, sharing it across their networks under the misapprehension they were helping their friends and contacts. At the other extreme we have seen leaders make outrageous statements of their administration’s handling of the responses to the crisis.  Going forward, there will be a strong desire to communicate consistent and accurate information if we want to successfully adjust people's behaviour in future lockdowns, for example.

 

Government crisis responses have come into sharp focus as the degree of preparedness has varied significantly from country to country. Whilst some countries have fallen back on previously developed plans for their responses, others have reacted quickly to the pandemic and put some amazing mechanisms in place that would under normal circumstances go against the political doctrine of the government in power. But it does cause us to question how prepared we should be for major disruptions in the future.

 

Preparedness leads into responding with resilience and what we have seen is governments taking different views about securing supplies of critical products (ventilators, medication, and personal protective equipment, for example) which could change procurement decisions and supply chains in the future as home production and warehousing is seen as more important than cost savings of  “just in time” inventory management. Resilience to unexpected shocks will be critical, at both the governmental and the enterprise level.

 

The Next Futures of Organisations and Work

 

Organisations need to be more “future proof” and resilient to shocks and disruption. The most future proofed organisations work on three time horizons in parallel:

  • The first is a need to ensure operational excellence, to win the race for the current year by meeting commitments made to stakeholders.
  • The second time horizon is when we take a step back and we search for future growth. We look out one to three years perhaps—typically called strategic planning—and extrapolate the trends that we see into the future. This gives a sense of confidence that we know how the near term future is going to play out.
  • But future proofed organisations also work on a third time horizon in parallel, looking four to 10 years into the future;  trying to understand the future drivers and get a sense of the weak signals emerging that could help inform new views of the future. The objective here is not necessarily to take specific action now, but to build preparedness about policy, strategy, and future investments. Foresight provides valuable insight to the potential reshaping of our business and business model so we stay relevant in the eyes of customers and clients.

Adopting future-proofing processes is part of accepting a mindset challenge and part of changing organisational DNA. The choices here seem to be playing by the current rules; do what we’ve always done, so we get what we’ve always got; or creating and playing by new rules, innovating to create disruptive ideas in your chosen market place. The issue here is that by aiming to get what we’ve always got, we stand still. Or do we? In the meantime the market progresses, quick thinking existing competitors and new competitors come into the market and take share from us. Aiming for the status quo is tantamount to moving backwards. The challenge for future success relies on increasing innovation, creativity, adopting digital technologies, creating a new culture and imbed behavioural change that may acknowledge heritage but that doesn’t restrain the enterprise.

 

Mindset then throws up a challenge of achieving extraordinary leadership. In the past we have found consensus on the way ahead and have been able to regard the future with manageable levels of uncertainty. This is the realm of ordinary management. Increasingly we are unable to reach consensus about the way ahead, in part because the external environment is increasingly uncertain. This is the realm of extraordinary leadership.

 

Our next leaders will need to be capable of imagining and experimenting their way to the future. Extraordinary leaders will have a new configuration of existing stills at their disposal including foresight, systems thinking, competence in working with uncertainty and complexity, understanding the impact of exponential change on employees and those around them, developing and enhancing relationships, collaboration, communicating with clarity, exhibiting empathy and cultural and situational awareness. Extraordinary Leaders will also be digitally literate with the ability to understand and pose the right questions about the potential and challenges of introducing new digital technologies to the enterprise, and be aware of the potential impact of those technologies on people, on work, on jobs, and on society more broadly.

 

Education and training systems need to take account of digital literacy, of what are often called “soft skills,” and new ideas of leadership. As automated technology takes on more of the tasks that people have focused on in the past, we need to ensure that education and training refocuses on those skills that make us human and allow humans to make a significant difference to the enterprise. And that means rethinking work; not just the work we do, but the culture at work, the degree to which we are going to continue to work remotely, and the empowerment and trust that organisations and leaders will need to exhibit in managing and leading people effectively in their new-look enterprises.

 

Summary

 

For me, there are eight critical themes that emerge; four each from Navigating a New Landscape and The Next Futures of Organisations and Work.  They are:

  • Understanding the context for how we got to where we are and how it informs the future
  • Creating, enabling, and embracing cycles of experimentation and learning
  • Focusing on sustainability and ensuring that when we think of sustainability it is in a balanced context taking in the economy, social issues (health, inequality), as well as the environment
  • Communicating with clarity and enabling dialogue to help understand the nature of change and what it might mean for people
  • Adopting a new mindset that allows us to un-package what's been successful for us in the past and consider what needs to change for us to continue to be successful in the future
  • Adopting a new package of leadership skills and exploring what it means to lead
  • Educate, train, and learn for a new future; building on the past but not being constrained by it
  • Rethink work; what we mean by work, how jobs might change, and how we look at the role that humans have in the context of using increasingly automated systems.

As other commentators have said, it would be very careless to waste the opportunities presented by such a crisis.

 

Click here  to watch a video of a presentation recently delivered by Steve on behalf of the Institute of Leadership and Management.

 

Click here for more info about the book Aftershocks and Opportunities – Scenarios for a Post-Pandemic Future

 

Email steve@informingchoices.com if you would like to discuss Steve presenting these ideas to your team or at your event.

 

Image Credit: Alexas Fotos / https://pixabay.com/illustrations/office-work-vacations-recovery-1548293/

Foresight Video Shorts

 

Rarely has our future felt so uncertain and complex and yet it’s because of that that it has never been so important to look to the future. Keeping abreast of future ideas, developments, and scenarios need not be a burden but it does help to open our minds to future possibilities.

 

This week I am recommending five short videos from BBC.co.uk and Digital Doctor, Digital Trends, Mashable, and World Economic Forum on Twitter:

 

1. Will humans keep getting smarter? (from BBC.co.uk) 

 

2. Wirelessly charge everything in your room at once (from Digital Doctor)

 

3. This robot will make you an omelet! (from Digital Trends) 

 

4. This super strong artificial muscle brings us closer to lifelike robots (from Mashable)

 

5. Five astonishing statistics on #WorldOceansDay (from World Economic Forum)

 

 

Image Source: Hans Braxmeier /  https://pixabay.com/photos/telescope-by-looking-view-122960

The Next Futures of Organisations, Work, and the Workplace

 

I am one of 25 future thinkers from around the world who share their ideas, observations, thoughts, and scenarios about the post-covid19 future in Fast Future Publishing’s latest book Aftershocks and Opportunities - Scenarios for a Post-Pandemic FutureIn this video, I talk about the chapter The Next Futures of Organisations, Work, and the Workplace in which I, together with co-authors Rohit Talwar and Alexandra Whittington, consider 10 factors that might change organisational thinking and the way we work.

 

You can read more about the book and order a copy here.

Navigating a New Landscape

 

In this video I describe one of the chapters I contributed to in Fast Future Publishing's latest book entitled Aftershocks and Opportunities - Scenarios for a Post-Pandemic Future. I am one of 25 future thinkers from around the world who share their ideas, observations, thoughts, and scenarios about the post-covid19 future. The chapter is entitled Navigating a New Landscape and poses the question; What reasonable assumptions can we make about the kinds of global post-pandemic shifts that could take place for governments, society, individuals, businesses, and markets over the next few years?

 

You can read more about the book and order a copy here.

