Category: Option Generation

I have been thinking about the individual and the collective over the past few days. The individual is in the ascendant at the moment in many Western countries, and becoming more so in some collectivist cultures. The political discourse in Australia and the US, in particular, focuses on the rights of the individual and the responsibilities we have to bootstrap ourselves in the world. Mitt Romney is quoted saying he can’t and won’t help those who refuse to help themselves, here is Oz, Tony Abbott runs a similar line. The ideas of ‘entitlement‘, ‘making it’, ‘doing for themselves’ etc are pervasive. There is a similar discourse in the everyday world, kids being encouraged to beat the bully, adults exhorted to work hard to build individual emotional maturity and the accepted expectation that we control our reality through our choices as consumers via the market.

The rewards society bestows are on those who have maximized their personal position. Taking one for the team is not rewarded. A ability to work through ego to achieve a personal goal is much more valued than the ability to engage and motivate a group to act. Now part of the problem is our measurement systems as to a large extent in organisations, and increasingly in society, what gets measured gets done and it is very difficult to evaluate the individual’s input in a group. Our reward systems of pay and promotion are reliant on us being able to evaluate an individual’s performance, so we look for leadership rather than evaluating followership.
What if this is the wrong way to go? A thought piece by John Crowley suggests that the future is more likely to be the complete opposite of the present rather than a continuation of it. What if we need to be developing more collective ways of being in the world? Much of the emerging work around wicked problems is group based, there is a recognition in many areas that we will need to work together in the face of descent scenarios, but what if we are actually training ourselves out of the core skills and attributes we will need? For many of us, the requirement to subsume our ego needs to those of a group is extremely difficult. We all want to be individual and stand out from the crowd, but a leader without followers is just someone out for a walk. In all groups, someone has to come last, not everyone can lead and there is always a number of roles that have to be fulfilled in order for successful group achievement, most of which involve following at one time or another. So if our systems, personal preferences and accepted behaviors counter this requirement, where are we left? I think part of our future challenge will be to learn to work effectively in all types of groups, organizations and communities. It will be those people who do not seek to lead who will be followed.

The archetype of the strong, decisive leader who has all the answers is not useful in the face of wicked problems, instead we will be searching for a leader who is comfortable with not knowing, able to work with people and follow when required. Greenleaf’s servant leader idea is along these lines, as is Sarkar’s Sadvipra. This goes further than being able to put up with people whilst working in a team, or just engaging in community when you feel like it, this is fully authentic person to person relationship and that it hard work. The requirements for the role will be an ability to overcome ego, to be present to the moment, knowing your moral stance and being curious and interested in others. How we learn to work together and give to each other without expecting payment is shaping up to be a challenge for the future.


Envisioning the City of the Future | Blog | design mind. This work caught my eye as it is an interesting view of the future of cities. Cities have become a big focus for sustainable development, social innovation and projections around the future due to the tipping point that was reached in 2008. As, for the first time in history, more than half the world’s human population (3.3 billion people) were living in urban areas. By 2030, this is expected to swell to almost 5 billion. “Many of the new urbanites will be poor. Their future, the future of cities in developing countries, the future of humanity itself, all depend very much on decisions made now in preparation for this growth.”

The New Cities Summit in Paris, the inaugural annual conference of the New Cities Foundation, came at the right time (May 2012). It brought together thought leaders in technology, infrastructure, architecture, energy, transport, national and local government, the media, academia, and the non-profit sector from all regions of the world. Seven hundred high-level urban thinkers and city shapers met to discuss the “first truly urban century.”

The report on the frog website and the ebooklet that can be found here indicated the types of discussion which were had for the duration of the conference.

The lives of the people living in those cities can be improved – and the impact of this growth on the environment reduced – by the use of “smart” technologies that can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of urban systems. Given that cities are, and always have been, about the clustering of people, digital innovations are now undoubtedly accelerating human interactions in urban environments and readying citizens for contributing to inclusive growth. By unlocking technology, infrastructure and public data, cities can open up new value chains that spawn innovative applications and information products that make possible sustainable modes of city living and working.

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I am so glad that I can take the issue of peak oil off the table. It was difficult to get people to listen and to engage in thinking about the ways in which their lives might change in the face of restricted resources. Of all the future issues/opportunities I deal with when speaking to clients and students, peak oil was the one that most looked blank at when it was mentioned. The failure of the peak oil community to start a conversation on how we might live within our means as a wider society reflects my experience. We don’t want to give up our comforts, and confront the fact that things may actually get worse from here on in.  Many people don’t believe there is a link between the burning of fossil fuels and climate change, and in fact, burning more fossil fuels may be necessary to cope with a changing climate.

George Monbiot has called it in the Guardian this week.

For the past 10 years an unlikely coalition of geologists, oil drillers, bankers, military strategists and environmentalists has been warning that peak oil – the decline of global supplies – is just around the corner. We had some strong reasons for doing so: production had slowed, the price had risen sharply, depletion was widespread and appeared to be escalating. The first of the great resource crunches seemed about to strike.

Among environmentalists it was never clear, even to ourselves, whether or not we wanted it to happen. It had the potential both to shock the world into economic transformation, averting future catastrophes, and to generate catastrophes of its own, including a shift into even more damaging technologies, such as biofuels and petrol made from coal. Even so, peak oil was a powerful lever. Governments, businesses and voters who seemed impervious to the moral case for cutting the use of fossil fuels might, we hoped, respond to the economic case.

