A De-Materialized Christmas












It’s Christmas time. You know, mistletoe and wine. Children singing Christian rhyme. We’ve got logs on the fire and gifts on the tree.

But no. Wait. It’s gone all virtual. Seriously, things are a little weird this year. My eldest wants things that don’t have any physical presence – digital music, digital games, e-books. So the tree is there, but there’s not much underneath it. How long, I wonder, until they tree itself is simply a digital projection (available for instant download in millions of colours and designs) and the relatives show up a holograms.

Future 50








I cannot remember if I posted this already, but here’s the final version of the intro from “50 Things.” I’ve also discovered that Google Books have a 29-page sample available for free and the whole book as an e-book for a bargain busting £3.99!

Clock here for the sample.

The future is unwritten, but how we imagine it to be can influence present attitudes and behaviours, much in the same way that our individual and collective histories can define who we are and how we act, as most psychoanalysts will tell you. In other words, both past and future are always present.

But the future is not distributed equally. Science laboratories, research establishments and academic institutions create and explore new ideas long before they become widely available or fashionable elsewhere. Much the same might be said of younger people, who are often more open to experimenting with new ideas and less invested in, or constrained by, the frameworks of existing thinking.

What you will find inside this book is a selection of 50 ideas from the frontiers
of futures thinking, along with some quotes and illustrative timelines. Some of these, and some of the people behind them, might seem a little crazy. But then who, without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, can tell? Maybe that’s the whole point about thinking of the future. It’s not a matter of people being right or wrong, but is, rather, a way of inspecting our beliefs. It’s a way of disrupting the present and unearthing our assumptions about what can and cannot happen – assumptions that are always embedded in our thinking about the future. Also, it’s a way of reminding people of the oft-forgotten fact that the future is shaped by our present choices and actions.

Most importantly, engaging with the future gives us all the permission to dream. Two other aspects are apparent about the future. The first is that technology tends to act as an accelerant. Second, we often overestimate the impact of technological and social change in the shorter term, while underestimating it over much longer periods.

You may doubt this, but that’s possibly because the future tricks us by wearing a disguise and showing up unannounced. The future trickles into our daily lives, usually without warning or fanfare. If, instead, the future arrived all at once,
to the sound of distant drums, we would no doubt be either rather alarmed or pleasantly impressed.

My hope is that the pages that follow will do a bit of both.

2013: Hello. Goodbye.

I’ve been collaborating with Ross Dawson to create a quick visual summary of some of the things that will be appearing and disappearing in our lives in 2013. The graphic is above and a text list is below.

Here is the full list in text form (in no particular order):


Augmented reality glasses

Thought control

3D printing in the home

Personal DNA testing

Digital butlers

Voice control TV

Customized medicine

Pay by fingerprint

Electric sports cars

Robot sex

Conversational computing

Empathic robots

Gesture interfaces

Flexible, foldable mobile phones


Infinite color at home

Personalized billboards

Networked professional services


Pollution absorbing clothes

Biodegradable electronics

Automated instant translation

Memory implants

Video wallpaper

Retail delivery boxes



Computer mouse


Landline telephones



Video rental stores

Public phones



Weekday newspapers


Chain bookstores


Space tourism

8 hours sleep

Switching off

9-5 workdays

Dining rooms


Shop assistants


Non-internet businesses

Printing photographs

Welfare state

Learning foreign languages

Paper medical records

Watches for under 25s

Focused attention



Love is a drug

Believe it or not issue 32 of What’s Next is almost done. Here’s a sneak peak…

In the midst of frantic emails and rushed meetings it’s easy to forget that we are animals at heart. Moreover, we are animals that have hardly changed over thousands of years. Yet we find ourselves in a world of our making that is far removed from that of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. In other words, the world around us has changed profoundly, but we are still largely stuck with the psychological habits and hubris of cave men and women. A case in point is mating and more specifically marriage.

Thanks to modern medical marvels we have managed to more than double the human lifespan. Historically, keeping alive was job number one for most people and we only reached an age of 35 on average. Relationships and pair bonding were therefore an urgent biological imperative, which usually ended with one or other partner dying. Given a lifespan of 35, around 50% of relationships would have come to an end within 15-years due to death.