Foresight Video Shorts

 

One thing I often to say to conference delegates about keeping abreast of innovative—often, but not exclusively tech—ideas, is follow a number of information providers and vendors on social media platforms and watch a few of their short videos. I recommend Techinsider, Mashable, and World Economic Forum.

 

Here are five videos I found interesting on Twitter:

 

1. Inventions leading to a better future on Earth (from Techinsider) 

 

2. Five rules to make #AI a Force for Good (from Spell)

 

3. These Lego-like bricks are actually robots (from Mashable)

 

4. ​The future is green (from World Economic Forum)

 

5. These drones are taking on tasks so humans don't have to (from, Mashable)

 

 

Image Source: Hans Braxmeier /  https://pixabay.com/photos/telescope-by-looking-view-122960

Making Sense of Collaborative Working Practitioner' Experiences

 

It was more than 10 years ago that I conducted a small survey-based study into the NHS / pharmaceutical industry collaborative working landscape. Since then, I have maintained a close interest in collaboration and collaborative working. More recently, I have explored Collective Intelligence (the Nesta definition of which is, “something that is created when people work together, often with the help of technology, to mobilise a wider range of information, ideas, and insights to address a challenge”) and collaborative working in foresight. You can read articles on both these topics in this section of the website.

 

So I was curious about how many of the research conclusions I drew then (on the landscape for collaboration between the NHS and pharma) remain true today across business more generally. 

 

Context

 

Over many years, much has been written in the health press, by the DoH and ABPI about collaborative working. Most commentary has involved statements of intent or policy and descriptions of a number of collaborative working initiatives that are repeatedly held up as exemplars of collaboration in the health sector. Helpful as these examples are, they focus mainly on the structures, outcomes, and organisational arrangements that support collaborative working.

 

But how do practitioners of collaborative working—those individuals in industry and the NHS that are currently engaged in joint working initiatives—experience collaboration and how much success do they enjoy? What does the future hold for collaboration and what needs to happen in order for collaborative working to be widely and successfully adopted?

 

Addressing these questions raises a number of issues that are pertinent to how the industry and NHS will progress the collaborative working agenda.

 

Collaborative Working Practitioners’ Experience

 

About half of all respondents reported positive experiences and success from collaborative working, but other experiences are variable with mixed success. It has been said that the NHS has yet to fully grasp the concept of equity and mutuality, sometimes seeing the industry as a source of funding. A lack of understanding about the NHS’ needs and particularly a lack of any clear effort from some industry members to understand it, leads to frustration on the part of their NHS colleagues.

 

Given this backdrop, it is no real surprise that the attrition rate for converting ideas into implemented projects can be high.

 

The ability to partner successfully can be situational and a factor of both organisations’ collaborative working culture. Where NHS organisations and pharmaceutical companies are able to jointly work on a patient-focussed issue and its solution is expected to deliver benefits to both parties, experiences become positive and can act as a catalyst for further collaboration.

 

Competence in collaborative working is critical. But there is broad acceptance that the process of connecting to form relationships, contracting to set clear goals and guidelines, collaborating to deliver the objectives in the agreed manner, and closing to review success and agree next steps is still new. but competence is increasing with experience.

 

Despite the largely positive perspective provided by industry colleagues, some scepticism about the industry’s willingness to fundamentally change its business model remains. Making reference to a number of company re-organisations, a respondent remarked, “we have seen commitment (to collaborative working) via the structures that pharmaceutical companies have put in place but there is still a question-mark whether fundamental change is really happening.”

 

Hurdles to Collaborative Working

 

Attitude to collaboration at the organisational level is seen as the most significant hurdle by both industry and NHS colleagues.  The overwhelming sense is that collaborations generally succeed because of the commitment of individuals rather than an institutionalised approach to collaborative working by their organisation. "Partnership isn't someone's job it's just part of one”. This leads to a supplementary question: “Is the partnership role main-stream or just a bit-part?" Change has to start at the top: “Senior pharmaceutical folk (directors) have got to get out and meet with their customers," as one industry respondent put it.

 

A change in priorities—particularly as the industry tries to cut its cloth according to its means—can be disruptive to ongoing collaborative initiatives. NHS or pharma company re-structuring—often an operational fact of life—can lead to colleagues taking on new roles, often in different organisations leaving a particular initiative lacking the required leadership, knowledge, and drive to see the work through to an optimal conclusion.

 

Some NHS participants still lack an understanding of what the industry is offering. “It is not always clear what pharma has to offer, what they want in return and how they want us to work with them,” said one respondent. As such, assessment and qualification – understanding the potential business value of a collaborative initiative and partner – can be challenging.

 

In some cases, entrenched views about the “other side” remain. “Some pharma companies are only really interested in selling drugs," remarked one NHS colleague. But then again an industry respondent said: “The NHS still expects to get things for free from pharma.”

 

Motivation to Collaborate

 

There are two different perspectives when it comes to the motivation for collaborative working: a business perspective – by working with customers and other stakeholders, benefits will be realised and shared which will help both parties achieve their business objectives; and a strong personal perspective – a desire to add value and invest personally in the relationship and the expected outcomes from collaborative working. 

 

Evidence suggests that when colleagues engage in personal development activities on collaborative working, they quickly build their newly acquired skills into their practice. Individual relationships can be further enhanced by the reputation of the colleague’s company, re-enforcing the importance of a positive corporate attitude.

 

Colleagues from both sectors demonstrated their commitment to a collaborative approach. “What would motivate me to collaborate with industry is the ability to procure a package of products and services from a company,” was one NHS perspective. “As a partner, the industry can become an inclusive part of the care delivery process.”

 

There was equal enthusiasm from industry colleagues. “Collaboration can be a very productive way of working, and one that reflects my personal values. This is a proper way of working,” said one account manager. “Shared challenges, need and a desire to work together can lead to great collaborations.”

 

Recognising Value

 

Critically, value must be delivered to all parties if collaborative working is to be universally successful. There are varied perspectives of what defines value across both sectors; including reputation, commercial and financial success, relationship development, and access to information and capabilities. Mismatches in what is perceived as value by the industry and NHS can be particularly damaging when emerging during collaboration.

 

The following key themes emerge when seeking to determine how the value of collaborative working is recognised:

  • Planning for partnership – understanding the idea, assessing the investment required, and the desired outcomes;
  • Measuring success – identifying success factors and metrics; and
  • Risk / benefit analysis.

The NHS is looking for the tangible benefits of collaboration. The achievement of mutually agreed targets and shared goals are often linked to efficiency, improving care pathways, and eliminating hospitalisation through appropriate drug intervention. Access to and adoption of pharma’s skills and competencies are seen as critical for the NHS’ ongoing development. Collaborative working is seen as an ideal way to acquire these skills and competencies.

 

For the industry, "Identifying a shared view with our customers on important health challenges that relate directly to our product portfolio,” is critical. The view was also expressed that, "Collaborative working in my organisation is seen as a strategic activity and so we plan for RoI over a longer period.”

 

Evolution of Collaborative Working Practice

 

Just under half of all respondents expected to be involved in more collaborative working over the following 12 to 18 months. A similar number gave a qualified “maybe” citing their personal capacity to participate or that supply and demand for collaborative working between companies and local NHS organisations was already about right.

 

It was also felt that a pharmaceutical company’s ability and willingness to collaborate effectively would increasingly be a differentiator. Colleagues in both sectors, however, thought that skills, capabilities, and attitudes need to be addressed in their own as well as their stakeholder’s organisations, to improve collaborative working.

