Newsletter 2016

Newsletter - Foresight and Strategy 2016

Past copies of Foresight and Strategy (formerly eSAMI) our monthly e-newsletter, are available.

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December 2016

As 2016 draws to a close, some thoughts provoked by the challenges thrown up.

As part of understanding the new political order, I have been reading “Strangers in their own land” which takes an anthropological approach to Tea Party supporters in the state of Louisiana, asking why they are so against government. Worth reading and with clear implications for Europe.

Leaders are finding it difficult to anticipate what might happen next in this new world order, for instance a recent Institute of Directors Policy Voice survey found that 51% have not discussed the impact of Brexit with EU contacts. This is consistent with the findings of “Thinking the Unthinkable” . a rolling, ongoing, dynamic investigation into why leaders have appeared more unable or unwilling than ever to anticipate the biggest issues of our time. Traditional approaches to introducing challenge in organisations, such as Red Team (as described by Micah Zenko in ) “Red Team – How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy” . are getting new focus, as is the need for Strategic Foresight, described in SAMI Associate Tricia Lustig’s book “Strategic Foresight – Learning from the Future”.

As part of SAMI thinking about the impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution, we asked Ian Harris of The Z/Yen Group to introduce us to some of the principles and uses of machine intelligence. Our eyes were opened in a Masterclass held at the Information Technologists’ Hall, with examples of insight from the voluntary sector and the health services. For more information, contact

If you are looking to improve your skills in the tools and techniques for dealing with uncertainty, you may want to consider the two new courses we are running:

  • Introduction to futures thinking: a half-day course designed for those wishing to understand the tools available sufficiently to develop internal futures thinking strategies;
  • Futures thinking workshop: a 2-day hands-on session for those wishing to learn several techniques that they could apply to real-world issues in their organisations

We also offer bespoke in-house courses. For more information or go to .

Futures Issues

The impact of AI remains a contentious issue.

  • Stephen Hawking is now arguing that middle-class jobs will be decimated leaving only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles
  • But in Healthcare, robotics is seen as the solution to a heavily constrained service with improved surgery, patient monitoring, access to services from remote areas, companion robots and even internal, “origami” robots that can deliver medication precisely where it is needed
  • Whatever the impact on jobs, extensive use of AI systems starts to raise fundamentalethical questions – of fairness, empathy and risk sharing

In other developments, despite the pausing of Google Glass, Snap has launched itsSpectacles that let you take 10 second videos and upload them easily – lights on the spectacles show others you are filming. Interestingly they launched this through fashion channels rather than tech ones. Wearables generally continue to grow , but fitness bands still dominate with Apple’s iWatch struggling.

Battery power also continues to grow and “could transform the energy grid”. UK Power Networks’ Smarter Network Storage (SNS) facility can store enough electricity to power 6,000 homes for 1.5 hours at peak times. The project concluded grid-scale energy storage could be commercially viable as battery costs continue to fall and revenue streams become accessible.

Our blogs

This month our blogs have covered a wide range of subjects, starting with a look at thebenefits of energy and considering the question of ‘how much energy is needed for a country to develop’? Moving on from this we published our review of the IET’s Future Festival 50 which looked at ‘Engineering the Future’ . We followed this with some thoughts on different scenarios – firstly the set of scenarios published by Shell that looked at a net zero CO2 emissions world and, secondly, on evolving scenarios for a hard Brexit. More recently we looked at some issues in the financial services world which could lead to more refined price discrimination in financial product offerings.



November 2016

A busy and eventful month….

SAMI Fellow Prof. Paul Moxey contributed this response to the BIS Corporate Governance Inquiry . Amongst other things he says ‘now would be a good time to have a fundamental and wide ranging rethink on the role of different types of director (possibly having different duties for directors of listed companies) without being constrained by the present Companies Act’. On executive pay he says ‘Disputes with institutional shareholders have amounted to little more than grandstanding and removal of some of the worst excesses’. A 48 page report by Paul Moxey was published last month by Transparency International. Called ‘ Incentivising Ethics – Managing incentives to encourage good behaviour and deter bad behaviour ‘ , it explains the problem and the research.

