Insights · May 19th, 2023
Nikolas Badminton, author and futurist speaker, was interviewed by the fabulous Reanna Browne on FuturePod – listen to the conversation below.
Reanna: How do we turn and face the strange change? How do we look closely at crisis? And how do we confront dystopia as a mechanism for choosing something better? I’m Reanna Browne. And I’m your host for FuturePod today.
Nikolas: Embrace the darkness, don’t be afraid to look into the dark. Do not be afraid to really challenge, if we tow, the line, the status quo is gonna, drive us down into this, what I call life support, right?
It’s like we’re gonna wake up to the idea that we have to think longer term and we have to consider that things can be bad if the wrong decisions are made.
Reanna: That’s today’s guest Nikolas Badminton futurist, speaker, author, and executive advisor. We were so keen to get chatting that I actually forgot to welcome Nick to the pod. Nevertheless today’s episode is a really fascinating one. I hope that you enjoy it.
Let’s start our conversation with the Nick Badminton story. How did you end up where you are and how did you find your way to the futures and foresight community?
Nikolas: So tell a story as part of the keynote that I do, to crowds and, , it it’s interesting, at the age of eight years old, my dad passed me a book and like, it was part of a school book club. It was the Osbourne book of the future, and it was the world in the year 2000. So like when I was, eight, that would’ve been around about 1980. The Osborn book of the future was just amazing. It was like heavy tech, right? It was robots, people living under the ocean, people living on the moon space rockets like the hyperloop was in there. Cause it’s actually a really, sort of old design from the seventies.
It’s been rekindled in recent years. So it’s kind of, when I was young, I got really excited about that and sci-fi and all the good stuff that, a lot of, futures folk or people excited about the future would tell you about.
About the same time I, studied to, be a programmer. Computers, like from about the age of 10 years old, really got into that. And. When I was 20 years old, after some hits and misses at school. Graduated from a secondary college before going to university.
And I went into a Bachelor of Science in Applied Psychology and Computing. So this was 1993. There was no courses like this in the UK. There was a couple that were doing, human computer interaction. There were a couple that were doing psychology and language and artificial intelligence, but we did organizational psychology, cog sci we did, chaos theory, complexity theory. We really got into the early days of artificial intelligence and looking at artificial neural networks, genetic algorithms, a whole bunch of different stuff. So I specialized in all that and really got into building like, neural nets into, uh, You know, trying to prove if grammar did or did not exist and, very highfalitun kind of thing.
And then it was like, okay, graduated. Do I go into research? Do I go to further education or, I kind of just started doing my own work. And for about 20 years I worked in technology strategy, working with everyone from to aerospace and space companies all the way through to, a whole bunch of, less exciting industries.
But I’ve been a consultant since day one, since 1996. So that sort of leads me to where I am in the last 10 years. Where I graduated to becoming, a futures person, a futurist, I got well known for running conferences about 10 years. And there was a seminal conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where I moved to in 2008.
So in 2013. 160 people flew from all over the world to join me and Amber Case and a chap called Kharis O’Connell, who’s heads up futures at Amazon and a bunch of other places as well. A guy called Chris Dancy who’s the most, connected person in the world.
There were surgeons talking about robotic surgery. There were people talking about, our connected lives and the need to build emotion and love into machines. That was Ben Bashford, who was doing some stuff with, Google X. And so it, it was really interesting and we were, no one at that time, we were just people interested.
Amber Case was the person I got the inspiration from for that. And over the last few years, we’ve all exploded into our own careers and consultancies and jobs and whatever. the futures needed to be teased out. And someone called me a futurist about eight years ago, and I looked at them and I was slightly confused. And then just as an experiment, I started including it on LinkedIn and job descriptions and whatever. And it was, greeted with, uh, you know, you are full of it, or you are like, or it’s like okay. And then it was very quickly sort of silenced because it was like, I was doing talks and I was writing and people were like, oh, you know what you’re talking about and this is interesting.
Let’s get involved. So I ended up doing Unconferences, like future camp and events like Dark Futures, which is like the Black Mirror of Ted Talks, they call it. Communities like Vancouver and Canada futurists just really got into it. And, um, here I am and I’m sort of been hacking away at this business for a long time.
I acquired futurist.com, , in 2021 from Glen Hiemstra who’s a mentor of mine. I run the futurist Think tank. I work with some of the biggest companies in the world, some of the biggest governments in the world. I’m doing really edgy, interesting, exciting, creative, work that really pushes people to think differently. ,
Reanna: I’m always curious about this underpinning thread that emerges across people’s career choices. What do you think that looks like from dark futures to your study? To right back to the early sci-fi book that you were given as a child. What’s that common thread that kind of ties these things together?