 

A number of NHS colleagues expressed a desire to be involved in more collaborative working and when asked if a company’s ability and willingness to collaborate would become a differentiator, one NHS colleague said, “Definitely, definitely, definitely yes." But it will require, "brave leaders on both sides," he added.

 

Industry respondents feel that competence in collaborative working will or may have a positive impact on how pharmaceutical companies are regarded by NHS organisations. “Our approach to working collaboratively should position the company as first port of call for customers when they want above-product support,” said one account manager.

 

What Needs to Happen to Improve Collaborative Working Practice?

 

In describing the actions required to improve collaborative working in their own and their stakeholders’ organisations, three themes emerged in respondents’ feedback: corporate attitude to collaborative working; communication to promote collaborative working and capability development in collaborative working.

 

There is work to do to ensure that colleagues across the organisation—not just in the client/customer/partner facing roles—have a greater understanding of the collaborative working process, the aims and objective of collaborating, and an appreciation of the partner’s agenda. Investment in improving skills and capabilities in collaborative working is critical and includes the collaboration process, assessment and qualification of collaboration opportunities and consulting skills.

 

As the external environment changes, organisation across sectors are required to review business models and approaches to remain successful and valid.  This might require historically based pre-conceptions of partnering sectors behind them. A genuine and sustainable commitment to moving away from the traditional business model can only work if both parties engage and experience the benefit of joining forces and sharing skills. Building trust is a crucial element here and will require consistent messages and demonstrable collaborative behaviours are exhibited to re-enforce commitment to collaborative working.

 

A commitment to the resourcing required, an understanding of both parties (in any given partnership), and clarity about wants and offers are a critical component of the contracting to partner as well as components of developing trust. Deep frustration can emerge when the division of resources applied varies from what was agreed. Partnership is not a quick fix, so the parties need to be aware of, and be able to demonstrate their long-term commitment to achieving the desired outcomes.

 

A Final Thought

 

Perhaps seeking to answer the questions posed through this work will encourage collaborative working practitioners and other colleagues to pose questions to each other and their potential partners. It is only through a process of ongoing dialogue that both parties will be able to make informed choices about the relationships they want to have with their stakeholders, and what they need to do to make them successful.

 

Questions:

  • How pertinent are these observations about the collaboration between the NHS and pharma sectors to your business environment in 2020?
  • How have your perspectives on collaboration and collaborative working changed or not in the current covid-19 pandemic?
  • What role might collaboration play in re-energising your enterprise post-pandemic?
  • Given the increasing uncertainty we face through the pandemic, how might collaborative working support the development and implementation of sustainable business strategy?

 

To download a free copy of the full report click here  or you can email Steve for a copy and more information.

 

Image Credit: John Hain / https://pixabay.com/illustrations/mind-peace-peace-of-mind-unity-2176566

Opportunity at the Edge – Change, Challenge, and Transformation on the Path to 2025

 

By Steve Wells, Rohit Talwar, and Alexandra Whittington

 

Over the next five years, organisations in every industry will experience change on an unprecedented scale as people, digital devices, smart technologies, and an ever-expanding network come together to transform commerce, work, education, healthcare, recreation, and more. A whole new range of possibilities emerges when we can engage with literally every device and build intelligence and connectivity into physical objects such as office furniture and clothing. The path to 2025 will spawn new customer-centric businesses, enable entire new industries and reinvent existing ones, challenge us to adapt and evolve, and facilitate greater access, equity, and inclusion across every aspect of society – this is the potential of the Edge.

 

We define the Edge as the new experiences being enabled by Edge technologies for customers, employees, students, patients, and any users of network services. Edge technologies allow the processing of data by devices at the Edge of networks, which is where users and devices are. It is where things connect to the network, whether they are wired or wireless. The Edge is where actions take place. Over time, these actions at the Edge will become smarter.

 

Smart meets digital at the Edge – smart conference rooms, smart assembly lines, smart menu ordering, smart stadiums, and a range of technology-enabled smart experiences. The opportunity at the Edge is driven by many things, including smart applications powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), mobile devices, Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, data analysis, next-generation Wi-Fi, 5G communications, and “Edge-to-cloud computing.”

 

The new Edge network combines AI, ML, and automation to continuously learn, predict, and adapt to changes, needs, and threats in real time. The new Edge network utilizes technologies and software to make sense of the resulting insights, enabling businesses to act and respond, optimizing the experience for the customer or user wherever they are.

 

Pushing intelligence out to the Edge will drive change in the design of our products, services, processes, and organizations, and transform how decisions get made – giving greater autonomy to the devices at the Edge.

 

A Call to Action

 

Capturing the Edge opportunity requires radical shifts in strategic thinking, an investment in developing deep digital experiences, experimentation with new business and revenue models, and evolution of the IT function. This change needs to be owned and driven from the C-suite. Such initiatives clearly require a vision, defined goals, and a robust delivery plan. However, before an organization can start to articulate these, most need to go through a preparatory phase to ensure they are ready to embark on a transformation of this scale.

 

The opportunity at the Edge represents a new way of conceiving business – designing from the outside in and putting the organization’s focus on what happens at the Edge to maximize value for customers and employees, while also driving operational efficiency. Although it may seem that the concept is in its infancy, the nature of competition and the exponential rate of advancement in the underlying technologies mean that the pace of adoption will accelerate. This will lead in turn to transformational shifts in the experiences created and the business and revenue models adopted across every sector. For the C-suite, the call to action is clear. The only question is: how quickly can you respond to start building the future?

 

This article is excerpted from Opportunity at the Edge – Change, Challenge, and Transformation on the Path to 2025. Download and read the eBook for free click here. To read the full article click here.

 

Image Credit: Gerd Altmann / https://pixabay.com/images/id-1709208 

Reimagining Life, Society, and Business Through Technological Bursts of Possibility

 

When we consider the emerging future, one of the critical factors we need to consider is exponential technology development. Currently, we are living through one of – if not, the – fastest changing periods in human history, largely enabled by technology. The range and potential of many emerging technologies is mind boggling, so it’s important that we consider the potential implications on life, society, and business.

 

In this presentation, I will explore a number of ideas, use cases, and scenarios concerning just a small selection of new technologies. As you consider these developments, perhaps ask yourself:

  • How will you use technology to enhance your life or business?
  • Which technology might make the most impactful difference to you?

Six Key Forces Shaping the Future

 

Our world is being subjected to exponential change making it increasingly uncertain and complex. It can be helpful to articulate the major forces at a high level to help us categorise the nature of the changes we see. Beneath that we can then add richness by adding drivers and trends that underpin the forces. But for now we will focus on six key forces shaping our future.

 

So in this presentation, I briefly explore:  A More Complex Multi-Faceted World; Individuals Shaping Their Own Futures; Sustainability - A License to Operate; Emerging Consumers; Exponential Technology Development; and Two Worlds Collide.

 

The question is, what key forces of change might impact your future?

Rethinking Work and Jobs in the Exponential Era

 

By Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, and Alexandra Whittington

 

Will any of the jobs that exist today still be around in 20 years? Is automation destined to rewrite all our futures?