SAMI Fellows Richard Walsh and Alan Woods were commissioned by the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) to prepare a study, Building Resilient Households Research Report , to help understand what factors affect the resilience of UK households to sickness absence. This was published on 31 Oct 2016 with a launch at the CII. The topic is the future of financial provision for those too ill to work; looking at the disjoint between private and welfare provision.

Sean Lusk and Nick Birks’s book “ Rethinking Public Strategy ” addresses two questions “do we understand how strategic thinking improves policy making and successful public service delivery?” “and where is strategy made most successfully, and what makes it a success”. In many ways the core chapter is that on Thinking Strategically: Methods and Approaches, which talks about “cracking the lens of now” and explores the use of scenario thinking in public policy. As the authors point out, there is little advice and guidance for those who work in public strategy – so this book is very welcome.

We have had a number of requests for advice on how to do scenario planning and foresight. Some of these are leading to bespoke in-house courses for strategy teams. We are also running some open events next quarter. A half-day “ Introduction to Scenario Planning ” on 23 January 2017 and 30 March 2017 is aimed at those wishing to understand the basics and decide how the approach might work in their organisation; and a “hands-on” two-day workshop for strategists where you learn to build scenarios yourself – on 26/27 January 2017 and 27/28 March 2017. For more information contact us

On 16 December the CRSA (Control and Risk Self-Assessment) Forum will be holding a short day (11am to circa 4.30pm ) event titled ‘Diagnosing Governance and Risk Management then Future Proofing Them’. The morning will look at why corporate governance and risk management have failed to prevent frauds and financial crises and what needs to change to make them effective. The afternoon will cover how the world might be different? Looking at two global scenarios which could follow a crisis, and what an effective corporate governance and risk management system looks like in each. It will conclude by discussing the implications for decisions today. SAMI CEO Gill Ringland will be one of the facilitators. Further details about the Forum can be found at . If you are interested in attending please contact SAMI Fellow and CRSA FORUM chairman Paul Moxey at

Future Issues

The Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology have been looking at how to create age-friendly cities to help people remain independent and active as they age, and improve the quality of life and health of older people.

Are you up to speed with Blockchain? A blogpost “Blockchain: co-designing the future” by Irene Lopez de Vallejo, which describes the work of the Digital Catapult, may help.

If you’re thinking that the Internet of Things is just hype, you might like to look at this infographic showing how it will soon explode.

The Chief Executive of the RSA, Martin Taylor, in his Review of Modern Employment , commissioned by the PM, explores how and why employment policy has evolved over the post-war period — and where it might go next.

Many are still concerned about the dangers posed by AI – Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bill Gates to name just a few. Surely there must be positive visions of the future? Meanwhile, Deloitte and Oxford reckon that 1 in 6 public sector jobs could be automated by 2030 . That means different skills will be valued – as long ago as 2008, Dan Pink in his book “ A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future ”, suggested increased needs for the skills of design, empathy, story, symphony, play, and meaning. This paper explores how this will apply in the legal profession.

Our blogs

We have been blogging weekly this month, starting with a review of the New Scientist Live Exhibition at Excel, London which got the brain cells working. We followed this up with a blog about our scenario planning primer and some possible training offerings to support people in developing scenarios for their businesses. Then we explored what is happening in Estonia to encourage citizens to become truly digital ; spent some time considering what some of the issues that Brexit might present for law firms and then thinking about what the airport of the future might look like.



October 2016

October and an Indian summer – a gorgeous time of year even if the evenings are darker and the mornings later.

The headlines around BREXIT have prompted a lot of our clients to ask for scenario thinking – but even before the referendum in June, we were seeing a shift in the approach of major organisations. It amounts to a move to seeing strategic foresight as centre stage, a move from “interesting” to mainstream. This is reflected in both a range of new clients and the nature of their interest – “our CEO needs us to develop scenario thinking and could you help please?”.

We would like to know if any of our friends are seeing a similar shift? 
To address this interest, and the need for wider awareness, we have two public offerings in addition to client specific work.

  • We have written and put on our website a short Scenario Planning primer
  • We are planning two training courses open to all:
    • a half-day introduction to foresight, futures thinking and scenario planning
    • a 2-day hands-on workshop using foresight tools on a real topic of interest.
    If either of these courses is something you would like to be part of, please do get in touch at . Or if you would like an in-house course, we can develop a bespoke package for your organisation, meeting your specific needs.