Linking peak oil and climate change was one lever used by the sustainability movement to try and get some traction in the idea of doing with less and this has proved less than successful. I think Monbiot hits the nail on the head…

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A BENDIGO business is prompting community discussion about the ever-growing demand for human services.  Care Beyond Measure is preparing for the worst – the day when demand out-numbers funding and workforce – and wants everyone to start thinking about the future. The in-home care provider is busy training a workforce of personal carers but is also taking the time to plan a community forum to be held in August. Care Beyond Measure senior manager Kevin Pittman paints a bleak view of the future and has prepared a presentation to highlight the “train wreck” that is edging closer and closer.  “There is a situation developing in our community that we need to start thinking about,” Mr Pittman said. “We really needed to start thinking about it 10 years ago but hey, any time is better than none.

“We need to start thinking about how we’re going to prepare for this situation.” Mr Pittman described the “situation” as a trifecta – staggering increases in demand, shortages of government funding and a shrinking workforce. “Who the heck is planning how to face a situation where we have much more demand, much more complex demand, much less money and much fewer staff all at the same time?” he asked. Bendigo Advertiser, 28 May 2012 

This is an interesting story – the aged care system in Australia has been under pressure for some time. There is 2011 report by the Productivity Commission that led to the current 2012 Government response, Living Longer Living Better, which is akin to moving the deck chairs around the Titanic. Their effort to switcheroo funding without biting the bullet of real reform means that most of the promised funding increases were moved to the end of the 5 year period (2016-17). Given the current (un) popularity of the Government, they are unlikely to be in power when these increases fall due. The Productivity Commission Report suggested opening up a very regulated industry to competition and moving the costs of aged care onto the consumer. This makes economic sense in the face of shrinking Government revenue and growing numbers of ageing Australians needing care over the next 20 years. It makes no political sense when the people facing the loss of their nest eggs all vote.

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3D printing via Wired ‘Found – Artifacts from the future’ Dec 2006

One of the scanning hits I am currently on the look out for is the rise of 3D printing. This has been an emerging technology which is well along the adoption curve now, you can get a latte with your printing in Tokyo. The first real image I used of this possible future was in Wired’s Found series in 2006 and is reproduced here. I used this image in my Masters classes and also with clients to ask people about how disruptive they thought this technology could be. This particular technology is one which generates many interesting conversations about urban infrastructure, manufacturing policy and consumption based industries. The world looks quite different when I am choosing the product, buying the raw materials and printing on demand. Already, I can design my own doll via Makies which means I could manage my children’s access to commodified images of women, and I could design a copy my own body to keep them company when I am not around.

There are already 3D printing vending machines in a University in Virginia and plans to build a room full of plastic furniture (thanks to Emerging Futures). What is interesting to me is how this emerging technology intersects with the values shift to collaborative consumption, the movement from ownership to stewardship. FujiFilm is gauging the reaction to the idea of introducing 3D printing kiosks for personalized gifts.

“What we’re suggesting is that utilizing existing infrastructure, instead of just limiting it to photo gifting products, what if we are able to have a number of predetermined models and provide customers with a personalized 3D gift shop,” says Mostyn.

Could the rise of closed loop manufacturing aligned to 3D printing seed new industries in recycling, garbage mining and regional warehousing of raw materials?  Given the link between fossil fuel use and climate change, this is a shift we have to become much better at making do with what we already have access to.

These trends also intersect the internet of things along the way making the rise of internet enabled, home manufactured recycled goods a very interesting industry sector. What do urban areas look like when stuff isn’t being moved around? What do transport systems look like? How is economic confidence measured if we aren’t out buying all the time? What will people do with their need for retail therapy? Under these conditions what has value in terms of work and skills? What will we buy when we have choice over how it looks, how it fits and the materials it is made from?

Are you considering the future impacts of these issues in your planning? How do you have conversations about these things in your executive team?

Postscript Aug 2012

I have come across a couple of additional 3D printing applications which shows how broad the range of applications might be once this technology takes off. Prof Lee Cronin is developing technology that eventually could allow people to print pharmaceuticals at home. This brings to mind copyright, abuse, quality and control issues for authorities, not to mention a huge swipe at the war on drugs – what if anyone can print their own illicit drugs? For the end user, this might make a number of expensive drugs within reach. How about a world where drugs are matched to your needs and a printing instruction is sent out to your home printer – all of a sudden there is no need for large scale manufacturing and logistics. I imagine pharmacies might still exist for that personal touch.

In the shorter term, his team is looking at ways in which relatively simple drugs – ibuprofen is the example they are using – might be successfully produced in their 3D printer or portable “chemputer”. If that principle can be established, then the possibilities suddenly seem endless. “Imagine your printer like a refrigerator that is full of all the ingredients you might require to make any dish in Jamie Oliver’s new book,” Cronin says. “Jamie has made all those recipes in his own kitchen and validated them. If you apply that idea to making drugs, you have all your ingredients and you follow a recipe that a drug company gives you. They will have validated that recipe in their lab. And when you have downloaded it and enabled the printer to read the software it will work. The value is in the recipe, not in the manufacture. It is an app, essentially.”

At the other end of the spectrum, how about a machine that prints out a burrito for you? Reminds me a bit of the pie maker craze that I was swept up into about 15 years ago!

Burritob0t is the creation of Marko Manriquez, a designer who studied atNYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. Before you get your hopes up too high (like I did), the machines doesn’t actually produce the tortillas. Rather, it does what all 3D printers do: It adds layer upon layer of material onto a base (the tortilla). Instead of liquid plastic, the Burritob0t squirts out melted cheese, beans, salsa, guacamole and sour cream, in amounts set by the user on iPhone or iPad app.

Here are some 3D printed shoes – only $900 a pair!