Across society, we are beginning to acknowledge that smart technologies could transform every aspect of business, work, government, and our daily lives. We are already used to seeing faceless robots undertaking repetitive manufacturing tasks, and smart applications determining our credit ratings, autopiloting planes, and delivering an array of functionality to our mobile devices. But this is just the start; the next waves of development will see the coming together of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, big data, and cloud services. The combinatorial effect of these exponential technologies is really what creates the opportunity for machines to interact with humans through the provision of services rather than simply delivering us data, analysis, and decision support.

 

If we look further into the future, the workplace of tomorrow is going to be very different from today. Imagine a workplace with humans, augmented humans, robots, holograms, and display-based AI manifestations all working in the same space. As a human, do you trust your robot colleague? What happens when the robot is smarter than you? How will we respond when the AI application working 24/7/365 complains that we are simply not learning or working fast enough to keep up with it? As a Human Resources Manager, how do you manage and monitor such a work force?

 

The Future of Work

 

It seems that whatever the country, whatever the economic context, the critical question is becoming ever more pertinent: What is the future of work in an era of exponential technology development? Artificial intelligence is arguably the big game changer and becoming more commonplace. We already see narrow AI in use in internet searches, customer targeting applications, and in predictive analytics. But AI has much greater capability that will emerge into every aspect of our lives in the future. Increasingly devices will learn more about us, provide an ever-increasing range of support, and take on more of our tasks. We are automating a lot more activity in literally every sector, and that is set to continue at an accelerating rate.

 

Future of Business

 

At Fast Future, in our book The Future of Business, we identified thirty different trillion-dollar industry sectors of the future which we grouped into clusters. We expect these clusters and the under- lying industries to be impacted radically by exponential technology developments:

  • Information and communications;
  • Production and construction systems;
  • Citizen services and domestic infrastructure;
  • New societal infrastructure and services;
  • Transformation of existing sectors such accounting, legal, and financial services;
  • Energy and environment.

So, we can see the significant disruptive potential that technology offers to emerging sectors and the new players within them.

 

The McKinsey Global Institute forecast which technologies will drive the economy of the future. They predict that mobile internet, the automation of work knowledge, the Internet of things (where many factory, office, and household devices and appliances are connected to the internet), and cloud computing will all form part of a transformative information technology (IT) backdrop and be the most significant creators of new economic value. They also singled out advanced robotics and autonomous vehicles as playing a significant part in future economic growth.

 

Future Skills and Management Challenges

 

Given the importance of the issue, it is not surprising that there have been several research projects exploring what this scale of technological change could mean for the future of work. Pew Research (2014) posed the question, “Will networked, auto- mated, AI and robotic devices have displaced more jobs than they have created by 2025?” Their key findings were:

  • 48% of respondents said that robots and digital agents will displace significant numbers of blue-collar and white-collar workers;
  • Society would see increases in income inequality, significant numbers of unemployable people, and breakdowns in the social order;
  • Conversely, 52% said technology will not displace more jobs than it creates. Lost jobs would be offset by human ingenuity creating new occupations, and industries; and,
  • This group also pointed out that current social structures (e.g. education) are not adequately preparing people for the skills needed in the future job market.

A 2013 study on the Future of Employment by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne of the Oxford Martin School explored the probability of computerization for 702 occupations and asked, “Which jobs are most vulnerable?” The study found that 47% of workers in the US had jobs at high risk of potential automation. The most at-risk groups were transport and logistics (taxi and delivery drivers), sales and services (cashiers, counter and rental clerks, telemarketers, and accountants), and office support (receptionists and security guards). The equivalent at risk workers were 35% of the workforce in the UK and 49% in Japan.

A 2016 McKinsey Global Institute report looked at the automation of the global economy. The findings were based on a study that explored 54 countries representing 95% of global GDP and more than 2,000 work activities. The study found that the proportion of jobs that can be fully automated by adapting currently demonstrated technology is less than 5%, although for middle-skill categories this could rise to 20%. It also said that based on current technologies, 60% of all jobs have at least 30% of their activities that are technically automatable. The research found that, ultimately, automation technologies could affect 49% of the world economy; 1.1 billion employees and US$12.7 trillion in wages. China, India, Japan, and the US account for more than half of these totals. The report concluded that it would be more than two decades before automation reaches 50% of all of today’s work activities.

 

The World Economic Forum’s 2016 study into The Future of Jobs saw an increasingly dynamic jobs landscape. It estimated that 65% of children entering primary school today will work in job types that don’t yet exist. While the study saw job losses in routine white-collar office functions, it saw gains in computing, mathematics, architecture, and engineering related fields. The report identified several job categories and functions that are expected to become critically important in the future:

  • Data analysts – leveraging big data and AI;
  • Specialized sales representatives – commercializing and articulating new propositions; and,
  • Senior managers and leaders – to steer companies through the upcoming change and disruption.

 

So What for HR?

 

We are heading into a world of wicked problems that will require not “Ordinary Management,” but “Extraordinary  Leadership.” The leadership and management style required when working in uncertain situations can be challenging. For Ordinary Management we apply accepted best practice approaches; it’s the domain of trend extrapolation, tame problems, and technical challenges. But in the increasingly disruption filled world we are heading into, we require Extraordinary Leadership because our challenges are difficult or impossible to solve due to unpredictable trend paths, incomplete and contradictory information, and changing requirements that are often difficult to define or agree upon. We need the ability to navigate a rapidly changing reality, make decisions with imperfect information, and to tune our intuition to “sense and respond” when surrounded by an array of relatively weak signals of what might happen next.

 

A critical requirement here is to determine the organizational capacity to work in new ways including envisioning the future and making sense of complexity—it seems to us that HR could play a big role in developing these core capabilities.

We are in a rapidly changing world, one that is increasingly technology driven, one that will host more generations in parallel—with their divergent work/life wants and needs—than we have seen before. One that is highly likely to see a revolutionary change in jobs as we know them today, one that will see the birth of new jobs, and the demise of others. One that could ultimately see not working as the new normal.

 

Here are some questions that HR directors and senior leaders might want to consider:

  • How is HR helping to create a generationally and technologically diverse culture?
  • What role is HR playing in driving culture changes that help align the organization with the constantly evolving interplay between customer strategies, their resulting requirements, and our own business propositions and capabilities?
  • How is HR using technology to streamline and automate activities such as performance management, learning and development, resource planning, and sourcing and thus free up time for these more strategic tasks by?
  • Is there an opportunity for the Human Resources function to transition to one of Resource Management—adopting a more business–wide strategic role—to meet the organization’s business objectives?

This article is based on an excerpted chapter from the book Beyond Genuine Stupidity – Ensuring AI Serves Humanity. To read the full article, click here

 

Image Credit: Gerd Altmann / https://pixabay.com/images/id-797267

How do we Open a Door to a Very Human Future?

 

This is a topic I speak and write about regularly, but let’s start at the beginning, what is a very human future? For me, it’s the result of the choices we make as a society to enhance technology for the good of humanity. The choices concern the adoption of new technologies including automation technologies such as artificial intelligences and robotics but also the changes we make to social systems, structures, and norms to ensure that as digitisation penetrates deeper into society, we are able to continue to live fulfilling lives both in and outside of work.

 

So in this presentation, I briefly explore 12 domains of activity that could help us enable a very human future.

 

You can also read more about a very human future in a book published by Fast Future Publishing that I contributed to. For information on this and other books I have contributed to, click here.

