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A Conference on Anticipation

January 17, 2018

It was amazing.

Anticipation 2017, a conference on a topic that is not taught at undergraduate level at any university in the UK, held at University College London, with several 100 participants, over three days.

The brief was “a unique, radically interdisciplinary forum for exploring how ideas of the future inform action in the present. It brings together researchers, policy makers, scholars and practitioners to push forward thinking on issues ranging from modelling, temporality and the present to the design, ethics and power of the future”.

Who was there? Computer scientists and physicists, social scientists, town planners and architects, futurists and strategists, educators and risk managers —-

The conference was organised into multiple streams with titles such as Foresight and strategic ignorance, Modes of foresight in informing public policy and decision-making, Education and anticipation, Making futures matter: materialising anticipation, Innovations and their consequences – a very broad spectrum of participants and approaches. I dipped in and out of as many as I could and emerged with a few impressions, some of which are below. The proceedings are to be collected on the web site

First, high energy and enthusiasm from speakers and audiences so that many sessions ran over into heated debate as conversations spanning across disciplines rolled out into the hall ways – and a varied demographic in terms of age, ethnicity and global location of “the day job”.

Second, the crucial importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in the western economies since WWII, now in developing countries, and the need for reframing STEM education for the post carbon era. STEM education was seen as needing a new language and purpose – to provide skills in thinking about the future – as we face the anthropocene. Once people are exposed to the ideas of accessing different futures, there is then the difficulty of building images of the future such that individuals can relate to them.

Third – to my shame I had not come across the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities at the University of Bergen, Members of the Centre (from Italy, Canada, Netherlands, and Norway) presented an entire session covering an eclectic range of topics under the heading of “The old is dying and the new cannot be born”, on the future of governance. Contributions covered the ethics of scientific publications, governance issues raised by contention over fishing rights in the Canadian Pacific, how can questions about the sense or otherwise of ongoing expenditure on cancer research be usefully discussed.

One of the outcomes of the conference was “to convene a group who are interested in teaching Anticipation Studies at undergraduate level. If you would be interested in getting involved in such a group – sharing ideas and curricula, developing joint activities, then please email Lucy or Katherine at this email address ( with ‘Anticipation UG’ in the subject header so that we can involve you as this develops. Please flag what you might want to get out of and contribute to such a group.”

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow Emeritus.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at


Reputation damage – will they never learn?

January 10, 2018

Listening to David Davis trying to clarify what he had said on TV last month reminded me that lessons about audiences and messaging have perhaps not been learnt. It is over 25 years since Gerald Ratner’s High street jewellery chain was brought down by careless talk, so for younger readers it is worth recalling the basic lessons which David Davis has clearly forgotten.

Ratner was speaking to an audience of financial journalists about his company’s excellent sales figures, it was after lunch when he incautiously attributed his profitability to the fact that his products were ‘crap’. While this went down well with hardened city hacks, it wound up in the tabloids where Ratner’s customers naturally sensed they were being exploited. Within weeks sales plummeted and the rest is history. Ratner had failed to appreciate that sentiments aimed at one audience cannot be prevented from reaching others where interpretation is often more hostile.

Now back to David Davis at his TV interview in December, barely 48 hours after the Brexit deal had been signed in Brussels. Playing to a Sunday lunchtime domestic audience Davis was keen to point out that this agreement signed on Friday was not legally binding and was only a signal of intent. Why would he do this? He was addressing an audience not only of middle- Englanders who watch Sunday lunchtime TV, but also trying to please the Brexit ultras in his own party, many of whom like Michael Gove, had already gone on record to claim the deal could be undone if people didn’t like it.

In Europe the message did not go down well, Dutch and German politicians took the message that the UK was not playing with a straight bat, and inevitably signalled that this was not going to augur well for negotiations about future trade. Davis’s ‘unhelpful’ comments were quoted back to him by Nick Ferrari on LBC at which point Davis tried to claim that he had been misquoted. Davis then took to the Commons to clarify his position realising that in trying to appease Brexit ultras he had threatened the credibility of the UK with Brussels. One might have thought that the government had learnt a lesson from the preceding week: the UK tried to keep Belfast out of the loop preferring to work with Dublin, right up to the point where Belfast found out.

At the time of writing I have been reading an account of Luther and the impact his work had on the Catholic Church in the early sixteenth century. An attempt to reconcile the theological stance of Lutherans with the traditional Catholic Church in 1530 resulted in the Augsberg Confession. This was a statement of agreement which not only provided us with word ‘protestant’, but was ‘the result of many compromises and was purposely inexact in many places’. Historians have commented on the similarities between the early sixteenth and twenty-first centuries, specifically social impacts of both printing press and the Internet, but obfuscation and compromise are also common features.

