Hello and welcome back to the Dr. Nilda Business Foresight Show. With me today is my co-host Rachel Calderon and a very special guest Dr. Clare Nelson. She is Ideation Leader of The Futures Forum. This is a research and education practice specializing in bringing the power of strategic foresight, and the discipline of sustainability engineering to challenges facing diverse organizations and communities. Her public interest speaking and research is around global development challenges such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and How We Share Our Future. Dr. Nelson also provides private strategic thinking, facilitation and advisory services to clients in both the public and the private sector. She serves as a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the Journal of Future Studies. She is also a member of the Association of Professional Futurists and the World Future Studies Federation. She is an award-winning writer and storyteller. She is distinguished as the first Jamaican woman to earn a Doctorate in Engineering. Dr. Nelson has been awarded many honors for leadership such as an Outstanding Alumni Award from Purdue University, School of Industrial Engineering, commendations in the U.S. Congressional Record, and a White House Champion of Change. Welcome Dr. Nelson.
Thank you so much for having me Dr. Nilda. How are you?
I am good. Can I call you Dr. Claire? Is that going to be okay?
Very well. All of my friends call me that.
Wonderful. I want to jump in because we have a lot of questions for you today. I love what you do. You’re very proficient in engineering and we have a lot of Engineers that are in our audience. I want to know how did you successfully merge industrial engineering with futures?
Well actually that’s very simple in the sense that as an industrial engineer especially where I practice, I practice at the system’s level and decision-making theory. Systems of systems planning is something you are very much involved in when you’re looking at global challenges or Grand Challenges for city states. A lot of my experience has been working with national governments as well as regional governments and communities and even some industry associations. So, we’re looking at very large complex problems. And my IEs training which was many years ago I won’t say how long they would in fact introduce me to these complex thinking stars. So, when I discovered there was such a thing as futures I realized why there was a misfit with some of my behaviors as of my peers who tend to plan based on hindsight. But, when you’re planning for governments to invest or companies to invest in projects infrastructure that will last 10 15 20 years. I think it’s very important that we also look to what that future might look like so we’re able to better design the programs and policies. It’s a very neat fit I think strategic foresight and the type of or the sector of IE that I studied in school.
Can you explain what sustainable development goals is?
I’m going to try and make it very short. Back in 2000 when the UN came together to look at how they advanced on the Millennium Development Goals which were up in 1985. The countries of the world all 155 decided that they wanted to have another stretch goal to help us as a human society move more people out of poverty and misery into a life with more dignity. So, they set up for the year 2030 17 goals that most countries 155 countries have signed on to. And these 17 goals range from water to gender equity to inequality to how we use the ocean and really a comprehensive look at how do we as humans survive in this very perilous water that we’re sailing through. Because you know that we have the capacity to work with genetic engineering. Basically, we can self-destruct many times over to make it very short. We have to become much more emotionally and spiritually intelligent. And while the UN doesn’t use those words I’m using those words to describe the reason behind conscious decided. Let’s see if we can stretch ourselves to make sure we can provide energy that’s sustainable so we don’t overuse the natural resources we have of oil water or whatever and then end up in a more perilous situation. And we will have a short window as you know with climate change for example. A short window of time to self-correct and make sure that we get our selves living lives much more sustainable. You know how much waste we have in the developed world. But in developing countries they have a lot of waste because some people live very affluent lifestyles and some people are living in much poverty and misery. How do we balance that out as well to reduce inequality and equity to reduce the tensions and therefore reduce hopefully the violence and insecurity of people’s daily lives? So, this is all of what is encapsulated in these 17 goals and 169 targets that countries are expected to move towards. And let me say before I forget the private sector is asked to do its part. It’s the private sector that has the responsibility. Look how much water is being used by companies like the beverage companies, energy companies, steel companies, all of these chemical companies that make the products we use. Every day people use water energy. If they are not operating sustainably they’re also providing more risk to us and so the goal also is not just the government’s but for small businesses medium-sized businesses industries to see how they can play a role. Play their part in attaching their strategic vision of their company’s success to a global agenda.
I love it. It’s so true because there have been companies that have brought a sickness even to certain towns here in the United States. I don’t really know outside of the United States but I know that there have been towns that have been completely sick. Sometimes even unexplained diseases. I totally agree that they should they should be responsible. I mean I think we all have to put our part even us as individuals I believe.
Exactly. That’s what my public interest work is. How do I get people to take these statistics that looks too onerous half poverty? What the hell does half poverty mean to the average person? Does it mean for example in low-income communities that every child will get a hot warm breakfast in the morning at school? So, now we can break these very ambitious lofty goals that seem so distant into something that’s very practical. What I do when I talk to an audience is really trying to see how I can find even one goal that maybe referential to what their sector is and bring it in. I find a way to tie what they’re doing because after all if you’re seven billion of us in the world each one of us 7 billion is contributed in some way of either helping or harming our future.
