TIM LONGHURST is a trend analyst and strategic consultant for the company he founded, Key Message, helping organisations such as IBM, IKEA and Microsoft adapt to a changing world. Here, the futurist revisits his past, offering some sage advice to his start-up self.
AS TOLD TO SARAH NORRIS
You’ll have absolutely no idea what a futurist is in high school, but it’s about then that you become more socially minded. Yo u help raise money for welfare programs and years later will campaign for issues such as climate change and the Iraq War. The activism of your early twenties will inform a lot of your philosophy and work. Collaborating with others and campaigning with humour on issues you believe in becomes one of your best decisions.
Then you become aware of futurists. An article by author Richard Neville will be mind-stretching, and when educator Jan Lee Martin speaks at your uni, it’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen or heard on campus. You study communications at Charles Sturt University because you think the advertising industry is somewhere you can be a storyteller. But it’s student life that piques your real interest.
You’ll become Student Representative Council president and chair of the student union — all stuff people consider an interference to study. You’ll also run a business selling domain names to large companies. It’s 1998 and people don’t even know what they are, but you do, and it’s a sign you can predict future trends. Although it’s not particularly successful, it teaches you a valuable lesson — even if you see an opportunity, if you can’t communicate it to the market, you won’t get traction. You’ll eventually drop out of uni and at the time beat yourself up about that choice; don’t worry, go with it.
While you’re still at uni, however, you’ll need to complete an internship. Choose to do it with Tony Abbott because it will help you discover you’re not nearly as politically conservative as you thought, but more importantly, that politics isn’t for you. A lot of the people you meet seem to have already made up their minds about just about everything political — something I’m sure is not unique to conservatives — and the lack of creativity, diversity of opinion and open-mindedness will be striking.
You’ll be a little closed-minded, too. When you’re older you realise you should have started speaking at conferences and coaching earlier but you thought you had to wait until you had it all figured out. You didn’t, you don’t, you never will. As soon as you have something that can help others on their journey, share it. Don’t let the idea of charging money for your expertise scare you because you’ll eventually speak at about 40 conferences per year, in front of more than 1000 people at a time.
Finally, don’t be afraid of your rough edges, it’ll give people something to hold onto. The more you include those you admire in your work, the more fun it will become. The day you admit you’re struggling and can’t do it all yourself is the day you unleash the creativity and support of some amazing friends.
In just under an hour, I’ll be on stage discussing trends and opportunities with a panel that includes Richard Branson. My hosts at the University of Queensland Business School have sent the themes of the discussion ahead of time, so I’ve been sitting and reflecting on each in turn.
The audience is a mix of business people and high school/university students. Most of the audience live in Queensland.
I’ve decided to quickly blog a opportunities for each topic area, so here goes:
Education isn’t something for kids… It’s something for each of us throughout our lives. But since we’re going to be talking about formal education today; we’ll know we’re rocking formal education when kids are RAVING about what they’re learning and participating actively and with energy in their learning. Frankly, if we’re going to lock people up in an institution for 12 of the best years of their life, we owe it to them that they have an amazing time that allows them to develop their understanding of themselves and the world. The qualities we ought to instill in learners include: curiosity, collaboration and creativity. Curiosity, because it’s the spark that turns us into lifelong learners—essential in a fast changing world; collaboration because knowing how to bring out the best in others and work in team environments is such a big part of realising our own potential; and creativity because that it is an act that puts these amazing supercomputers between our ears to work in ways that inspire ourselves and others. We want to create a generation of creators of amazing content… Not just consumers.
I don’t accept the next 100 years will be the “Asian Century”… Why should one geography get all the fun? No, this will be the “connected century”, where power is distributed around the world and we share the best of ourselves and learn from the best of others. We’re already seeing people collaborating in teams that defy geography and culture… And we’re just getting started. If we are to learn from Asian cultures, the long term thinking that defines many of the choices made in Asia would be a great place to start… The infrastructure investments we in Australia know make sense—but can’t seem to get right (think renewable energy, high speed trains) are good examples of areas that China is able to invest heavily in, at least in part, because of their cultural capacity for foresight.
