Where are you?

Sorry readers. Become rather focused on the new book. I’m working to have the first draft done by the end of the month, so not much time for anything else. Vaguely normal service will resume in April. I have managed to escape a little. I spent 3 days in Austria where I was involved with a series of innovation workshops for Porsche. Also a breakfast for KPMG and some government work on long-term risks. This was fascinating, although a little frustrating because I can’t talk about it.

It did remind me though of a conversation I had a while ago with a Ministry of Defence guy. We were talking about whether you could tell if you were right or not. For example, if you identify something as being a future issue, but you take steps to offset the risk and it doesn’t happen, were you right or wrong?

Similarly, I think there are a few vulnerabilities (risks) but if I mention them publicaly (in a book say) I might alert someone to an opportunity and something may happen. In this case would I be responsible for making this something happen? I think in a sense yes, which is why I’m keeping quiet.

To end a quote for you, which pretty much sums up what’s being going on with the new book (tittle now agreed but not quite public).

“You have to have an idea of what you are going to do, but it should be a vague idea.” – Picasso.

The Return of Vinyl (on the 13.58 from Brussels)


Whoever it was that once accused me of being a “reluctant futurist” got me exactly right. I love looking forwards, but I also rejoice in going backwards.

I’ve just been to Brussels again and this time ended up in Autoworld. I didn’t even know that this place existed until I stumbled upon it on TripAdvisor. It’s housed in a lovely old building and full to the brim with old skool mechanical cool. There is just something about the smell of old engine oil and cracked leather that sets my pulse racing.

I also had dinner at Vincent’s, a restaurant that dates from 1905 and which I last ate at as a child 30 or 40 years ago. It was like re-living the 1970s all over again. Formal waiters, tomato crevette to start, followed by pepper steak, all washed down with a bottle of old red.

The following morning, walking around the centre of Brussels, I came across upon a brilliant record shop called Veals & Geeks. I have been thinking about buying some albums again on vinyl, but this was the excuse I needed. I walked out with an original UK pressing of Dark Side of the Moon, an unopened Japanese issue of Wish You Were Here, Making Movies and an obscure album by America. I was soon sitting on Eurostar (listening to music on my iPhone!) and wondering why I didn’t buy Back to Black, The Velvet Underground & Nico and The Band.

So here’s the thing. I’m not against music downloads. Far from it. I’ve got a large library of tracks downloaded from iTunes and the convenience and portability of digital music is a wonderful thing, especially when you stick them all on an iPhone with more computing power than Apollo 8.

But people who say that all music will be digital in the future underestimate the importance of cycles and sensory pleasure. They also underestimate the impacts of history and nostalgia, especially for an ageing demographic. When you get older you become more human. You connect with things, especially mundane things, at a much deeper level. Time matters more too, which means that you relish every minute of certain experiences. You might think that the less time you have left the faster you would want things to happen, but with me at least it’s the complete opposite. I want things to happen slowly so that I can really remember them.

This is surely an example of the future being about and, not either/or.
The future, in other words, is not binary with one thing being replaced by another. It is multi-faceted, complex, contradictory and confusing, with the very old often existing (annoyingly for some) alongside the very new.

Thus, with music, if anything will die in the future it will surely be the middle ground of CDs. Music in the form of a beer-mat offers neither the practicality of downloads nor the sensory pleasure of Vinyl. I’m sure at some point the current micro-trend for vinyl will be partially offset by an illogical interest in CDs and cassettes, but to my mind these really are inferior technologies. For example, scratches on CDs are annoying, whereas scratches on vinyl are somehow part of the overall experience.

Vinyl appeals to the eyes as well as the ears. The cover artwork can be a feast due to scale and there is tactile pleasure to be had in carefully removing the disc from its fragile sleeve and placing it upon a turntable. There is somehow more ritual to it, although I have re-discovered recently that you do actually have to get up and turn the record over when one side is finished.

With downloads (and other things accessed via screens), speed and convenience fuels a mind-set that is rushed and fragmented. The ease with which digital tracks can be skipped often means that I jump between tracks before the tracks are finished. This can preclude listening to a whole album in one sitting, which is a shame if that’s what a musician intended. With music on mobile devices there is also the temptation to start doing something else, such as looking at emails or searching the internet, whilst listening to music. This isn’t a bad thing, but it sometimes means that you don’t listen quite as deeply or don’t get lost in the music to quite the same extent. The fact that music on vinyl has not been compressed, and is therefore of a much higher sound quality, is just an added bonus.

Here endeth today’s sermon.

Out and About


Here’s a first. I just had an email from Jesus! I could be making a giant mistake, but I put him in my spam file. On a totally unrelated note (unless Jesus is lying low in the Netherlands) I’ve just been to Amsterdam for the second time in a month and found some great graffiti. I also love the art gallery and library in the airport.