Can you explain how we share our future?
Well how we share our future is a term I use because sometimes people see the future as it is out there. I have no control. Or in some instances the people in power believe well we are in charge of everybody’s future and we want to create a future that looks just like this. So, let’s take for example we use the whole return to space travel something that really is interesting for me. All these companies are racing to go to the moon first and the countries are building. Guess what? Because there are minerals on the moon that are very plentiful which are supposed to be very rare on earth. Now who gets there first supposedly will own the wealth. Now I have my challenge with that. The moon does affect our tides and our harvest. I don’t want people mucking up the moon the way they muck up earth. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have space travel. I’m not saying we aren’t meant to explore. After all we have God inside of us and because God created the space clearly, we’re going to try and also go after space because that’s just who we are as humans. How do we democratize space? So, when we share the future I have 30 global challenges or global issues that I talked about and that is for example how we share space. How is your decision making? Think of it this way we have all these data points. The Internet of things and big data. Who controls that data? Who gets to sit at the table and makes decisions around that data? We are the minority groups and the equity around fault lines of race, gender, class whatever it is. How do we share data which is going to drive our future? So, there are 30 of those. Bio diversity, crime, transnational crime, cybersecurity all of these things are happening now and how they happen emerge to shape the future. I want to see a future in which the policymakers and the big headhunters of all these investment funds and all these global corporations are more aware that we need a diverse perspective on the future. The future does not belong only to white males in authority but indeed all types of people. Even from those poor countries which some people consider a basket case or SH countries have a right to a saying and how we share the future. It is our common human very human future.
I totally get that and I think that’s why my mission to teach futures to the layperson, to the business person, to kids who are going into careers. It’s important that they understand the importance of future and the importance of understanding futures because they can help shape it if they know that there is such a thing. But oftentimes what happens is that they don’t even know. They don’t even know that that’s a possibility or probability that they have that potential of shaping the future.
Think about it they’re even shaping the future by their apathy. So, if you’re apathetic and you’re like I can’t do anything then something will be done on to you.
Exactly. That is how I feel about the voting. If you don’t vote then what happens? Then somebody else will win. By burying your head in the sand does not be that things are not still going to happen. So, you’re right they’re still a part of it but they’re not an active part.
I think that mission is an important mission right now because the tools that young people have in their hand. I mean their smartphone is more powerful than the box of card decks that I used to take to the computer lab with back in the day.
Technically we do have a short window of time to try and correct it. We must educate everyone to be able to get on board like look we have so much time let’s work on getting these futures together. We can all really have a positive hand in it.
The one thing, Dr. Claire, that I know you’re known for is for your storytelling yet you’re a sustainable engineer. I would love to know how you couple that because I always love when things are told in that storytelling format. How do you do this?
Well I think it’s a natural gift. I stuttered very badly when I was a child. I stuttered very badly up until I was 40 years old. And I still stutter now quite frankly. But at one point I couldn’t speak on stage as clear but I could perform as somebody else. So, like I don’t know what was going on in my brain maybe I was like two persons well the two persons are trying to merge into one. So, what happened was when I started to decide to speak publicly I realized it was easier for me to enter in my otherness. So, if I came on as a character I could more easily reduce my tension and make me more comfortable. I realize that’s really who I am. In other words, I need that to reduce my stress level so as I say sometimes it’s not even me there and I no longer am the person it’s like I give a channel. I say this because sometimes when I’m speaking and people say wow you know you really touch me. Like I didn’t say all of that so I believe I’m a channel for information that person needs to hear. So, I’m open. When you’re in the creative mode also in storytelling actually I do courses in storytelling and Storifying foresight. I think in companies if you can do storytelling in change management you help people to open their emotions you’ll be able to move to change. So, science has shown that when you’re doing stories your whole body your brain the more centers in your cortex that light up through story because different emotion and centers are awoken. If you present dry data only one or two centers. Let’s say we do an exercise in foresight futures and then you have this very dry data. What you want to do is to get that into a story form and if you have the time and the company is open and very creative you actually can have the people in the company begin to take on these characters. Especially the characters who are considered troublemakers get them to take on other characters so they begin to see how they might respond to the change differently. I really think it’s a tool. There’s a lot more people doing story telling in business right now just to be able to tell their story for marketing purposes. But I use it more for helping to make transformative change.
We had Alethia from Mexico. She has a fabulous job and she makes it a theatrical. She does scenarios through this. I have to tell you for the last 10 years I’ve been doing this. My format has been paper and we write out those scenarios. But bringing them to life that way oh my goodness that is going to take such a turn. So, storytelling theatrical performances and again it’s not like it’s not like a formal thing. It’s not like it’s a play but everybody participates & everybody has a role and that role is what I’m so fascinated with.