THE ROLE OF NOT FOR PROFITS
The vast majority are only motivated by money to a point. When I ask client and colleagues why they’re putting so much of themselves into projects, the rewards listed include: contribution, legacy, connection, the reward of making a difference.
It used to be that if we cared enough, setting up a not for profit seemed like a good way to go. Today, with the emergence of services such as change.org, the boring back office stuff is taken care of by others and allows us to express our visions for a better world with a few taps. I’m seriously excited by how many people are becoming activists on their mobiles and at their office desks throughout the day… demanding change on important issues and throwing their weight behind important campaigns without having to quit their day jobs. Not for profits will always have a role, but they’re not the only structure that creates change!
CHOOSING A LEADER
Leadership is a behaviour, not a position! We are presented with opportunities to lead every day of our lives, and it’s ok if we don’t seize every opportunity. We know we’re leading when other people follow. Whether it’s an idea for a new product or a suggestion for a system improvement… We’re increasingly realising that power is something we take, not something we are given, and there’s no need to wait for a job title or a better position in the hierarchy to make amazing things happen!
Three qualities I’d look for if I was hiring a CEO: charisma, humility and foresight. Charisma is because as much as the technology around us is changing, our physiology and social needs are going to be here for a while. Charisma will count for a long time yet! I chose humility because CEO’s increasingly need to defer to their networks. The wisdom is in the group, and that means listening to customers, activists, front line staff. Finally, foresight: leadership is as much about pattern recognition, sense making, visioning and storytelling… And that’s a big part of what foresight is about.
THE NEXT BIG LEAP
The possibilities available to the web are only just starting to be realised… My friend Eddy Harran says we’re at the “Stone Age of the Internet” and I couldn’t agree more. We’re just getting started. We know there are so many challenges we face as humanity, but just at a time where we’re recognising the major challenges, the tool that is informing us (the web) is also the tool we can harness to address them. For every challenge we face in our community—name one— there are literally thousands of people connecting, collaborating, scheming, to address it! Paul Hawken reckons that in our simple acts of collaboration, exercise and generosity we are rising like an immune system to heal the planet. He’s onto something. Our next big leap is to see the major challenges our planet faces as tasks worthy of our best efforts. The next big leap is for us to recognise our capacity to seize this amazing opportunity to create a legacy of contribution that echoes through the ages!!!
Well, that’s what I’m off to share. The panel will be on Sky Business News in the coming days. Will update this post with times and then the link when it’s on the web!
There is a bully who insists that unless I really stress and struggle over my writing, it’ll be mediocre… and not worth publishing.
This bully has the capability of whispering within my mind—in a voice that is remarkably similar to my regular, witty inner dialogue and thoughts.
I’ve nicknamed this bully the “Mediogre”.
It was my Mediogre that first encouraged me to not hit publish on a blog post about a year ago.
I was tired… Exhausted from weeks on the road, and, ready for a break, I gave in to the Mediogre. I thought, “Yep. I should come back to this post and finesse it when I’m feeling fresh.” I’d made a terrible error. I never would return to that draft blog post… And worse: I’d given the Mediogre a taste of victory.
Emboldened by the win, my Mediogre grew strong and brash. Pretty soon any time I thought to write about anything, the Mediogre cautioned me… My last writing effort had been so mediocre I hadn’t published it. “Why bother?” shrugged my ogre.
Looking back, I can see what a fool I’ve been. I love writing. I should never have let the Mediogre get the better of me. Fancy being browbeaten by a fictional character!
I’m sharing this story with you because I know each of us experiences the stifling voice of a Mediogre in at least some aspects of our lives.
