Insights · February 15th, 2013

This archive article was written by Glen Hiemstra, Futurist Emeritus. Glen Hiemstra founded in the 1990’s and is now Futurist Emeritus in the Think Tank. An internationally respected expert on creating preferred futures, long-range planning and assessing future trends, Glen has advised professional, business, community, and government organizations for three decades. He is available to work with incredible clients on futurist keynotes and foresight consulting projects. 


This is the conclusion of our forthcoming book, Millennial City, the final installment of this initial serial blog version of the book. The book is a collaboration with Dennis Walsh and this blog the conclusion. We will publish Millennial City as an e-book soon. The book grew out of conversations that Dennis and I have had about the future of cities, sustainability, and the millennial generation. We think that these three domains, if you will, are coming together to create a new future – and just in time we hope.

Conclusion, by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra

Make no mistake. Life doesn’t just ‘happen’ to us. It’s our response to what occurs to us
that creates our personal reality! Think about that for a moment. You really are in charge of creating your own life. That said, not everyone will get it. That’s right. Believe it or not there are people who go through life paying little or no attention, unaware of what goes on around them let alone how their mind works. These people surround themselves with people who surround themselves with people just “like” them, who pretty much do what everybody else does mostly without thinking.

Sameness may be good enough for them but it’s not good enough or shouldn’t be good enough for you. It’s not good enough for cities either. Great cities are competing by being distinctive and unique. They figure that if you can’t differentiate your city from any other, you’ve got no real competitive advantage. Still, people and cities are coasting through life with little thought as to *how* they think, or even *what* they’re thinking. My guess is, if you’ve made it this far through the book, you’re not one of them.

Coasting is occasionally necessary. We can’t pay conscious attention to everything that pops into our thoughts or comes into our lives. If we tried, we’d fry our brain with trivia and unimportant decisions. It’s much easier to imagine that what you don’t know really doesn’t matter.

But there is a level of thinking that we should pay attention to. These are the thoughts that create our life reality! Think about it. Change happens on an unconscious level, often without you even noticing. A day starts out like any other day when suddenly an idea pops into your head. You might dismiss it at first. But it keeps coming back until finally you have to think it through and decide whether to act on it or not.

If you do start thinking, your life will get a lot more interesting. If this book accomplishes anything, hopefully it has been to inspire you to think about the unanswered questions. We don’t have all the answers. So, there’s a lot you’ll have to figure out for yourself. But in the end, once you put this book down, remember this one thing. Change your thoughts and you’ll change the world you live in. Change your image of the future and the present will follow. When it comes to cities, it’s your ideas that will drive change: Your talent that will make it happen. Your creativity will generate economic growth and enable the development of cities.

Here’s the rub. The idea that U.S. cities have to adapt to new global economic realities is virtually inconceivable to the “me too” crowd. Without thinking, they assume that everything will soon go back to the way it was and in the end all will be well. They’re not about to change a thing. That’s the challenge. Building great cities will take heart, conscience, emotional intelligence. The battle is in the mind and in the heart. To shape the future, we must change the way we think, the way we perceive the world. Ideas will drive change. In that new reality, governments and NGOs must learn to work together to breathe new possibilities.

Don’t listen to repetitively negative news reports. Something good is coming. You have a purpose and a destiny to make a difference in the world. That’s radical. That’s extreme. But if cities are going to compete with one another, it will take money and talent: your talent. Some of the fastest
growing cities are producing highly skilled workers, increasing the attractiveness of relocation. They’re doing that because talent attracts capital far more than capital attracts talent. More people and jobs create wealth for cities. The best economic development strategies are designed to attract smart people like you.

Successful people focus their thoughts. Powerful leaders focus their thoughts. Your thoughts got you where you are today and they’ll keep you there unless you change the way you think. If you’re happy with the way you are, more power to you. If you want more, you can learn to direct your mind to create a life you want. But, just wishing for something to change has no effect at all! Failing to pay attention puts your subconscious mind in control. Your subconscious will simply continue to reinforce the same old thoughts that created your reality in the first place. You’ll always remain exactly as you are today, unless you act. That goes for cities too.

Life is too short to waste it in the wrong place. “How are you going to spend the rest of your life?” And “Where will you live?”