And it really depends on the audience you’re talking to. Because some audiences you have to go very gently with them. They’re not open you don’t want to scare them and they go my god they come with some crazy stuff. I do write my scenarios out and then I might turn them around I say how can I make it more interesting to present. So, it’s always again knowing your audience and knowing your appetite. But you do as a futurist I think want to help people make that stretch because if you’re not making that stretch you’re really not adding any value. If they’re going to leave the room as the same way they came in then what’s the point of you being there. Our role is to help our communities that we’re talking to, to really make that leap of imagination. Make them say oh I haven’t thought about that before.
And I think making this story kind of makes them connect. Everybody wants to hear a story. When you start telling the story even if it’s your own personal story people stop and listen. They want to know how does that connect to me. What does it have to do with me? I can identify with that. I think it just draws them in. I think it draws them closer. Would you agree?
Yes, definitely. I mean right now I’m working on my story about going to the moon in 2034. I’m performing that in Salzburg. I’ve performed it before but I’m going to be workshopping it in because I’m going to be around and artists. That are hopefully are very helpful but very good critics to strengthen it. I’m also actually working on something for Black History Month which is not really a story but I’m thinking how do I take that information and turn it into a story. So, when I do try to go to and say here’s what these people said about the future of Black History make it more palatable in case it was very harsh. I don’t want to make it harsh and hopeless. I never want to leave people feeling hopeless. We always want to find a point of aspiration that is achievable smart foresight. I call it smart foresight, strategic, meaningful, aspirational, resilient and tactical. And because I’m an engineer I take my story and say but how did we get there. Then they go oh my god it’s believable. I really make those steps believable. And what I’m talking about is 10 years from now. I can say you know what would have to happen for that to happen 10 years from now? Tomorrow or next month we would have to do this. And you know why we can do this because yesterday this was invented or last year this was invented? People realize I am not just making stuff out of thin air it is coming from the trains and the drivers of change. So, this is a way of not using the technical language, trends, mega tends and micro trends. But you make it so that they can see that this is something you are observing. The thing is people are normally experts in their own field they just don’t know that they’re expert in their own field. Like if you won’t speak to a group of librarians unless you are a librarian you can’t know about library than they do. But when you come with your information you ask them certain questions you say but did you know that this could happen? They go like oh we hadn’t thought about that and that’s because we’re naïve. Were naive but intelligent critics of their future. So, because we’re naive we don’t make assumptions that they would have made about what cannot happen. This is why even for small organizations that might say this is only for some big companies I’m like no. All organizations have to equally agile and adaptable in order to be resilient.
Exactly. As a matter of fact, sometimes moving a large company is harder because they’re like a big elephant. And it is very hard to move them along. But whereas in small companies they’re more agile. You’re always speaking to the decision maker because they are small. You’re speaking to the CEO and they’re a lot more agile. And I think that’s why there’s been this turn in these small companies. Such as the little Google’s and a little Amazon’s becoming these huge companies. Yes, they’re very adaptable very agile and they’re willing to make the necessary changes because they know they need it. Then suddenly they’re the big companies who are so disruptive that they are putting the big companies who = are not moving so quickly out of business.
But then you wonder what will happen to the googles of this world 10 years from now when they are old companies. Will they settle for the same paralysis or will they maintain their edge? That’s part also of why just like how a sprinter needs a coach or an athlete needs a coach. Businesses should think about using futurists as part of their coaches for strategic thinking. Don’t see it as an expense but really more as an investment in making them more powerful.
That’s what Google did. Google hired Ray Kurzweil. This was three or four years ago. Here’s the deal I mean but at least they realized that they needed a futurist on board. In order to stay current, they did need that futurist.
But what I’m going to propose that they think about having a Council of futurists. Because futurists have their own biases. No one is going to let me believe that if you grew up in middle America I’m sure that you are wonderful and innovative person. But you’re not going to have the life experiences that inform my experience growing up in Jamaica, in a developing country. And so, what you bring it futurism and foresight is not all science. A lot of it is art. If we’re playing jazz you’re a musician I’m a musician and we’re playing jazz. As a futurist it’s a sort of jazz composition that you’re doing with your clients because you know it’s not a predictable here is where we’re going to end up. You cannot tell them today in ten years you will be you can say in ten years you could be and let us make a composition to see how that might look like. It’s a form of jazz it’s not a standard classical Symphony.
That’s where also the emotional intelligence and the cultural intelligence and even the spiritual intelligence comes. All of that is part of futures. It seems like so abstract like I’ve always heard well emotional intelligence goes under psychology. Well there is a part of psychology that goes absolutely goes into futures also.