Every blog post I publish is written with the blood of my Mediogre. If you’re reading this post, the Mediogre has tasted defeat. But I know he’ll be back. I’m sure with practice, slaying him will become easier, but I doubt it will ever be effortless.
So… Here’s to slaying our Mediogres. To remembering that the only proven way to get better at anything is to give it a shot. To giving things that are good for us, or others (or both) a go. And to remembering that most people aren’t nearly as judgemental as our Mediogres are… At least partly because they’re busy dealing with their own Mediogres themselves.
Facebook’s a great place for us to burn time, but might it also be a great place to make money? This week the company lists at a price that values Facebook as worth more than, for example, restaurant chain McDonalds or global miner, BHP.
While we don’t offer financial advice at this site, here are few pro’s and con’s to consider as people around us decide whether they’re going to buy into the business. These are 5 things that will get you thinking – and at the very least, help you sound smart at social functions.
PRO 1) Facebook is a media empire with free labour. It’s the writing, photos, videos and check-ins of 900 million users that constitute the ‘crack’ that makes Facebook worth coming back to. An expectation that users will keep giving Facebook content for nothing is a big part of what’s being sold here. Interesting to think of us as millions of freelance writers/photographers who work for free. By comparison, Rupert Murdoch pays his journo’s and photographers, but his business is valued at less than half Facebook’s $104 billion pricetag.
PRO 2) There are lots of opportunities for Facebook to cash in on users. From the obvious (more ads) to the more outlandish (Facebook becomes a financial institution and starts selling us tailored loans, credit cards and insurance – imagine going delinquent on a loan and losing Facebook access as a punishment!). Tricky bit – somehow they’ve got to squeeze a lot more money out of us without ruining the ‘experience’.
CON 1) Facebook’s listing price is asking investors to bet that the business is going to make a LOT more money in the future than they are today.
The listing price of Facebook values the company at about $100 per user. Right now Facebook is making only a little bit of cash per user – about $5 per year from each one of us. They’re going to need to make a lot more than that to justify such a huge sale price.
CON 2) Facebook users are loyal to each other, not the website! If Facebook wants loyalty, they should buy a dog. People are loyal to each other – not a communication platform. For many people, Facebook has been their first foray into social networking, but I doubt it’ll be their last. Some might find it hard to imagine abandoning the service, but when your friends move on, you learn to stop showing up pretty quickly. (Citation: AOL, MySpace, Hotmail, Yahoo…). When it comes to staying connected, as better options come along, users switch… It might feel like it’s different for Facebook, but that’s a bet against history.
Difference between Facebook and Google? Google made ten times more than Facebook last year. Google is valued by the market at about $200bn and last year made about $38bn. By comparison, Facebook made a tenth of that. So to break that down into rough numbers… At today’s prices, if you had a dollar of stock in both Facebook and Google, here’s how your investment performed last year:
Facebook: 3.7¢ revenue. Profit/loss unknown.
Google: 19¢ revenue. 6¢ profit.
So it’s Facebook’s revenue potential that investors are being sold, not the current reality…
Finally, Facebook missed a huge opportunity by choosing not to sell stock to each user of the service. Sure the parcels would have been small for many users, but imagine the loyalty Facebook would have achieved if a significant proportion of their customers were also their shareholders.
So what do you see as the future for Facebook? Are you buying in? Sitting on the sidelines? Let us know your take in the comments!
For the past week, Sydney residents gathered in Martin Place to participate in a 24/7 forum to discuss creating futures that are more inclusive, just and sustainable. In the heart of the city, Martin Place is wide enough to host hundreds of people while accommodating passers by. This patch of Sydney, squeezed between the corporate foyers of the Reserve and Westpac banks, is an otherwise under-utilised resource.
What an atmosphere
Were the people that gathered peaceful and inclusive? Yes, and they were kind and generous, too. Personally, I found the way the space was organised colourful, welcoming and cushy (sleeping bags abound), if untidy… but in a city dotted with deep craters surrounded by trucks, cranes and pollution, a few sleeping bags and hand-made signs was hardly an affront to Sydney’s visual amenity.