This is interesting, because in modern society most marriages last for a similar amount of time – 11 years to be precise. So perhaps we were not designed to survive long-lasting relationships. Nevertheless, making marriages last longer would seem like a good idea, not least because longer-lasting relationships tend to create greater physical and mental well-being. They also cost society and the taxpayer considerably less in terms of everything from healthcare to housing.

So what’s to be done? One answer might stem from neurobiology. For instance, a study looking at the mating habits of monogamous prairie voles (Microtus orchrogaster) versus polygamous voles (Microtus montanus) found that the receptors for certain hormones are distributed differently between the two types of vole. In one experiment, putting a receptor gene from a faithful vole into the brain of a promiscuous relative resulted in a marked change of behaviour. The adulterous wandering vole became faithful and monogamous.

So clearly the question is whether or not a chemical fix might stop human marriages from falling apart, or at least make them last longer. What if, for example, you could buy a nasal spray over the counter, which encouraged trusting behaviour or could make couples talk to each other more? What if it were possible to extend the romantic phase of a relationship by popping a pill or to stop someone from straying elsewhere with an injection or a patch? It sounds fanciful, but it’s not. We already modify the behaviour of sexual offenders chemically, so why can’t we use an improved knowledge of the chemical composition of love and romance to bring people closer together for longer?

Trust me, this will one day be possible, although whether societies will allow it is another kettle of piranhas. For example, would neuro-enhancement or chemical modification make a relationship inauthentic? Could people become addicted to love and could chemically augmented relationships imprison individuals, even children, in bad relationships? Some people might argue that drink and drugs do this already, but in theory better ‘love drugs’ could release us from the shackles of our biological past and make us all more loving, trusting and happy.

The World’s Best Public Libraries

For the last two years I’ve been walking around with a bit of red cardboard in my glasses case. The item in question is black on the reverse and the word ‘Silence’ is inscribed in small gold letters. What is this strange thing? It’s actually a box that once contained earplugs, taken from a Virgin Atlantic flight, probably one from Sydney to London via Hong Kong.

The point of this story is that after 2 years I’ve finally looked at what’s written on the red side of the card and it’s a list of the best libraries in the world. I have no idea where this list came from, but a wild guess would be some inflight magazine or other. Anyway, here’s the list.

1) Bibliotheca, Alexandria, Egypt
2) Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (part of New York Public Library)
3) Customs House, Sydney
4) Kyoto International Manga Museum, Japan
5) Cardiff Central Library, Cardiff
6) The Royal Library, Copenhagen

The other great Dylan

I’m in Wales today, so it’s probably time for a bit of Dylan Thomas…

“A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to extend everyone’s knowledge of himself and the world around him.”

Just one more bit?

“I know we’re not saints or virgins or lunatics; we know all the lust and lavatory jokes, and most of the dirty people; we can catch buses and count our change and cross the roads and talk real sentences. But our innocence goes awfully deep, and our discreditable secret is that we don’t know anything at all, and our horrid inner secret is that we don’t care that we don’t.”

Scenario Planning Process – Part 2

I attended an event celebrating 40 years of Shell scenarios last night, so it seems an appropriate moment to follow up on Part 1 of my 20 scenario planning tips and tricks. Here, in no particular order, is an assortment of observations and ideas from the projects I’ve been involved with.

11. Start with meta then migrate through macro to micro
Remember that when it comes to the implications of each scenario it’s always useful to start with high-level implications and then drill down. In other words, start with group implications and then drill down to individual divisions, departments, geographies or product and service lines. Again, a good way of bringing this to life is to use graphics not just words.

12. Don’t walk away
You will have invested time and money in the scenario process and if it’s time and money well spent don’t do it and then forget about it. Try to build scenario thinking into everyday decision-making and formalise the tracking of scenarios through horizon scanning or some similar research activity. Also, refresh the scenarios on a fairly regular basis (every 3-5 years seems like a practical proposition in most organisations)

13. Resist, resist
A common mistake with scenarios once they are done is to focus on the one that’s the most familiar or comfortable and ignore the rest. Don’t, unless you are deliberately building a preferred future. All scenarios should be created and treated equally no matter how uncomfortable they make people feel. Indeed, that’s partly the point of scenarios – to make people feel uncomfortable, either about what they think they know or know they don’t.