Nikolas: I kind of didn’t want to be educated, right? Not educated in the traditional sense of, read this book, do this exam, discuss this point. I’m very much, the kid in the library reading the encyclopedia because that kind of like huge sway of information let you actually draw your own conclusions and then draw points of interest between lots of different information.
So it it was sort of unstructured information and the best of human nature to basically piece together all of the pieces that don’t look like they should go together. Um, So, you know, that related to, how my brain works on quite a d h ADHD on occasion and, kind of, you know, I’ve dabbled in psychedelics and a whole bunch of different things has led me to this sort of counterculture, right? The pushing against what is typically accepted. I’ve never had amazing qualification, you know, results like degree, marks, whatever. But if you put me in a situation where I have to build something or think something through or talk to a group of 3000 people, it’s completely different.
Right? And so that’s the skills that I’ve sort of honed over the years. It’s like performative edutainment which is horrible word, but that mishmash of a lot of different skills, you know?
Reanna: Yeah, it’s, it’s, you know, I’ve spent a lot of time now talking to and working alongside other futures practitioners, and I think there’s a common thread whether it’s the anti scholar or someone that get’s into a space just to find the edge of that space. And then I think what futures gives you as a domain is almost the permission and the provocation to continue to do that, that we’ve been intuitively doing all along.
So the more I move into a space, the more I want to get my head around it enough to then be able to push its edges and then think about what does this look like , with a new cross section of, like you said, what does complexity look like a futures lens.
So , I don’t know how to neatly package that as a skill or a trait, but it’s such a common thing across futurist, this innate curiosity and provocation.
Nikolas: When you read, uh, like works by people like Jaron Lanier or like by Douglas Rushkoff, I, I read Siberia in 1993/94, it just blew my mind wide open thinking about the internet, Terrence McKenna and all these people and, early netters, the people that lived in the dark corners of the internet and cyber culture and whatever, smart drugs and raves, and, I just think it, it suits us to do that.
I get so many requests to speak where it’s like, We want something motivational and positive. It’s like, okay, I’m gonna talk about futures and we’re gonna explore. And by the end they’re like, I thought it was gonna be, you know, motivational positive. I said, no, it is.
We just need to realize that we have to find the limits to what we can do and what we expect and look beyond so that we can find out what can be amazing. But we live in like the industrial complex that, it’s not collapsing but it’s Sure struggling. And we live in a world that was dreamed up by industrialists and this is the struggle, right? We’ve had, you know, the imagination beaten out of us and we are in this like life support mode, . So, you know, you tell the stories of all these inventions and ideas and these things that could really change the world but you have to put it in the context of like how our world is struggling today. And a lot of people are too scared to, look into the abyss to quote Nietzche little bit, right?
Reanna: I think we share that spirit of, how do we reckon with reality with this work, but also use that as the the very space for which we can challenge our range of, thinkable and unthinkable futures. I think we’ll get into that cause I really wanna talk about your book at the end too.
Question 2 – Describing your work
Reanna: an interesting question here is really around this idea of how do you describe the work that you do to others?
Nikolas: I mean, some people just think that I predict things, right? So I very, very quickly put people right on that. It’s really difficult. At parties or whatever. I just say that I’m a marketing consultant, so it doesn’t get too deep, right? But like, when I really want to get in typically, and I dunno what you find, but say, if you’re in a bar or you’re at dinner party or chatting to friends or people you haven’t met, I’m a futurist.
It ends up being like a three hour conversation. My partner Sarah, scoots off to the other end of the room, right? So that’s why I’m a marketing consultant. Hey, and I can talk marketing if people wanna talk about it, but the way I explain it is it, so it’s about exploration. It’s about creating the ability to imagine creating the ability to an anticipate what comes next.
People still want to bring it back to, you know, what’s gonna happen next year? What’s gonna happen in five years? And I’ll be honest, six, seven years ago, if you probably would’ve seen me speak on stage, I would’ve been like spouting the idea of predicting this and predicting that and whatever.
And very quickly I realized that this isn’t the way to do do things, right? The idea that thinking about our futures isn’t a risk to anyone. I think just prior, to this conversation, being recorded, I think you said something really interesting, people’s inaction is actually action. Not doing something has an impact as much as actually doing something just, it’s a negative impact. And that’s a lot of what I’ve been speaking about and a lot of what I’ve been trying to write in the book that I put together as well.