BTW, if you are planning a visit I can highly recommend an Asian fusion restaurant called Momo and the best steakhouse this side of Texas called Julius.


Weedy idea

Off to Amsterdam today to talk with some Dutch library folks, but continuing with the first chapter of my new book so highly engaged with what’s going on around me as I may be able to use it in some way. For example, today I was told to be careful because the escalator was coming to an end. Really. Do people not notice? Maybe if they fell off they’d be more observant next time?

Yesterday I was in London and came across a cafe with a sign in the window offering “weeds of nutritional significance.” I’m OK with this (it’s a little too fashionable for its own good, but I get the connections). However, the sign went on…”Weeds of nutritional significance, from Australia.” You mean they’ve flown some weeds from Australia to London so that people eating a sandwich can feel more connected to the land in an organic, bio-dynamic, slow food kind of way? And the fuel needed to fly those weeds 10,000 miles is what? If you’re going to eat weeds at least make them local.

Future Vision (Free Download)

It occurs to me that this blog is, officially, The Diary of an Accidental Futurist, so in theory it is not totally out of order to occasionally say what I’ve been doing. But before I do that, here’s a link to a free download (first 40 pages) of my new book, Future Vision, which is published in the UK next week.

So where’s Wally been? I’ve been meeting some interesting people, all of whom have in some way informed my thinking about how the future may unfold and will doubtless appear in a book someday. Last week it was a Brainmail reader, who turned out to be an Israeli diplomat based in Jerusalem, with whom I had a discussion about the US/China/Russia and the meaning of G-Zero, replacements for the Westphalian State, the implications of technology, whether geographical divides are still relevant and water.

This week it was a wonderful London Business School Professor, ate an omelet and had a discussion about art, ethics, smoking and the joy of just thinking. I’ve also been talking with Lend Lease about gardening and thinking (and corporations as biological systems rather than machines). Pretentious, Moi?

I’ve also been visiting Imperial College London learning more about synthetic biology, energy storage and autonomous vehicles. If you are interested, there are some good (short) videos from Imperial on these and other subjects here. Finally, I’ve been in my writing zone and managed spit out an article on Five Jobs for the Future for this weekend’s edition of the Guardian.

Image: Remindmagazine.wordpress.com (check out the TV with 21 channels!)

Where’s Wally?


Sorry for the radio silence, but I flew on from KL to Sydney and then lost the means (and then the will) to post. Life as it should be (Sydney, not the missing blog). The water was warm, the fish was fresh and everyone seemed very chilled. Not quite sure what I made of going back this time. Disorientating, certainty, but it also opened up a bunch of questions about where I’d rather be, which, frankly, need to be put back in the drawer marked “Do Not Open”. Or maybe not.

Anyhow, I’m back, the northern spring has sprung, and I’m soon off to do a TEDx talk in Spain on the subject of Slow Leadership. The only thing is I have no idea what I’m going to say so I need some ideas – fast. Other news, What’s Next issue 34 is done and will go up in the next couple of days.

Drowning in Shallow Waters

Amazing how much you can end up doing when you have nothing else to do. I’m writing a chapter for a new book proposal. Monday I spent four hours trying to think of a word (starts with the letter G, means growth). Tuesday was much more productive, largely because I don’t have anything else to do (no meetings, no preparation for anything). Obviously this isn’t much of a post so here’s something I wrote back in 2008, which still has some resonance I think.

In his 1955 book entitled The Sane Society, the author Erich Fromm predicted that man would move from being a robotic, all-consuming creature that was “well-fed, well-entertained…passive, unalive and lacking in feeling” towards“humanistic communitarianism”.

Similarly, Maslow foresaw a world where humans naturally switched their attention towards intellectual, spiritual and existential questions and pursuits once lower level needs such as food and security had been achieved. Intellectual activity and spiritualism are flourishing in some parts of the globe these days but triviality, superficiality, vanity, passivity and indifference are generally stronger drivers of behaviour. So has Maslow’s Pyramid of needs collapsed or is it just that the sandstorm of materialism has temporarily obscured the view of various looming emergencies?

Part of the problem is that we have somehow conspired to allow politicians and others to turn us into the consumers of various products and services. Hence keeping the customer satisfied is the name of the game and denial and confusion are the chosen weapons of mass distraction. Scepticism and enquiry are thus brushed off to the edges of society allowing the mass of humanity to wallow in shallow waters.

Some writers saw this coming a long time ago. In a 1957 essay called A Theory of Mass Culture, Dwight MacDonald argued that a “trivial culture that voids both the deep realities and also the simple spontaneous pleasures” would take hold whereby anything of substance would be repackaged to be either non-threatening, entertaining or ideally both. So is it all doom and gloom? I think not. It could be that what appear to be looming emergencies will turn out to be less of a problem than we think. Or perhaps we are naturally lazy and we are leaving our historical inventiveness to the very last moment.