Intelligence Everywhere: The Post-AI World

 

By Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington

 

We are seeing an accelerating pace of development and widespread embedding of algorithms that replicate core human intelligence functions from language and image processing to planning, reasoning, and decision making. The next three decades of artificial intelligence (AI) development may provide the opportunity to create valuable and previously unthinkable customer experiences that would require new levels of human trust in smart machines. In a post-AI world, is the future still human?

 

Enhancing Human Activity

 

Artificial intelligence technology is gaining rapid traction in three key areas: supporting human decision making e.g. fault diagnosis; freeing up humans from routine tasks e.g. service chatbots; and undertaking activities at a scale and speed that is beyond human capability e.g. identifying persons of interest in a crowd. The use of AI-enabled tools opens up the potential to draw on vast volumes of data. AI technology is being deployed ever more widely to free up humans to do tasks that require the kinds of creativity, problem solving abilities, and communications skills that are currently beyond most AIs.

 

A Hidden Technology

 

It’s clear that the prospect of an enhanced workforce is what makes AI an attractive and profitable proposition. However, the business case for AI may not be enough to sustain public support for the technology. Much of the positive hype around AI has focused on a few key points, such as operational efficiency. The oft highlighted negatives are the potential to take jobs from human workers.

 

Human-Machine Cooperation

 

The potential to collaborate with AI is already driving a number of applications. While today’s AI interactions tend to be mundane (checking the traffic or the weather, autocorrect) future cooperation between humans and machines may open new frontiers of the human experience such as superhuman strength, bionic capacities, and enhanced sensory perception. Algorithmic decision-making tools at our disposal would put decision making, and fact-checking in the hands of AI and robots. Furthermore, personalized AI systems might one day know us better than we know ourselves.

 

AI’s Societal Impact

 

Experts have forecast other benefits of AI including that someday it could have a meaningful impact on all of our lives in different ways, even affecting the most disadvantaged people in society. There is a symbiotic relationship at work, too, where as we change AI it also changes us. For example, a growing intimacy with AI may introduce new ideas about robot rights and questioning sentience might impact how robotic labor is utilized in the future.

 

AI is for Everyone

 

For these reasons, and more, it’s important that AI be applied in a way that is not just technologically innovative but revolutionary in terms of advancing civic engagement, emotional intelligence, social bonds, interpersonal skills, and enhancing humanity overall.

 

Finding the right AI-to-human ratio in every situation will require thoughtful experimentation to determine the appropriate level of automation.

 

To read the full article, click here

 

Image Credit: Gordon Johnson via https://pixabay.com/images/id-2146817

Reimagining Human Activity in a Digitized and Connected World

 

By Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, and Alexandra Whittington

 

Industry and Business 4.0 – The Industrial and Technological Revolution

 

Every business sector is coming to terms with the technological shifts enabling the fourth industrial revolution – an era of “cyber-physical systems” where intelligence is the primary driving force in society – mirroring and potentially surpassing the impact of steam, electricity, and computing in previous industrial revolutions.

 

This new era is characterised by the use of artificial intelligence (AI) – converging with other potentially disruptive technologies and helping organise and exploit the data that they generate. Given the extent to which technology is being integrated into wider society, organisations will need to ensure their digital strategy includes constant scanning and rapid assessment of the potential of emerging technologies such as AI, digital twins, blockchain, digital currency, robotics, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), the Internet of Things (IoT), and 3D printing. This article depicts a few of the potential big developments coming down the pipeline:

  • Quantum Computing
  • Avatar Companions / Enterprise use of Digital Twins
  • Implantable Phones
  • Personal Digital Shields
  • Computerised Shoes and Clothing
  • Smart Glasses and Contact Lenses
  • Life-like Mixed Reality
  • Implementation of an International Identification System
  • Autonomous Physical and Virtual Things

Unpredictable Futures

 

Will digital avatars become our lifetime helpers? Can implantable phones replace the handheld mobile device? Are we on the verge of a self-driving world? These are key questions with hotly anticipated answers we all seek to help us make sense of what our techno-enhanced world might be like. The future will eventually surprise us all.

 

To read the full article click here.

 

Image Credit: Pete Linforth via https://pixabay.com/illustrations/technology-artificial-intelligence-4205276/

Collaborative Working Practice in Foresight

 

One day, perhaps collaboration will genuinely be at the heart of interaction between intelligent machines and humans. But right now, collaboration is exclusively a human trait underpinned by behaviours so true collaboration happens between people and not between people and machines.  

 

Setting the Context

 

The world is increasingly subject to significant change and while the focus is often on exponential technology development like artificial intelligence, robotics, adaptive manufacturing, and immersive technologies (augmented and virtual reality) for example, political, economic, and social change are also happening at break-neck speed. This range of future forces acting on life, society, and business adds to our personal and organisational sense of complexity and uncertainty.

 

In the past we have been confident in our predictions about how the external environment is changing and been able to come to consensus about the way ahead. Increasingly we are far from certain about how the external environment is changing and are less able to reach consensus about the way ahead. It's this situation that often calls for a collaborative effort.

 

Framework for Collaboration

 

Successful collaboration is an intervention based on an existing relationship, a process and an agreed outcome in addressing a shared business need; to understand a particular aspect of the emerging future, for example. Through collaboration we can generate insight and create ideas that we might not be able to do by working alone.

 

A quick Google search reveals a number of different and similar frameworks to support collaboration. The four-step Collaboration Cycle – connect, contract, collaborate, and  close - helps individuals and teams navigate their way through the collaborative working process, paying attention to the nature of the relationship, conversations, and activities that need to take place to ensure the desired outcomes are achieved. These are the critical components:

 

  1. Connect - Initially we should share our perspectives on the issue the collaborative effort is seeking to address, consider the organisational context – the degree of support or resistance to collaboration – and set the tone for a collaborative relationship.
  2. Contract - Step two should focus on understanding wants and offers of both parties, gain consensus on how the parties will work together, what question the parties are answering, the desired outcome, and the specific activities. The outcomes may include “how” the collaboration was conducted as well as the specific desired business outcome.  
  3. Collaborate - In collaborating the parties should share understanding and experiences, be prepared to ask and answer challenging questions. As the collaboration moves forward the parties should consider the experiences gathered and lessons learned and be prepared to continuously re-contract.
  4. Closing - In closing, the parties should collectively make sense of the information gathered and the outcomes achieved in the same spirit that the work was conducted.  As well as focusing on the content, it is also important to take time to consider how the wants and offers shared by the parties have been met and to agree any next steps.

Foresight Work

 

In foresight work, collaboration is increasingly seen as enabling different perspectives of the emerging future to emerge to enrich plausible scenarios. Different perspectives are crucially important when we try to envisage different possible futures. They help ensure that we don't re-create our potentially institutionalised views of the past or simply extrapolate a trend-based future. The trick can often be to manage the creative tension between the collaborators, valuing difference as well as similarity, to help ensure that we create something that neither party would have created alone.

 

Questions:

  • What is your experience of collaborative working?
  • What skills and experience do you and your team have that help to enable effective collaboration?
  • What are you and your organisation prepared to concede to ensure an effective outcome from collaboration?