Reanna: And where do you play? So is most of your work organizational? Is it focused on a planning space? How does it typically show up ?
Nikolas: Yeah, so typically, it’s projects and programs, the establishment of futures programs, everything from, scanning signals, scenario planning, ,doing a lot of design fiction work with clients right now. And that’s with large multinational organizations. I’ll be honest, it’s the large multinational organizations that really wanna step up and do this work.
People like Google, people like Thales, like Rolls-Royce, bank of Canada. I’m working with some very large governments right now that want to go into the future of specific industries and really understand, global implications of the acceleration of different technologies and consumer trends and behaviors and whatever.
And really, you know, teaching them how to think speculatively about what might come next. And, the power of shifting the mindset from what is to what if. I know there are some futuristic, go into academia and , they’re playing in these sort of community forums and whatever.
And, I do want to play a little bit in that, but I’ll be honest, after years of doing that work, I’m finding the most pleasure in the work that I do. To be coming from, paid work, paid work with large organizations that actually want to change how they think. And, uh you know, we can help people, think differently about, , where they invest, what they do next, how they consider the next 50 years of their business versus the next sort of 18 months of their strategic, execution.
Reanna: I see you playing the role of, which I think good futurists do, of the provocative, but really, Talking about, deep real futures, the conversations that we don’t want to have. The shadow conversations that we push aside, which I think is becoming increasingly critical in the work that we do.
Holding the space for both, reckoning with reality, but then also being open to what new possibilities can come from that vantage point.
Nikolas: People are afraid to look into the dark, right? I mean, uh, I , wrote a chapter in my book, don’t be Afraid to Look in the Dark. And you know, why as humans are we afraid to look at the, some of the challenging, dystopian ways that our world works? It’s because, our bias is telling us like not to do that, negativity bias and confirmation bias basically keeps us strapped into the chair of our own accepted happy reality.
Whereas, once you go walking into the darker forests of the industrialized world, that’s when we can really start to uncover, what’s happening, right? Once you get into it, it becomes a very heavy space and very existential, and you have to have your own sense of resiliency as you end up going insane.
Nikolas: drag yourself outta the hole at the end of the week and be like, okay, I just have to focus on living my life today rather than worrying about the next thousand years. Right.
Question 3 – tools
Reanna: One of the perils of the job, I think is focusing on some of those, deep truths. It’s A good segway I think To the next question, which is around your carrier bag. In other words, some of the key tools and methods or frameworks that you use in the work that you do.
I . Know that you have the positive dystopia framework, so I’d really love, if you could share a bit more about that.
Nikolas: It kind of started with the angle of just being a positive futures framework, where you sort of work out, , what your principles are, what the principles future, so, you know, equality and equity and humans before technology and, you know, the, solutions are human-centric and, , all all that good stuff.
And then you can work out okay, scan for the signals. Analyze the signals, mash them up, see what trends drop out from those trends, work out, speculatively, what solutions can come out of that. And then writing these speculative statements, ,what if in the year, 2047, we see these people places, things, these contexts, happen, what drops out the positives and negatives and whatever.
And I started doing that about three years ago, and it was a call to action by one of my clients. So we want a quick way in, four or five hours to really get up to speed with, everything. And it’s like, okay, here’s a keynote and here’s a working session.
So it might not be as deep as say CLA and a whole number of other, processes out there. But then I realized that it’s really important to consider, the two paths of the futures that can be created. So, I was in California, in late 2021, writing my book. And I was looking at this existent positive framework and my dark futures work and the 40 plus speakers that have spoken that event really help us go down these sort of darker paths of consideration.
It’s incredibly useful. So it’s like you can have positive principles and negative principles. And a friend of mine, Heather Vescent and says, who decides what’s positive and negative or positive and dystopian, it’s like, well, you know what I do. So the fact is if you actually have opposite states, so equality and equity, Or then on the other side of that, you’ve got, profit at the cost of anything, right. Or you’ve got humans before technology. But on the flip side of that, you’ve got technological solutions before human needs. So you flip them out and , you run through the framework with the same signals, with the same kinds of trends that come out.
But with these two outcomes of positivity, the goodness in the world and how that can be great, but also the negativity that if you are, you know, you are, you are looking at short term thinking, you’re looking at profit, you are looking at, profit for the few industrial progress at the cost of anyone else, including us and our children and the generations ahead of us.
