Robert Hickson

Robert Hickson has evolved from an evolutionist, looking backwards, into a futurist. Many of the skill sets are the same; looking for patterns, making sense of them, and trying to fill in the gaps. He's of the view that in New Zealand we don't do enough forward looking. The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent the views of his current employer (if any), or Charles Darwin.

Building the bridges to the future - Ariadne

May 17, 2020

In a previous post I noted that futures thinking usually tries to identify what people think will change and what they think needs to change. As lockdown constraints ease, we are seeing a lot of opinions about both. There is no shortage of shovel ready points of view and aspirations. Aspirations are good, but what we aren’t seeing so much of (at least I haven’t) is more nuanced thinking about how we get from here to there, and how different aspirations and expectations may be negotiated. Many advocating for a low carbon economy envisage a sudden shift. While those arguing for retaining some of the status quo favour a not so hasty change. So, what we end up with is often framed as a dichotomy of choices – “either, or” rather than … Read More

A day at the pandemic races - Ariadne

Apr 27, 2020

A friend came up with a useful analogy the other day. Much of the commentary about getting ready for opening up the lockdown seems like a set of racehorses at the starting gate. Different ideas and special interests in fine fettle, champing at the bit waiting for the gates to open. Meanwhile those thinking longer term are struggling to get the race officials attention and delay the start. Let the horses (and their determined riders) have a breather and a graze first. Some of those nags probably need to be scratched, we need to test some of the others for illicit performance enhancers. A jockey or two may be too enthusiastic with their whip hand. One may also be liable to canter off to tilt at windmills. Some promising younger horses need to … Read More

Thrivable - Ariadne

Apr 20, 2020

In my previous post I set out some simple techniques to help explore the future. Here I give a worked example. Most of the space I have devoted to one scenario, since that probably is the more interesting part for readers. Scenarios don’t predict what will happen. They are a method to help you explore different possible, or plausible, futures – to anticipate non-obvious changes and plan for a range of possibilities. They can also be used to identify a preferred future, and what can be done to achieve it. I’ve included at the end visuals that use some other methods I described in the last post. These are what help you identify important influences and ideas to include in scenarios. The scenario is more art than science, so not … Read More

Getting in futures shape  - Ariadne

Apr 03, 2020

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” Lenin Don’t we all know that feeling now. Prospect Magazine alerted me to this particularly apt quote. It is a much more evocative quote than Hemingway’s “gradually then suddenly” which is also doing the rounds with discussions of the pandemic. Foresight and futures thinking aren’t necessarily good at spotting when exactly decades will happen in weeks. But as I discussed in my last post, they can help you prepare for and better navigate rapid change when it does happen. In this post I describe some of the simpler techniques that can help you get started looking at post-pandemic worlds.  I’ve based it on my stump presentation “How to think like a futurist.” Think of them as … Read More

After the Pandemic - Ariadne

Mar 26, 2020

It will pass. What happens next? Not immediately, but longer term. There are many opinions, fewer certainties. Will it “change everything!” as many confidently, and contradictorily predict? In this post I look at how foresight can help bound some of the uncertainties so you can more objectively consider the future.   Opinions and uncertainties Some current headlines are hyperbolic. Such as Politico’s “Coronavirus Will Change the World Permanently. Here’s How.”  Followed by a random selection of people pontificating, largely based on books or articles that they have previously published. Many of those ideas seem to have been trotted out following other calamities. “It will bring us together”, “we’ll become more insular”, “we’ll move on from capitalism”, “we’ll trust experts more”, etc, etc, etc. To someone with a single opinion, every crisis is … Read More

The futurist’s metaphorical menagerie - Ariadne

Mar 16, 2020

  Futures folk like animal metaphors for uncertainties. “Black swans” is a favourite one, and currently doing the rounds with opinions about COVID-19. The term “black swan”, popularised by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his 2007 book of the similar name, refers to unanticipated events with big impacts. However, COVID-19 and other epi- or pandemics aren’t black swans. They are anticipated, at least by public health professionals. What’s not known is when and where they’ll emerge, and the impacts they will have. Michelle Wucker suggested the term “Gray Rhino” several years ago to refer to highly likely, high impact events. While we disregard the warnings, the event or issue continues to lumber toward us like a rhino. Wucker distinguished her gray rhino from “the elephant in the room” by the former charging, not just standing quietly waiting to be noticed. Read More

The speeds of life - Ariadne

Mar 08, 2020

  Many people think that the speed of change today is unprecedented. That’s just because we have short memories. Historians focused on Western civilisation, like Vaclav Smil, point back to the late 19th and early 20th Century when electricity, radio, the telegraph, telephone, phonograph, cars, planes, anaesthetics, and (a bit later) antibiotics emerged. Smil suggests that someone from 1914 would recognise much of today’s world, while someone from 1814 wouldn’t recognise the world of 1914. A visual and audio sampling of change in Victorian England is being projected in Dunedin this weekend. Prof. Sally Shuttleworth talked to Kathryn Ryan on RNZ on Friday about it. An earlier video is shown below, and you can pick out parallels with today.   Thinking about the future is informed by … Read More

Futures Fatigue and Futures Inertia - Ariadne

Feb 18, 2020

Nobody thinks about the next century anymore. That at least is Sci-Fi writer William Gibson’s observation (in this BBC 4 short interview, starting at 1:43:50 ). He calls it “Futures Fatigue”, but isn’t judgemental about it. Gibson notes that in the 20th century speculation about the 21st (and beyond) was common. Now the focus is much more on the present, or the next few decades. And thoughts about the future trend toward the pessimistic. A range of other commentators have also noted, with sadness or frustration, that uplifting speculations about the future aren’t what they used to be. A riposte to that could be OK, boomer, there are more important issues in the here and now to deal with.   New Zealand has futures inertia not fatigue New Zealand doesn’t suffer from … Read More

Science in the 20’s – part 2 - Ariadne

Feb 02, 2020

  Will the 2020’s be a case of, to borrow the words of the illustrious Martian botanist Mark Watney,  “sciencing the sh*t” out of the big problems facing us? In some cases yes. In some cases no, because it isn’t science that is missing. In many other cases, maybe. If we can improve the system. I suggested in the previous post that the 2020’s will see more societal contention around some scientific and technological developments. Contention isn’t necessarily bad, it is often what informs and drives science. Establishing independent fora to discuss not just the science, but societal and community values and expectations is one means of reducing, or making better use of, contention. This post looks at some stresses on and expectations of the science system, and how it may need to change. Read More

Science in the ’20s – part 1 - Ariadne

Jan 15, 2020

  Outrageous, immoral or downright dangerous. That’s a description of the lifestyle of women “flappers” in the 1920s. Could it apply to science (and scientists) in the 2020s? Actually, you could look back at the past decade and see those, or similar terms, used about some science and scientists. Sometimes justifiably, most times not. Looking ahead ten years it is presumptive to predict what the most important discoveries and developments will be. Many futurists focus instead on “megatrends” – large global trends and developments that influence many aspects of life. This, however, can often only get you to fairly anodyne statements – “there are going to be more powerful technologies (that are going to change everything)” [AI, robots, nanotech, synbio. Wait, here comes a connected network of nano-sized artificially intelligent cyborgs], or “the pace … Read More