 

Image Credit: Gerd Altmann via https://pixabay.com/illustrations/sunset-businessmen-web-network-4901584

Reflections on Nesta’s event: Working Better - Using data and design to create an inclusive, future-oriented system for jobs and skills

 

The challenge of enabling a "fairer future of work" was addressed at Nesta's event back in October. A world experiencing exponential change as digital and other technologies challenge our perspectives on life, society, business, the world of work, the nature of jobs, and the notion of "fairness" in the context of work - and even "work" itself – is the context.

 

It's hard to generalise about employment trends globally but many developed economies are enjoying close to full employment, or low levels of unemployment. Our political and economic systems and processes are geared to creating an environment that seeks to provide full employment. But there is uncertainty about how sustainable that model is, which begs the question, what then? 

 

The Changing Nature of Work

 

Based on the analysis of trends in work, the changing nature of work, evolution of new business sectors as old traditional industries die, ideas of how we prepare for new jobs, where the new jobs are created, and how cohorts of existing workers are retrained to allow them to access employment opportunities were the focus of the discussion. The use of new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data were behind ideas linking candidates’ experiences, skills, and qualifications with job opportunities and training interventions.

 

There's clearly a benefit in bringing data sets together to inform faster decisions about the evolving jobs market now. Better data, better information, better insight, better matching of people to jobs to support the development of near term policy and action.

However, there's a "but". I understand the benefit of extrapolating from the past to create insights about the evolution of the jobs market and the world of work. I understand the benefit of seeking new data sets, and bringing them together to help generate even more insight. But, will a focus on analysing and extrapolating from the past alone, help us prepare adequately for the future; especially if that future is radically different? 

 

The Future of Work

 

If we look at the number of studies into the future of work we see a significant range of possibilities from increasing levels of employment through jobs created by new technologies and new industry sectors, the radical redesign of many existing jobs, to potentially many jobs displaced by automation technologies.

 

So for me, the question is how can we use foresight to pressure test the assumptions we draw from extrapolating trends in jobs, work, and the jobs market? What are the societal options we may need to consider to ensure that people continue to live fulfilling lives? How does the nature of education and training change in a world where we are uncertain about the future of employment? And within the recruitment sector, how do we address the rebalancing of technical skills with softer skills and human experiences?

The event demonstrated a number of valuable partnerships across government (DoE / DWP) and between NGOs and government. These partnerships become increasingly important given the likely change of emphasis in the skills required for the future world of work. For example, if many businesses are using the same automated / AI-enabled systems and products and services have a very similar look and feel, how will we differentiate our offerings to customers and clients? Can we re-align people to study a new portfolio of skills where the balance tips from technical to creative and so called soft skills?  Even now, the question of assessing a candidate’s soft skills is increasingly pertinent. Is the recruitment sector truly capable of integrating soft skills into the selection process?

 

Fairness

 

The notion of "fairness" is crucial in that access to work and jobs must be made on the ability of the candidate to fulfil a given role and not on the candidate’s ability to access the right technology. So the democratisation of technology through ubiquitous connectivity is one example of how national infrastructure needs significant improvement to support a fairness expansion. Access to skills training enabling more people to use technology as well as access to the technology itself needs to be addressed.

There was discussion about the applicability of some technologies in supporting “fairness” including the effectiveness of facial recognition with darker skin tones. Which begs a question of the development of algorithms and specially the audit of them to ensure they are technically capable of operating without bias.

 

Preparing People Better for Future Jobs

 

The question here is, can the effective use of jobs and work data be used to prepare people better for future jobs?

Here, the idea of a “commons data set” accessible widely would allow candidates, employers, recruiters, educators, and policy makers to review evolving business sectors and more effectively match people and jobs – and even provide support where start-ups would have access to the right talent pool.

 

But the question of how to prepare for the longer term future remains.

 

At what point, for example, do we need to switch from a technical focused education system to one focused on more human skills; coaching, facilitation, motivation, mind-set and leadership, creativity, collaboration, problem solving, systems thinking etc.

Future job systems also need to factor in attitude as well as technical skills. The labour market of the future is likely to have to become more flexible, resilient, supported by suitable training and retraining, and a much better understanding of the dynamics that will underpin the jobs market in an increasingly digitised society subjected to exponential change.

 

Questions

 

Here are four questions that the event posed for me:

  • How do organisations effectively assess soft skills and attitudes when recruiting new employees?
  • What needs to happen to effectively match workers in the gig economy with work opportunities?  
  • What role should foresight play in setting the context for future focused education and training policy and design?
  • What is the optimal balance between system and process automation and personal interaction in matching people with work opportunities?

 

Image Credit: Alexas Fotos via https://pixabay.com/photos/figures-professions-work-funny-fun-1372458/

Opening the Door to A Very Human Future

 

Exponential change is our new reality. The pace, scale, reach, and the potential impacts of the underlying drivers of change are extraordinary and represent both challenge and opportunity to individuals, public sector organisations, not-for-profit, and commercial enterprises alike. The primary exponential change focus of many organisations is increasingly on the development and potential impact of new automation technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to create increasingly efficient processes and enable greater customer personalisation.

 

But in life, society, and business we need to be alert to all the signals, predictions, and scenarios of how the emerging future could change the nature of our world. In response, we need to be thinking about how we will design future business products, services, and processes. In government, we need to be thinking about how we will design and deliver future public services. Collectively we must try to imagine the impact of new ideas, technologies, and approaches in existing sectors and how they help us create new sectors that will power the future economy.

 

Context for Change

 

Our world is becoming increasingly complex, globalisation is evolving and increasing uncertainty is a new reality. The increasing desire of people around the world to shape their own futures is driving change at the political, economic, and social levels. New technologies and a growing middle class – especially in Asia - are typically critical drivers. The broadening of sustainability is becoming a license to operate. Sustainability is no longer just the domain of concerns about the environment, climate change, and bio-diversity; it’s also about economics, equality, infrastructure renewal, and social improvement. New consumers are emerging; not just millennials and Gen-Z but also boomers who are increasingly adopting new perspectives on what and how they engage with brands, products, and services. Technology offers business and society more broadly amazing benefits including the ability to change our traditional scarcity mind-set to an abundance mind-set by embracing “Trekonomics” – Star Trek’s economic utopia. We are experiencing two worlds colliding; the analogue, physical world where we focus on created physical products and services, with the digital world where data and information are the valuable currency and where data is opening up a new world of possibility.

 

Opening a Door to a Very Human Future

 

Taken altogether, these drivers of future change represent both challenge and opportunity and the key question becomes, are we ready to open a door to a very human future?

 

The answers do not lie in technology – enabling though it could prove to be – but they lie in our mind-set, our leadership behaviours, and the actions we take as individuals, as enterprises, and as governments.

 

Image Credit: Arek Socha via https://pixabay.com/photos/doors-choices-choose-open-decision-1587329

Reflections on Nesta’s event: Collective Intelligence – Maximising Human/Machine Working

 

The opportunity to use “21st Century Common Sense” - in this case, Collective Intelligence (CI) - to tackle complex social challenges was considered at Nesta's event on 16th October. The basic proposition here is that we deploy a fraction of our collective intelligence when addressing society’s biggest challenges, so the event sought to explore how to address such challenges, “through better design, asking how we can tap into the collective wisdom of a place, organisation or market and what new combinations of human and machine intelligence can help us do this at scale.”

 

What is Collective Intelligence?

 

Nesta defines collective intelligence as, “something that is created when people work together, often with the help of technology, to mobilise a wider range of information, ideas, and insights to address a challenge,” particularly where the challenge is of a societal nature.