You suddenly have these two interesting narratives where the positive framework gives you that existent framework that carries on. The negative one tells you all of the risks. Of making bad decisions, of letting the wrong people be in charge of where we need rules and regulations to stem bad behavior.
So that’s what I put together with my positive dystopian framework. And it is slightly more complicated than just doing say a positive path, but it is definitely leads you to a spot where you end up with a much deeper level of information and more considerations and a much more extensive set of truths about what it takes to be good in the world, or, take us down a particularly dystopian path where, there’s a lot of long-term risks, , but gain, and I, I just thought that that was really valuable.
So that’s what I wanted to capture in my book, facing Our Futures. And, I think it is kind of complicated to read through. It was complicated to write a, it was really easy to draw, on, on a huge whiteboard or in a big mirror board. But like, it’s, it’s something you have to work through.
So I’ve tried to really get that across in, the book of what I’ve written to, try and show people that, you can walk through it. I mean, even some of the reviewers today are like, well, it’s very dry. It’s a lot of work. There’s a lot of information. There’s a lot of work.
And you know what, dry isn’t a criticism. It’s just the way that you choose to perceive the work that we have to do. Right. And I think a lot of people think that, unless you’re sort running across the stage, like Peter d Amanda is saying, we’re gonna live for 140 years old. You’re a boring, non-interesting academic futurist.
Reanna: Initially getting a sense of the framework as I was reading through it, there’s a few things I like about it. So I think personally, good futures work helps us take the individual and implicit ideas, images, principles about the future and make them explicit and collective.
And I think from what I can gather, it really draws that out in a few ways. Firstly, by making upfront core principles, explicit. We know that we all have a different orientation to the future. We know the Pollak game is a really basic way of teasing that out.
But also how do we make explicit some of those, Deeper real future issues. How do we actually not just take , the default position here, , how, how can we have a conversation about these patterns of change through many different vantage points?
And how can we make that conversation explicit and collective? Cuz that’s where the interesting stuff isn’t it? It’s less about getting the future precisely right. And it’s more about the conversation that we’re actually starting to have through very different lenses and provocations, which I really like about, the framework.
Nikolas: Yeah. I have a feeling that this might irk some people in the future’s community that have got this like broad, wide open, arena to play in but like at the end of some futures word I’ve been a part of or I’ve seen the results of it becomes amorphous and directionless and it’s, exciting ideas, but they’re not like on a highway, what I’m trying to do Exactly be more explicit , about these principles and get yourself on a highway. And what’s really screwy about this whole thing is someone can completely usurp the framework and say, do you know what actually these dystopian principles, they’re actually, positive principles for me.
And in fact, you know, equity and equality is the enemy of my business model. So actually that’s dystopia. And what’s interesting is you can actually play that game if you want and it’s equally as interesting to see the output. , ultimately, it’d be an evil company , to continue to, to wanna live that, , but, this is the way the business has been.
So I kind of feel that it almost hijacks your thinking if you choose either route as your preferred sort of outcome, your preferred future, because it’s sure gonna make you think about things. And unless you are completely sociopathic or psychopathic, you are gonna come round and think that you’re probably doing something wrong. If you are being like greedy, self-focused on profit and , anti-human in your approach, I would certainly hope so.
Reanna: I think like the ultimate, again, in my view, meta intention for this work is how do we help people step away from the present and ask more elegant questions of themselves and of our perceptions of change and of our implicit ideas about how things are and how they might be.
And I do a lot of work with organizations, and I think that really takes some technical humility. You may have a window of four hours to try and make an impact with this work. So whatever the assemblage of processes, tools, questions, , that you think can create the most impact in that time, I think is the right work.
For me if you get caught up in the kind of the technical purity of every single element, that it just doesn’t work like that in complex situations. You’ve gotta understand firstly, the context that you’re trying to do the work in.
I think that’s part of the skill, isn’t it? Like we draw upon, an assemblage, almost like of bricolage of all the things that we could possibly do, and we bring them together and say, right, we’ve got six hours or one hour to make an impact with this group or audience.
What can I do? How can they walk away? Being challenged and questioning the way that they think about things, and how can that insight a slightly different action come Monday for me? That’s, been a real, humility to doing the work and practice with organizations.
What have you found in actually applying this work?
Nikolas: You know, the short timescales of these sessions that I’ve been running has been a necessity because I’ve been lucky enough to have the executive board, including the CEO, sometimes the chairperson as well. In the room or online doing this work with me. I worked with a big agricultural company, 2 billion euro, uh,, company out of Europe that, that does frozen vegetables.