Cities are at a crossroads. American cities are shrinking; their economies failing. Like it or not, whether they chose to admit it or not, cities must ask themselves, Do we want to change course?
Thankfully, a new attitude, a new awareness is growing all over the country.

American cities are asking themselves some big questions. One of the biggest and best is whether they will begin to reinvent themselves.

Where does that leave you? Are you where you belong, with the people you love, doing the right work, doing something you believe in or are you ready for a change too?

Some people need to know everything before they do anything. They spend their whole life avoiding the unknown, when really they don’t have to know everything, just enough to know enough. Then there’s the “me too” crowd. They don’t think cities have to change anything. They don’t get the new global economic reality. They assume that everything will soon go back to the way it was and all will be well in the end. They’re not about to change a thing. Don’t be one of them. Step out. Make a move. You may not always be right, but the odds are in your favor that you’ll get somewhere.

There’s a shift is coming that’s going to shake the world. You can already feel the vibes. It’s in the air. Cities are competing for people and for jobs. The competition is tough. Winning takes money, innovation and talent. You’re the “wildcard”. You’re the talent that will bring in the money to innovate. The writing’s on the wall: the cities in the lead are the ones with the highest velocity of ideas, and the highest density of talented, creative people.

So, okay, there’s a gap. If you’re so much in demand, then why are you out looking for work or at least, better work? Why are good jobs so hard to come by? Why are companies shifting and outsourcing them all over the world?

But there’s another deeper, darker piece of reality that can’t be ignored. The colossal gap between the very rich and everyone else is the elephant in the room. The United Nations Commission of Experts on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System says that inequality is causing economic instability. Inequality is undermining America’s values and identity. If you think about it, we’re worse off than they we were a decade-and-a-half ago. Some say that inequality has led us to lower growth, less efficiency and lack of opportunity for a cities most valuable asset people. People at the bottom or even in the middle seldom live up to their potential.

You can beat the odds. Greatness has little to do wealth. The best jobs aren’t always the ones that pay the most money. Of course, money matters but it matters less than you think and not in the way that you think. You’ve probably figured that out by now. When it comes to cities, the creation of money must be a level playing field for everyone and not just a means for a few individuals to get rich. When it comes to cities, health is wealth as well.

Life is too short to waste in the wrong place chasing the almighty dollar. Finding the right job starts with finding the right location, a city with heart, conscience, soul. The emotional shape of your city and neighborhood will affect not only your mental health but your happiness as well. Community spirit and a positive identity will go a long way in handling the difficult challenges ahead. Make social sustainability and a healthy community part of your vision for the future.

Making the right choice and leading by example points people in a better direction. Doing good things makes good things happen. But it works both ways. Thoughtless, careless actions cause ripples that create bad experiences for you and for others. It comes down to this, if you feel like making an impact on the world, just do it. Making a difference could mean joining the Peace Corps or adopting a child. These are great notions for sure but are you for it?

Now that you’ve read the book, you can go one of two ways; ignore what you’ve read and what you now know to be true or make a decision to push forward.

Half a century ago, your grandfathers were people just like you. They faced similar choices. Society was broken and needed fixing. Some of them were university students who noticed the problem and started asking questions. Status quo wasn’t good enough. They wanted personal revelation. Dropping pebbles in ponds of thought, they started a social revolution. Some called them the Woodstock Generation.

That time passed and by 1970’s thinking changed again. Governments focused on a “controlling the money” form of economics and that too, fell by the wayside. It was a time of crisis; of strikes, power cuts and rising oil prices. The economics of scarcity was born in the realization that resources can run out and people began seeing life as a competition for too few resources. And still the clock raced forward with steady growth, falling inflation and lower unemployment marking the 1990s and early 2000s. In the end, macroeconomics was branded a success and soon after that the worst economic downturn since the 1930s hit us all.

Economists have not fully explained it. Governments and banks often seem clueless. They’ve tried recommended policies. No one knows what’s working and what’s not. Perhaps the best we can say about economics is that we know what not to do.