Future Issues

Robot builders – in the City, Oz and on Mars 
Alison Carnwath, the chairman of Land Securities , the FTSE 100 construction company, suggested that skyscrapers in the City of London could soon be built by robots rather than by people. The result could be huge productivity gains as more work could be done by fewer people – but also mass layoffs as traditionally labour-intensive construction projects would need fewer staff. 
At the same time, a laser-guided, fully-automated bricklaying system called Hadrian X is to be trialed building 11 homes in Perth, Australia. The claim is that the robot can build brick houses in days instead of weeks, laying up to 1,000 custom-sized bricks per hour.

SAMI have been here before with some previous scenario building!


“Made In Space” is working on additive manufacturing technology that could build entire base camps for future expeditions on Mars or the Moon with minimal human intervention. Combined with something like Hadrian X, this looks like a very promising approach. 
Meanwhile, Elon Musk announced his plans for settling humans on Mars. He’ll need builders.

Robot Laws 
Back in 1942, Isaac Asimov gave us three laws of robotics: preserve human life, obey orders given by humans, and protect their own existence. There are, of course, times when those rules clash. When that happens, the first law is always held in highest regard. 
Now the BSI has updated these in new guidelines that recognise that potential ethical hazards arise from the growing number of robots and autonomous systems being used in everyday life. The standard highlights that ethical hazards have a broader implication than physical hazards. 
An example of the issues could be racist robots : deep learning systems are quite literally using the whole of the data on the internet to train on, and the problem is that that data is biased. These systems tend to favour white middle-aged men, and engage in racial profiling.

Circular Economy 
The Parliament Office of Science and Technology published a review of the circular economy . Circular economies recover resources at their highest quality and keep them in circulation for longer. Shifting to this model could alleviate concerns arising from current approaches to material use, such as resource insecurity and pollution. In a circular economy, reusing products, components and materials keeps them at their most useful and valuable. As a result waste is minimised. Moving to this model could create new economic and employment opportunities and provide environmental benefits through improved materials and energy use. Changes to product design and ownership, as well as focusing on access to services, are key to enabling circular businesses.

Our blogs

Our blog series on the 4th Industrial Revolution has continued with thoughts on what thispossible impact on strategic consultancy . We’ve looked, too, at issues of governance following the recent tax revelations and ideas from government about reforming the governance of big business. 
And finally, we attended the recent exhibition at Somerset House, ‘Utopia by Design’ , celebrating the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s book, where several installations caught our eye.



September 2016

August is usually a quiet month but this year there were a number of things I noted – for instance:

Ten years ago the Oxford Martin School , then named the James Martin 21st Century School, was a start-up. Now the first Director. Ian Goldin, has handed over to a new Director from UNEP. Over the past decade, the School has brought together over 500 academics drawn from around 100 disciplines, to work on many of the critical challenges of the 21st century.

The Santa Fe Institute held a workshop to think about the limits to prediction exploring the situations in which there are absolute limits to prediction.

PWC have published a list of eight essential technologies and what organisations need to do about them now,

And I am delighted that Dr Wendy Schultz has been recognised as one of the world’s top female futurists . (I am on the list, too)

Future Issues

Brexit of course dominates discussion of the future of the UK economy. The FT created a set of 4 Brexit scenarios in July, while Norton Rose Fulbright looked at 5 scenarios . Most commentators are focusing on the trade relationship and freedom of movement, without looking more widely at how other factors impact – eg where the £350m a week might go (if it existed), what happens to those relying on EU subsidies after 2020, the attitudes of non-EU players (note Japan’s reaction), the effects in Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you are concerned about what Brexit means for you, let SAMI help you work it out.

Advances in wearable payments systems continue with a contactless payment ring trialled at the Olympics.

IoT: ABI Research is forecasting more than 120m voice-enabled devices wiil be shipped annually by 2021 , as voice control, which combines speech recognition and natural language processing, quickly becomes the key user interface within the smart home, building on the earlier work done by smartphone features such as Siri and Google Now.

