Archive for June 2009

The Bulletin, issue no.2

June 10, 2009

By Rohit Talwar and Ian Pearson. June 2009.

Welcome to issue 2 of ‘The Bulletin’

This is the second issue of the Bulletin – a monthly(ish) newsletter that we’re producing jointly with Ian Pearson of Futurizon.  In each issue we provide short views on a range of topics and issues shaping the future. This is a companion to the new fortnightly FutureScape newsletter which focuses on sharing interesting research findings.
 
Government capitalism and public debt – where’s the debate about the future legacy of current decisions?
We are increasingly surprised at the lack of true public debate about the long term impact of current government spending commitments around the world. The US$50Bn privatisation of General Motors by the US government has brought the whole issue of government capitalism and public debt into sharp focus. For most mere mortals, the sheer scale of the bailouts packages for banking and the stimulus measures for the broader economy are difficult to comprehend. 
 
The IMF estimates that total sub-prime losses could reach US$4.1 Trillion globally, and it forecasts  that the ‘rich’ G20 countries’ debt will to grow from 83.3% of GDP in 2008 to almost 100% in 2010 and that Japan’s debt burden could be 225% of GDP in 2010. The US Congressional Budget Office estimates cumulative deficit from 2010 to 2019 will total US$9.3Tn, and public debt would rise to 82% of GDP by 2019. In the UK the estimates for total public sector borrowing in 2009 range from £170-200Bn (US$270-320Bn). Some analysts are saying it could take into the 2030’s to pay back the cost of additional borrowing and quantitative easing measures.
 
Most people expect long term interest rates to rise to in order for governments to attract the necessary debt funding. Beyond this, reducing debt will require some combination of increased taxes and reduced public spending. Of course governments could just drive inflation to reduce the scale of debt relative to GDP – but the consequences are not considered that desirable.
 
Our concern is that there really hasn’t been a huge amount of rational debate about what this scale of borrowing means in practice. Decisions have been made in our names over bank refinancing, industry bailouts and stimulus packages. What say have we had over where we think the money should be targeted in order to ensure civilized growth and a sustainable society? Where is the objective analysis to show that bailing out inefficient carmakers and greed-driven banks is the best option for securing the long term health of our economies, driving job creation and enhancing skills development?
 
Furthermore, if we are going to pursue some mix of spending cuts and increased taxation – who is laying out the options for debate and the consequences of each option? How can we decide the right mix and what tax levels it’s reasonable for individuals to pay in return for efficient and effective public services? The media has a critical role to play is facilitating this debate – instead most seem to be focused on laying waste the politicians and sensationalist headlines about hospital closures and failing schools. The depth of the problems facing developed economies requires us all to step up and take a far more long term and mature perspective to discuss these issues based on what we want for the future of our nations and the sacrifices we are prepared to make to see those visions realised. Far too much of the conversation is about what we want to move away from rather than defining a positive vision of what future we actually want for our societies.
 
Decline of books and newspapers
Many publishers are panicking because sales are falling, and some believe it’s because people can read stuff on computers now, where they can get content for free. Certainly they can, but most people who are familiar with IT still prefer to read on paper. Paper is a very versatile technology, and even the very best electronic displays struggle to match any of paper’s many qualities. If it had only just been invented, it would be hailed as a major breakthrough. We have over 80,000 flying hours on computers, and we still buy newspapers almost every day, as well as several weekly and monthly magazines, and buy loads of books, all in paper form.
 
So, it’s too simplistic to blame electronic displays and free content. We think that it’s actually lifestyle and value changes are responsible for most of the decline. There are many components of this. Firstly, today’s society is more inwardly focused, more interested in instant entertainment than responsibility, and there are far more leisure options to indulge this change in values. Given the choice of chatting to friends or reading a newspaper, most people will pick the former most of the time. Secondly, perhaps globalisation has meant that the stuff we hear about on the news is so much more beyond our control now, and therefore of less interest. News can be very depressing, making us feel like powerless pawns rather than encouraging us to get involved.
 
