Book of the Future Are you ready for tomorrow? Fri, 03 Jul 2015 08:14:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Networks Not Monoliths Thu, 02 Jul 2015 15:40:10 +0000 I’m giving a couple of talks this week to young accountants for the ICAEW, looking at the future of business. There’s a particular focus on energy, urbanisation and public spending.

These three varied topics have a surprising amount in common. In each case I see their future being based loosely around a principle of what I would term ‘networks not monoliths’.

The thinking of a wide variety of very smart people shows a growing trend towards the small. From Moises Naim’s ‘The End of Power’, to Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley’s ‘The Metropolitan Revolution’, to Adam Lent’s forthcoming ‘Small is Powerful’.

My take from digesting the works of these incredible thinkers is that we are entering a world of loosely coupled smaller entities, collaborating and co-operating when it makes sense to do so, and perhaps competing at other times. This is in contrast to an era of large monolithic entities, trying to aggregate power and purpose and maintain coherence at a grand scale.

That means power being devolved from states to cities; from CEOs to people at the edge of organisations. It means those organisations being typically smaller, interacting with external resource as needed. It means distributed infrastructure, not centralised.

Following these ideas through, from an energy perspective it seems likely that the fast pace of innovation in distributed generation and storage will outpace problematic large-scale generation.

In urbanisation, the solutions are unlikely to come from national policies or initiatives: rather cities and communities will find ways to solve their own housing/city centre issues through local innovation and the application of planning laws and devolved powers around tax and incentives.

Public spending will continue to be devolved and outsourced to the third and private sectors. If the current cuts regime persists (and I believe it will, into the next government, whatever flavour it is), I think we’ll see grassroots alternatives to welfare springing up, perhaps following pre-welfare/pre-NHS forms like saturday funds. You could argue the growth in food banks already demonstrates this trend.

These are initial thoughts than well-worked through analyses. I’m using them to provoke discussion at the ICAEW events.

I’d love to know what you think.


]]> 0 Heatwave Wed, 01 Jul 2015 08:16:23 +0000 There’s a moment when I’m giving talks when I choke slightly. I have a little trouble getting the words out.

It’s when I tell people that I believe technology will be a bigger change driver than anything, including climate change.

I believe this only for a specific geography (the UK and some other northern/western developed countries), and within a specific time frame (the next 20 years or so). But even though I believe it strongly, I still find it a challenging idea, given the devastation that climate change will likely cause elsewhere within that timeframe.

The idea rarely gets the reaction in the room that I’m feeling inside. Are people so comfortable dismissing the effects of climate change? I’m always hoping to be challenged on this but never have been.

To be fair to the audiences, they’re not alone in paying scant attention to the threats. In a recent study of the risks facing major corporations, climate change didn’t even rank in the top 19 concerns for chief executives.

This survey was conducted by PwC, where a different division gave this stark assessment: “At current rates of de-carbonisation we would be heading towards the worst projected scenario of the IPCC, leading to significant chance of exceeding 4 degrees of warming.”

This is accountants talking science. Their language is extraordinarily tempered and conservative. But what they are talking about is floods in some areas and wars over water shortages in others. Drastic falls in crop yields. Extreme weather events and raging wildfires.

But we don’t like to think about that. And we probably won’t.

At least not for the next twenty years.


]]> 0
Bangernomics For All Wed, 24 Jun 2015 07:03:10 +0000 Yesterday I sold a thirteen-year-old, broken car for £661. I bought it almost exactly four years ago for £2200. During that time it has cost me around £300 a year in parts and servicing. And I spent about another £400 on tidying it up cosmetically. Total spent: £3800.

2015-06-04 18.00.42Subtracting the money returned to me by the car’s sale, that’s £800 per year – less than £70 per month of motoring.

I covered around 70,000 miles in the car while I owned it. It finally died after 211,600 miles.

That’s less than 5p per mile. For a car that cost over £45,000 when new. A car that had luxuries like leather seats, cruise control, self-levelling air suspension.

A car whose carbon cost of manufacture was long in its history. It’s particulate emissions may not have been pretty but this was a pretty green car (as far as cars can be).

In an age of planned obsolescence and fast fashion it was nice to own something with a bit of history. Something that even now is going to be fixed or stripped for parts to keep other ageing motors on the road.

Though our pictures of the future are often dominated by the shiny and new, we may look to our technology to last a little longer once the realities of climate change start to bite. In the UK this is likely to be outside the 20 year windows on which we primarily focus, but eventually we’re all going to have to accept that a rapid turnover of new goods, whether it’s cars, clothes or phones is simply unsustainable unless we get very, very good at recycling and dramatically clean up our energy generation. So much of the carbon cost of these goods is in their manufacture that extending their lifespan is going to be increasingly important.