Leading us to our next important question: What does any of this have to do with you? Simply, the changing economy will force you to rethink everything about everything you’ve ever known. Uncertain economics makes long-term employment unrealistic. Even if you have a good job now, new trends show the workplace has less built-in certainty than before. Fixed hours, fixed location, and fixed jobs are becoming a thing of the past. If worse comes to worse, and jobs suddenly disappear, that’s not the end of the world. Being out of work is like falling off a ladder. It comes unexpectedly but there’s life after the fall.

No matter where you are in the big picture, you’ll need to rethink, redefine, and broaden your sources of security. Unemployment could be the best thing that could happen to you. The future is worth fighting for. You have the same power that they had then. If you care enough to “do the right thing” you can literally change history. If you don’t, why should you think the future will be any different than it is right now? Start thinking about what really turns you on and what really matter to you. You can do it. You can do whatever it is you love. You can have the life you want.

Starting over is a chance to contribute something to life and to the Earth: That’s what the world needs right now; a generation that gives a damn. Think about it. You can break down the barriers of what’s possible even if that means freelancing. Why not? Freelancing is really just about connecting the dots. For some, it could mean unlimited amounts of vacation and paid time off. For others, it could mean doing work anytime, anywhere.

We guess the conversation pretty much ends here. There isn’t much left to say really.
The economy is what it is. Everyone goes through occasional rough spots, tense moments and nagging doubts. But the world is bounded by our imagination. Worse than being blind is to see without vision. If you feel like you’re treading water – always doing things, always busy, but never getting anything done, this book has been for you. If you’re stretched to your limits just making the ends meet, you’re not alone.

Let’s take a long hard look at where we’re really going with this. Sure it’s complicated. There’s a lot we don’t know. But, with or without us, the more this trend continues the more likely it is your generation will create a radical new society within and around our cities. The problem is growth and balance. Capitalism needs balance. When it comes to people and jobs, humanitarianism comes into play. This is not a call for revolution but like it or not revolution lies ahead, a revolution in thought, a cultural and social revolution. Becoming socially responsible is important. Doing what we love, getting paid for it, and making the world a better place is a cool way to live, what more can you ask for?

When it comes to doing good, pick a cause – something that appeals to you – and concentrate your efforts on that. A good place to start is right at home, right where you are. You guessed it. Cities are in trouble. They need you. The economic crisis hit them hard. Sunbelt cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix were once among the fastest growing in the nation and now they’re facing housing foreclosures and unemployment. Rustbelt cities like Detroit have been devastated by de-industrialization and job loss. But there’s more. Even though cities are generally good places to live and work, it turns out they often cause damage to the environment. It is a paradox. If cities aren’t managed well, they decay and become grid locked and polluted. If they are managed well, cities contribute to social and environmental well-being, smaller carbon footprints, greater sustainability.

Thankfully, in the midst of chaos, the quest for meaning – and for spirit – are alive and well. There are still those who yearn for a sense of community and are searching for meaning. If you are among them, you can make a difference. The opportunity runs deep. There are signs that capitalism may no longer be sustainable as it has been practiced in recent decades. Organizations are being whittled down to the core, outsourcing everything they can.

You may have never considered yourself a passionate person. You may be thinking that if you could only find something to be passionate about, all of that would change. Well, you’re right. Situations and people change. Your future can be an entirely different story. The unknown is a game changer. Suddenly, the rules are changed. There are cultural, economic and geographic unknowns that will take radical thinking to solve. Today the “gold” is in solving seemingly unsolvable social problems.

Get inspired by the good work celebrities are doing. Bill Gates and Bono, and hundreds
of other wealthy celebrities, have started world-wide non-profit projects. Muhammad Yunus became an international celebrity for his ground-breaking concept of micro-credit.

There’s only so much you can get from books and blogs. If you can do it, travel. There’s no substitute for going out and seeing things for yourself. It gives you a sense of responsibility; takes your attention away from trivial things to things that actually matter. Matt Damon was
on a six-day trip to Zambia with his sculptor-artist brother Kyle. That was when he saw
the world water crisis as one of the most important public health issues of our time. Damon went on to establish the H2O Africa Foundation inspiring others to do the same. All of us are going to spend the rest of our lives in the future. We can do nothing to change the past, but we have enormous power to shape the future.

[Glen Hiemstra is the Founder of Dennis Walsh is a sustainability futurist from Canada best known for his work as the first publisher of green@work. Contact us through]

Millennial City
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