This interview with Sangeeth Varghese, co-initiator of World 50.0, author of Open source leader, Founder and Chairman of LeadCap Trust, one of the world’s largest youth leadership organizations, and LeadCap Ventures, a management consulting firm, takes place in a series of discussions with the keynote speakers of An Interesting Afternoon – The world in 50 years and how do we get there? This event by the Dutch Future Society takes place at April 11, 2014 in Amsterdam. For registrations, follow this link.
How do you see the future in fifty years?
In the last ten to fifteen years the internet has been the most important innovation that has changed the way everything has been done. It has been a radical change instead of incremental. It has speed up communication, which has also played an extremely important role in the development of democracy. For instance, if we look at the development of markets. The perfect marketplace is not possible, but with internet we know everything about what is available on the market. It is this transparency which also is beneficial to the development of democracy.
One of the things I believe also changing is the ending of poverty by improving the way we are using resources completely, agricultural innovations and so on. In addition, China would become democratic, as would happen in 90% of the world. Private organisations would no longer be large monolithic organisations, but smaller democratically covered organisations with democratically elected leaders.
What can we do to anticipate the future and make it a better future? Which issues should we address?
That is a very complicated question. My answer to that is, “who knows?”. If we knew the answer, we would have anticipating by doing something in that direction. We should be humble and remind our fragility as human beings. How little we know about the universe around us. This is why we don’t know about when the recession is going to end or what will be our income one year down the lane. Those things are difficult to predict. Fifty years earlier, no one could predict the internet or mobile phones. We need to take the input of a lot of experts, look into the past and then look into the future.
When talking about the future, we are talking about numerous variables. These could be from many sources all interacting with each other. In economics there is the ceteris paribus principle. This principle holds a limited set of variables could be studied when many other variables are kept at the same value.
In the world 50.0 project by Tamás Landesz and myself, we identified a list of about 200 thought leaders around the world, and short listed it to 100. Asked them two questions: how do you foresee the future 50 years down the lane? And in your specific subject how do you see the future? We also asked students and other youngsters the same question. The logic is that these same students could be thought leaders in the future fifty years from now. The future belongs to them. We also reached out to artists and asked them the same question and to express it in an artwork.
Foreseeing the future is one thing. Making it a better future is a different, and more difficult job. In the project, we limited ourselves to the topic of foreseeing the future.
What does it ask from futurists?
They have an extremely difficult role. Like economists, futurists are good in explaining what may happen, but not in predicting. They need to understand that predicting is impossible, so refrain from predictive statements. The second, they should realise that the world is complex and that saying things about the future is like walking on a thin rope.
What futurists should do is facilitating decision makers regarding decisions on the future. For instance, one of the insights that came up in our studies was digital identities that live on after people are dead, who could act the way people have been acting in life. That may have a huge implication of for instance the functioning of a family.
Another thing is that futurists may help to raise awareness of things that are happening much faster than other people are expecting. They might be a catalyst for speeding up the future. That is probably the biggest responsibility of futurists. In this manner they could contributing to solving big issues, such as poverty and the use of resources.
Predictions are often wrong. What is a sensible way to say things about the future? How to navigate between confidence and uncertainty?
As a futurist, my job is to say things about the future as clear as possible, whether it is politically correct or not. Say the future as it is, rather than window dressing, which is the respected norm in many fields. In the debate that follows, it is most interesting to discuss the implications of those insights, whether they are right or wrong.
The minute you are saying things about the future, it has an impact on establishment. Futurists are therefore also revolutionary. They are shaking the orthodox convention with new insights. That is the responsibility of a futurist. They are saying things that others still hold impossible. Therefore, futurists have the responsibility to rock the boat.