Future of Public Libraries

Remember the scenarios for public libraries in the year 2030? Well the pack of strategy wildcards that I mentioned a few weeks ago is now available online from the State Library for purchase. A snip at under $20. Link coming when I can work out how to use the new wordpress blog!!!

European Wildcards

Good conversation over dinner last night with a bunch of non-executive directors of ASX companies (hosted by PWC). Especially interesting was a discussion about Greece, the latest economic acronym PIGS* (Portugal, Italy, Greece & Spain) and where the debt contagion may go next (See House of Crads Blog entry below).

The worry, obviously, is that it’s all a house of cards. If Greece were to fall over, Portugal would probably topple next. Neither of these countries really matters because they are too small, but the ripple effect could move to Spain and then Italy and these are big economies.

We then had a brief discussion about wild cards and there were a few good lines flying around. One (which I also saw in the Wall Street Journal) was that “the biggest wildcard of them all is uncertainty itself.” Quite.

Apparently at one point I also said that “the secret of the future lies in the fringes of the present”. I can’t quite believe that I said this because it’s far too eloquent for me, but after a few glasses of nice wine I suppose anything is possible.

Another great debate was over peak oil and whether or not price rises are inevitable. If they are not, what are the wild cards? Collapsing global or Asian demand is obviously one, switch from oil to gas for transport is another and we also have new energy technologies of course.

One final thought on Europe by the way. When the EU put the Euro together did anyone build a scenario around a member nation going bankrupt? I remember that back in 2005 I built a set of scenarios for a bank, along with Ross Dawson and Oliver Freeman, and the EU falling apart was one of our wildcards – along with systematic financial system collapse!!!

One wildcard I think I’d add as of today is not Greece withdrawing from the Euro (almost impossible) but that Greece or some other member state pulls out of the EU in order to then extract themselves from the Euro. The betting is probably that if anyone were to do this it would be one of the PIGS, but I there is another scenario that came up last night. What if Germany just gets fed up with supporting these member states and Germany itself decides to pull out?

Now that’s the kind of wildcard I like — highly unlikely (almost impossible) but staggeringly impactful if it did ever happen. Makes your head spin.

* Sometimes it becomes PIIGS with Ireland added too.

Strategic Wildcards


As part of the Bookends scenario project looking at the environments public libraries might have to contend with in the year 2030, Oliver Freeman and myself have come up with a set of playing cards to help individual libraries test the resilience of their current strategy.What I especially love about these cards is that they deal with worlds that are made up of a combination of trends that can sometimes be contradictory.

Each player is dealt seven cards and must then collect one card from each of the seven different suits (ideas, nature, society, politics, economy, culture and technology). The order of play is based on rummy. Each player picks one car from the pack and throws one away. The first player to get a full set across all seven suits wins and the rest of the players then have to use this imaginary world to create an adaptive strategy. If anyone wants a set of cards they will be available from the State Library in due course.

Quote of the Week

I cut this out of the FT on a plane recently but I can’t quite remember where it’s from. I’m pretty sure it’s the back page column by Harry Eyres.

” We are much more vulnerable now than we were during the Second World War. When I grew up we had the skills to be self-sufficient; we made our own clothes and fished, we never felt poor. Now you don’t need a nuclear bomb to finish off a country; you just cut the power off for a week.”

Totally right. Think about the consequences of no power for a week. ATMs wouldn’t work so you couldn’t get any cash out. No money equals no purchases. You couldn’t re-charge a phone; use email or the internet (so no digital cash) and credit cards wouldn’t work either (electronic). The fridge would go off and so too would the freezer so no fresh food. Doors and lifts in shops and offices wouldn’t work (largely electric). Hospitals would grind to a halt. So would tubes and trains. The TV would be off, electric cars would be stuffed, traffic lights would go out and so too would most heating systems. Add to this list kettles, ovens, CCTV, e-books, digital files, domestic lighting, alarms, GPS, RFID:it’s almost endless.

Our lifestyles are now hugely dependent on electricity but outside of essential government services almost nobody has any kind of backup in place — except of course people aged 75+ who have never totally embraced the digital era and can remember how to do things the old fashioned way.

China Wildcard

You are going to think I’m totally mad but I have a gut feeling that China is going to collapse. Not today. Not next week. Not even next year. But I think that within the next ten years – maybe fifteen – it’s going to fall over. Why? First of all its economy displays all the classic signs of a bubble. Look at real estate for example. Secondly, it’s banking system contains too many bad loans and, third, the population has an imbalance of young males. Why is the latter an issue? Because if growth stalls (well under 4% say) and unemployment rises substantially there could be big trouble. I’m almost certainly wrong. This is something that’s possible rather than something that’s probable. But if China did collapse what would happen in the rest of the world? Has anyone run any scenarios against this? What would the oil price do for instance? Or how about what happens if China stops buying US debt? Yikes.

Scenarios for the End of America


Nice article on Slate a while back titled How Is America Going To End? by Josh Levin. Essentially a brief look at the ways in which the US could come to a sticky end over the next 100 years. Overall it’s highly unlikely that the US will ‘end’ but a low probability/high impact event could have some really significant consequences.

Here are a just two of the ideas:

Radical War
What happens when a large group of young, unemployed and disillusioned Hispanics comes up against a small population of relatively affluent whites? This reminds me of China where there is a huge imbalance of young males. This is OK if the economy is booming, not so OK if it tanks.

Human 2.0
What happens when the ordinary people encounter a group of synthetically engineered and biologically enhanced supermen and women? Sounds crazy but it isn’t. Income inequality is increasing significantly and we already have a group of transnational executives that can afford the best schools, the best healthcare (which includes body modification and brain training) and the best transport and security.

The Iranian Wildcard

Is Israel about to start a war with Iran? Tensions between the US and Israel seem to be growing, but so too is antagonism between Israel and Iran. Of course, starting a war is one thing, winning one is something else altogether, as we’ve currently observing with Afghanistan.
Clearly a strike by Israel against Iran would set off a hornet’s nest in the region. But I think this is actually very unlikely. If Israel wanted to strike Iran they would have done so by now. And they’d keep very quiet about their intentions in advance too. So, by a process of elimination, I guess Israel’s strategy is one of just noise and pressure. Let’s hope that Iran doesn’t wrongly interpret this.