The Future and After Earth

What if we knew that our planet would be unable to sustain life in 1000 years? How would our priorities change? What would we do differently?

A large part of my work is to help leaders and organizations think about the future.

For today’s imagination expanding exercise, consider three interesting recent “happenings”.


The first is a pop culture piece, the movie, After Earth. This new movie starring the father and son duo, Will Smith and Jaden Smith, takes place after humans have had to evacuate their home planet. I love almost anything that takes place in the future and involves traveling to other planets, and, because it relates to a recent speech made by physicist, Steven Hawkins, it’s useful for this imagination expanding exercise.


A second piece is from the world of academia. Stevan Hawking, respected british physicist and author of A Brief History of time, in a speech in Los Angeles the 71-year-old scientist tried to make a case for further exploration of space.

“We must continue to go into space for humanity. If you understand how the universe operates, you control it in a way,” Professor Hawking said, adding that “we won’t survive another 1,000 years without escaping our fragile planet.”

I would love to better understand Hawkins basis for this comment, but that’s not the point here. What if this were true? What would immediately change, if anything? As a thought exercise, imagine what behaviors would change or what actions might we undertake politically, economically, environmentally, socially, and technologically.


Add to Hawkins statements, the Mars-500 experiment that ended in November of 2011.

“The crew of the international “mission” to Mars has finally “returned” to Earth in Moscow, bringing one of the world’s most grueling scientific experiments to a close.

Six volunteers, including three Russians (Alexey Sitev, Alexandr Smoleevskiy and Sukhrob Kamolov), as well as representatives from Europe (Romain Charles), China (Wang Yue) and South America (Diego Urbina), can now see daylight for the first time in 520 days. That is the exact time they spent isolated in their mock spaceship, simulating a trip to the Red Planet and back.

The men have been sealed in the mock spacecraft for 17 months. But they never left the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, and could have quit the Mars-500 isolation experiment at any time.”

The approximate costs of this isolation experiment was 500 million dollars. A trip to Mars would be much, much more.  This year, NASA’s planetary science budget, which is seen as crucial to finding habitable planets, was slashed by $300 million.

In light of Hawking’s statement, the Mars-500 experiment (both real world happenings), and the film, After Earth, ask yourselves, How would our perspectives and behaviors shift, if at all, if we knew that our species would “soon” have to leave it’s cradle? What do you think?


Imagining Alternative Futures through Scenarios


There is no such thing as the future. There are only the futures…the alternative futures.  This is proverbial among those who study the future… or should I say, the futures. This is one of the first steps towards being “future ready”. Imagining possible alternative futures is a very human capacity. But there are tools that can also help.

One tool that futurists use to help leaders and decision makers is the scenario planning process. Many of you leaders do this naturally, especially those of you who must be ready for contingencies at all times. You are intuitive experts at scenario thinking.

Scenarios are useful fictions that can develop your team’s capacity to anticipate and deal with change.
Last week I participated in a scenario planning workshop to formalize and deepen my understanding of how scenarios work. Scenarios are vignettes designed to inspire conversation about the alternative futures.

Our task, in the workshop, was to create scenarios about the fashion industry in the year 2025. The fact that none of us had any experience in the fashion industry proved to be a plus. What we learned was the process of scenario creation regardless of our lack of knowledge. Having learned the process allows us to help industry professionals take their raw knowledge of their industry, whatever it might be, and turn it into scenarios that create conversation and perhaps even prove useful for decision making.

Breaking With The Past

A recent piece (May 2013) in the Harvard Business review titled, Living In the Futures, tells a little of the history of scenario planning. Almost 50 years ago Royal Dutch Shell began to use scenario planning as a way of anticipating the “futures”.  The article states that (for Shell) scenario planning

 “…has helped break the habit, ingrained in most corporate planning, of assuming that the future will look much like the present. As unthreatening stories, scenarios enable Shell executives to open their minds to previously inconceivable or imperceptible developments.”

How many of you lead teams that behave as though the future will be just like today? This belief can blind us to the changes that are happening and may happen in our external environment. Many of you work in industries that are experiencing disruptive change. And more change is on the way. And it’s coming faster than ever. Teams need to be future-fitted.


Click the image to tweet the text. Thanks!

Click the image to tweet the text. Thanks!

For example, in the M network several of us have been discussing several plausible future scenarios for faith-based organizations in the USA. One of them looks something like this: It’s the year 2050 and the tax benefits extended to religious organizations cease. The loss of tax benefits is a plausible alternative future. Where do churches, mosques, and synagogues go from there? What are the possible futures?

How will your organization adapt in order to thrive? What changes would need to be made? What perspectives would need to change?

The questions this post is designed to provoke is, How ready are you and your team for change? Have you created scenarios for the kinds of things that might impact your business? Do you have mental maps and narratives that might keep you ahead of the curve? How pliable is your organization culture? What is your team’s “complexipacity” ( the capacity to deal with complexity)?