14. Emotional intelligence
Scenario planning should be a conversational process. It is about discovering what other people think and finding new ways to look at things. However, all too often the process is too logical and data driven. Be prepared to look for what’s not being said and tap into what’s being felt, but is not, or cannot, be articulated.

15. Tight and loose
There was some research many years ago about what made the difference between a Broadway smash and a Broadway flop. The answer, it seems, is to combine expertise with innocence. Build teams and workshops that consist of people with deep expertise and people with none.

16. Go wide and deep
If you are a bank creating scenarios there’s a great temptation to focus inward and look only at things that directly impact banking and finance. This would be fatal, not least because you will miss the potential of outsiders or non-incumbents to change the playing field. The whole point of scenarios is to explore the external macro-environment in which an organisation will be forced to adapt. Therefore explore up and down and in and out in terms of drivers. The economy, like technology, is likely to be a factor, but so too are demographic trends, the regulatory environment, customer attitudes, energy, politics and a bunch of other things not directly reacted to the industry or organisation in question.

17. Don’t forget about the social side
The area organisations seem to neglect above all others is people. I’m not just talking about demographics, but family structures and above all social trends, especially identity, values and beliefs, which combine with a host of other factors such as regulation (law), pricing and technology.

18. Look for the a ha moment
Done well, the scenario process should result in at least a few, and hopefully all, of those involved having some kind of epiphany. For example, half way through a project looking at the future of public libraries it occurred to many of us that the future of books or publishing is not the same as the future of public libraries. They are connected, but a public library without any physical books could almost work. A similar revelatory moment came in a workshop looking at how the recruitment industry might change. What the team suddenly realised was that it had created various futures for people like those sat around the table and much of the thinking was irrelevant for the majority of the working population, especially those being served by mainstream recruitment agencies.

19. Make specific recommendations
Most scenario projects look at strategic implications, but it’s incredible how many organisations will spend months crafting a set of scenarios and leave it at that. Any scenario planning process should conclude with a set of specific recommendations, which, more likely than not, will stem from a consideration of likely impact against likely probability.

20. And finally…shortcuts
Become ferociously curious about the scenarios created by other people and organisations. You’d be surprised about how much material is freely available and if you don’t have the time and money to create you own scenarios they can be a good short cut. Some scenario experts will violently disagree with this, arguing that scenarios are of use only for the people and time that created them. They answer a specific question and are rooted in time and place. I’d agree, up to a point, but you might be surprised by how much overlap there is between scenarios and stealing (seeking and reapplying in P&G speak) those belonging to others does have some merit.

For more on scenario planning see Future Vision: Scenarios for the World in 2040 by Richard Watson and Oliver Freeman.

Click here for tips 1-10


Further reading:

The Art of the Long View
Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Conversation

Is Kindness Viral?









It’s almost Christmas, so perhaps acts of random kindness attract attention at this time of year. Maybe that’s too cynical. One of the most viewed images on the web last month was of a policeman helping a homeless man in New York. The man, a war veteran, was shoeless, so the policeman went to a local store and bought the man some boots – one assumes with his own money. He then helped the man to put them on.

So why is this image so heart warming? According to an experiment published in something called the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, someone that witnesses someone comforting someone in distress is more likely to be compassionate to another person themselves. I imagine the same is true too in the negative too. If you are the recipient of anger or rage you often pass the rage and anger on to someone else. This story has a twist because the man has been spotted shoeless once again. When asked “Where are your shoes?” the man said that they were too valuable to wear and would be taken from him. Turns out he isn’t homeless either. Nevertheless, it really is the thought that counts.

So be nice to someone you don’t know today, perhaps just smile at someone you don’t know, and make the world a nicer place for a few seconds.

In the new world of work, modesty is no longer a virtue

Let’s talk about me. This focus on “Me” is a new development, especially in the UK. Traditionally, the British have been modest about their achievements.
Take the Industrial Revolution. It was pure luck. It could have happened anywhere. Penicillin? Serendipity. The jet engine? Somebody else would have eventually come up with the idea old chap. Nothing to really shout about.

The ego in Britain was historically kept in check by self-deprecation and this became a hallmark of British culture and comedy. The class system may have had something to do with it too. Positions were fixed and there wasn’t much point trying to change things when destiny was largely determined at birth.