The challenge in a world of 24 hour rolling news is to recognise that messages intended for one audience will inevitably reach another. The David Davis debacle shows that this lesson has still not been learnt. Sentiments for a domestic audience channelled through national media, will be relayed to an international one, especially on such a sensitive topic as Brexit. Given all the diplomacy exhibited by Davis to date his attempt to appease a domestic audience so soon after an international agreement shows how much the UK capitulated to Brussels. Politics aside, the lessons of Ratner, and Augsberg, must be learnt.

Communicating forward plans to all audiences requires careful thought, drawing on both these historic lessons and views on future strategy, in various scenarios, to guide us towards robust decisions.

Written by Garry Honey, CEO, Chiron Reputation Risk and SAMI Associate. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

What’s Hot in technology: 2018

January 3, 2018


Looking forward into 2018 here are the thoughts of David Smith, Chief Executive of Global Futures and Foresight and SAMI Associate. He is always worth listening to on technology futures, so we post this as the first of our 2018 blogs.

  1. Hashgraph

Blockchain will undoubtedly create waves in 2018 and beyond, from the Bitcoin express through to practical uses in smart contracts and across countless industries. This is not to suggest that this new technology will not in time be supplanted itself by competitors offering improved features. Hashgraph, for example, claims to work at 50,000 the speed of blockchain, whilst proving mathematically fairer and using less energy. 2018 will see an explosion in rival technologies underpinning new cryptocurrency and ledger systems.

  1. Shoppable social

The lines between retail, social network and entertainment will blur to an even greater extent in 2018 than we have seen thus far. Amazon has already launched a shoppable social network called Spark whilst Buy+, a Chinese virtual reality shopping experience backed by Alibaba, engaged over 8 million users within a week of launching.’ Social video, and other virtual interfaces, could represent the future of retail since 2019 is expected to see video comprising 85 percent of net traffic and 50 percent of commerce arriving via mobile.

  1. Data becomes toxic

Data competency has already ordained winners and losers and in 2018, it will continue to do so, albeit from new perspectives. Data volume will overwhelm all but the most prepared since average human knowledge is doubling every 13 months – meaning, within a couple of years, the total information volume may double every 11 hours. Allied to volume is a common vulnerability in many data models. Many lack explicit consumer consent – especially via apps, and few have equivalent to ‘key facts’ in financial services. As consumers realise the value inherent in their data, the unspoken legal risk in data models will upend all but the most prepared. What data we hold and how we use it will be the life and death of our companies.

  1. Employees+

Perhaps with an eye towards automation or else simply improving their marketplace standing, 70 percent of employees say they would consider mind and body-boosting treatments if it improved their job prospects. Although futuristic sounding, smart drugs such as modafinil are already reportedly widespread in academia, industry and beyond. HR policies may need revisiting to place guidelines for brainhacking and other routes employees will be seeking to gain an edge.

  1. Self-inflating structures

With housing shortages contributing to acute market misalignments in some advanced economies, and the need for ‘insta-infrastructure,’ following catastrophes around the world, a new built form paradigm is required. Furthermore, companies will increasingly value flexible solutions to their office space issues. 3D printing already provides a platform for addressing these issues. In 2018, more tech-based solutions will appear to compliment it, such as MIT’s self-inflating structures project that works as a ‘…functional tool for things such as distributed assembly processes, transportation of goods, emergency response and architecture.’ Flexibility in the built form could radically redraw the economy; in 2018 we expect proto examples of this change of direction to hit the headlines.

  1. Interaction 4.0

The way we will buy, build and use technology is changing rapidly, which means the teams and ecosystems that build it and run it will need to change too. Designers should be especially cognizant of this. In 2016 mobile net use overtook computer net use, whilst by 2020, ‘…50 percent of all searches could be voice searches, and around 30 percent will involve no screen whatsoever.’ VR, holograms, AR and haptics will all feature; 2018 will see the omnichannel become a lot more crowded.

  1. New consumer industries (from colliding technologies/industries)

Consumers ‘…demand experiences, not just products, and have become active participants at every stage of the value chain.’ In many cases this erodes industry boundaries and creates new markets at the intersections of collision, such as wellcare where health, wellness and beauty collide. There is no one single technology that is singularly driving this Hot trend; rather the realisation that B2B2C markets are reconfiguring into delivering desired consumer outcomes. How to organise for this – in terms of aligning organisation structure to technology provision – will be key.