A few interesting sounding futures exhibitions are coming up in London:

  • London Design Biennale: 7th to 27th Sept 2016 “The London Design Biennale at Somerset House will explore big questions and ideas about sustainability, migration, pollution, energy, cities, and social equality. You will see engaging and interactive installations, innovations, artworks and proposed design solutions – all in an immersive, inspiring and entertaining tour of the world.”
  • FutureFest (Nesta): 17th,18th Sept 2016 “Experience the future in a mind-blowing weekend of talks and immersive performances”. Tobacco Dock.
  • New Scientist Live: 22nd to 25th Sept 2016 “New Scientist Live is a festival of ideas and discovery, taking place at ExCeL London. Rooted in the biggest, best and most provocative science, New Scientist Live will touch on all areas of human life. The show will feature four immersive zones covering Brain & Body, Technology, Earth and Cosmos. For four days this September, New Scientist Live will be like no other place on earth.”

If you go, why not let us know what you think?

Our blogs

Following our post-referendum carton guide to Brexit futures, we took a more reflective mode with some thoughts on what support is available to CEOs as they look to guide their organisations through choppy waters.

We then returned to our series of posts on the 4th Industrial Revolution . The second of these looked at our initial ideas about scenarios developed at our workshop in early July and was followed by some thoughts on what questions these scenarios might raise for our Government Ministers.

And, with the success of Team GB in Rio, we felt some reflections on the Olympics and what the future might hold for the event would be apposite.



July 2016

So BRSTAY became BREXIT and we are using our scenarios to explore options with a number of our clients. We have prepared a one page summary of our post BREXIT proposition.

However, in work on the airport of the future, with Helios we decided to use the scenarios originally developed with Long Finance for “In Safe Hands” as possible new systems of governance. They suggest globally linked City States (London, New York, Hong Kong ..) or affinity groups (based on religion, language ..). We have used these in many contexts, for instance to help the global dairy marketing industry think about its marketing and the Warwick Supply Chain Initiative to ask the question “What happens to UK plc if global supply chains break down?”. They may also be useful in getting beyond “Norway” or “Switzerland” as Britain develops Plan B post Brexit.

On another front, we at SAMI held an AwayDay to frame our ideas on the future of work.This built on data from a project we are doing for the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work on the future risks associated with ICT and robotics. Arising out of the discussions we can see some interesting ideas emerging on the connectedness of intelligences, and the skills that robots need humans for — We will write more about this in our blogs and publications later this year.”

Future Issues

Our blogs

In early June we posted a blog inviting people to sign up to a short workshop on theimplications of Blockchain – look out for some future blogs on the ideas discussed. Then referendum fever hit and, using some DIY foresight, we posted our cartoon guide to 4 Brexit ‘what-if’ scenarios , swiftly followed by a post-vote update on possible Brexit futures.

And, as a break from all the economic and political issues of the past few weeks, we have also been thinking about houses and architecture as well as robots, artificial intelligence andthe 4th Industrial Revolution and what this might mean for the world of work. Have a look through these and feel free to add your comments.



June 2016

As a piece of light relief from the BREXIT yaboos: one of the major challenges facing the UK is cost and availability of housing – a new report from the World Economic Forum “Shaping the Future of Construction: A Breakthrough in MIndset and Technology” presents thirty measures as part of a construction “industry transformation framework”. The report describes and promotes the effort needed by all stakeholders for the industry to fully realize its potential for change:

In 2012, we published a report called “In Safe Hands? the future of financial services” with Long Finance. This looked at the forces which would shape financial services through to 2050 and potential scenarios which might evolve. One of the topics that we underestimated was the pace of technology-fueled change, as described in “In Safe Hands? The Future of Financial Services Revisited”. We are holding a short workshop to explore this and in particular some of the implications of Blockchain – what are the implications if financial transactions are free and instantaneous? If you would like an invitation to the workshop – in central London from 8:45 to 11:00 on 13th June – please contact

Future Issues

AI and Robotics continue to fascinate and amaze – and cause concern. We commented inFebruary on Richard and Daniel Susskind’s work on the Future of the Professions, and recent news continues to reinforce their thesis:
• In China, Apple’s key supplier Foxconn is replacing 60,000 workers with robots at its manufacturing hub, in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, cutting its workforce from 110,000 down to 50,000. Thirty five companies in the region spent a total of 4 billion yuan on artificial intelligence last year. Some commentators worry that these mass layoffs will cause further social unrest in China. 

