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What Is An Applied Futurist? We’re Still Learning

This business continues to evolve, and with it my understanding of the value that we add to our clients. Where in the past we have talked about ‘consulting’ I now realise that very generic term encapsulated three different elements of a service that align much better to our promise to help organisations to ‘see, share and respond to’ a vision of the future.


The first element is Foresight. Clients want us to tell them what the future looks like for their organisation, industry or segment. We do this in a couple of ways, facilitating programmes like Scenario Planning or running our own Intersections methodology on the clients behalf.

Those that don’t want to (or can’t) pay for our time can now download the Intersections system that will guide them through their own exercise. This has been refined to be as easy to follow as possible and deliver results relatively quickly.


I’ve always been slightly nervous about making communications an explicit part of the Book of the Future proposition. Though I’m a technologist at heart, I spent a long time in marketing. Some people still think of me as a marketer. This is not a marketing business.

But there is inherent in the work of a futurist a need to craft narratives that compel people to take action. That catalyse change. The skills of communication are clearly required by our clients and so they are a defined part of this service. They find their outlet in strategy documents, and marketing campaigns, or in me sitting in front of a camera or microphone or standing on a stage.

Again we recognise that not everyone will pay for time: they may want to self-serve. So we have created the Arcs system to guide people through the process of creating a narrative about future change and how it will impact their organisation.


The third part of what was our consulting proposition addresses the inevitable follow-up question that comes when you tell someone about the future. It doesn’t matter if that future is bright or dark, they want to know: “What do we do about it?”

The first step in answering this question is to make the organisation fit for change. Few are. So over the course of a few projects we created our Stratification framework, designed to help us analyse and then transform companies to make them agile. The aim is to help them respond faster, not just to the current set of challenges but to future challenges as well.

To allow others to access the Stratification template we have again packaged it in a downloadable form, with a guide and templates that managers can follow for their own organisations.

Once an organisation is capable of accepting changes, we can look at ways to tackle incoming challenges and take advantage of new opportunities. With our research base, enormous contact network and sister organisation, Bootstrappers, we are equipped to deliver very rapid, very practical responses to change drivers.

These are unlikely to be my final thoughts on what we do. But I hope they make the proposition that little bit clearer.

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Is technology the symptom or the cause?

I talk about technology-driven change a lot. For me the rapid advances in technology are the most powerful drivers of change in the UK today. Some might argue I’m a little biased on this: I’m a technologist, obsessed with science from a very young age, trained as an engineer, and with fifteen years working in the tech industry. It’s a charge to which I’m sensitive: I acknowledge the possibility that it’s true and try to challenge my own thinking regularly.

Listening to the RSA’s Adam Lent challenged my view. Lent is writing a book, Small is Powerful, looking at the trend towards decentralisation and dispersion of power and authority (a comparable track to Moises Naim), in business and in politics.

In answering a question during a (relatively) recent session at the RSA, Lent identified advances in technology that are underpinning some of this decentralisation as a symptom of a human need for freedom, rather than as a cause in and of themselves.

To some extent, I have to accept this. Technology has no agency. It cannot, yet, drive its own development. There must be human motivations at work. But is it something as pure as the human desire for freedom?

Personally I believe the reality is a little more complex and more systemic. What drives the rapid and continued development of technology? Primarily, the same things that always have: war and commerce.

A human desire for freedom probably wouldn’t explain the development of increasing automation in many aspects of work, unless we all have a burning desire to be unemployed. Only a desire for lower costs and greater profit (and perhaps a smidgen of Hillary’s ‘because it’s there’) can explain that.

There are noble technological pursuits, driving advances in health, safety, social interactions, entertainment, governance and productivity. But most of these are to some extent Schumpeterian examples, likely to have some financial reward from the ‘creative disruption’ of existing industries.

Ultimately having chewed over Lent’s points I find that we probably agree more than we conflict. I buy his thesis that the 21st century paradigm is much more about loosely networked small things, be they businesses, social tribes, or governments. And I buy that there are human, or at least systemic, drivers of which technology is a symptom rather than the ultimate cause.

But that doesn’t alter my position: if you want to quickly identify the most important factors in the future of your organisation, technology-driven change is the best place to start. While it might be a proxy for other motivations, it collects the clearest trends that are going to make or break your tomorrow.

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How to Waste £154m on Technology

I have a secret love of Farming Today, the Radio 4 programme on at 5:45 every weekday. I’m not sure why. I am a total urbanite. I’ve never lived in the countryside, let alone farmed. But I find the rural issues it covers fascinating.

For the last few weeks, one story has been dominating the news on Farming Today: the abject failure of a new IT system employed by the Rural Payments Agency. If you’re not a farmer (or regular Farming Today listener) you may not know that the RPA handles the distribution of around £2bn to farmers in Britain from the EU Common Agricultural Policy.

The CAP is a subject all in its own right, but whether you agree with it or not, many farmers in Britain rely on the payments they receive from it. So when you introduce a new system to handle applications, it’s pretty important you get it right.

“Oh RPA, you had one job to do…”

On this, the RPA has failed: today after weeks of complaints about the performance of the IT system the agency has returned to paper-based forms.

