Insights · November 10th, 2009

I’ve been asked all year how the futuring business is going – are people interested in the future, and willing to pay for programs? The year 2009 has been up and down, but beginning in mid-September we began one of the most amazing strings of programs and events in two decades.

First, Lexis Nexis invited me to keynote their annual customer conference for their insurance customers. They had the biggest registration they’ve had yet, for their event at Stone Mountain, Georgia.

Then, I had the chance to keynote the annual Zino Society Zillionaire conference, where 28 start-up companies presented their case for funding. We’ve written about the event and the entrepreneurs who impressed me before. Following that event, I was invited as a guest to a regular meeting of the Northwest Energy Angels in Bellevue, Washington. There I heard four more companies present their ideas for energy-related ventures. The most impressive to me was Rapid Electric Vehicles, a Vancouver BC company that is converting popular fleet vehicles like the Ford F-150 to all-electric. Cities like Santa Monica are making early buys.

Later, in October attended the day-long FiRe Westcoast Global Conference. This is a Mark Anderson and Strategic News Service event, for which I served on the advisory committee. Here again, in addition to several issues and topical presentations, we heard from a dozen start-up companies selected as FireStars. So by the end of these three events I had head from over 40 start-up ventures. This was an impressive and encouraging series of programs participate in, giving me great hope for the future. Creativity and entrepreneurship are alive and well even in these harsh economic times.

In the middle of these conferences I provided a closing keynote for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition annual fund-raising and award breakfast, were I had the pleasure of chatting with former Washington governors Mike Lowry and Dan Evans. In this speech I riffed on some thoughts of my old futurist mentor, Ed Lindaman, on why people are attracted to a place like the northwest. People are aquatropic – drawn to water, creatropic – drawn to creativity, egotropic – drawn to recreation, and silvatropi – drawn to trees, and so an organization like the WWRC which works to preserve recreational and natural lands is vital to what people want and need.

Then began my October odyssey. On October 6 I was in Watertown, South Dakota to speak to the faculty and staff of Lake Area Technical Institute, and later in the day to be the featured speaker at the annual Feuerstein Speaker Series. I addressed both future trends, and the need to create preferred futures.

From there I hurried back to Seattle-Tacoma to speak to a dinner meeting of the board and management of a local company named the Threshold Group. This company provides financial services to high-net worth families, and we discussed the future as related both to the economy and families.

Next I headed to Monterey, California, where I keynoted the annual leadership conference of Rotary International for the Western Region. This was a wonderful audience of 600. The highlight for me was asking this audience what their image of the future is these days – and being surprised and pleased when their images were not pessimistic, but rather consisted of things like, “and end to world hunger,” “a cure for cancer,” “solving the world water problem,” and so on. These people, devoted to service through their organization assume that service will lead to positive outcomes, and I left their event feeling more hopeful as well.

Then it was off to Michigan State University in Lansing, Michigan, where I provided the opening keynote for an Association of University Interior Designers Conference. We had an interesting time discussing the future of design, of interior and exterior spaces and educational settings.

From MSU, and after the FiRe event in Seattle, I flew to San Jose where I gave a conference closing presentation to the Institute for Oral Health Leadership Institute. A favorite issue of mine related to health care has been for many years the way that dental health is generally left out of the conversation, and not incidentally is a type of insurance that is almost impossible to buy on the individual market. The group was interested in a program on how to make systemic change. Reaching back into my days as a professor in systems change, as well as my consulting work on organizational planning, I presented the barriers to systemic change and how to begin to overcome them.

The following week, as we have noted earlier, I had the privilege of speaking to the 125th Anniversary of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce. With them I took a bit of risk and, in addition to discussing future trends and where the economy is going, challenged them to turn the greater Tacoma area into a leader in sustainable business and to pay attention to the imbalances in our current economy that contributed to the economic downturn.

A couple of days later I was in Atlanta, Georgia on behalf of the Boeing Company. One of their programs in recent years has included inviting executives from Chinese airline, airport and the Chinese equivalent of the FAA to participate in weeks-long education program, introducing them to business principles and airport and airline operations. Many times Boeing has invited me to spend a half-day with these Chinese executives to discuss long term future trends, and strategic leadership. We focused this time on the four key skills sets of the strategic leader – being future oriented, being vision driven, being strategic, and being collaborative.

The Chinese participated at a high level in small group discussion sessions. Most impressive to me was that when asked to forecast the years 2020, 2030 and 2050, the Chinese it seemed to me thought like Americans circa the 1960’s or so. That is to say, with great optimism and a sense that anything can be done if we put our mind to it. By these time periods their images were full of predictions like, “cure for cancer,” “new non-polluting energy sources developed,” and “settlement on Mars.” Even more impressive was when small teams were asked to describe their preferred vision for air travel in China circa 2020 and they spoke in ambitious terms of “ticketless check-in,” “everyone in China can afford to fly,” “far more capacity,” “Chinese airlines in for Fortune 500,” and so on. They exhibited such hope and confidence that I was impressed – it reminded me of the old days of the space program here in the States, for example.

After that program, I headed to a retreat center in upstate Wisconsin, where I lead the Lakeview Medical Center board and management along with their new partner the Marshfield Clinic in a day of futuring. This was the first ever combined board meeting, and we explored future trends related to health care, and developed strategic implications for the enterprise.

After a week home, I headed back to Minneapolis where, this past Friday November 6, I had the opportunity to work with the combined marketing teams of the Land O Lakes four business units, in their first ever gathering. They had been in a day-long learning and networking session on the future of marketing developed by my partners on this event, Imperatives LLC. The 95 marketing specialists demonstrated a great capacity for foresight and thinking through strategic implications as they worked on min-scenarios together.

Seven weeks into the future. Once again, I learned there is a hunger not just for figuring out the future, but creating a preferred future.

Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, consultant, blogger, internet video host and founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com. If you book a 2010 event before December 15, 2009, receive a 20% discount off standard fees.

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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…

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