Asus has launched a home robot, Zenbo,a voice-controlled companion, whose touchscreen face shows its emotions, can entertain kids and control the lights. Priced at $599, it can help seniors enjoy a connected digital life and safeguard their healthand well-being, be a fun and educational playmate for children, and a household helper. Zenbo can connect to and control many smart home and traditional devices. The company also launched ‘Zenbo Developer Program,’ an ecosystem aimed at developers that covers various domains, namely education, entertainment, healthcare, convenient living and smart home.



• Softbank is testing Pepper, a personal companion robot. Even more humanoid and running on wheels, Pepper claims to be able to read emotions (not just emoticons!) and be able adapt his behaviour accordingly.It is being trialled in 140 SoftBank Mobile stores in Japan


© Ritchie Tongo/EPA


• Google has also unveiled personal assistant it says will let people control their homes, book movies, search the internet, ask follow-up questions about an Italian restaurant and sort through dog pictures using voice commands. Google Assistant’s main physical form is a small, white, buttonless speaker called Google Home. 

• And in response, Kenneth Baker’s Edge Foundation is calling for radical action to prepare young people for the next industrial revolution. With the Bank of England’s prediction that up to 15 million jobs are at risk of automation across the UK economy including professions such as law and accountancy, Edge is looking to education to develop skills that robots cannot replace – flexibility, empathy, creativity and enterprise.

Our blogs

Following an earlier look at Brexit scenarios where we used Cuba’s relationship with the USA as a model, we examined the examples of both Mexico and Canada. What did you think of the three options? What models might be suitable for Remain?

Wendy Schultz also wrote an interesting piece on hijacking your audience’s smartphones when giving presentations – making your technology requirements simpler, building your marketing list and stopping people zoning out from your talk!



May 2016

This has been a very busy period for us, but there are two things that I noted this month. (I will not comment here on BRexit, see our blogs which explore various models for different relationships with the European Union, at the bottom of the page)

The first is a comment by Stratfor that Japan may be coming out of its lost decades. The reason given is that “For two decades, the island nation has been relatively removed from both regional and global affairs. Now it is in the earliest stages of a push to re-establish itself as a leading power in the Pacific Rim, a role that will require it to make some significant internal adjustments”. 
However I have also been reading Foreign Affairs – in the April 2016 issue there is an article by Rushir Sharma of Morgan Stanley exploring the correlation between economic growth and expanding the working population. Japan’s aging demographic clearly works against it being able to do this – though he references Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Womenomics” which aims to revive the economy by getting firms to hire more women. The question must be how wrenching the internal adjustments will be.

I am a Non Exec Director for Unlocking Foresight, and took part in their launch on April 22nd. This included a video with the Chairman of Allen & Overy David Morley, CEO of Grant Thornton UK, Michael Mainelli of Long Finance and a regional estate agent from the West Country, Ian Perry, talking about foresight and why it is important. You can watch the video on their website,

Future Issues

In our scanning work on various projects, we’ve been coming across important new developments. How will they affect you?


The “Distributed Ledger” technology underpinning the online currency Bitcoin is being touted as a major disruptor, not just of financial services, but of a whole range of areas. Effectively a secure shared database, Blockchain allows users to access the same, trusted information on a peer-to-peer basis without the need for central control. This removes the cost of monopoly rents and speeds up transactions.

The UK Government is keen to explore its possibilities. In a recent report, the Government Office for Science discussed a number of applications ranging from collecting taxes and paying benefits, through land registries, health and other personal records to tracking stolen diamonds. Other commentators identify applications in identity management, verifiable data and smart contracts.

Not everyone expects Blockchain to be that disruptive. The Economist suggests that the technology is being hyped, and that it will be some time before applications emerge and find their place.

The Maker Movement

In what resembles a new philosophical dynamic, with elements of quasi-religious zeal, the Maker Movement is beginning to have an impact on manufacturing. An example of thecircular economy, “makers” create and market products that are recreated and assembled using unused, discarded or broken electronic, plastic, silicon or virtually any raw material and/or product, particularly from a computer or phone.

Moving beyond DIY to “Doing it with others”, there is a community aspect to “making”. We are seeing the creation of “maker spaces” where collaboration is enabled, and manufacturing companies opening up facilities as makers’ platforms. Even the White House is involved, encouraging universities and research laboratories to open themselves up. Events like Maker Faire, which in 2014 attracted over 215,000 attendees, accelerate this sharing and testing of ideas and techniques: bringing solo makers out of their garages into a communal and supportive festival.