Another interesting reason for the decline, almost in the opposite direction, is ‘Skyglow’. Skyglow is the atmospheric backscatter and fluorescence caused by excess lighting that means that light from stars is washed out. People living in cities today rarely see stars in any number, and very rarely see the Milky Way, or experience the sheer wonder that results from stargazing. It is so easy to forget that we are just a tiny part of an enormous universe. Without this sense of wonder, interest in science has declined generally, and it has also become much easier to become inward looking, focused on those things and people immediately around us, or those on the net or TV.
 
The combination of disempowerment and the loss of wonder are perhaps responsible for a large proportion of the decline in news, while the diversity and richness of other entertainment options accounts for the decline in book reading. The culture of instant gratification coupled to enormity of supply has led to shallowing of depth, where celebrity substitutes for leadership and easy access to multimedia substitutes for the mental effort needed for reading. If this is true, then the decline might continue, but it will eventually level off, simply because paper is still an excellent medium, and because most people will always still value the rewards of involvement and awareness in spite of the many other options available to us. The balance might fluctuate, but the market will remain healthy. The challenge for print publishers is to learn how to leverage web based media to encourage people to read the printed form.
 
Let’s not get physical – the need for new thinking on future public infrastructure
We’ve largely stayed away from working with the UK public sector for the last few years because of an immense frustration of the lack of genuinely innovative thinking about how best to spend public money. Over the last few months we’ve been invited in to talk to various public sector groups and are delighted to say people seem far more ready to consider imaginative solutions. It seems the spending crisis is forcing a radical rethink.
 
Luckily other industries are providing a lead. For example, in the food sector it’s now widely acknowledged that as the global population rises from 6.8Bn today to over 9Bn by 2050, we’ll need new approaches to food production. Two alternatives now being considered for food production are vertical farms and salt water crops. What are the equivalents for the public sector? Well, for a start, why do we need dedicated surgeries for General Practice doctors serving the community? Most are little more than offices with an occasional treatment room with more advanced equipment. The facilities could easily be installed inside schools – with the surgery open before and after school hours.
 
Equally, why do we need to build magistrates courts? With a little imagination these could be run in school halls after the end of the school day. Those attending court would not have to take time off work – benefitting them and their employers. Once we start discussing these ideas at seminars and workshops with people from the public sector, the flood gates open and a whole range of very innovative ideas spring forward that could radically transform the efficiency and effectiveness of public service delivery while removing the obsession with physical buildings as the solution to all problems.
 
Pain measurement
The Sunday Times (June 7th 2009) carried an article about pain measurement, based on work at Oxford University. Fascinating! By looking at the amount of blood flow or neural activity in areas of the brain responsible for the experience of pain, an objective comparison can be made between the magnitudes of suffering in different episodes. It is also likely that it will allow at least some comparison between the suffering experienced by different people. There are wide variety of potentially positive and less desirable applications of such scientific breakthrough and obvious consequences for accident litigation, drug development, and chronic pain treatment. Consider computer games for example. Some games have an element of pain production as consequence of failure, often delivered as minor electric shocks. These could be customised to each individual, so that each player suffers equally, levelling the playing field somewhat between those who experience pain more or less for a given stimulation.
 
In the further future, the body’s nervous system will effectively be just an extension of our IT, as we make links direct to nerves. Stricter regimes might see more scientific approaches to creating pain as a highly effective part of prisoner control. Imagine drawing a line in the sand and telling captives they will experience pain if they cross it. That could be implemented, with a measured pain level enforced, increasing at each offence. Or imagine forcing a violent criminal to experience the same pain that they caused their victim as part of their punishment.
 
Personally we can’t wait until we are able to measure accurately the pain and suffering caused by various diseases, so we can finally put to bed the arguments over man flu, i.e. whether women are actually better at coping with discomfort, or whether they just experience less of it. For Chelsea fans, it would help resolve whether Didier Drogba is genuinely in pain when writhing around the soccer field or just being an idiot! And imagine how pain endurance or bravery based game shows could evolve. Today, we admire those who appear to be brave, but perhaps they just experience lower levels of stimulation. When pain and suffering levels are adjusted to compensate for each player’s response characteristics, we may often find that the supposed wimps are actually able to withstand just as much. Who knows? One thing is certain: being able to objectively measure and compare pain and suffering between people will change a great many aspects of our everyday lives. The main nightmare is what will happen when criminals, terrorists and the health and safety people get hold of the technology.
 