Perhaps the last word should be given to Carl Rogers who, in 1961, wrote, “when I look at the world I am a pessimist but when I look at people I am optimistic”.

I couldn’t agree more.

How did I end up here?

Just been in Seoul at the World Strategy Forum 2011. I’ve now idea how I ended up being there. Certainly Heathrow Terminal 3. Possibly the books.  Anyway, I had my own Chauncy Gardiner* moment at a meeting with the Prime Minister (he says hi) and again shortly afterwards when got to speak briefly with Robert Rubin – ex Secretary of the US Treasury (I’ve never been so happy to have a subscription to the Economist in all my life). I’m sure I’ll be found out eventually, but in the meantime I’m having lots of fun quoting lines from old movies (“growth has its seasons”).

* Peter Sellers in Being There (1979)

Things I’ve always wanted to say

I’m turning into Tyler Brule (Fast Lane column, Weekend FT).

I’ve just been to Helsinki on Finnair. For lunch I had elk meatballs and cauliflower cheese followed by lemon mouse. This allowed me to utter the immortal line: “I’ll have the elk followed by a moose.” (OK, they don’t really have moose in Finland, but you’re being so literal again).

Finnair’s lounge in Helsinki has apparently been voted the best in the world. I’m not sure about that (I prefer the VAA lounge at Heathrow, although that’s partly because I can a tiny hand in how it looks) but they do have a spa and sauna and the sauna isn’t one sauna but a choice of four different types (Finnish, Stone Bath, Brechel Bath & Steam Bath). The best one (I tried them all) was the medium heat one with fresh fir tree branches on the floor (the Brechel). Just what you need if the previous week you’ve flown easyjet (not easy, especially when there’s no jet, but they won’t share this with you – along with any small change to buy anything – for ages).

Good question from someone this evening: ” What are a couple of counter-intuitive things that will happen in the future?” *

BTW, big thank you to Sonny for organizing a wonderful event in Munich last week. The speakers were great, especially the ones I managed to spend some time talking with. If you get a chance check out a few of these folks: Andrew McGonigle, (volcanoes), Frank Longergan (Burning Man), Franz Fischnaller, (virtual reality), Herbert Klumpner (urbanization), Jamis MacNiven (Silicon Valley), Peter Plantec (virtual humans), Ricardo Sousa (schools) and Naomi Susan Issacs (singing).

* A very high oil price ($175+) might be one. It could be a good thing in the sense that we might eat less and walk more, thereby impacting the obesity epidemic, carbon emmisions and Type 2 diabetes. It could also mean more investment in clean energy and a shift in our behaviour in relation to energy use.

Death by Onion Rings

I’m having a feeling of deja vu all over again. A few years ago I wrote about my experience of checking into a budget hotel room at Miami International Airport – See free download of chapter one of my book Future Files at www.futuretrendsbook.com. Well I’m back in America, this time experimenting with the latest hotel innovations in Westchester County, New York.

First of all let me describe the ‘lobby concept’ to you. Apparently there are three zones, one of which has “mingling sofas.” Better still, there is an informal zone (in case I find a mingling sofa too formal perhaps?).

This is defined as (and I quote) “Public privacy…it feels and functions as an upscale, informal, residential library and lounge featuring individual box seats, private communal tables, chill/recline seating, reading material and a light fare menu.” You couldn’t make nonsense like this up. But someone has and they’ve been paid for it too. What, I wonder is a “private communal table” and does the light fare menu allow me to have my cake and eat it too? Instead of spending money to confuse their guests perhaps they might consider making the internet access terminals in the lobby free instead?

But it gets better. I’m not the best airline passenger in the world, especially when I’m flying into JFK the week after al-Qaeda issued a statement along the lines of “We’re going to get you back – so there.” Anyway, there was nothing to worry about and if anything was likely to kill me it was dinner.

I ordered a shrimp cocktail because it sounded healthy. After all, how big could four shrimps be? The answer was enormous. These were lobsters in training. Fortunately, they were so big that I was distracted and missed the chance to eat an entire loaf of bread that had popped up unannounced along with what seemed like butter. It could have been a scoop of vanilla ice cream intended for the next table but we’ll never know.

Next up was a streak. Now if there’s one thing I expect to be tasty in New York it’s a steak and I was not disappointed. However, being on a health kick (to offset the alcohol) I decided to avoid the fries. I ordered a side of onion rings instead, not because I believed fried onions to be temples of culinary virtue, but because I thought that I could justify one indulgence.

Well you should have seen them. I was expecting a few rings. What I got was a separate dish containing what looked like five entire onions. They were exactly the same size as tennis balls and contained five outer skins deep-fried in thick batter. But it was OK because they came with a light dipping sauce.

Perhaps the chef had tried to get hold of the rings of Saturn, but they had proven too large for the deep fat fryer? They were tasty, but one finished me off. If I had eaten the other four I would have needed an ambulance.