But you know, whether it’s big tech or ag or whether it’s city planners, the most senior people are in the room with me and I’m really thankful for that. But that’s not a two day program that’s like a presentation that wakes ’em up and it’s three to three and a half hours of pretty hard work for them, to think differently, be creative and whatever.
So yeah, that’s how it’s ended up for me. I think personally, if people wanted to have some concrete steps, forward after my sessions, they have to spend a little bit more time. So I’ve just signed on for another, coaching part, for large engineering company, and it’s our seventh engagement and we’ve taken it around the world.
And the people that I’ve worked with, I’ve trained and they’ve taken it around the world and it’s just little ways of integrating futures thinking into the bigger structure of their organizational planning and their strategic planning and their business unit planning , is. Wildly powerful, right?
And it is what are the signals, what are the trends that we can see what could come next in the next 20 to 40 years? What does that mean for us? Let’s sit down, pause, have a conversation, work out where we are, where some opportunities to invest, to acquire whatever. And that’s what, I feel is really powerful.
It’s like how, can we play a part in our futures? Well, it’s difficult. We can’t build solutions that fix all the problems that we may even be causing or we may even be part of, but we can support the people that are trying to do it in new and interesting ways. I think that there’s this interesting ecosystem.
This is me coming from my disruptive startup tech world sort of background.
Give money to the crazy people that really want to change the world. You know, cuz some of them really are gonna rethink energy or rethink water resiliency or rethink how we build cities or rethink transportation.
Right. And,, I think that’s all really important.
Reanna: I think I’ve had a really similar experience and it’s almost, an insight there around go where the change energy is. So from my own practice, I’ve probably learned two things. You early on I think can come in with this whole program of work, and this is how you do futures. And that quickly goes out the window because the context is unique every time you start a piece of work with a client.
You’ve got the window, for now at least for the provocation to actually create change energy. And if the change energy is there, it tends to turn into a very long engagement that evolves over time. And if the change energy isn’t there, it tends to be quite a short engagement.
So I’ve got these two engagement experiences, with the work, which looks very different in each setting, in each context.
Nikolas: Yeah, I also think there’s like the hair on fire energy as well, right? So if you’re in the agricultural industry, yeah, you’ll do some futures work, but yeah, you’ve gotta grow the food, you’ve gotta harvest the food, you’ve gotta process the food, you’ve gotta ship the food logistically, you know?
And, one of my agricultural clients, we did one piece of work and it was a great piece of work and probably gonna end up doing work with them maybe next year because it’s been rough. It’s been rough for a lot of industries, , logistics and supply chain and what, and that hair on fire energy is like, futures are great, but I’ve basically got all of this food that’s gonna spoil and like this shipping container that needs to take it to wherever is suddenly five times the price.
It was last year. And the people buying the these goods aren’t gonna pay more. So suddenly we get caught back in our industrial complex, right? This is why I suggest that futures work isn’t a side of the table job, right? It’s not Hey, I’ve got this job and I’m in charge of supply chain, or I’m in strategy or whatever.
I’m doing some futures on the side. It’s like you need to build foresight and a futures organization within your organization. Again, I talk about in the book Chief Futures Officers or with creative officers that work with them, that work with the strategy team, not the chief strategic officer. No. A separate futures person that’s really working on that supercharges everything.
Right? And people can try out with consultants like us and the people that we know around the world, but like the organizations that really do double down on this they start to really make a big difference. I mean, there’s a great study out of, I think Belgium by Rohrbeck and, and Kum, which found that, those organizations that had future readiness had vigilance around, looking at futures being realistic, were more profitable, did have a higher market capitalization.
People did believe what they could deliver in the long run, right? I think it was like 33% more revenue, 200% higher market capitalization. And I think that was the first time that suddenly gave me some energy in presentations to say, look, it works. Pay attention.
Reanna: One of the strategic dilemmas for the work is how do organizations keep the lights on and at the very same time, design more viable futures in the present. And I think part of that is the how do we get people to shift, a core assumption that we think that the future is out there and then we’re an, in fact the future never arrives cuz we’re always in the presence. So how do we get people to see futures thinking is something that informs action today, that it can help respond to some core dilemmas today rather than something that’s a nice to have down the track.
Nikolas: You know, even small actions today, , cumulatively change, change our trajectory towards whichever futures, right? Whether it’s like recycling green waste or going, spending an extra bit of time, thinking about, the water that we do use on a daily basis .