But more about “Me.” In the United States people are taught from birth that meekness is a weakness. Maybe this developed due to the early need to fight wild Indians or bears. Who knows. Whatever the cause, fluidity and forwardness has been feature of American society since its inception. America is more egalitarian than Britain and hard work can therefore pay off. Nowhere has this been truer than in New York, where boasting rarely results in a roasting and putting oneself ‘out there’ has always been a basic requirement, not only for work, but for finding love and happiness too. Now, it seems, the rest of the world is loudly following in New York’s footsteps. Extroverts are in the ascendant and introverts just never make things happen. But why is this? I think the reason is twofold.

First, in the world of work, the cogitative elite has become globalised and this has resulted in a hugely competitive landscape where you are only as good your last project and everyone is, so the theory goes, after your job. The world is now flat. It’s quarterly and globally accelerated capitalism and there is no time for hanging around or sticking your dim light under a damp bushel. To mix the metaphors even further, it’s a totally different kettle of piranhas out there these days.

Now it’s all about shouting the loudest to get seen – and to get paid. It’s all about economic free agents, road warriors, personal branding, LinkedIn profiles, high profile internships – often bought at charity auctions – and loading your digitalised CV with search engine friendly keywords. Even our physical work environments have become loud. Walls that were once white are now painted in strong colours or plastered in professional graffiti, supposedly to stimulate our creative thinking. Where once we had quiet and reflective private offices we now have casual open-plan layouts, supposedly for the same reason.

If you think this is an exaggeration then you obviously haven’t heard about Facebook’s Menlo Park office, which has all this and more. Even the meeting rooms have extrovert names and the signs say things like: “Move fast and break things.” Everything is now social and team based and if you don’t enthusiastically join in there is the suspicion that there’s something wrong with you.

But what if you don’t want to be the life and soul of the daily office party? What if you don’t want to talk, but prefer to be left alone to think or indeed code? It’s as though a bunch of kindergarten kids have taken over the whole world.

The second reason that modesty is now a travesty is technological, although this links with and strongly supports the forces of globalisation. We now live in a world where it’s much easier to sell yourself to a global audience and to tell the world how wonderful you are– even what you’re up to right now. And because things are so hyper-competitive, this often means wild exaggeration and a heavily image-enhanced portrait. A booming Type-A job title like “CEO’ also helps, even if the company you work for is just you in a spare bedroom

Of course, you can’t just blame the individual for this ego inflation. At school we are all told that we’re all ‘special’. There are classes for the ‘Gifted and talented’ and experts tell us that anyone can be a genius. And governments encourage this too by insisting that anyone can and should go to university.

A consequence of all this is the increased emphasis on the person. Personal technology means it’s now more about our individual whims and wants. We can now have our newspaper and our cup of coffee our way (i.e. personalised). Technology, such as television, that was once communal has become individual.

This is obviously a good thing, because we can now all watch what we want to watch when and where we want. But one result is that we no longer have to compromise and sometimes accept what other people want to watch, which is not especially social. Overall, I believe, this is starting to create an intolerance of others, including other peoples’ likes, dislikes, opinions and foibles. But who cares, because you don’t really need anyone else nowadays right?

Something similar is happening with friendship. Peer pressure is now networked so one needs to constantly sell oneself and what one is doing. You need to be constantly having an enormous amount of fun and hanging out with people even more beautiful (i.e. even more photo-shopped) than yourself. In sum, it’s a world where fame and fortune are fleeting, so you may as well get your job application, funding foray or date in before everyone else.

Demographics impact here too. In some places there are more single women than single men, so the stakes of each date get higher. And the same demographic force applies to the availability of jobs.

But here’s the thing. Our newly extrovert nature, along with our newly found connectivity and digital friendships, are hiding a dark side. We are now alone more than ever. Our connectivity is a sham. We are indeed connected more than ever, but connected to what or whom? To people with whom we can share our deepest hopes and fears? I fear not. We have exchanged intimacy for familiarity and our so-called friends are about as long-term and resilient as our jobs. As for everything becoming social, this is true on a very superficial level, but underneath I believe the very opposite is happening.

I don’t know about you, but it somehow felt better back in the days when the meek were in line to inherit the Earth. One somehow felt that something of substance might be happening in those quiet offices and hushed corridors of power.

I’d trade a quiet, mild mannered meek for a noisy, narcissistic geek any day.