“Makers” are in effect a network of distributed small-scale local manufacturing, loosely coupled manufacturing ecosystems, and agile manufacturing. Technology, notably the cloud, is making it easier to learn skills, identify sources of materials and sell the product. Bespoke products produced on demand become economically viable. Funding can come through sites such as Kickstarter, and e-commerce distribution services such as Etsy and Quirky enable makers to reach a market.

How disruptive will this become? What opportunities and threats are emerging?

Our blogs

Following the zeitgeist of the times, our latest blogs are looking at some of the thoughts and ideas we have had on the issue of the EU Referendum. At a recent meeting we spent some time discussing possible scenarios on the Brexit side of the debate and, after an introductory piece, our first blog took the model of Cuba in 2000 and looked at some of the areas such a model might impact. Future posts will take Mexico and Canada as the model so do have a look and post any thoughts or comments.



April 2016

We have been discussing whether we should make eSAMI more visual – do our readers have any thoughts? As we are virtual, we can’t have a picture of our offices – but wondered about the view from our various study windows? Or as we visit clients – for instance, on a recent trip to Scotland we were interested in progress on the new Forth Bridge?

On a less frivolous note, the future of work and the professions continues to rise up the agenda, with new client projects to explore new jobs and the threats and opportunities. We will be ready to share some of our thinking later in the summer. Meanwhile we have been reading Klaus Scwab’s “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”, which as well as taking a top level view of the changes underway, refers to two excellent reports from the World Economic Forum: “Deep Shift – Technology Tipping Points and Social Impact”, Survey Report, September 2015, and their “Future of Jobs Report”, January 2016.

We did some thinking about Brexit at our AwayDay recently and as could be expected took a scenario approach. We were also clear that the long term relationship of the UK (or England) to Europe was the real issue, not any short term dislocation. SAMI Principal Martin Duckworth suggested that we use the US as a model – where Texas is a state that has a constitutional right to secede, Canada has a mostly friendly and symbiotic relationship, Mexico’s relationship is different but still mostly friendly and symbiotic, and Cuba (in say 2000) has a relationship which was disruptive in both the US and Cuba. However, even Canada, which is perhaps the most persuasive image, often finds its citizens offended to be mistaken for Americans.

Future Issues

The success of Go-playing program, from Deep Thought, brought on the angst of humans being surpassed and made redundant by AI robots. Many researchers and others were keen to downplay the importance or imminence of the achievement. Others, including Stephen Hawking, looked further ahead to the “singularity”, when AI teaches itself to get progressively more intelligent.

In the middle range of these scenarios, there is plenty to suggest that machine learning could take over many jobs, including many parts of the professions. As we discussed in February,Susskind made a good case for this. IBM’s Watson is trying to “Outthink” trends.

Even “creativity” may no longer be the preserve of humans. AlphaGo came up with what were described as creative moves; and the art world may be challenged by Deep Dream.




Moonage Daydream: art created by Deep Dream. Photograph: Deep Dream


Working through scenarios of AI futures may be essential to your organisation. If you have already made a start, would you like to share your thoughts with us? If not, would you like some help?

Our blogs

Since the publication of the collection of our 25th Anniversary blogs we have posted a range of blogs on different future-focussed topics. Some have been about governance, how it might develop and what might be useful models for designing its future. Others have looked at the future of ageing, have considered what might happen to energy costs and also looked at transforming ideas into knowledge. We welcome contributions, so if you’d like to write a future-focussed blog for us sometime, please get in touch.



March 2016

An interesting time as so many of our certainties are being challenged.

I mentioned the future of the professions last month – much of the discussion about the effect of technology on the professions reminds me of when we were introducing office systems into organisations. There were three types of business case – first, would the savings on postage and paper pay for the new system – maybe over 20 years – would the new system allow you to use less people – payback maybe over 7 years – would the new system allow you to rethink your business – potential payback in a month – the changes to the our professions are quite likely to be more like the third category than the first two!

