Insights · August 9th, 2008

In mid-July 2008 I had the privilege of conducting a think tank for the ASFE Emerging Issues and Trends Committee. ASFE is an association of engineering firms, with a focus on geotechnical engineering. The Committee is a standing group charged with anticipatory thinking on behalf of the association and its member firms.

We gathered in Chicago for a two-day think tank, in which we identified long term events, trends and developments, and developed preferred images of the future related to the primary themes we discovered.

Key driving forces were explored within the following domains:

• Resources – more distributed energy, food supply issues, water shortages, increased competition for raw materials..
• Global and National Economy – increased global interdependence, rise of Asia and Western decline, carbon trading, finite building material resources as demand increases.
• Sustainability – smart growth, concentrated density, mega-disasters, renewable energy focus, need to inspire more students into engineering.
• Infrastructure – water crisis, privatization of infrastructure, smart infrastructure materials, reduced business travel, increased urbanization.
• Science & Technology – advanced building & construction materials, data acquisition and analysis, smart buildings, telepresence, virtual travel, new computing change operations.

After exploring trends the committee members narrowed their analysis to the key changes anticipated in each domain, and developed preferred future response from the Association and members. Some highlights include:

• Resources – opportunities in local energy projects, water reclamation, infrastructure development.
• Global and National Economy – becoming more multicultural, development in Asia, global materials management, new materials development.
• Sustainability – getting involved in planning stages, new energy development, attracting new employees.
• Infrastructure – levee design, ethics related to whole systems thinking, changes in customer mix, life cycle costing, smart urban design.
• Science & Technology – fully integrated communication, embracing technologies, engineer involvement in smart material, building, and project design.

You can contact the ASFE for further information about their report. As I told the committee chair, Joni Powell, of Kleinfelder, this was the most creative and forward looking group of engineers I have had the pleasure to work with. They were eager to look further and think broadly about their preferred future.

For those who attended the think tank, the slides that I used throughout the two days are collected here, available for viewing or download.

Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, consultant, blogger, internet TV show host and founder of To arrange for a speech contact

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Nikolas Badminton – Chief Futurist

Nikolas Badminton

Nikolas is the Chief Futurist of the Futurist Think Tank. He is world-renowned futurist speaker, a Fellow of The RSA, and has worked with over 300 of the world’s most impactful companies to establish strategic foresight capabilities, identify trends shaping our world, help anticipate unforeseen risks, and design equitable futures for all. In his new book – ‘Facing Our Futures’ – he challenges short-term thinking and provides executives and organizations with the foundations for futures design and the tools to ignite curiosity, create a framework for futures exploration, and shift their mindset from what is to WHAT IF…

Contact Nikolas