In the mean time though, I won’t lie: I get jealous of friends and even random strangers with new cars. It may not be rational but I dream of being able to splash tens of thousands on a new – ideally all-electric – family car with a bit of pizazz.

But right now that’s not a possibility. So unless a car dealer or manufacturer decides they want to swap a car for my services in the next few weeks (and I’m still open to offers), I’ll be returning to my policy of Bangernomics. Knowing that if I have to own a car, it’s the most economically, and environmentally, sound thing to do.

Not very futuristic, but good for the future.

]]> 0
BBC Radio WM: Mobile Phones Tue, 23 Jun 2015 22:00:44 +0000 ]]> 0 More Thoughts on the Future Kitchen Tue, 23 Jun 2015 09:09:40 +0000 In my talk at Bucks New Uni on the future kitchen this weekend, I highlighted three trends: kitchens of the future will be adaptable, productive and smart.

The ‘smart’ piece follows on from our theory about ubiquity*: if someone can gain some advantage by applying a piece of technology, then they will. The internet fridge has been roundly ridiculed, and Amazon’s Dash buttons met with a degree of scepticism. But at some point I do think our kitchens will start to do some ordering for us – and probably some cooking too. At least in the short term, retailers and brands will do what they can to strip friction from the shopping process, and find ways to collect more valuable data about our behaviour.

The adaptable piece follows on from the trends of agility and diversity*. With more properties now private rentals, growing multiple occupancy, and a much more diverse range of social and cultural influences, people are going to want a lot of different things from limited space. Whether it’s a new tenant every three years, or multiple tenants in the same property, over the course of its lifetime the kitchen – a major investment expected to last a decade or so – is going to have to adapt. That means reconfigurable layouts, modular units, and perhaps smart surfaces that can be digitally reconfigured. Think coloured e-ink reflective surfaces (cheap, low energy) rather than the OLEDs as you have on your phone screen (too bright, too expensive to run).

The productive kitchen is about making it a place where we grow food as well as prepare and consume it. Back to the Future (as usual) got there early with the ceiling fruit garden, but given the incredible groundswell of grass-roots development around this idea, I think it will be reality fairly soon. As I’ve written about before, the idea of a new appliance in your kitchen, the size of a dishwasher (or maybe even part of the fridge) that grows food rather than stores it is increasingly practical. LED grow lights are cheap, microcontrollers and internet connections ubiquitous, and appliances already contain all the pumps and valves that a hydroponics system might need. Given what the middle classes spend on salad and herbs, it’s probably not far off making economic sense to do this (though I’ll have to do the maths and maybe some practical experiments to be sure – time is always my enemy…).

You can find the full slide deck from the talk here – navigate with your left and right arrow keys:


*If you want to know more about these trends, subscribe to the blog and get our free report: ‘Five Future Trends that will Make or Break Your Business’.

]]> 0
The Google Stack: Its Mission And Its Future Fri, 19 Jun 2015 07:36:11 +0000

“Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Our company has packed a lot into a relatively young life.”

Not half. Google has revenues of over $60bn a year. And though the vast majority of those revenues (90%) come from its core search and advertising business, it gets involved in an awful lot of other stuff.

Take some of the most eye-catching announcements from its recent I/O conference, Soli, Jacquard and Vault.

Soli is a radar-based gesture interface on a single chip.

Jacquard is a new textile technology that integrates electronic controls into a washable fabric.


Vault is an integrated computer security system condensed to the size of a SIM card.

Now you might wonder what textile tech or user interfaces – or for that matter Google’s smart city projects, self-driving cars, internet balloons, or modular phones have to do with that core mission. I think they are absolutely connected.

The key phrases to examine in that mission are ‘the world’s information’ and ‘universally accessible’.

To Google, the world’s information might include the location and material composition of every molecule. That might be underselling it: maybe they’re interested in every quark, neutrino and quantum of dark matter. This sounds extreme but is there value in this data? Both practical value for you and I, and commercial value for the organisation? Probably. Maps were just the start.

sascon2015‘Universally accessible’ can also be interpreted a number of ways. The first iteration may have been the search engine accessed with keyboard and mouse. But is that universal access? It’s not convenient for every person, all the time, in every context. Hence projects to provide new interfaces (Now, Jacquard, Soli), more widespread connectivity, and devices that may expand access and reduce cost. And projects that streamline and secure our access.

If you want to understand the future of Google – a question I was asked to comment on at the recent SASCon event – you need to understand the breadth with which I believe the leaders of the company interpret their mission. If they can find a way to better catalogue every bit, and make that information accessible to more of the people, more of the time, then they will explore it.