Ian and Rohit on the road
If you’d like to meet with us on our travels, in the next few weeks Rohit will be speaking in Aberdeen, Amsterdam,  Budapest, Helsinki, London and Munich and Ian will be speaking in Glasgow, London, Brussels, Geneva and Chicago.
 
 
What is the Bulletin?
The Bulletin is a response to requests from our respective clients and contacts to provide a monthly update of our current thinking on what’s happening in the world around us and what could shape the future we’re moving into. To book Rohit or Ian for a speech, or discuss your research and consulting needs please contact us at rohit@fastfuture.com or idpearson@gmail.com
 
Fast Future Research
Tel +44 (0)20 8830 0766

Futurizon
Tel +44 (0)1473 710870

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Futurescape #2

June 10, 2009

June 2009

Ten Key Patterns of Change from Designing Your Future 

A number of our readers have asked for an overview of the ten key patterns of change we profiled in our book Designing Your Future – Key Trends, Challenges and Choices Facing Association and Nonprofit Leaders. So this edition of FutureScape is given over to explaining the ten key patterns.

First a little background to the book. Designing your Future was published in August 2008 as the culmination of a six month research programme we undertook for the American Society of Association Executives and the Center for Association Leadership. The research involved a widespread scan of emerging trends and extensive consultation to prioritise the trends and assess their implications for society, business and the association and nonprofit worlds.  

The aim was to cater for those who want to adopt a strategic approach to designing their future and to those who crave immediate action and want to focus on particular trends and emerging issues. In the book we identify 50 key trends and 100 emerging trends which could be of importance to business leaders. These are then synthesised into ten key patterns of change and the resulting critical challenges for leaders. A strategic decision making framework is then presented to help leaders address the patterns of change and map a ‘preferred future’ for their organisation. A range of tools, workshop processes and decision support frameworks are presented to help the reader respond in either a tactical or strategic manner.

Every time one undertakes an environmental scanning exercise, a range of candidate patterns emerge. For this exercise, we felt the ten we chose best reflected the most important patterns facing those in our primary audience – although we have since learnt that frameworks have proved equally popular in the commercial world.  

We welcome your feedback on these patterns and on the critical patterns you see emerging in the world around you 

 

 
 
Demographic Destinies
 
The global population is expected to reach 9.1 billion by 2050, which is in itself a significant event economically, politiclly and environmentally. The actual mechanics and nuances of this growth however will have even greater reach. For example, based on current predictions, the population growth in Asia to 2050 will outstrip the populations of Europe, North America and Latin America combined. Indeed large chunks of Europe aswell as Japan and a few others will actually see their population decline amidst the global boom. Allied to the regional variation is a general pattern of aging; there will be almost 2 billion (22% of overall population) people over 60 by 2050 whereas this cohort currently accounts for 10% of the global population.
Between 2005 and 2050, the working-age population of emerging economies will increase by 1.7 billion, compared with a decline of 9 million in the developed economies. Demographics is thus set to be the driver of economics for the forseeable future.
 
 
Economic Power Shifts
 
China and India contributed 58% of all global growth in 2007 and it is estimated BRIC economies could be delivering 40% of all global growth by 2018. The IMF April 2009 Global Financial Stability Report estimated total losses on loans and securities of up to US2.7 trillion for the USA and around US$4.1 trillion globally. Despite the downturn, there is still a strong expectation that increasing economic power will be exerted by the BRIC economies. Current forecasts from the OECD (Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run, 2008) suggest that China’s GDP could overtake that of the U.S. as early as 2015.
 
 
Politics Gets Complex
 
The political agenda has become increasingly crowded and complex as increasingly diverse issues, interest groups and challenges compete over governments’ attention. Global finance crisis has led to even further complexity inside nations, between nations, between developing and developed countries. This complexity manifests itself in that 35 countries were on highest risk ‘alert’ status in the 2008 Fund for Peace failed states index – a four year high, with 127 countries in 2008 at Alert or Warning status compared to 76 in 2005
While finance remains a key global topic, other concerns over health, education, security and environment will arise. Against this backdrop is a rising public apathy – according to a GfK poll, only 14% of Europeans trust politicians.
 