  1. Photonics

As an intermediate step on the path to quantum computing, photonic computing could provide the ‘…same accuracy as the best conventional chips while slashing the energy consumption by orders of magnitude and offering 100 times the speed. By 2020, larger systems capable of achieving multiple Exaflops are forecast to arrive. That would enable even handheld devices to have AI capabilities built into them without outsourcing the heavy lifting to large servers, something that would otherwise be next to impossible.’ All data could therefore be processed in near real-time, at the edge of networks such as the IoT. IT strategies, consumer behaviour and the architecture within which to operate would all shift as a result, some in unpredictable ways.

  1. Personalised analytics

With McKinsey estimated around a third of the current CEO remit is already outsourceable, and examples of mass automation of management roles already appearing with hedgefunds and beyond, 2018 will see a clamour from professionals seeking to future-proof their roles. Ironically, A.I may provide an answer. ‘Personalized analytics (will) become mirrors and lenses for refocusing professional effectiveness, says MIT research fellow, Michael Schrage MIT research fellow. ‘Michael envisions selvesware serving the role of a perpetually present leadership coach providing real-time advice on executive behaviour.’

  1. Machines have their own bank accounts

There can be little doubt that widespread automation brings about a raft of societal and ethical questions. Hitherto fringe ideas will gain currency as the automated economy takes hold. The rights of robots to the fruits of their own production may become one such issue in the near future. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia is reportedly looking into the implications of a future in which ‘…machines have their own bank accounts and pay for replacement parts and engineers to service them,’ whilst the European Union has already called for ‘the consideration of a Civil Law Rule of Robots’. Intellectual property rights could flow from this, suggesting machines could become their own economic agents in the near future to a degree currently considered unthinkable.

Written by David Smith, Chief Executive, Global Futures and Foresight.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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Decision Making under Deep Uncertainty (DMDU)

December 13, 2017

The 2017 DMDU Workshop was held in Oxford from 13-15 November, at the Oxford Martin School. This is a grand building in the centre of Oxford which used to be the Indian Institute! About 100 people gathered for the three days, of which the first was a Training Day.

The Training Day introduced a generalised framework for DMDU methods, discussing the contents of a DMDU analyst’s toolkit.

I was delighted to hear Claire Craig talk in depth and breadth about “Informing Policy Decisions with foresight methodologies”. Her experience in the Foresight Unit before going to the Royal Society as Director of Science Policy gives her insights into how the foresight – or DMDU – community can most effectively provide inputs to policy makers.

Other great perspectives on “the real world” were provided by

  • Julie Rozenberg of the World Bank, talking about trying to help small nations get ahead of the curve of destruction caused by climate change, using Fiji as an example.
  • Leena Ilmola Sheppard of IASA in Austria, talking about using system maps to help Finnish politicians develop a shared language and so deal better with adapting to immigration in Finland, a country and society which traditionally has not seen this phenomenon.

Many of the sessions were organised to try and bridge the gap between tool sets and decision makers, in defence and security, in crisis management, in water systems, etc. Tool sets included

  • Robust Decision Making, out of Rand, and the open version MORDM
  • Value Focused Thinking, from MIT
  • Agent based modelling from Harvard

And it was good to catch up with old friends. The programme for all three days can be found at

However an unexpected plus was picking up a copy of the Oxford Martin Commission Report for Future Generations – it was published in 2013 but I had not flagged it at the time, it can be found on . While its list of megatrends has worn well, the framework for the section on challenges is of course pre-Trump and BREXIT. The sections on Lessons from the Past focuses on the importance of international collaboration and networks: and the need for these to be brought to bear on issues such as antibiotic resistance, fossil fuel usage and fishing practice – yes.

In Part C: Practical Futures, the report highlights some of the topics we in SAMI have explored:

  • Creative coalitions, as in our report “In Safe Hands” services.html which explored a future in which the world is organised around city states which cooperate to solve common problems
  • Transparent taxation, and the problems from mobility for a tax system based on land and nation states
  • Focus on the long term – clearly the core of SAMI’s “strategy with a view of the future” mission and related to the McKinsey Global Institute Report “Companies with a long term view outperform their peers”,

Reading the report did highlight for me how many of the assumptions of 2013 on the future of global society are being challenged today.

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow Emeritus.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

Memories of Watts Wacker

December 6, 2017

I heard recently that futurist Watts Wacker has died. He was a leading thinker from the 1980’s onwards, using a variety of styles and images to help people and organisations think about the future.

One of his books, The 500 Year Delta, published in 1997, (ISBN 978-0887308383) was much more approachable than the title suggested, as it explored 5, 50 and 500 year futures and provided tested strategies to help companies and individuals reset their course to accommodate the increasing chaos of everyday life as seen from the 1990’s. It became a world-wide bestseller.

