Book of the Future Are you ready for tomorrow? Tue, 04 Aug 2015 12:47:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Top 5 News stories: 31/07/2015 Fri, 31 Jul 2015 10:32:13 +0000 Every day on our social media feeds (Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus) we share a variety of stories about technology and the future. These were the five stories that proved most popular with likes, retweets, shares and comments this week.

  1. AI: What’s the worst-case scenario?
  2. Why We Should Welcome ‘Killer Robots’ Not Ban Them
  3. Google’s balloons to provide Sri Lanka with high-speed internet
  4. Here’s more awesome footage of the Lexus hoverboard
  5. The truth about the Turing Test
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A Community of Future Thinkers Fri, 31 Jul 2015 06:15:50 +0000 community

Book of the Future is changing.

Nearly three years ago, when I started this business, it was as a vehicle to keep doing the things that I loved. Writing and speaking about the future, on the page, on the stage and on air. Helping clients with interesting challenges.

Through those interactions I came to develop a belief. That as individuals and as organisations, few of us are equipped to cope with the increasing pace of change that we all face.

That belief gave rise to a mission. To provide people with the tools and skills to adapt and thrive through uncertainty. To find new modes of operation that are fit for purpose in an exponential age.

I’ve made a start, creating three tools for leaders who share my belief: Intersections, Arcs and Stratification.

Now I want to grow the community of people who recognise the same problem I have, and are looking for solutions. So over the coming months, Book of the Future will become a membership organisation.

It will be an iterative process but the first steps are happening now. Existing members/subscribers will see changes to the way we communicate and the way in which we share content. We will be creating means for interaction between members so that they can share thoughts and best practice. And we will look to offer more opportunities for training and development.

We will still do all the things we have always done: I will still be speaking, writing and consulting for clients.

The mechanisms for this are yet to be defined. But watch this space.

And if you haven’t already, join us.

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Five questions you should ask your organisation Thu, 30 Jul 2015 08:19:43 +0000 performance

In each engagement I find myself asking the same questions of clients to challenge their thinking. Here’s a small selection that are worth asking to your organisation. Each one represents one aspect of our five ‘vectors’ of technology-driven change.

Q1. What’s your next business model? (Agility)

It used to be that if you had a business model that worked, it would probably keep working for a few decades. The nature of your product, your customers, your supply chain and your channel was unlikely to change radically for some time, unless you were unlucky enough to start your business on the cusp of some major revolution.

Now those revolutions seem to come ever more frequently. The internet, mobile, affordable computing have all wiped out some models. AI, drones, self-driving cars, look set to wipe out many more.

How safe is your current model? Probably not that safe.

So what are you going to do next?

Q2. Can you name all of your competitors? (Diversity)

Researching the future kitchen recently I went on Ali Baba and found hundreds of Chinese companies selling kitchen units. I bet most British kitchen makers don’t know they exist. Or that they now have a direct route to the UK market.

Technology lowers the barriers to entry and increases the reach for suppliers, competitors and channels to market.

Are keeping a close eye on them all?

Q3. How fast does information move from the edge of your organisation to the centre? (Performance)

And is it untainted along the way? I ask this question every time I start work with a new client. The answer can be as much as 12 weeks. And on that journey the data has been translated, reformatted and ‘polished’ so many times that most of its meaning has been lost.

Just like a gymnast, an agile organisation needs close connections between its senses and its ‘muscles’. This can be achieved by pushing the power out to the edge of the organisation. Or by smoothing the pathways of information to the centre.

Q4. If there’s a technological advantage to be had in your sector, will you be the first to have it? (Ubiquity)

If you don’t take it, someone else will. And there’s almost always a new advantage to be found.

The way to stay at the forefront is constant experimentation, something too few companies invest in.

How experimental is yours?

Q5. Are you sure of your market’s boundaries? (Scale)

Every organisation seems to be competing across borders these days, one way or another. Retailers increasingly find themselves by foreign competition selling online. Brands find new brands gaining a global following before they’ve had a chance to respond. Even small, niche businesses are finding the long tail models of the marketplaces bring competition where none was expected.