 

Collective intelligence is the result of a process, data, technology (artificial intelligence, machine learning), and people working toward the resolution of a specific problem.

 

What can Collective Intelligence Achieve for us?

 

Clearly the basic premise is on bringing together the complimentary capabilities of humans and machines to achieve a better outcome than possible by either going it alone. Despite the rapid progress made in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), data still needs to be sourced, and sense made of the analysis to support human focused decision making. These are the areas in which humans excel – for now at least.

 

While the focus with the projects discussed at the event as exemplars of CI in action included public sector engagement both operationally (real time information provision) and consultatively (local government priority setting), CI has applicability in helping to resolve wicked problems more widely and in areas such as participative foresight / futures work.

 

The notion of “swarm AI” can empower groups with conflicting political views reach satisfactory outcomes where the machine can help participants to reframe challenges and help them find the points of common concern. This raises the future possibility of automating decisions made through democratic processes. (Well, it couldn’t be worse, could it?) 

 

But we must be clear about the purpose here, which is to design the process and the technology to extend human capabilities. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can help to provide insight from unstructured data, conduct analysis, and make predictions but it should enable humans to better understand problems, decentralise (leaderless?) participation, and seek real solutions through networked intelligent action.

 

How do we Start and Enable Successful Collective Intelligence?

 

For all the talk about AI and ML, what particularly struck me were the required human behaviours. We talk about collaboration and partnership between “man and machine” for effective CI, but – for the time being at least – collaboration and partnership are human traits. Effective real time collaboration / partnership is the result of a process, behaviours, and outcome. So the underpinning human behaviours will remain valid; listening, enquiring, engaging, thinking, sense-making, empathy, suspending assumptions, honesty, mutuality, respect, and valuing differences as well as similarities.

Our process can then focus on ways to support collaborative thinking about how we work with machines, and how we want AI/ML to enable better discussion outcomes.  I noted this range of process characteristics:

  • Asking the right questions to build understanding and inform AI
  • Develop the AI to support human/machine interaction
  • Deploy double-loop learning for both machines and humans
  • Crowdsource ideas
  • Understand how we mobilise data, insight, intelligence, and ideas to help solve problems
  • Be clear on issues concerning data ownership, its use, privacy, and the cultural context with which it is gathered and used.

The critical enabling areas are in software development where for many organisations operating in the social space revolves around open source, skills, and cooperation.

 

Machine learning plays a significant role in teaching the system to interpret the data in the correct way given the problem being addressed. Collaborative working is a dual challenge with both how the software is designed to work with humans and how the humans support their work with each other. Both will need the appropriate skills development through education and training. Skills such as sense-making, systems thinking, contextual sensitivity, collaborative working, working with ambiguity, foresight, and scenario thinking are crucial.

 

Case Examples

 

A number of CI case examples were presented at the event that demonstrated a breadth of deployment, approaches, and societal situation. Evidence suggests that CI leads to better engagement, greater satisfaction, and better outcomes in part by machine aggregation and organisation of data gathered by people.

The characteristics and areas of CI deployment included:

  • Enabling more consultative democracy
  • Analysing socially collected data
  • CI at the institution level
  • Influencing local service priorities through a consultative exercise to inform politicians
  • Creative solutions outside of government - distributed "authority" / crowdsourced “authority”
  • Creation of digital platforms for collaborative engagement between people and politicians to improve trust and transparency and encourage engagement
  • Support the re-distribution of power through possible citizens assemblies
  • Filling crucial data gaps via social media
  • Helping to understand how achievement of the UN Sustainable Development goals might be measured to help hold countries to account.

Collective Intelligence Design Playbook (beta)

 

For more information about Nesta’s work in the field and to help you design and deliver a collective intelligence project you can download the Collective Intelligence Design Playbook here.

 

Questions

 

Here are three questions that the event posed for me:

  • How do you currently maximise the collective intelligence capability of your organisation/enterprise?
  • Which components - process, data, technology (artificial intelligence, machine learning), and people – need further development in your organisation to run a CI project?
  • What challenges and opportunities do you face that are best suited to a CI approach?

 

Image Credit: Gerd Altmann via https://pixabay.com/illustrations/binary-code-privacy-policy-woman-2175285/

Could Human Enhancement Prevent Robots from Taking Jobs?

 

By Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington

 

The chorus of voices arguing that “robots will take our jobs” have many complaints but few solutions – which is a growing concern given that automation is already impacting jobs and clearly a critical societal driving force of the very near future. But rather than sit back and decry the robots’ encroachment on the working world while accepting it’s inevitability, should we be fighting back and how might we do it? Can we use science and technology advances to compete and enhance our way to future job security? This article looks at how enhanced humans may turn the “replaced by robots” debate on its head.

 

Thanks to advances in biology, genetics, pharmaceuticals, wearable technology, neurotech, and wireless connectivity, it is increasingly conceivable, and scientifically possible, that humanity—rather than being overshadowed by the rise of AI—might be ready to surpass all previous real or imagined limitations of our brains and bodies. The enhancements can range from chemical, genetic, and neurological augmentation of the body’s basic architecture through to physical and electronic developments to extend our capabilities and a range of treatments to extend life expectancy in areas such as:

  • Sensory Augmentation
  • Super Organisms
  • Radical Life Extension and Cryogenics

Transhumanism and human enhancement technologies may generate new strategies to defend jobs from roboticization.  Augmented senses, blurring the line between humans and machines, and extended lifespans may be among the more controversial but plausible answers to humans having—and keeping—an edge on machines in the future.

 

To read the full article click here

 

Image Credit: Gerd Altmann via https://pixabay.com/images/id-4550596/

EntFest Talks 2019

 

At the 2019 Peter Jones Foundation EntFest event in 2019, Steve gave an informal talk about the future of work and explained how the expectations and needs of employers and employees are fast changing.

The Future of Business and Work: Future-proofing Your Strategy

 

By Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington

 

We’ve written extensively on the future of work. Our first book, The Future of Business, allowed us to spotlight the thinking of over 60 esteemed futurists on this very topic. In our many articles, we’ve explored automation, artificial intelligence, smart cities, universal basic income, design, architecture, and more, as different drivers shaping the future of work. For this piece we emphasise the idea that the future of business is itself a key driver in emerging thinking about the possible scenarios for the future of work and employment.

From our perspective, there must be strong focus on the impact of automation, the new opportunities that could emerge, and the skills required for the future of work. At the same time, we are seeing growing discussion of the possibility that, within two to three decades, automation may render full time jobs a thing of the past, creating a world where employment could be just one of many pastimes we pursue as hobbies. Below are the most notable ideas and concepts in terms of building future-proof business strategy:

  • Alternative Employee Reward Models and Systems
  • New Economic Growth through Future Employment Sources
  • Fluid Organisational Boundaries
  • Transparent Organisational Ethics
  • Competition Reimagined
  • Mandatory Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
  • Demand for Cognitive and Socio-behavioural Skills
  • Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality to Replace Work Trips
  • Job Deserts

Work: From Purpose to Pastime?

 

Within as little as twenty years, if science and technology achieve the promise which many are investing in, then we may need to redefine traditional notions of “the job” and the meaning it provides to people’s lives. Work in the traditional sense may have become a rarity and just one of a number of pastimes we pursue as a hobby. As such, an individual‘s societal contribution would need to be redefined. So, while some would continue to perform paid jobs, others might be provided with guaranteed basic incomes and services, and make their contribution to society in other equivalent ways.

