Thinking about the future in Singapore

In October last year the Singapore Government held it’s first ‘Foresight Week.’  I was invited to both the International Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning Symposium, but, more interestingly, also the Foresight Conference.   I make this observation about the latter event because it was organised by a team in the Prime Minister’s Office called the Centre for Strategic Futures (CSF). While the Risk Symposium was attended by a couple of hundred people from around the world, the Foresight Conference was held over three days and had an invite-only audience of about thirty.

Included in this thirty were the likes of Paul Saffo, Peter Schwartz, Jeremy BenthamNeal Stephenson, Dave Snowden and Ian Goldin. The mix of people, backgrounds and theories in the room was extraordinary, and here’s my long overdue notes from the session (note that it was Chatham House Rules so no specific attributions are made).

The richness of the sessions made for one hell of a mind map, and looking at it now I’m only going to pull out the highlights that caught my attention:

  • naturally there was lots of discussion about China: is it too big to govern, how do people participate in China, what will social technology do to the society etc.  One of the more interesting points was that China has never been conquered, and it’s not out of the question to consider a war between China and the USA.  Chinese entrepreneurs also came under examination: apparently 14% of startups in Silicon Valley are “Chinese Chinese” (as opposed to American Chinese. Indian startups are around 17%.
  • The USA is distracted at the moment with economic difficulties and foreign wars.  China is not distracted by either.
  • There is the potential for a new model of international relations based on continual “co-operation – conflict – competition.”  All three of these could happen at the same time but in different arenas.
  • Russia apparently has the highest number if university educated 25 year-olds in the world.
  • We are moving to a ‘G0’ world (as opposed to G8) where no single country or group of countries has power.  More interestingly a group called the ‘I8’ – US billionaires who are big philanthropists – have a combined spend that is equivalent to the entire US Foreign Aid programme.

However the overriding theme through the three days was complexity and how it impacts the world today.  The world today is not the world of 50 years ago, however the governance structures that create order in the world today were created when the world was much more stable.  What do governments of the future look like in a world that screams complexity at every turn?

I don’t know the answer to that but would like to finish my notes with two quotes that resonated with me over the week in Singapore:

“Religions are like operating systems for societies”


“Risk is the price you pay for opportunity.”

Sustaining Innovation – book on pre-release

It’s been a busy year on the publishing front.  Firstly there was Really Bad Workshops (and how to avoid them) which I self published mid-year, and now there’s Sustaining Innovation.

It’s a collection of insights from various innovation initiatives around the world.  I wrote a chapter on the Shell GameChanger Technology Futures programme, and co-authored it with my colleagues Tim Jones and Leo Roodart, the recently retired head of GameChanger.

It’s on pre-order here: Sustaining Innovation: Collaboration Models for a Complex World (Innovation, Technology, and Knowledge Management)

UPDATE: You can now read the chapter online here.

Foresight/innovation at scale – Magnetic South

Over the weekend I was interviewed on Radio New Zealand about a initiative to forecast the future of Christchurch (my home town that has been devastated by a series of earthquakes since Sept 2010). It was called Magnetic South and was a version of the Foresight Engine developed by the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto.

It’s a way of scaling public engagement so that ideas can not only be submitted, but can also be built upon in a transparent manner.  The software also adds a game layer which turns the initiative from something potentially dry, into something that becomes compelling and addictive.

Magnetic South went extremely well, with over 8000 ideas submitted, built upon and improved by collaboration from the time the game commenced.

You can see the threads of the game here, where some very sharp visualisation enables the tracking of individual ideas as the are commented on and built upon.

Although I was the one that was interviewed, kudos needs to go to Richard Gordon, CEO of Landcare Research who backed the game, Bob Frame who drove it (and who took some conversations we had a couple of years ago to places that I didn’t expect) and Stephanie Pride who got very little sleep for the 5 weeks prior to the game, and during the game itself.

(However my interview did cause a hiccup in the process, when Radio NZ listeners took the chance to logon in such numbers that the server in Silicon Vally crashed the game prematurely.)

You can hear the full interview here.

Future Agenda book released (video of key findings)

Over the last 18 months I’ve been working with Tim Jones and a few other key individuals on the Future Agenda programme. It’s the world’s largest foresight programme (with over fifty workshops around the world) and possibly the first open source programme.

It picks up from the work we did for Shell in 2007 on the GameChanger Technology Futures programme.

The book pulls together the key findings from the programe and has just been released. Tim was on CNBC last week discussing some of the trends as we look out to 2020:

Healthcare is not complex.

I’ve been working a lot in the health system over the last three years, breaking paradigms and introducing new approaches to delivering sustainable health care in the next ten years. Many people in the system believe it’s a complex system, but I had a fascinating conversation today with someone who totally disagreed with this. When headhunted to be a CEO at one of Australasia’s biggest hospitals he had no health experience but had managed complex multinational corporations with thousands of employees and tens of thousands of products. He said that without a doubt these organisations were complex. Health, on the other hand was not. His exact words were worth repeating:

“Health systems are not complex, they’re disorganised. Healthcare is the only trillion dollar sector that is run like a cottage industry.”

The more I get to work with people in the health system the more I’m inclined to agree with him.

Future Agenda now live

In the second post subtitled “what has been keeping me busy,” Future Agenda is now live. This is a unique cross-discipline programme which is uniting the best minds from around the globe to address the greatest challenges of the next decade. In doing so, it is mapping out the major issues, identifying and debating potential solutions and suggesting the best ways forward.  We’ve used a website as a centre point for the programme,which in effect is creating a structured open-source approach to foresight.

I encourage you to visit the site and to add your comments.

iPhone App Store As An Innovation Engine

This post could also be called “what’s been keeping me busy lately.”  The answer to that is a whole myriad of fascinating projects for clients, and one of these today hit the headlines.

I’m working with the senior team at Jade Software in New Zealand, and assisting in both innovation and foresight (the latter for clients of Jade).

I proposed the iPhone App Store idea as a way of stimulating software developers to think differently about what they designed and how they designed it. In a nutshell here’s the concept:

  • any employee at Jade is encouraged to work with others to come up with an idea for an iPhone app. We think that the team that will win the competition will be cross-functional i.e. not just developers, but also people from sales, marketing, admin, etc.
  • Jade has provided both non-technical overviews of the Apple ecosystem, and technical sessions on programming for the iPhone
  • the company has also setup a series of Apple workstations and allowed people to spend company time on these developing their apps
  • the winner of the competition is the one with the most downloads by Christmas.  they not only receive the latest iPhone (and connection for two years), they also keep every cent they earn from people buying their app
  • teams need to think about how they market their app and use their social networks, media etc to spread the word.  In other words, they are bringing their own little business to life, but being bankrolled by the company they work for.

I was impressed at the way in which the  CEO and CIO at Jade both picked up the idea and ran with it, and the reaction from the wider team at Jade has been equally impressive (to the extent there’s had to been extra technical sessions added). Watch this space for updates…

AMP Innovation Festival – followup

As mentioned earlier I headed to Sydney to attend the AMP Innovation Festival a couple of weeks back.  In a previous post I interviewed the organiser – Annalie Killian – about the event.  I’m not going to revisit that, however I am going to say that the event was simply stunning on a number of levels.

However don’t just take my word for it, but have a read of what one of the speakers – James Gardner – says:

Amplify09 is the most magnificent ideation campaign I’ve ever seen. […] AMP is an institution that’s realised that the real competitive advantage it has is the people who choose to work there. Who cares about technology and products and processes, when you have the ability to invent uniqueness whenever you want?

It’s worth reading his entire post.