Are you going to be challenged or be a challenger? Do you understand the tools and the traps of international communication and commerce?


Found these useful? Drop us a line to see how we could help your organisation, or sign up for membership and get exclusive discounts on our tools for future-ready organisations.

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Top 5 News Stories 24/07/2015 Fri, 24 Jul 2015 09:00:00 +0000 Every day on our social media feeds (FacebookTwitterGoogle Plus) we share a variety of stories about technology and the future. These were the five stories that proved most popular with likes, retweets, shares and comments this week.

    1. Terrafugia unveils new TF-X flying car design
    2. Can a machine ever think?
    3. Fly Through a World of Software Like It’s the Universe
    4. Scientists want to send wind-powered robots to Jupiter
    5. The battery revolution that will let us all be power brokers



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If The State Can’t Keep the Lights On, Who Will? Wed, 22 Jul 2015 08:18:12 +0000  


The Daily Telegraph covered Britain’s energy shortage recently with the headline “Britain could face blackouts if the wind doesn’t blow“. Clear about where the responsibility lay for the small margin between our generating capacity and consumption, the article went on to state that “the margin has eroded in recent years as environmental regulations force the closure of old coal-fired power plants.”

In case you didn’t know, since I wrote this piece last year, the forecast margin between our peak consumption and demand for electricity has fallen to 1.2%. To cope, National Grid has taken a number of emergency measures to boost this to 5.1%, such as paying large consumers to reduce their usage at peak times. But as The Guardian pointed out last year, “The now dismantled state-owned Central Electricity Generating Board at one time used to argue that a minimum capacity to cope with peak demand should not be less than 25%. ”

How did we get into this situation? Well you could point to environmental legislation: the EU Large Combustion Plants Directive has played a role in the recent closure of coal and oil-fired power plants. But few would argue with the reasoning behind it – to cut emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. As the DEFRA website puts it: “These pollutants are major contributors to acid deposition, which acidifies soils and freshwater bodies, damages plants and aquatic habitats, and corrodes building materials. Nitrogen oxides react with volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight to form ozone that can adversely affect human health and ecosystems.”

Those evil Eurocrats. Who would want to stop that?

Of course it is not only coal and oil fired power stations that have shut, or are scheduled to shut. By my count (using this source and news stories), two nuclear stations have closed already and a further six are due to close in the next ten years.

Is this more green Eurocracy?

Nope. The LCPD doesn’t apply to nuclear power stations. So what do these stations that are closing or scheduled for closure have in common with the coal and oil plants that have shut?


The newest of these plants began delivering power to the grid in 1988, 27 years ago. The oldest? 1967.

When companies say that they have had to shut their plants because of environmental legislation, what they mean is that the technologies at the core of these stations is so old that it is uneconomic to control their very harmful pollution.

The reason we might not be able to keep the lights on is this: whether or not the wind blows, we simply haven’t built enough generating capacity in the last twenty years.

Now what happened twenty years ago that might mean we stopped building so much generating capacity? Privatisation.

This isn’t a tirade against privatisation – I try to stay away from the ‘big P’ politics in this blog. Rather it is a statement of fact: the state no longer has the powers it needs to keep the lights on for its citizens.

It’s not for lack of trying. Take the first new nuclear plant to be built in the UK, scheduled for completion some time in the mid 2020s at Hinkley Point in Somerset. The government has had to guarantee the operator of this plant a minimum price of £92.50 per megawatt hour, inflation linked, for 35 years. Similar prices have had to be provided to renewable energy companies to support their investment. Yet every year the margin of safety seems to fall.

It appears the private sector doesn’t want to take the risk on the long term returns a power station might provide. The government doesn’t seem to be able to offer sufficient guarantees to the private sector to make it attractive. And even when it does, it faces challenges over state aid rules.

None of the scenarios for future energy produced recently by National Grid suggest the construction of more than one gas turbine plant. There’s notionally more nuclear capacity planned but only one of National Grid’s scenarios shows anything like the total capacity proposed being available. It seems likely that only a couple of these stations will be completed and most likely not before their predecessors are due to be shut down.