The Financial Times of 3 March had two articles which meshed in my mind. The first was looking at data flows globally, suggesting that a structural shift had taken place in global flows of data – comparing 1992 to 2014. The article, based on a McKinsey report, “Digital globalization: The new era of global flows” suggests that already shipping of goods is being replaced by transmission of data for remote assembly or 3D printing. The numbers are quite stark – the global flows of goods shrank in 2008 and has not started to grow again, while since 2005 dataflows have increased by large factors – for instance Europe to Europe dataflows from 2466 Gigabits/second in 2005 to 119,507 in 2014. In the same day, the FT also had an article on African economies. This pointed out that the Nigerians woke up one day in 2014 to find that their economy was 89% bigger than thought – sectors like banking, film and telecoms were found to major sources of GDP and not previously tracked. And in Zimbabwe, only 6% of the working population is employed in the formal sector. Both articles reflect on the difficulty of tracking what is happening in times of change, when new factors are important but not previously recognised.

In our SAMI 25 series on 2040 we included a blog on the evolving smart countryside. The EIU have recently published a report “Unleashing rural economies” which suggests that rural economies could boost global growth by $2trillion by 2030, but that this would only be possible if a number of policy, operational and social infrastructure were tackled – so bringing out some the hurdles to developing the smart countryside.

Future issues – Virtual Reality

Several commentators are suggesting that Virtual Reality (VR) looks set to break through to mainstream applications, as prices fall and major players announce new products:

Mark Zuckerberg is suggesting that Virtual Reality (VR) looks set to break through to mainstream applications, as prices fall and major players announce new products:

  1. Mark Zuckerberg explained his vision for “Social VR” and the Oculus Rift product, now available in stores
  2. Google Cardboard is a sub-$30 product you plug a smartphone into
  3. The Mobile World Congress was brimming with VR announcements from HTC andSamsung amongst others
  4. Even John Humprys on the Today programme got in on the act, with a product fromVisualise 
    A staggering range of new applications are being explored. Areas in which we have seen developments already include:
  5. Immersive experiences: you could climb Everest, or visit the Dulwich Picture Gallery
  6. Gaming: VR offers a natural extension of current games
  7. Training: we’ve had flight simulators for pilots for ages, now all sorts of training opportunities are opening up, eg operating robot arms on the International Space Station
  8. Virtual travel: maybe going to Paris is better than just wearing a headset, but many people can’t do that; why fly to Mars if you can be there virtually through the robot lander?
  9. Psychological support: getting used to environments you find difficult could be a valuable tool in the treatment of phobias.

There surely will be many more. 
Should you be considering where VR plays a role in your business, and how your competitors may use to undermine your current business model? 
Or are sceptics who argue people won’t wear the headsets, that there are health issues or that the applications won’t be good enough right? Are we just seeing an early phase of theGartner Hype Cycle, and the future of VR will be in a more mundane selection of niche applications? 
It needs some “robust decisions in uncertain times”.



February 2016

I have been reading two books this month which have prompted new trains of thought. The first is Richard & Daniel Susskind’s “The Future of the Professions” which considers not just the increasing capability of technology to underpin or replace the work done by professionals, but also the effect of changing social attitudes and the blurring of lines between the silos. We in SAMI are using this as a basis for thinking about our skills profile for the next ten years.

The second is “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation” by Tony Seba. This is about solar power, which, as he observes, follows the same learning curve pricing of ICT components. This leads to a projected tariff of 3.4 US cents (2p) /KWH by 2020 – my current tariff is 14p/KWH. He speculates about the effect particularly on the automotive industry, and reports of the recent annual North American Motor Show in Detroit are that record attendance was spurred by the perception that the auto industry is on the cusp of radical change.

The collated set of blogs that we wrote to celebrate SAMI 25, looking forward 25 years to 2040, is now on our web site.

Future Issues Roundup

Has the wheel finally turned on consumerism? Is it curtains for curtains? According to no less an authority than Steve Howard, Ikea’s Director of Sustainability: “In the west we have probably hit peak stuff. We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff … peak home furnishings”. After a decade of “de-cluttering” and minimalism, Ikea are picking up on the concept of the “circular economy” where the concept of repair and recycling is taken to its limit. Waste becomes valuable input to the next cycle. Even sales of iPhones are stagnating.

