The Future will soon be a Thing of the Past

3rd Jul, 2015

We all know the truism that those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat the same mistakes. To which wisdom we might add the qualification (immortalized in a Belfast mural) that those (a nation) with one eye on history are wise while those (a nation) with two eyes on history go blind.

Such is the path we must navigate when identifying the trends and drivers that will shape our futures while remaining open to and aware of the innovations and transformations that create new paradigms and possibilities for us all. In fact McKinsey recently published a useful paper on the hazards to be aware of when devising future scenarios including availability bias, stability bias, over-optimism, social biases and probability neglect.

Our current age demands that we consider all of the above more closely than ever before, as the anxiety society, consumer society, cyber-utopianism and neo-liberalism combine to create a new paradigm predicated on multi-agent surveillance and the subjugation of the individual to the network.

As challenging and fascinating as the evolution of our connected culture is, my three years at Trajectory have been especially framed by the continuing effects of the global financial crisis, recession, recovery, austerity, polarization, migration. As we are witnessing today with Greece we are only now reaching the fundamental end-game in terms of the relationship between nation states, democracy, supra-national institutions and global financial markets (Capital).

In the intervening years we have witnessed an extraordinary triumph of ideology – with the drivers of the financial crisis deliberately obscured and conflated with feckless state spending in order to justify (irrational) austerity, a reduced role for the state and ever greater recourse to the markets – and this continues today in the discussions around the so-called productivity puzzle.

Outside of ideology and the constraints of the dismal science, the weaknesses of the wider cultural, economic, financial, political and social ecosystem including education, infrastructure, investment, innovation, training, skills, security, income, progression and reward become more apparent – and so the concerns for future growth prospects and the posited permanent gap in productive capacity produced by recession (hysteresis) more understandable.

On our current path the world economy will not be able to deliver rising living standards, to meet the expectations of the emerging global consumer class or the needs of the majority in advanced economies.  Think of ideas such as secular stagnation and the new mediocrity.

And people wonder why there is such a febrile public mood, why there is so little trust and confidence in the established institutions, and why consumers are so demanding and questioning. Equally you might ask why there’s not been a significant, sustained threat to the prevailing socio-economic order emerging from the developed world.

Is our lethargy, distractedness and despair ultimately more dangerous to the long term health of our societies and economies that the impact of popular revolutions and social unrest?

I ask this particularly because popular disenchantment with the establishment coincides with the exact time when we need to involve society in popular debate and planning in the face of existential issues concerning our environment, society, technology and yes, our futures.

All of which breadth of perspective it has been my privilege to be around during my three years here at Trajectory. I will be moving on this month for new adventures, on the personal front to have my first child and professionally to take up a new position with a data science consultancy.

I’d be disappointed if you agreed with all of the comments above, not least because of the contrast with a key Trajectory value, optimism about the future, yet they’re also true to the essence of our client consultancy role which is to enable and empower our clients to shape their own futures – through enhanced understanding of their operating environment and the range of drivers and trends impacting thereon.

While a large part of my new role will be focused on the micro elements of human behavior including the triggers that drive behavior change most effectively, it will also be essential to maintain this link with the wider operating environment including the macro drivers of change and the psychological impacts on individuals and communities.

Indeed it is the inter-connectedness of so many trends and data points that make today’s world so fascinating, so fragile and so full of potential (for good or ill). We are after all only beginning to understand the whys and wherefores of the connections that data reveals, let alone really getting to grips with the ethical and legal parameters involved.

Ultimately as I think I overheard a colleague saying at my leaving do the other evening, the demands of today’s research and data culture are more akin to the fluidity of a football match than to the staccato statistics of cricket or baseball.

Best wishes to you all, thanks for reading, thanks to all those I’ve collaborated with in recent years, but most of all thanks to my colleagues for their support and for giving me the freedom and space to develop and explore ideas – they can do an excellent job of doing the same for your organization!