These are things. In, in the low tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars to, to mobilize or some, sometimes it’s just free because we can just decide to change your behavior. Right. That’s how I like to talk about things as well. Right it’s not, when you go to the supermarket here, it’s do you need bags?
It’s like, no, I brought my own bags. Cool. In the UK you don’t have a choice you’ve gotta bring your own bags. It’s, one of those things that, when you walk around and you think about futures and resiliency, I think you see like a hundred different ways every day that you can just have a greater responsibility towards the futures that we want to live in.
Reanna: I love that. Think the notion of, Designing more resilient futures and preferred futures in the present can happen via small bets in a very long game. And , that’s a real weight off your shoulders. I think, when you’re acting inside organizations , where you have very heavy dilemmas in the present.
Question 4 – Possible futures
Reanna: Speaking of this interesting nexus of technology and food, , let’s shift our attention now to some of the possible futures that you are seeing emerging around you. Or another way I like to ask this cuz I know futurists hate getting locked down to a point in time, is to ask, what are some of the things that you are attention to now that might hint to different futures, challenging futures, dark futures, whatever.
Nikolas: Yeah, I’ve, I’ve hit on it , in part of our discussion, look, so the water, energy, food nexus and the interrelationship between all of them, I mean, water scars, tea is gonna cause a massive impact on energy production and, vegetable and lagoon production globally by the end of the century, it is gonna be drastically, reduced if we don’t do something about it.
The same with waste as well, , thinking about the proliferation and growth of data and technology and how that’s dragging us into this sort of solid cystic life of like not talking to anyone. That’s something else. One big thing that a lot of people don’t speak about, and it’s because it’s a little esoteric and there’s a little bit sidelined to preferable futures in big tech is the hard work that has to go into solving the multi-generational trauma that is sort of,, rife in society.
Right. You know, it’s a bit hokey that some people think, healing the inner child and whatever. We know that people’s actions today are governed by how they were, their upbringing and their parents’ upbringing, and their parents’ upbringing and their parents’ upbringing.
If someone was an abusive, , uh, parental relationship, with their parents, then they’re gonna most likely be abusive to their children. And so it carries on if suddenly you, you’ve healed that trauma. And I’ve done a lot of this work. I still work, my business coach uses something called Psych Kay.
And we do stuff about, realigning and recognizing trauma, realigning, subconscious memory, and a whole bunch of different stuff. Right? So I think, mental health is such a problem. I think one of the biggest things that we should be able to do in the world is work out how we can ensure people are heard, supported, given therapy healed. If you fix most of that, you’re gonna fix most of the world’s problems. Again, it sounds very spiritual and woowoo, but it’s true. It’s like all of the bad people in the world come from a bad, a bad lineage. And it can be disrupted, right? So, yeah.
Reanna: It’s this distinction with our work between what we might do, the work on ourselves, and actually what shows up in organizations. So, for me, I’ve learned more about my futures practice through my own personal experience of change.
And what does it take to actually make, deep systemic change? I think, trauma informed practice trauma-informed intervention is one of the ultimate acupuncture points in terms of system interventions. If most of our actions are governed from autonomic responses, that are based on patterns that we have, learned as children, we’ll then where is the kind of acupuncture point for change?
So I don’t see it as contention, that trauma will be a core part of the work that we do. I think trauma and trauma future’s practice is probably at the edge and should be more at the center of the work that we do. I work with sports unions recently, and trauma informed sport, is like a growing kind of concept and I’m seeing that pop up everywhere.
I’m really interested too, around the futures of work and workers and it’s almost like workplaces are literally just a kind of a theater in which our trauma plays out. So if we really take like a meta view, I’m absolutely aligned with kind of your thinking here around what role does trauma play in our futures and also our practice.
Nikolas: I did an after dinner speech in a fancy restaurant in Vancouver. This was about six years ago for this, board of directors, chairperson and chairman and and CEO and whatever. And I’d done like ayahuasca like six months prior.
So I was still like pretty, pretty out in the open about it sort of stuff. And I was like, when was the last time you told your employees that you actually truly and deeply loved them? And it shook the c e o. Like he came up to me afterwards and it, there’s just one of my speaking. He is, it, you know what I, I dunno what to say about cuz it, it stopped him in his tracks.
Cuz we’ve removed this normal humanity in the workplace, right? I mean, , is mad, mad, mad, mad stuff. That suddenly, you know, if you can suddenly break down, predominantly patriarchal, structures that, that suddenly the softening of the landscape, you know, sort of, it is an easier place to explore, imagine, , and work our way out from.