In fact many would argue we already have an excess – creating opportunities in the “Sharing economy”. Robin Chase of Zipcar, argues in her book Peers Inc, that services like BlaBlaCar, AirBnB and TaskRabbit are merely taking advantage of excess capacity and using new platforms to make it available to new markets. AirBnB for example built a network of rooms bigger than Hilton and Accor combined in just 4 years – just by accessing the excess that already existed. Online, “The Cloud” means we don’t have our own copies of software, or of content. Books, films, music are all instantly available without taking up even virtual space.

So what does that mean for your industry? Is a move to a service and support approach– eg “car as a service” – viable for you? Are you missing opportunities to re-use, repair and re-cycle?

And what does it mean socially? I can no longer tell what someone is reading on the train; and soon when I go someone’s house I won’t be able to look at their bookcase or record collection to judge what they are like. Does that mean that we can re-invent ourselves time and time again?



January 2016: Happy 2016 to our readers!

Last year several SAMI Fellows took part in a CRSA Forum event, at which Paul Moxey led a discussion on the future of corporate governance, using the Causal Layered Analysis technique. The discussion revealed that those present considered that multinationals and in particular financial institutions are at the extreme ends of two axis where one is command and control to empowerment and the other from private interest to public interest – they are at the command and control and private interest extremes. The group then discussed new types of organisation where teams are empowered and how to encourage them. The discussion is described on a slide presentation which can be downloaded at . For more information

Last year I was part of a Task Force that did some forward thinking for the EC’s Research & Innovation Division, on “The Knowledge Future: Intelligent Policy Choices for Europe 2050”. The report makes policy recommendations under three headings:

  1. An open knowledge system in Europe
  2. Flexibility and experimentation in innovation
  3. European level cooperation.

It is well written (and short) and I am happy to send a copy of the report to anybody who would like one – or they are available from the EU Bookshop, ISBN 978-92-79-50312-2

In December we completed our year-long celebration of SAMI’s 25th anniversary. Each week we looked at – in the first half year – events since 1989 and the links to foresight – and in the second half year, some forces for change to 2040. The blogs can be found at

Future Issues Roundup

Looking forward as befits a New Year, the Nominet Trust , a previous SAMI client, recently nominated its top 100 technology advances benefitting mankind. We picked out those we think will be the most significant over the long term. Healthcare is probably the field where these innovations may be important signals of the future. We identified three major strands of development:

  • Better monitoring: as we reported in December, fitness and health monitoring is coming on in leaps and bounds; preventitive medicine will get a huge boost, hopefully reducing the cost of the NHS. Nominet’s examples were:
    • PulseGuard, a wristband that monitors heart rate changes, alerting carers to the onset of epileptic seizures;
    • Gene-RADAR, a portable nanotechnology device that can detect pathogens like Ebola, HIV and the flu
    • Brain Network Activation, a breakthrough in non-invasive brain mapping research which is potentially life-changing to people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or ADHD.
  • Bionics and augmentation: exoskeletons of one form or another to overcome physical deficiencies, and then to enhance capability beyond the norm. Nominet’s examples include:
    • Ekso GT, a robotic exoskeleton that helps formerly wheelchair-bound patients to walk again;
    • Open Bionics, which makes affordable 3D-printed prosthetic hands;
    • GyroGlove, a gyroscopic glove that counteracts hand tremors, improving quality of life for those with Parkinson’s disease
    • Give Vision, the world’s first smart glasses interface that can be used by those who are visually impaired.
  • Social support and access to information: particularly as mental health moves up the agenda, social media support networks:
    • Such as TalkLife, a youth peer-to-peer mental health network, and 7 Cups of Tea, an online emotional support service, will become commonplace.
    • Simply providing better information to pregnant women – as GiftedMom andTotoHealth do – can help reduce infant mortality in Africa, which itself leads to major social change.
  • And things can happen even faster where two trends merge – monitoring technology and genetic engineering together open the way for very targeted doses of personalised drugs and personalised metering of drug absorption. The full list is here.

Nesta’s list of predictions for the year are always worth thinking about – and they review how they have done in earlier years – – their take on 2016 is that – “we’ll see healthcare professionals prescribe video games to their patients, boutique food producers take on the supermarkets and the emergence of new challenge-driven universities which harness the collective problem solving capabilities of the world’s students.”