Creating narrative (scenarios) about the kinds of things that can happen can begin to create confidence in your ability to anticipate the future and adapt to change. But the key point here isn’t about scenarios and how to create them. It’s about the necessity of foresight. In a rapidly changing world, leaders need to not only study the past, they must study the future.

What do you think?


A large part of my work is to help leaders and organizations think about the future. I trust that this is why, in part, you visit this site. If you want additional training on thinking about the future, I invite you to consider the 3-Day or 5-Day immersions in Strategic Leadership. We’d love to have you join us. Visit for details.

Sex with Robots

As some of you know, I do a couple of talks under the title of Sex with Robots. These talks are not about sex with robots specifically, but about our evolving relationship to technology and our growing estrangement from both ourselves and each other.

I point out how the best source for imagining the future has been the arts/entertainment with special reference to science fiction. This suggests the absolute necessity of imagination, creativity, and playfulness in anticipating the future whether you’re an amateur or a professional foresight strategist.

Photograph by Max Aguilera-Hellweg Nick Mayer, of the LifeNaut project in Vermont, sits down for a chat with the robotic head Bina48. Hanson Robotics created the talkative humanoid in the image of Bina Rothblatt, the co-founder of LifeNaut, which is exploring robot-human fusion as a technological path to immortality.

Photograph by Max Aguilera-Hellweg
Nick Mayer, of the LifeNaut project in Vermont, sits down for a chat with the robotic head Bina48. Hanson Robotics created the talkative humanoid in the image of Bina Rothblatt, the co-founder of LifeNaut, which is exploring robot-human fusion as a technological path to immortality.


FIRST…The Sense of “feeling”

Let’s think about two emerging developments and where they might lead us. First, The development of technology that will mimic human skin. This could be a wonderful technology for those with artificial limbs. Imagine adding an artificial limb that “feels” through nanoscale sensors that send messages to the brain. On the other side, imagine adding this “skin” to androids. Will it come to pass that future robots, garbed in human-like skin, will be able to feel?

Here’s the relevant link: Human Skin

SECOND…Emotional Attachments

Second, We’ve all heard of those people that fall in love with objects, like Erika La Tour Eiffel who married the Eiffel Tower. But that’s just the odd person here and there, right?

A new study suggests that humans “can and will form emotional attachments to robots.” Because one of the anticipated uses of these machines will be to assist the elderly, future robots may be designed to look and feel more like organic beings than metal objects. What other kinds of emotional attachments might we anticipate?

Here’s the relevant link: Emotional Attachment

As I’ve stated before, when thinking about the future, it isn’t enough to ask “What will happen”? We must ask, “What will happen because of what happens”?


Here are some questions to provoke your thinking.

  • What if an elderly person, who has grown emotionally attached to her/his android, wants to leave their fortune to the preservation, sustaining, and upgrading of their personal robot?
  • If a future robot inherited a fortune and could thereby maintain itself and upgrade itself, will we have robots that “live” independently for thousands of years?
  • What would happen to the sex trafficing industry, if androids and gynoids “peopled” future “red light” districts?
  • What if future humans want to “marry” and form families with future androids because of love? On what basis could we object?

Give these questions a shot. Remember, loosen up and have fun. Only the future is at stake.

What do you think?

Scouting the Future

How can leaders neutralize decision-making paralysis in the face of a complex and ever changing context? When it comes to complexity and change, we are in a class five white water rapid. Unexpected events happen so rapidly that we often feel our raft is about to flip. white-water-rafting-1

Just think of the massive changes we have experienced from

  • Societal changes* (attitudes towards same-sex marriage, aging populations of the Western Nations, Japan, and China)* to
  • Technological advances (the mobile internet, UAV’s (think flying robots)*, to the new
  • Economic realities of the last 5 years, to
  • Environmental issues (think the damage of ecosystems like the Amazon), to the constantly changing
  • Political landscapes of the middle east.

As leaders are often in the midst of the fray and focused on keeping operations going, they can often times lose sight of the bigger picture, or the macro-environment. And so, change comes at them without warning.

In white water rafting, there is a rule of thumb we follow when we are unsure of what lies down river. We say, “When in doubt, scout.” One of the tools that we use to help leaders develop greater mental agility for decision-making is called environmental or “horizon” scanning. It’s a way of looking down river, a way of “scouting the future”.

A lot of you will feel lost at about this point. You have so much going on in the present. For guidance you look to the past for precedents or for successful models that have worked. Who has time for the future?

Well, if you work in an industry in which nothing changes, then what worked in the past may work for you now. But in this universe, what worked in the past is no guarantee of success in the present much less the future, because change is coming. In fact, one of the greatest obstacles you will face as you encounter tomorrow’s questions will be yesterday’s answers.