So where’s the light at the end of the tunnel? Who is going to build the generating capacity to keep the lights on?

Firstly, it’s bad news for the Telegraph: wind power walked away with the biggest subsidies in the recent ‘Contracts for Difference’ auction, meaning new on and offshore plants will be constructed. But this only accounts for about 2GW of capacity, and I estimate we’re losing more than ten times that between 2012 and 2023. The total budget for the CfD programme (around £325m) is a fraction of what might be needed to support this scale of generation.

What’s going to make up the difference?

Well we already import energy from Europe. And most scenarios produced by National Grid recently suggest this will continue.

But the big increases? It looks like it’s going to have to come from us folks: small scale generation. Combined heat and power. Community waste projects. Solar panels on your roof and batteries in your basement(Elon Musk will be delighted). And, of course, the continuing decline in demand.

This all presents a big challenge for the grid, which wasn’t designed for energy storage or distributed generation and will need major investment to transform. A level of investment the private sector will bear? That’s a post for another day.

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Applied Futurism: The Pitch Tue, 21 Jul 2015 08:06:57 +0000 I’m always looking for better ways to tell the story of applied futurism. The story itself is always evolving. If you’re a follower of this blog, you’ll know this. Every now and again I have another run at telling the story in a post.

Yesterday I came across this post on Medium:

It’s by Andy Raskin, a man with plenty of experience helping start-ups tell their stories. In it he analyses Elon Musk’s pitch for the Tesla Powerwall as a means to highlight the five key steps in any pitch.

Given that our business model is still evolving, I’m going to say Book of the Future still qualifies as a start-up after nearly three years (ignore the previous six years it existed as a blog).

Here’s a written version of our pitch, following these five steps.


#1 Name the Enemy


Our enemy is failure. In an increasingly uncertain world, in a constant state of technological transformation, organisations fail fast.

And not in the good, start-up way.

We beat failure by helping leaders to see their destiny early, and change it.


#2 Why Now?


Years of business theory has been based on doing what you do, just better. Iterative improvements in process, cost and quality. This is fine when your business model is going to survive twenty or thirty years.

But what if it only survives two or three years?

Every optimisation locks you further into what you do today. Every investment in the status quo makes it harder to fundamentally change the organisation.

Tomorrow’s successful leaders will build organisations that are engineered for constant transformation.


#3 The Promised Land


Imagine an organisation comprised of operational Lego bricks, interlocking components that can be rapidly reassembled to meet each new challenge.

Imagine a leader empowered with the tools of foresight to see challenges early.

We aim to provide leaders with the tools and training to create and run these organisations.

And we’re already half way there. We’ve built a completely new foresight tool to help leaders see the future, and a tool to help them tell that story.

Most importantly, we’ve created and tested with real companies a framework for building agile organisations.


#4 Obstacles


Applied Futurism makes people uncomfortable. People don’t like change and we’re telling people that change is not an event now, it’s a state. It’s constant.

Applied Futurism isn’t something you can buy to solve a problem once. It’s something you have to do. And behaviour change is hard.

But we believe the realities of the market – and the public sector environment – will leave leaders with little choice. They will either adapt, using our tools or others, or they will fail.


#5 Evidence


We’ve now trained over 150 people in using our foresight tool, through the Institute of Leadership and Management and direct client engagements. Some of those people are self-taught, having purchased the tool direct from our website.

We’ve just used our Stratification framework for agile organisations to re-design a £200m business.

Our tools are gaining acceptance. And more and more leaders are coming to accept the nature of the environment in which they will be operating for the next few decades. An environment that demands a new approach. Applied Futurism.

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Top 5 News Stories: 17/07/2015 Fri, 17 Jul 2015 12:00:51 +0000 Every day on our social media feeds (FacebookTwitterGoogle Plus) we share a variety of stories about technology and the future. These were the five stories that proved most popular with likes, retweets, shares and comments this week.

