What's next? Maybe I will find out in a couple of months: I've been invited to attend the second European Futurists Conference, which will take place in Lucerne, Switzerland, November 22-24. It labels itself a "temporary think-tank for the challenges of tomorrow", and will gather some 200 people from all over the world - futurists and forecasters, but also many non-practitioners generally interested in the exploration of future scenarios.
This year's theme is "Making Sense of the Future" (full program) and it will feature discussions on everything from future scanning to knowledge capital, from Web2.0 to bioeconomy, from the "Rise and Fall of Globalization" (am looking forward to John Casti of the University of Vienna debunking Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat") to "Upgrading humans" (with British "cyborg" Kevin Warwick), from building an open-source car (Markus Merz) to innovating at the BBC (Matt Locke) or at Philips (Josephine Green). Other speakers will include the controversial "Skeptical Environmetalist" Bjorn Lomborg, Ged Davis, the managing director of the World Economic Forum's Center for Global Insight, and the German star futurist Matthias Horx. There are still a few tickets for the event.
Three e-mail questions to Georges T. Roos, the founder of the conference and himself a forecaster:
Georges, what is the work of a futurist?
It is about indicating a series of chances and risks - evaluating the future in a plural way, studying both technological innovation and social and cultural innovation. It's about helping to take the right decisions today for an unknown future - so that we will be less surprised when this future comes along.
Many people instinctively think of the future as "a little bit more" of today: a bit more computing power, a bit more mobility, a bit more retired people, etc. What does a futurist say to this?
This is a dangerous way of looking at the future. Look back 25 years: There were no personal computers, no mobile phones, no HIV/Aids (at least not that we knew). The world was separated in two hostile blocks. There are disruptive changes, and in order to shorten reaction time we need to think also in scenarios - think the unthinkable. Imagine the big potential impact of a pandemic that may reach Europe and catches us unprepared. Life as we know it would stop, people would stop leaving home, etc.
Your personal focus is on the impact and value of cultural innovation. Can you elaborate?
Even though technology is driving a lot of the current changes, it is only half of the story. Equally important is people's mindset. When I listen to companies, which do a great job in trend scanning and corporate foresight, I often hear: We know it, but nothing happens. It doesn't get to the minds and hearts of the people in charge (until it hurts). Values or cultural patterns play an important role. We are investigating such values and trying to push for a better awareness of the importance of cultural innovation.