Now as I am not a farmer, I have never seen the web-based system the RPA put in place. But just by listening to the comments from the farmers who have tried to use it, it’s fairly easy to diagnose what went wrong. Because I’ve seen it all before.

In short, the system was designed by, and built for, the service provider. Instead it should have been designed by and for the customers. In this case, the farmers.

Emerging from the Colossal Cave

A theme to which I keep returning is the development of technology over the last sixty years, not characterised by exponentially increasing processor speeds and connectivity, but by exponentially improving user experience. The tools to deliver this are not complex: understand what users need and how they operate, build something, test it and iterate.

Do this and you typically avoid introducing a £154m IT system that is almost unusable.

In the future technology starts to become invisible. It melts into the fabric of our world, assisting us in a smart, semi-autonomous fashion. Our manual interactions are reduced to the necessary.

The more this happens — and it is happening already — the more disasters like this, in both approach and result, will stand out.

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A Solution To Uncertainty Part 1: Intersections

Earlier this year I wrote about uncertainty. You can read the post for the details, but in short I believe that every organisation in the UK is operating in an increasingly uncertain environment.

When I wrote that post I suggested that we would be offering an approach to tackling that uncertainty. Now we are.

Intersections is the first of three tools that we are releasing for download. It costs £19.99 including VAT. For that you get two documents. A guidebook and a set of printable templates.

£19.99 — Buy It Now Checkout Added to cart

The guidebook walks you through six simple steps.

  1. 3D Lens: Explains how we filter the factors affecting organisations to focus on the ones that matter most
  2. Pressure Points: Helps you to identify the issues that are currently bubbling under in your organisation and the environment in which you operate
  3. Macro Trends: Explains the five most transformational macro trends
  4. Intersections: Cross reference the macro trends with your internal and external pressure points to understand where change will happen
  5. Scaling: Rank your Intersections based on scale of impact
  6. Filter: Create a shortlist of the most import issues you need to address today

Following these six steps should take a matter of hours. In less than half a day you will have clarity. Not a complete vision of the future but an understanding of the greatest threats and opportunities that it presents.

An understanding on the basis of which you can take action.

That action can take a number of forms. In the near future we will be releasing a further two tools.

Arcs is a framework for telling your story of tomorrow. For translating your Intersections into a narrative that catalyses change in your organisation.

Stratification is a template for agile organisations. A means of turning slow, monolithic organisations into agile enterprises, ready for change today and in the future.

You can buy the Intersections template from the Content Store today. Drop us a line if you have any questions about Arcs or Stratification.

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Announcing TMRW

Today we announce TMRW, a new global tech conference in Manchester. Block out the 20th May in your diary: it’s going to be awesome.

After a year of bothering people, I’m delighted this is finally a reality thanks to my phenomenal partners, Don’t Panic Events and IP EXPO Manchester. Today we announce the first members of the speaker roster, headlined by Samy Kamkar and Professor Brian Cox. Not a bad way to start and there’s more to come.

In fact this is just the beginning.

Full press release below.

Are you ready for TMRW?

Professor Brian Cox to headline new Manchester tech conference

Manchester, March 3, 2015 — Professor Brian Cox will be the keynote speaker at TMRW, a new global tech conference in Manchester. Taking place alongside IP Expo Manchester on May 20, TMRW brings together start-ups, enterprises, and digital creatives to debate the key issues of our technology-driven future.

The event at Manchester Central will open with a talk from renowned hacker and entrepreneur Samy Kamkar. Originally notorious for creating the fastest-spreading virus of all time across MySpace, Samy also discovered major privacy flaws in iOS and Android devices, and most recently has demonstrated major security weaknesses in flying drones.

TMRW will be packed with lively debate on new developments in physical and digital technologies, and how they affect business and society, before Professor Brian Cox closes the main programme. Topics include augmented humans, smart cities, and personal privacy in a digital age. In the Live Lounge, these themes are brought to life with interactive demonstrations and activities where attendees can sample the latest technologies and learn how to apply them in their organisations.

“Manchester is a tech powerhouse, with a vibrant start-up scene, forward-thinking enterprises and one of the world’s largest communities of digital creatives. It is the ideal location for TMRW, where we will address the practical and commercial realities of a technology-driven future,” said Tom Cheesewright, founder of TMRW. “By bringing together the creators and consumers of tomorrow’s technologies, and feeding them with insight and inspiration, we aim to catalyse wholly new innovations, schemes and opportunities.”

About TMRW

TMRW brings together those defining the future with those ready to embrace it — inviting businesses, technologists and futurists to examine how the digital and physical are coming together to change our world.

This is where organisations can find their next technological edge, whether that’s virtual tools in the cloud, or an array of connected devices. And it’s where the creators of tomorrow’s technology can meet their market.

Taking place on May 20, TMRW will sit alongside IP Expo Manchester, a new conference located in Manchester Central, looking at the Cloud and IP infrastructure.

The event runs from 9am to 6pm, with an after party at The Black Dog Ballroom, Manchester.

Tickets cost from £150 + VAT per person and can be purchased from the website.

For a full schedule, please visit

TMRW is a collaboration between Book of the Future, Don’t Panic Events and Imago Techmedia.

More about Professor Brian Cox:
More about Samy Kamkar:

Tom Cheesewright