Take a look at the “changes” described in the first paragraph above. They conform to an acronym, STEEP, often used by futurists. The domains of Society, Technology, Environment, Economics, and Politics give the scanner the starting points for scouting the future. For a quick visual on scouting the future, here’s a short Prezi on the steps we take in using the “Horizon” Scanning tool.

By scanning the STEEP domains for signals of change, a leader readies himself for change through enhancing an alertness to change. The changes at this macro-level may be years in coming, if they come at all. And this is the point: to be aware that change is coming, even if we are not sure which change, is a superpower developed by those with a “futures orientation” (plural intended). It can help create pliability and cultivate mental agility in the face of complexity and uncertainty.


Let’s say this another way. The reason to scout the future is not to predict the future. In fact, it is proverbial among futurists that “the future cannot be predicted”. The reason to scout the future for signals of change is to enhance one’s ability to make decisions in light of the fact that the future cannot be predicted.

Horizon Scanning can happen in at least 3 layers:

Layer 1: inside my company) Layer 2: inside my industry ) Layer 3: outside in the macro-environment)

Layer 3 contains the changes that are happening that will, sooner or later, be impacting you and your business. Lift up your eyes and scan the horizon.

What do you think?

Processing Questions:
How are you and your team “scouting the future” in layers 1, 2, and 3?
What are you doing to create a “future-orientation” among your team?
What tools and/or practices would help you increase you future readiness?

* Thanks to those of you who attended M2011 and M2012 who saw how the topics we covered (UAV’s, Sex with Robots, How to Create Culture and Social Change) have been all over the news in 2013.

1000 Years Old (2) — Eight Ways Longer Lives Will Change Us

My last post on Human Longevity touched on the prospects of a scientific breakthrough in the area of human longevity. It was based on a lecture by Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist and chief science officer of the SENS Foundation, which I heard in San Francisco last December.

Embedded in an article about Human Longevity written by Aubrey de Grey, The Futurist magazine includes a summary of 100 Plus by Sonia Arrison, Pacific Research Institute senior fellow and a founder of Singularity University, called 8 Ways Longer Lives Will Change Us. I’ve included the list below. Continue reading

One Thousand Years Old – Human Longevity

How old do humans get? The world record is 122 years old. Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist and chief science officer of the SENS Foundation, tells us that eventually and inevitably we will reach “longevity escape velocity” and humans will live to 1000 years old. At a talk in San Francisco in December 2012, de Grey, who is the author of Ending Aging (St. Martin’s Press, 2007), asserted that the emphasis of his work is in “robust human rejuvenation” (vs “human longevity). Human longevity is a by-product of health.

How would life spans that reach into the thousands of years change us? Continue reading

10 trends for 2013 from JWT

As someone who is obsessed with the future, the future of humanity, technology, faith, genetics, AI, etc…the question I often ask is not “what happens?” but “what happens because of what happens?”

The two big “next things” I see on the horizon, in terms of the evolution of the human experience, are robots and 3-D printing. These will be things that happen that will make the future unrecognizable to us.

But before we get there, we’ll need to journey through 2013 first. This is the first of my thoughts about trends for 2013.

Below I’ve embedded a slide with ten trends for 2013. This one is from JWT Intelliegence, a well known marketing communications brand. Browse through these. I’ve added some of my thoughts below the slideshow.

The first thing that stood out to me came from the first slide, “Play as a Competitive Advantage”. Of course, JWT works with business and so competition must be factored in. But what might happen because this happens? Must everything become about competition? Taking a step back, we must not feel compelled to reduce everything about the future to the vision of business. Even if play becomes nothing more than a tool to create more competitive companies, we must not lose the idea of play for nothing more than enjoyment. Play for sheer delight is not a waste of time and is a human treasure that must not become the sole property of corporations that want to get more out of us. I would like to see humans play more for the sake of enjoying life and experiencing laughter. Not that I object to having a “recess” at work, mind you.

The second slide that stood out to me is #10, Health and Happiness. This strikes me because of my interest in “longevity”. I recently attended a lecture by Aubrey de Grey, an expert on human longevity or, as he says, “robust human rejuvenation”, where he emphasized that his interest was not human immortality but health. Longevity is a by product of health. He envisions adding 30 years to the human lifespan in the near future and hundreds of years after that. (I’ve written a post about this titled, One Thousand Years Young, which will publish next week). Happiness, Health, Longevity will be a trend and more than that as therapies that extend life emerge more rapidly. But, why extend miserable and unhappy lives? Let’s figure out what makes us happy.

Of course, The internet of things is huge. JWT trend number #3 Intelligent Objects describes how practically everything will become a data gathering and distribution device. I’ll have more to say on this trend as we look at other trend reports.

I will comment on several of these trend reports so I anticipate some contrasts and comparisons as we move forward.