  1. Europe’s plan to build on the Moon
  2. ‘Back to the Future’ to celebrate 30th anniversary in cinemas
  3. How much do electric cars actually pollute?
  4. Hacking Team broke Bitcoin secrecy by targeting crucial wallet file
  5. Facebook will let you buy products from retailers’ Pages
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(City) Networks not (State) Monoliths Wed, 15 Jul 2015 15:16:35 +0000 city networks not state monoliths

I spoke at the GM Chamber Northwest Construction Summit today, on a panel entitled ‘Creating Connections’. Its premise was that Manchester cannot succeed economically or operationally in isolation, or without greater connectivity between the key stakeholders in the city’s future.

Through my own experience as a business owner operating in a city, and as a consultant to various government organisations, I recognise the premise. Breakdowns between national and local government, multiple siloed operations within a local council, poor communication with sub-contractors and agencies, a lack of engagement with citizens and businesses. Our operations as a collective of citizens and co-ordinators of one form or another are often incoherent.

There are places where you want discord in interactions between these bodies. There should be tension: it’s what drives change and improvement. There should be diversity: without it we wouldn’t be human. But that doesn’t mean we can’t streamline some of the interactions. Create common pathways for communication and standards for interaction. Create higher bandwidth channels of communication.

What does this mean in practice?

There are the obvious issues of physical transport. The ‘pause’ on proposed improvements in east-west transport across the north is hugely disappointing. Even in this increasingly digital age we have developed no means of communication as rich as a face-to-face conversation. Broadband pales in comparison to the bandwidth of language, gesture and context. As a digital entrepreneur in the north, it’s ridiculous that it’s sometimes easier to schedule meetings with potential collaborators when we’re all in London than it is to consider hours on an ancient train between our much more proximate cities.

Broadband may not replace face time but it is nonetheless important. And there are issues remaining here. Simple changes to controls around state aid, competition regulations and business rates would open up a much more competitive market for last mile connectivity. Only this can deliver the required rate of progress to bring us up to a competitive level with some of our international competitors.

There are also issues of interaction, inside and between organisations, and between organisations and individuals. Data policies and platforms within both public and private sector organisations are usually inadequate. Public procurement policies often lock-out the most interesting, innovative companies and limit competition to staid, large-scale corporations. Communications practices create inefficiencies and frustration.

Across all of these areas there needs to be a coherent effort to remove friction. Not the type of friction that restrains the worst tendencies of profit-driven organisations: if anything this needs reinforcing in a political environment where the state is being aggressively shrunk. But rather the friction that prevents small companies, entrepreneurs and motivated citizens from doing what they do best. Creating, collaborating, changing things for the better.

This may sound a little ‘motherhood and apple pie’, but anyone operating in the environments that I do will recognise the frustrations. And share the desire to solve them.

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Critical Faculties Wed, 15 Jul 2015 09:17:05 +0000 critical_faculties_text
Richard Newton, writer, start-up guy and general genius, wrote a new book recently called ‘The End of Nice‘. It’s about career survival in world where most (current) jobs are highly subject to automation. Go read it.

Richard has his prescription for survival and I have mine. There’s lots of common ground in principle, albeit I’ve only eeked mine out to six pages so far, not a whole (and very compelling) book.

You can get this guide for yourself if you subscribe here:

(Already subscribe and want a copy? Email me – a smarter way for us to handle these things is coming).

The first of three skill sets I talk about in this guide is ‘curation’, a term I’ve come to use to encapsulate the abilities required to discover and qualify information. These are, I believe, increasingly important and valuable skills that aren’t given the appropriate level of recognition.

As I’ve stated in previous blog posts, people are increasingly self-employed in one way or another. We are responsible for our own development and increasingly we will be responsible for provisioning other services for ourselves, barring a major reversal of austerity*.

The ability to do this is utterly dependent on a high level of self-awareness about your own strengths and weaknesses – in itself a form of information discovery. It depends on the ability to assess and verify the quality of providers of information and services. And it requires the ability to absorb and apply information in new contexts to your own advantage.

Some of these abilities are taught today, at home, at school and university, and in the workplace. But I think they will need much greater focus in the future.


*If this all sounds a little Ayn Rand, please remember there is often a difference between what I would like to be true, and what I believe is true.

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BBC Radio 5Live: Midnight Expert Wed, 15 Jul 2015 08:15:51 +0000 ]]> 0