Watts Wacker book

  • His later books included The Visionary’s Handbook (2000, ISBN 978-0066619873) , and What’s Your Story – Storytelling to Move Markets, Audiences, People and Brands (2012, ISBN 978-0132312011). His body of published work has lasted well, but it was as a speaker that he came into his own – he was brilliant at challenging an audience to think about the ways in which our assumptions about the world might not hold in the future.

Watts and I worked together at ICL in the 1990’s with the then CEO, Keith Todd, to formulate ICL’s strategy as part of the Information Society, and with European Commissioner for Industry Dr Martin Bangemann on how to implement his 1994 report on Europe and the global information society. The report represented the findings of a group of senior business people and community leaders, including the then-chairman of ICL, Sir Peter Bonfield, and formed the basis of much of the European Commission’s programme in strategic planning for the Information Society. It also influenced the subsequent G7 Global Information Society conference held in Brussels in 1995.

One of the steps ICL took was to host a seminar in July 1996 to examine:

  • issues of regulation in the light of new technological advances;
  • issues arising from the implementation of the information Society in Europe such as public awareness/education, skills training
  • the most appropriate regulatory/institutional environment to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.

Participants in the seminar included Dr Bangemann, Keith Todd, ICL’s Chief Executive Officer, and twenty participants from the media and the Open University, public administration, telecoms and computing, and entrepreneurs, from 13 countries.

As part of the discussions, the group developed two visions for Europe; a leading and a trailing scenario. The leading scenario described a society with an improved quality of life. Contributing to that would be choice: opportunities for employment rather than jobs as such, opportunities for education, choices over lifestyle, health and medical care, and choice to use information technology or not – based on there being no barriers to access.

The group concluded that to achieve the leading scenario three elements had to be in place:

  • The capacity of Europe to improve the relationship between entrepreneurship, education and the financial system;
  • Education, helped by IT, needs to become a critical factor in growth in Europe. Overall, the whole attitude toward risk-taking and management had to change;
  • A new approach to regulation and deregulation in the light of technological developments. For example, while getting rid of monopolies is important, the completely deregulated model might not always be appropriate.

The Report from the Workshop was called the Hedsor Memorandum. The recommendations focused on areas for action which would use the infrastructure of communications, and which could be carried out over the next two years to take effect over the next decade. It focused on the need to shift attention to spreading awareness of the impact of the Information Society from large organizations and towards

  • individuals, so they would understand the potential to increase their skills,
  • small and medium-sized enterprises which will play a critical role in advancing the Information Society by extending their global reach through technology,
  • local governments as catalysts and providers of local networks with a bridge to global resources.

However we were concerned that the workshop participants might have a systematically different view of life from the next generation, who would be living in the Information Society. So we invited a group of seventeen young graduates from throughout ICL, from a wide range of backgrounds and nationalities, and with differing knowledge, skills, attitudes and experience, to attend a “Future Scope” workshop to consider Europe in 2006: what should we want and expect from the Information Society? After an initial brainstorming session to collect views about Europe and the Information Society in 2006, three main themes were extracted for break out groups to consider in more detail; work – smarter not longer, education, leisure and the family.

At the end of the workshop the Futurescope Group made a number of recommendations which were included in the Memorandum, particularly relating to ways of engaging individuals who were not part of the formal power structure in decision making.

Watts and I then had the task of taking these messages to audiences inside and outside ICL – he was more successful than me! – he will be missed by all those who knew him either in person or through his books.

There is a fuller discussion in Scenario Planning (ISBN 978-1-909300-54-5).

Whilst a stimulating thinker and presenter such as this will always be much missed, the futurist community continues to challenge current paradigms and to help people and organisations face the future by making #robustdecisions.

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow Emeritus.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

Sheffield Ambition

November 29, 2017

Grant Thornton hosted the second Sheffield Ambition event:  “A Vibrant Sheffield Embracing A Changing World” at the Adelphi Room in the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. This room is amazing – it is at the top of the Theatre looking out over the square containing the Winter Gardens and towards the Sheffield Hallam University campus. The assembled group was also amazing – 30 highly ambitious, enthusiastic and passionate people in the room ready to look at the future of the world and the opportunity Sheffield has to play a major part.

As Paul Houghton, Grant Thornton Partner leading the event, said in his invitation: the aim was to have an inspiring and thought provoking evening: so people came ready to collaborate, to be creative and to disrupt the status quo in our thinking. Some of us from SAMI – Dr Wendy Schultz, Huw Williams and Gill Ringland – helped to structure the discussion, using a staged approach to Three Horizons split over the several courses of an excellent dinner.