Reanna: Maybe that’s what we are talking about when we are genuinely talking about more human futures, we actually really have to sit with the discomfort that it means, the hot mess that we are as humans. Like what does that mean? Could we see humane resources? Like could we see shifts inside organizations to start to really integrate this at a deeper level? What does it mean to be human in a work setting or whatever that may be?
Nikolas: At the beginning of the pandemic, I worked with a very large tech company, one of the most famous large tech companies in the world. And one of our research reports was like, people that live on their own, suffer more depression, more substance abuse, and a number of other items in the us and I, and we were talking about, it’s like if you want to create resiliency in your organization, you need to create specific programs for those people to know that they’re valued and that they’re loved and that they’re connected with, that they’ve got place safe spaces to go to, to meet other people and whatever.
And actually that, that large tech organization just last year came out with a whole raft of new programs influenced probably by our work and other work they did internally. that were protecting their employees from these mental struggles and challenges. Right. The reporting and reduction of microaggressions in the workplace and whole bunch of different stuff plays into it.
So it’s really cool when you see some of these small pieces start to uh, to sort of rise to the surface, you know?
Question 5 – Facing Our Futures Book
Reanna: absolutely. Now let’s move on to your book. Why the book who’s it intended for, and then some of the key ideas and concepts that you think were important to share.
Nikolas: I mean, we’ve sort of interspersed lots of, , ideas and methods and whatever from the book in, in this conversation. But, I mean, why the book? I’ve had a book inside of me for a long time. It’s been screaming to get out and the previous ideas of punk rock futurism or punk rock’s tech strategy or, you know,, a whole bunch of really weird, wild stuff.
You know, just mostly to be provocative. . Um, but from Dark Futures, I started talking about, the idea of starting with dystopia. If you start thinking about how bad it can be, then you can work out how good it can be. It’s the old adage of you have to go through hell to realize what heaven is, right?
But I actually wrote, a post on Medium. Back in 20 18, 20 19, and I presented to a group of people from the World Economic Forum. It was a side conference that they were doing in Singapore, and I wrote this Medium article, and my friends, Theo Priestley and Bronwyn Williams were looking for people to contribute chapters for their, the book, future Stars Now.
And I said, yeah, I’ll do that. And I was put in touch with the editor of Bloomsbury, a guy called Matt James, who’s not there anymore. And, I just hacked out like 1500, 2000 words, ended up being selected as the opening chapter. I was like, okay, this is interesting. And I was like, Matt my, my editor at the time, , I said, I’ve got an idea for a book
And he was like, okay, what is. And I said, I pitched him the idea. He was like, okay, can you write out, an outline of chapters and do a book proposal? So I sat down and, wrote the book proposal, sent it in. He goes, I’m sending it to the, the board of editors and they loved it and they signed me.
And that was in March, 2021. And, I started doing research then and there, and it just was great because I got to read about all of the greatest thinkers in futures theory. I got to interview some of my favorite people. People like Madeline Ashby, people like, Wendy Schultz, Dr. Joseph Voros.
Karl Schroeder, who does a lot of really cool stuff around writing long form fiction for people like the Canadian Army and whatever. It really shaped my practice and my thinking about futures and made me stronger. I literally experimented on my clients and I told them that I was doing so.
So by the time it got to sort of late September early October, 2021, my partner was on maternity leave. We had a baby during the pandemic, so that’s always fun. And, uh, we went to live in California at one of our families, places that we were lucky enough to have down.
And I had an office with the local economic development partnership that I stumbled across, and, I sat there and I wrote 86,000 words in 50 days. and then took a hatchet to it, the year, year after.
Cause I, I was aiming for a word count and then, you have to really focus in on quality. But, I really, really enjoyed the process. There’s amazing thinkers out there. Leah Zaidi here in Canada to got some really good stuff on world building. That stuff didn’t make into the book, unfortunately.
People like, Monika Bielskyte Kevin Kelly, Heather Vescent got to meet Heather Vescent up in Joshua Tree. She was thinking about protopia a long time before a lot of other people. The idea of, Post normalcy and thinking about Greek theater and Greek tragedies as a way for cathartic thinking and exploration of dark futures.
Just, it became this really exciting, quite lonely pursuit of really going into lots of cool ideas about a book that I just wanna be interested in. So you can ignore the two or three chapters where I talk about my method and just read the rest of the book and get a pretty good grounding in everything from, the basis of futures thinking and the history all the way through to, how to set up futures in your organization.
