I consult on the continuum between future thinking, strategy and innovation to introduce opportunities to organisations to create advantage. For current thinking check out the IdeaPort blog on this site.
What exactly is a serendipity architect? I get asked this a lot, and my answer is two-fold depending on how the question is being asked.
First the title is a litmus test for who I’d like to work with. If people look at me sceptically when they ask, then it’s a fairly safe bet that working with that person is going to be difficult (like the time one executive introduced me to an audience as a “self described serendipity architect.”). On the other hand, the people that I like to work with smile when they mention the title, or are simply curious.
Secondly it describes a lot of what I do – keeping abreast of a lot of fast moving areas, discussing interesting developments with people that know these areas well, pulling insights from the mix and then working with leadership teams to understand how they can take advantage of the opportunity. One of the comments I hear during the last phase of this process goes along the lines of “wasn’t it lucky that we…” My response is that this isn’t luck. It’s designed serendipity.
If you want a longer read about how serendipity happens in an online world, Wired magazine published an extract from the book “Smarter Than You Think.” The last paragraph of the extract sums it up nicely:
The birth of Ushahidi is a perfect example of the power of public thinking and multiples. Okolloh could have simply wandered around wishing such a tool existed. Kobia could have wandered around wishing he could use his skills to help Kenya. But because Okolloh was thinking out loud, and because she had an audience of like-minded people, serendipity happened.
I encourage to people to mix in areas that are outside their knowledge domain, and to keep an open mind when they do so. The reason for this is because insights often happen not when you’re looking harder at a challenge, but when you take a step back and look around to see how others have approached analogous challenges. The January 2014 issue of Wired has an article about a doctor seeking different ways of treating cancer, and it makes for an interesting read on it’s own. However the part that got my attention was the following when he explained where he found new directions for his thinking:
The second moment occurred five years later, at the Aspen Ideas Festival. There Agus met the famed physicist Murray Gell-Mann, who had won the Nobel Prize in 1969 for his work on the theory of elemental particles. Talking to Gell-Mann crystallized the ideas that Leaf’s article had set in motion. “My ‘Aha!’ moment came when he talked about the complex systems he confronted in physics and how he would go about trying to build models,” Agus wrote in The End of Illness. Physicists were able to build theoretical models of things they still didn’t completely understand and make discoveries using those models. Why hadn’t doctors approached medicine like this? he wondered.
It’s a great example of looking outside to go deeper inside.
About half of my time is now being spent on the Sensing City project. As a result updates to this blog will be infrequent as the project gathers pace. In the meantime you can also monitor progress on the Sensing City FaceBook page. Thanks.
In 2011 the Prime Ministers office in Singapore sponsored a week of foresight conversations. This year saw the next iteration and I was invited back to the conversation. Once again there were about twenty of us from around the world that were invited, and the diversity of the conversation was only trumped by the quality. My notes are in mind-map form, and therefore I’m going to post some images from the event along with some insights and summation.
Firstly – the pictures:
Graphical recording from the fourth day of the week on the future of growth.
Graphical recording from the fourth day of the week on the future of governance.
Dave Snowden presenting his framework for foresight and complexity.
Insights (in no order)
It’s strategically important to have a good imagination and an adaptable mind.
Most decision makers want simple answers, and ask the wrong questions. They want an answer, but in complex environments there may not be a simple answer.
there is book called “Future Babble” that looked at previous predictions of the future, and found that the most inaccurate predictions were the ones that were most convinced of their accuracy.
the real lack of skills in the world is the lack of generalists
The waiting time to purchase a new industrial robot is 4-6 months.
People are hard wired to take more notice of failure than success – from an evolutionary point of view it’s more important
To try to summarise the week is to fall into the trap of thinking conversation is a linear process. The discussions were so varied it’s almost impossible to bring it together, however the most important points for me related to foresight, policy and governance:
The world is becoming increasingly complex, and as a result leaders need to be adept at understanding that decision making can not always be causal. In order to make good decisions you need firstly to understand the environment you’re working in and Dave Snowden provides guidance here with his framework:
Dave Snowdens Cynefin (kin-are-fin) Framework
If you find yourself on the left hand side of the framework then you need to understand complexity theory, and acknowledge that there may be no right answer. That’s not easy for decision makers raised to believe that they need to make fast decisions based on minimal information.
I’ll close with a wonderful analogy that was provided in a conversation about the work of Karl Popper: you can begin to understand complexity through the lens of clouds vs clocks. You can take apart a clock to understand it, but to understand clouds you need to look at many different variables. Clouds cannot be taken apart.
This week I’m in Singapore in a series of workshops that I’ve been invited to. It’s been a fascinating first day, exploring how to evolve the next generation of horizon scanning tools. I’ll blog some of the more interesting insights over the next few days, but in the meantime here’s the workshop today and key insights.
Yahoo is carrying a useful article from Aljazeera that makes reference to some very credible resources. Essentially it points to early signals of the Shell Scenarios ‘chaos’ scenario starting to bear out. At the risk of descending into industry jargon, this is not good.
In March, for the first time, Director of National Intelligence James R Clapper listed “competition and scarcity involving natural resources” as a national security threat on a par with global terrorism, cyber war and nuclear proliferation.
If you’re remotely interested in a plausible future for where the world is going, then this is a very sobering read that links water and food scarcity to global unrest.
It’s been a long and very rewarding journey working with the Canterbury District Health Board (Christchurch, New Zealand) and the fruits of the labour are starting to be born. One of the latest projects to come out of long term transformation thinking was featured on a local news channel, and can be seen below:
From the excellent Futures Group in the Singapore Government comes this short video entitled The Age of Turbulence. It covers off four drivers of change that the team has identified, and the first of these is most relevant for The Sensing City initiative for Christchurch.
To give more context, it references the fact that over the coming decades there will be a huge demand for the development of new Tier 2/3 cities, and that many of these will be financed privately. This in turn will require the development of new technologies, processes and techniques for managing the complexity of cities. If you’re pushed for time, watch the first few minutes:
For the last two weeks, and the next few weeks, this is my office. Temporary, adaptable and inhabited by a team of people that are creative, flexible and hard working. In short – the perfect working environment for innovation….