 

To read the full article click here

 

Image Credit: Tayeb Mezahdia via https://pixabay.com/photos/laptop-notebook-macbook-pro-work-3174729/

How Futurists can help Megaprojects


In this interview with Karlene Agard from ARAVUN, Steve shares his thoughts on how project leaders can benefit from using foresight to identify and make sense of future trends to help consider and prepare for uncertainty.

Urbanization Challenges and Sustainability Demands

 

By Steve Wells, Rohit Talwar, and Alexandra Whittington

 

Massive Urbanization by 2050

 

Of the projected global population of 9.8bn by 2050, the UN predicts that 68% will live in cities – an increase of 2.5bn over 2018 where the proportion was 55%. Of this, almost 90% of the increase is expected to take place in Asia and Africa. Hence, sustainable development will be key to future success of the entire planet.

 

Super Tall, Mega Tall, and Giant Buildings

 

The science and engineering of building structures has been advancing rapidly. Hence it is now commonplace to see Super Tall buildings of over 300 meters in height and Mega Tall structure of over 600 meters. Currently the Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest at 828 meters with the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia targeted at 1,008 meters on completion. As urbanization gathers pace, cities will have to adapt and include more such structures.

 

Car-Free Cities

 

Momentum is gathering around the world for cities to develop plans to manage air pollution through the banning of petrol and diesel cars. For example, London plans to introduce a zero-emission zone in 2025. This is expected to ban petrol and diesel cars from the very center of the city (hybrid cars will be excluded from the ban), and gradually expand until it covers all of the capital by 2050.

 

Sun-Powered Cities

 

Reducing costs and exponential growth in demand for solar technology are showing the perceived value of this technology even in the UK market. An indication of the potential of this renewable energy source was achieved briefly in the summer of 2018, when solar power eclipsed gas power stations as the UK's top source of electricity. Solar power could lead to entire cities which are designed to generate their own electricity.

 

Eco Cities

 

Ever-increasing populations raise issues of congestion, distribution of resources, and increased pressure on waste management, infrastructure, healthcare, and education. Sustainable cities have an essential role in responding to increasing urbanization in a manner that improves residents’ lives by focusing on environmental initiatives including limiting emissions, using renewable energy sources, and bringing greater awareness to environmental issues.

 

The Urban Future

 

Each of these solutions share a common thread: they integrate foresight, environmental best practices, and urban planning to enhance the well-being of citizens. Advances in each of these areas are essential to creating a very human future.

 

To read the full article click here.

 

Image Credit: Gerd Altmann via https://pixabay.com/images/id-3520178 

Quantum Earth - Idleness: The Work Revolution

 

Frederic Eger hosted financial engineer and The Venus Project France director Pierre-Alexandre Ponant and Steve in his Paris studio to discuss the growing impact of digitisation, the revolution in the workplace, and the way we will work between now and the year 2100.

 

Click here to view the complete Quantum Earth TV show.

 

 

Strategic Trends in Aviation

 

By Steve Wells, Rohit Talwar, and Alexandra Whittington

 

From the continued evolution in airframe design and new materials, to new engine and propulsion technologies, and the apparent demise of the jumbo jet as an air travel concept, thinking on aircraft manufacturing is in a renaissance phase. In this environment, the strategies and business models of manufacturers will increasingly be driven by how new technologies can provide additional opportunities to meet passenger and airline demands and continue to enhance the inflight experience.

 

These opportunities will continue to evolve to enable manufacturers to deliver and maintain aircraft in an increasingly connected, cost effective, and sustainability conscious manner. Here are some of the innovations taking place in aircraft technology and manufacture today, and the possible innovations of the next decade:

  • Growing Reliance on AI

  • Aircraft-as-a-Service

  • Personal Air Transportation

  • Folding Wings

  • Commercial Supersonic Services

  • Biofuels

  • Elimination of Turbulence and Noiseless Aviation

  • Development of Electric Planes

  • Capsules Transported by Carrier Aircraft

The future depends on the interactions between a variety of factors, from environment to consumer preferences, none of which we can actually predict. However, the amount of innovation and creativity now on display suggests that there is a renaissance of ideas which are defining the future of aviation technology. 

 

To read the full article, click here.

 

Image Credit: via https://pixabay.com/photos/airplane-paper-freedom-handmade-fly-2648958/

Building the Future Show - Challenging the Notion of Leadership in the Future.

 

Steve was a guest on Kevin Horek's show to discuss how leadership and informed perspectives on a rapidly evolving future are needed to ensure a balanced debate on enabling a human-centric future.

10 Ways Higher Education Could be Transformed to Support the Needs of a Changing World

 

By Steve Wells, Rohit Talwar, Alexandra Whittington, April Koury, and Helena Calle

Is there a future for higher education? There is probably no other industry or social institution quite as invested in the future as education, yet its struggles with self-reinvention manifest as a ticking time bomb, putting the future of both the institutions and wider society at risk. Almost every commentary on a number of social ills has a subtext that highlights the uncertainties around the future of education. Poor civic engagement? Blame education. Job preparation? Fix education. STEM skills? Reinvent education.

 

In this context, a constructive futurist approach would be to ask what aspects of higher education today are worth preserving, which ones could or should be relegated to history, and which have the most potential to create desirable futures?

 

The world is changing fast and requiring solutions to ever-more complex problems. Society is looking to education to provide the foundations from which individuals can address these global challenges. As a thought exercise in identifying the various pressure points in the future of education, here are 10 ways higher education could be transformed to support the needs of a changing world:

 

  1. Blended Learning - Students should be able to draw on inputs from multiple organizations.
  2. A centre of community learning - Higher education institutions could become genuine 24/7/365 community centres.
  3. Dropout University - Higher education should encourage dropouts, to allow students to learn what they want to learn, when they want to learn it
  4. Self-Grading and Peer Grading - The use of technology to allow for students to conduct highly transparent and constructive forms of self-grading and peer grading could bring about more meaningful learning experiences.
  5. Uber for Tutoring - Online platforms could provide a complementary service to match learners with local tutors certified by the institution.
  6. From Credits to Blockchain Badges - Following the Scout method of badges or patches to signify achievements, each person would have an un-hackable blockchain identity to keep record of the lessons learned in and outside of school.
  7. Pay-It-Forward System to Fund your Degree - A flexible payment system for courses where students would not need money to pay for tuition. They can pay the fees of enrollment by contributing with their expertise on a subject they master.
  8. Biometrics for Personalized Learning - Online courses might incorporate biometric observation, such as eye-tracking software that measures pupil dilatation, which identifies the level of motivation and understanding that a student has on a specific topic.
  9. Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Holographic Technology to Create Contexts to Practice Skills - Classroom facilities equipped with technology that allows students to practice specific skills such as team work, creative thinking, problem solving, and other work skills of the future.
  10. A Strong Connection Between the School System, University Programs, and Employers - There could be a close connection between each of the learning stages and the industries and sectors which will ultimately employ the majority of students. 

To read the full article click here.

 

Image Credit: Pete Linforth via https://pixabay.com/illustrations/earth-planet-globe-world-map-4195953/

Header Image Credit: Kconcha via https://pixabay.com/photos/magazine-colors-media-page-806073/

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