The discussion ranged widely but one theme emerged strongly as a basis for a potential new initiative – skills and an aspiration gap. One thought was that, as in other parts of the UK, in Sheffield, new jobs were going to incomers – sometimes graduates from the two Universities in Sheffield, or elsewhere.

The question was how to reach out to parents and children in Sheffield, to give them images of innovation, creativity, new jobs and new ways of working?

A role model which we discussed was the activity led by Ruth Amos of “Kids Invent Stuff” This a You Tube channel which sets monthly design challenges for kids (age 5-11) to submit their ideas for solving a problem or create a gadget or robot, and then making it on camera. They launch a new video every week and get video or picture submissions through

Kids Invent Stuff web page

One issue that concerns Ruth is getting girls to think about inventing stuff. She seems to have an approach that appeals to girls, who are ready to submit their ideas, often encouraged by their parents. As she says, she tries not to use the term engineer as it is not very inspiring – preferring to talk about inventor. And she emphasises the importance of parents’ support in getting girls to think about careers in Science, technology, engineering and manufacturing, which have historically been male dominated: and the increasing role of social media in breaking down stereotypes.

The train of ideas about Sheffield Ambition was – how could companies, schools and universities, local government, parents and children, build on what is already happening, to develop Sheffield’s ambition? The need is to think more broadly and taking into account some of the changes which will overtake us as technology continues to impact our lives: many of the people in the Adelphi Room had children or grand-children who will still be alive in 2100. What can we do to prepare them?

As Ambition Sheffield takes shape – watch this space!

#vibranteconomy  #vibrantSheffield

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow Emeritus.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

Three Horizon Mindsets

November 22, 2017

When a group of futurists gathered at the ProDev day organised by the Association of Professional Futurists, some of the learning most welcomed was around Three Horizons.

Many of us were familiar with the model and had used it successfully with clients. The model is often represented as here.


Horizon 1 takes into account the current working assumptions and systems. These are the global trends that we take for granted when we make decisions.

  • Example – demographics – society is beginning to see the need for major adjustments because of the ongoing trend in many global regions for decreasing family size and decreasing or stabilising populations, and the trend for people to live longer.

Horizon 3 is about changes emerging that are completely new paradigms and ways of understanding and undertaking various human activities. What are visionary leaders saying?

Horizon 2 is about immediate changes you see which represent a transition or accommodation for evolving tensions as current assumptions and work patterns obsolesce, and transformative changes erupt into possibility What opportunities do you see? What are entrepreneurs building?

  • Example – the CEO of GM, Mary Barra is saying “I believe we will see more change in our industry in the next five to ten years than we have in the last 50. I’m talking about huge improvements in vehicle electrification, connectivity, propulsion, safety, and even cars that drive themselves. We are at the start of a technological revolution that is going to change the way we drive and interact with our cars, trucks, and crossovers”

What was new in our discussions and caused a number of ‘Ahas’ was a role-play led by Bill Sharpe and Graham Leicester. Each syndicate chose a topic – in our case communication between governments and the public. Then we argued what to do about it. Some of us took the role of a manager (H1), others of an entrepreneur (H2) and others a visionary (H3). The insights came from the discussion as the participants – naturally many naturally H3 people – wrestled with taking a H1 or H2 position.

H1 people are worried about budgets, timescales and delivering with the staff they have been allocated – and are the de facto holders of power. So positive reactions to H2 proposals could include “This could help refresh our current position” or “This provides a source of ideas”. As a natural H2 entrepreneur, I might in the past have dismissed such signals of potential support, while recognising only too well “This diverts essential resources”, “this could have unintended consequences” and “This creates potential (internal) competition”.

In talking to people with H3 mindsets – the visionaries – H1 managers might react positively with comments like “This will be needed for our grandchildren” or “This may well be the future even though it appears remote”. Negative responses would be unambiguous, for instance, “this makes no sense to us”, This is irrelevant dreaming” or “This is dangerous and should be stopped”.

These helped the H2 and H3 role players frame their stance in order to avoid standoff, and bears study by anybody who is interested in helping more people and organisations think usefully about the future and how to prepare for it.

The event was called Tools for Hope and in addition to the session on Three Horizons had excellent sessions by SAMI Associates Patricia Lustig and Martin Hazell on Appreciative Inquiry, SAMI Principal Dr Wendy Schultz on tools for visioning, and Tanja Hichert on the Anthropocene Project.

The materials that were used on the day by the presenters can be found here. The links are lightly underlined, or highlighted when you run your cursor over them.

There are additional resources on the Books and Articles page.

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow Emeritus.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

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