]]> 0
You Are All Self-Employed Fri, 12 Jun 2015 06:55:49 +0000 This is the new reality. Or at least you need to behave as if it is.

One of the things that has become clear this year, reinforced by listening to Adrian Wooldridge’s RSA talk earlier this week, is that we need to offer the tools of applied futurism to individuals as well as organisations.

The ‘age of disruption’ in which we are living may be bringing down companies and forcing public sector organisations through radical change. But fundamentally it is the people within those organisations who are most greatly affected. It is they who need the tools to see the disruption coming, and the techniques to respond in an agile fashion.

Taking action to be prepared when the disruption comes requires a change in mindset, from employee, to self-employed. I don’t want to get into the politics or the ideology here – what I would like to be the case, and what IS the case are often at odds. Simply put, in the UK particularly we look to be entering an age when we can rely on neither the state nor our employers to shield us from disruption.

It doesn’t matter what you do, nor who you do it for: whether it is public sector or private, skilled, unskilled or professional work, the gales of creative destruction are blowing hard and organisations will either be flatted by them or respond – often by placing the risk on you.

Thinking of yourself as self-employed now begins the shift to a mindset where you can understand and articulate your value to this employer, or the next one. It gets you thinking ahead about your own pipeline of work, and looking back at the impact you’ve delivered.

Over the second half of this year we’ll be looking to develop more tools of personal applied futurism. But in the meantime, maybe it’s time start thinking differently.

]]> 0
6th Sense: How Technology is Transforming Networking Thu, 11 Jun 2015 13:37:27 +0000 This morning I gave a talk about the future (and history) of business networking for the 30th anniversary of the GM Chamber Stockport Breakfast Club meeting. Here’s a rough script and the presentation – click here to view the deck.


This year I have sent or received 143 emails suggesting we meet and chat over a coffee. The power of the digital age means that give or take a small margin of error on my search terms, I can know this.

Technology increases the reach and the sophistication of my networking – and it is going to do a lot more in the future.

This morning I want to talk about the impact that technology has already has on the way people, and particularly, I network. And the impact that I see it having in the future. But really this is as much about the way that we all work, and the nature of that work in the future.

My name is Tom Cheesewright and these days I work as an Applied Futurist. If you don’t know what that means I quite understand, it’s a totally made up job. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important.

I created this business because I strongly believe that we live and work in an age where change is happening faster than ever before. Change has always been accelerating but now that we appear to be in the elbow of an exponential curve, it is more challenging than ever for organisations to respond at the rate required to help them to thrive, or even survive.

What makes me think I can help people? Well some people might say I have a short attention span. But I’d argue I’m quite good at change.

10 years ago when I first came to this event, it was to promote my second business. An idea called EggHeads.eggheads

EggHeads was designed to be a home IT support franchise, helping people to choose, buy and use modern technology. It failed.

It was perhaps slightly ahead of its time, and it had some other fundamental flaws: finding people who are good with technology is easy. Finding people who are good with people is slightly harder, but they’re out there. Finding people who are good with people AND technology? Not so easy.

To promote Eggheads I visited just about every networking event in Greater Manchester. I didn’t care if it was BforB or BNI, Chamber or Simply Networking, I got out there. I still have eight A5 books of business cards, mostly filled with people I met on that tour.

This was networking circa 2005.

Things changed rapidly in the following years. I tried a few other start-up ideas, and in 2008 started two new businesses.

The first one was a content marketing agency. Again this was slightly ahead of its time: if you’re in marketing these days you’ll know you hear about little else but content-driven marketing these days. Well back in 2008 I got together with a web designer and we wrote a manifesto. For a short while we ranked number one in the UK on Google for the term ‘content-driven marketing’. Think about what that would be worth now. But back then no-one was searching for it.

At The Lever we tackled the issue of networking in two very different ways, one very serious, one a little more fun and very ambitious.

netrecordsWe decided to take on MySpace. Despite that fact that at the time neither of us could code. This was my first experience of outsourcing to India. Suffice to say this wasn’t a great success. But it was hugely educational.

We recognised that the way that people discovered and bought music was changing. One of the most fascinating effects of the early Internet was disintermediation – the removal of layers of middle men. Instead now we have giant, largely open platforms on which anyone can connect: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. We wanted to create this for music, giving bands the chance to find an audience and sell their music directly rather than relying on record labels to pick the winners.

Today most of us use platforms like this as part of our business networking. Our sales and marketing strategy.

At roughly the same time we started Net Records, we started to recognise a problem in the campaigns we were running for our clients at The Lever.