Exactly because when we’re working with a patient you want a patient to imagine a more improved healthy future for themselves. Otherwise why are they paying money to come to a therapist.
They’re clearly, in some crisis or in some situation that they can’t see themselves out. So, they’re coming to the specialist to help them out. Well that’s pretty much with futures. There is a space where they can’t see that future. They don’t see that outside of what they’re actually doing and outside of their organization or outside of their daily tasks. They shouldn’t have to. This is why they hire people to come help them. Those are the specialists that’s why they hire consultants. That’s the reason why people come in to help them. I love Jerome Glenn who gives me the futures wheel. The how about that, and how about this and how about the other. Futures will give you that whole comprehensive look at your future.
That’s really what we have to do as futurists to help organizations and enterprises make better choices today to arrive at their desired future. I think most people want a future that is prosperous and I hope sustainable.
Claire, we obviously see that the benefit of small organizations using strategic foresight. So, we know that there are benefits to having a futurist on board because that’s where Amazon and Google have benefited.
Or even as a consultant if they can’t afford to have somebody full-time.
It’s true. Right. We also see the need that as their company gets bigger they should probably have multiple from different disciplines and different perspectives that can help analyze their future when they do get bigger. But, what are the consequences if any organization does not engage in strategic foresight?
We know certainly about those organizations that no longer exist because they fail to foresee the change to the industry. Whether you’re talking about a blockbuster or Kodak. So, thrival, I use the word thrival, we don’t want you to survive we want you to thrive. And thriving is only possible if organizations continue to reinvent themselves to meet the needs of their stakeholders/customers/clients. So, today your stakeholder let’s say your company services to 15-year-olds. Are you going to be still servicing those 15-year-olds who will be 30 in 15 years? Or are you planning to service the new 15-year-olds in 15 years? Which are babies now. And so, you have to have a decision by monitoring the different trends in the landscape around you. Otherwise you might find yourself irrelevant having outgrown or having your clients outgrow your needs and what you provide or not able to reinvent your service or your products to provide what the customer/client/stakeholder needs. Constant reinvention.
Exactly and that’s what futures is. That constant reinvention. I tell my clients it’s not just a reinvention for the sake of reinvention but it’s a well-educated change. You have information that allows you to make those changes. They have to be small but consistent changes.
And you know change is happening so fast now. One of the things about futures and foresight is that to anticipate you need to look further ahead. The speed of which were changing life now you’ll be able to look out further and that’s what we give. So, the consequences are failure to succeed or failure to last, maybe be the better word, failure to last the length of the race. Do you want to be around for the length of a sprint or do you want to be around for the length of a marathon? That’s the choice you make.
Great analogy. I love it.
This is one of the things that Rachel’s always saying she talks a lot about longevity and she’s like hey if you position yourself well you can sell your organization. It could be publicly traded and you can sell your organization and retire from your organization rather than close the doors because you’re no longer available. Leave a legacy for your children. Leave something for them to look forward to. Or something for them to sell. It doesn’t matter but she says most businesses are so tunnel vision that they only go as far as they can see in that tunnel. That’s often not very not very far especially with the rapid changes.
I totally agree and that also applies for nonprofits and movements as well.
Well I want to thank you Dr. Claire for coming here I know you’re a very busy person. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you so much for your knowledge and depositing your knowledge to our audience. I look forward to again meeting with you soon and seeing you at our different APF events.
Thank you so much. I appreciate the opportunities to spread the gospel according to Claire.
I just published a trend book called Providenciales Prospects and hopefully I’ll be sharing that with you.
If you could give us the link we will put it here and we will share it with our audience.
Okay thank you.
Thank you so much. Thank you, Rachel. I will see you guys next week for with another awesome futurist goodbye.
Dr. Claire Nelson is a researcher, educator and practitioner of futures. She brings a fresh perspective on her topic “How We Can Share Our Future Globally”
Dr. Claire Nelson is Ideation Leader of The Futures Forum. This is a research and education practice specializing in bringing the power of strategic foresight, and the discipline of sustainability engineering to challenges facing diverse organizations and communities.
Her public interest speaking and research is around global development challenges such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and How We Share Our Future.
Dr. Nelson also provides private strategic thinking, facilitation and advisory services to clients in both the public and the private sector. She serves as a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the Journal of Future Studies,
She is also a member of the Association of Professional Futurists and the World Future Studies Federation. She is an award-winning writer and storyteller.
She is distinguished as the first Jamaican woman to earn a Doctorate in Engineering.
Dr. Nelson has been awarded many honors for leadership such as an Outstanding Alumni Award from Purdue University, School of Industrial Engineering, commendations in the U.S. Congressional Record, and a White House Champion of Change.
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