 
Expanding Organizational Agenda
 
According to Richard Edelman, chief executive of the Edelman communications consultancy, “Business leaders need to think differently about what it means to be a public company. No longer can their sole objective be to maximise profits.” He argues that a new strategy of “public engagement” is needed to restore the public’s trust in business. Indeed 77% of Americans and 62% globally trust corporations less than they did a year ago.
 
Against this backdrop the business landscape is dramaticaly evolving. Increased numbers of women owned business, of social ventures and of entrepreneurship generally are accompanied by CSR concepts becomming embedded within organizations. In a survey of 7200 privately held businesses in 36 countries (Grant Thornton, 2008) 65 percent of the respondents cited that recruitment and retention of staff was the most important factor for doing CSR. Saving the planet came fifth.
 
 
Science and Technology Go Mainstream
 
Nations and businesses alike are now recognising and seeking to compete on the ‘innovation advantage’ that comes from leadership and investment in science and technology. Several national recovery packages feature heavy R&D spending – in Germany EUR 965m, France EUR 731M and large portions of China’s 10Tn Yuan are also dedictaed to R&D. This increase in spending accompanies a rapidly evolving technological ecosystem that Gartner predicts will lead to mashups creating 80% of new enterprise applications by 2011. Not only will science and technology be used as a way of doing things but rather as an adjunct. For example 55% of internet experts in the U.S belive that by 2020 many lives will be touched by the use of augmented reality or be spent interacting in artificial spaces.
 
 
Generational Crossroads
 
Each major group (baby boomers, gen x, gen y) brings widely differing attitudes to working practices, communications preferences, as well as attitudes towards the role of technology and work-life balance. The challenge for employers will be to create an environment where each group can feel valued and be effective. Indeed a Randstad USA survey found that 51% of baby boomers and 66% of the generatio that preceeded them reported having little to no interaction with colleagues from Generation Y.  
The European Commission’s April  2009 Ageing Report warns the economic downturn ‘could make the challeges creating by ageing more acute,’ and lead to intergenerational conflict. With house prices lower and thus individuals net worth reduced, retirement is becoming less of an option for some baby boomers, further increasing generational tension associated with the workplace.
 
 
Rethinking Talent, Education and Training
 
The so-called ‘demographic time-bomb’, describing the pending retirement wave of aging workers, is creating an impending skills crisis for employers (31% worldwide in 2009 according to Manpower). At the same time, the constantly evolving nature of the business environment, the work undertaken and the technologies used are driving the demand to update our existing skills and learn new ones. Rising life expectancy also implies that our working lives will increase and add further impetus to the need for lifelong learning
 
 
Global Internet Expansion
 
The internet is increasingly becoming a core tool for business and the individual in Western societies, with the developing world catching up fast. Social web tools such as blogs, wikis, social networks, virtual worlds and portable computing devices are becoming mainstream – evolving into essential tools for marketing, communications and engagement. Global internet usage grew 265.6% from 2000 to 2007. Some sectors such as Mobile internet still have significant capacity – Nokia forecasts extraordinary growth in mobile data traffic – rising 300-fold by 2015. Increases in cyber crime, cyber war, media spending and a major rise in user generated content are also forecast.
 
 
A Society In Transition
 

Edelman’s 2009 study found trust down in most types of news outlet and spokesperson from 2008 – Corporate or product advertising is least trusted – down from 20% to 13% in 2009. In the US trust in information from a company’s top leader is at a six-year low at 17%. Outside experts at 59% remain the most trusted purveyors of information about a company. Only 29% and 27% view information as credible when coming from a CEO or government official, respectively, declining from 36% and 32% in 2008.  Juxtaposed aginat declining trust is a seeming rise in expectations. Greater corporate social responsibility (CSR), more transparency, and higher standards in public life are being demanded. These are being driven by growing public awareness of the scale of social challenges, environmental pressures, changing consumer values and a rise in ‘ethical consumption’, and will rise in prominencethrough the communications accelerator effect provided by social media and more widespread adoption of reporting and accountability standards

 
Natural Resource Challenges
 
For the last two decades, there have been many voices warning about unsustainable natural resource demands and unsustainable pressures on the natural environment. Forecasts suggest these voices will increase –  achieving emissions targets could cost over $11Tn by 2030 whilst energy demand is forecast to increase by 50%+ by 2030.  

 

From a  business perspective, being more transparent and issuing CSR reports no longer helps you to stand out – it’s expected.