We were helping clients to communicate with their prospects across a range of channels. They might be speaking at an event like this. They might have a website (we found a surprising number of companies that didn’t). They might be doing email campaigns. And they might be active on social media. We were sending things out in the post for clients, where these things didn’t hit the mark. And we were running telemarketing campaigns.

One day a client said to me: “Where are my prospects up to?” Not ‘how’s my email campaign going?” Or “how are the telemarketers doing?” He wanted to know the current status of his relationship with all of the people we were reaching out to.

And we had no way to tell him.

I spent 17 hours over the next few days trying to mashup the completely different report formats that I had from all of the different campaign elements to try to give him a single, simple answer. I learned a lot about Excel that week.

But what I came up with wasn’t really satisfactory. So I started another company.

CANDDi pulls in data from your website, from social networks and from every email you send and receive to give you a much richer view of all the people you interact with. With CANDDi we raised around half a million in venture capital and last year its revenues grew 83%.

But CANDDi isn’t the complete answer.

When I started Book of the Future a couple of years ago I wanted to take another crack at this problem. How can we try to unify all of the information about the people we network with on and offline in a single place?

The classic answer is a CRM system. Who here uses a CRM system to keep track of all their contacts?

Personally I use Capsule, partly because they’re based in Manchester and nice people, and partly because it’s a great product.

But it suffers the same problems as all CRM systems: it’s only as good as the data you put in it. If you rely on people to put data in manually, it will always be out of date.

So I decided to automate as much as possible.

Does anyone in here use Zapier?

Zapier is like super-glue for the web. If you want to stick two different things together, you use Zapier to connect them up in a really, really simple way.

Now in our business we have a lot of different touchpoints with people. The biggest one is probably Twitter, where we add around a hundred followers every week. We have a few hundred subscribers to the blog via email, plus the people we email individually. There’s LinkedIn where I usually add contacts that I meet at events like this, and there’s a few thousand visitors to the website every month.

funnelWe can organise these into a very rough funnel: the reality is that the funnel doesn’t really look like this and there’s lots of stuff we can’t track. But it’s nice to have this idea that the first thing people do when they discover s at an event like this, on the telly or the radio or online, is follow us on Twitter.

Then they subscribe to the blog.

Then we connect on LinkedIn.

Then we meet for coffee, or they buy one of our tools from the website.

Now this is all nice in theory and is starting to work well in practice, but it’s still a little clunky, particularly here in the real world.

I’ll give you good example.

When people ask me for a business card I have to point out that as a futurist, it feels a little odd carrying around little slips of paper. So I connect with people on LinkedIn there and then. This means hoping that I have a decent internet connection then fiddling with my phone for a while. What I really want is for things to be slick, automatic.

Imagine all of the information stored in my CRM system overlaid automatically on my vision. Imagine a heatmap showing how hot every prospect in the room was, and tips about how to talk to them. Imagine a handshake being captured and automatically triggering a LinkedIn invitation.

Some of this you will find frankly horrifying. I understand the fear factor. But if you plot the direction of travel of current technology, you can see how we might get there.

Take Crystal, a system that analyses personality profiles to help you to write more effective emails tailored to getting the desired response from recipients. Or look at Google Translate on smart glasses, overlaying information in a language you can understand upon the real world. Microsoft’s Hololens takes this to the extreme.

But with all of this digital intelligence, the ultimate goal will still be a physical interaction. All the evidence shows that the higher bandwidth of our face-to-face interactions still delivers benefits: greater creativity and productivity. The development of bonds of trust. This is what networking is about, today, and in the future.

]]> 0
BBC Radio Manchester: Talking Apple Wed, 10 Jun 2015 17:19:16 +0000 ]]> 0 The Great Disruption: How Will You Respond? Wed, 10 Jun 2015 06:47:35 +0000 One of the things you don’t want when you’re starting a business is to be the only player in the field. The chances that your idea is truly unique are infinitesimally small. Tell a prospective investor that you have no competition, and she hears “we have no market.”

When you’re in the business of ideas, the same rules apply. It’s great to hear other people telling similar stories – especially if you respect their perspective.

Adrian Wooldridge, the management editor of the Economist has written a new book called The Great Disruption. In this talk at the RSA he introduces it. Though we tackle the topic from different perspectives (economics and technology), if you have heard me speak you will recognise many of the same themes.

Though I’m always happy to come and speak (or frankly write a book if someone will put up the advance), our main business here at Book of the Future is not forecasting greater disruption. It’s helping people and organisations to deal with it.

If you accept Adrian Wooldridge’s analysis (and mine), the question is: what do you do next?

]]> 1