Reanna: What would you say if there was one thing that you would want readers to know or do, , at the end of reading your book that they don’t know or do now?
Nikolas: Embrace the darkness, don’t be afraid to look into the dark. . Do not be afraid to really challenge, if we tow, the line, the status quo is gonna, drive us down into this, what I call life support, right?
It’s like we’re gonna wake up to the idea that we have to think longer term and we have to consider that things can be bad if the wrong decisions are made. Right? Ultimately, the cycles of elections and politicians is probably one of the biggest problems there. The compensation of CEOs and senior executives and organizations are based on short term growth.
Not long-term resiliency or long-term responsibility, right? No one takes a job as a CEO and said, okay, in, in 40 years time, you’re gonna get a bonus if suddenly you and everyone else has remained on track to realize a better work. And, um, this is why, and I didn’t write about it in my book cuz this hasn’t already happened, but someone like Yvon Chouinard from, Patagonia says him and his family, , they don’t want any of the profits or any of the ownership of their organization.
And they’ve sell these foundations to take all the money they make from Patagonia and to funnel that back into initiatives that are trying to save our world, right? And it’s like there aren’t a lot of these examples out there. In 15, 20 years time where we see more people that , truly want to change the world.
Good people that are grounded in community humanity. Good spirits, that do want to like, go on a path to healing not only themselves and their communities and their families, but healing the world and really working out what it takes to do so, and then finding the people to pony up the money to do so.
One thing I remind a lot of people is that the old white guys that are in charge of most of the organizations and governments are gonna die at some point in the next 20 years and hopefully be replaced with people that are a lot more compassionate and hopefully a lot more, females in charge of the world.
Because I think fundamentally, the rationalization of problems starts with the insurance of good places to grow our families and to be thriving human beings.
Reanna: That sounds like a lovely note to end on.
Something I wanted to close with though is, I really love this Nandy quote, and you included in your book, um, by avoiding thinking about the future you hand over the future.
And I think that’s such a neat way of surmising the work that you do. The kind of sense and the ethos that futurists as provocateur, how do we make the implicit things explicit? How can we challenge people to see the deep real changes? And as I mentioned that reckoning with reality, which I really believe is a core part of our work.
I think it’s, Rumi search the darkness, sit with your friends, I think is a really nice framing for that. But not as a means to create hopelessness. I think the reckoning with reality is actually the space that allows us to be open to the way that the world is. And it also offers a space to do this work where I think something new can emerge from. And I love this, way that your background brings this kind of approach together. Particularly with the unique combination of, you know, how do we include ourselves as humans, as experiencing traumas, individual and collective levels. Like how does that show up in our practice as well? So you’re not hiding from that deeply humanistic part of the nature of the work we do.
So, on behalf of the FuturePod community, thank you so much for joining us. It’s been such a fantastic conversation. I’ve got millions of notes that I think would inform a very fun part two. But for now, we’ll close our conversation. So thanks Nik for joining us all the way from Canada.
Nikolas: Yeah. Thank you so much. It’s always a pleasure and I’m sure we’re gonna have more conversations going forward. And, , people can reach out and they can find me at, nicholas futurist.com or futurist.com itself or LinkedIn. I’m always open to conversations. I’m always open to chatting to everyone all of the time, just be prepared it’s gonna be honest chats, but, I learn my craft , from you and other people in the community, but the people that are on , the ground in their industries, right? So it is really important to me.
Reanna: Today’s guest was Nikolas Badminton. If you’re curious to learn more about Nik’s work, I’ve shared a range of links in the show notes, including a link to Nik’s new book facing our futures.
FuturePod gathers voices from the international field of Futures and Foresight. Through a series of interviews, the founders of the field and emerging leaders share their stories, tools and experiences. Created in Melbourne, Australia by Reanna Browne – Interviewing guests from across the globe.
About Nikolas Badminton
Nikolas Badminton is the Chief Futurist at futurist.com. He’s a world-renowned futurist speaker, consultant, author, media producer, and executive advisor that has spoken to, and worked with, over 300 of the world’s most impactful organizations and governments. He helps shape the visions that shape impactful organizations, trillion-dollar companies, progressive governments, and 200+ billion dollar investment funds.
Grab a copy of Nikolas #1 best selling book ‘Facing Our Futures’ at Amazon, Bloomsbury, Barnes and Noble and other fine purveyors of books. We’d also love it if you considered ordering from your local, independent book store.Please contact futurist speaker and consultant Nikolas Badminton to discuss your engagement.