Good for the local economy
The proprietors of the local coffee cart couldn’t believe their luck, and started a late night service to feed hungry visitors to the site. An employee of a chocolate shop down the road enthused that visitors have been “stock[ing] up on chocolate and coffee“. Of the five closest food retailers, I’d be surprised if one of them didn’t see an upturn in sales as a result of this dead city space becoming a hive of activity.
Didn’t the #occupy movement start in Wall Street? This isn’t America!
At the time of writing, more than 1500 cities are hosting #occupy gatherings. ’Wall St’ influence, excesses and gambles are shaping the lives of people in multiple ways. Many of the same questions about fairness, equity and sustainability Americans are asking ought to be addressed here, too. Australians have their own grievances, concerns, hopes and dreams and many would like to advocate, discuss and debate these in an inclusive, open forum.
So who shows up to this stuff?
The Australian #occupy spaces were given far more mainstream media coverage than your average Friday night “Politics in the Pub”… So with a nudge like that, it wasn’t just the ‘usual suspects’ that showed up.
Participants have come from a mix of backgrounds and experiences. While we didn’t often talk about our backgrounds, in my conversations at #OccupySydney I spoke with carers, lawyers, bankers, wharfies, engineers, homeless, contractors, jobless, university students, teachers, marketers and scientists… People from all walks of life had come for a multitude of reasons.
Politically, there were people who consider themselves swinging voters, others were a-political. There were capitalists, greenies, anarchists, socialists and conspiracy theorists, and each treated the others with respect and humanity.
In our complex world, expecting people to come together with a single grievance or solution is unrealistic. It’s in the coming together, the conversations, the dialogue, that common ground is found.
So why gather at all?
Sydney has plenty of places where you can eat, drink, take drugs to loud music, gamble money on sport or in machines, and buy stuff. There are plenty of places where you can have a picnic, read a book, have a swim or go for a walk. But public spaces where people are welcome to gather with fellow citizens, 24/7 to talk about addressing systemic problems and find ways to organise to build better futures? Well, that hasn’t really happened before.
In a functioning democracy, with shift-workers pulling nights and contractors slogging it out during the days, gathering during a fixed window of time isn’t an inclusive approach. The web has influenced our “’round the clock” world where we connect electronically with whoever’s awake; if anything, this lifestyle shift has given rise to the acceptability and practical necessity of a public space for 24/7 political conversations.
Occupy Sydney in pictures
Every now and then, I snapped a photo to capture my experiences at Occupy Sydney. I worked every day this week, so I was only there for a few hours at a time. It didn’t occur to me that I’d be sharing these photos via the web, but I decided to write this blog post after what happened this morning…
“We have the power to begin the world over” – the sleeping bags of a selection of Sydney’s idealists in the foreground as a General Assembly takes place (background).
A General Assembly (meeting)takes place on Monday night. You can read more about these in my original Occupy Sydney blog post. This one took place on the amphitheatre steps… Because a few of Sydney’s homeless people use these steps to eat their dinner, it was agreed the General Assemblies would happen away from the comfort of the steps to ensure #OccupySydney participants weren’t breaking the homeless peoples’ routine.
“We can’t camp out with you, but we support what you’re doing…” A dad and daughter bring lamingtons to Occupy Sydney. The lamingtons were well received, as were the pizzas, salads, crackers, biscuits… much of the food was donated by people supportive of this democratic process.
“More than 2.2 million Australians live below the poverty line” – one of the many hand-made posters inviting passers-by to consider the world from another point of view. In a city filled with luxury handbag shops and ads for TV shows and yogurt, why not inspire people to reflect, think or act, rather than just consume?
“Discussion in progress, please join”… One of the many signs that made it clear to all citizens that this space was for everyone. For a city where many bars and clubs will happily exclude people based on age, race, gender or dress, this was refreshingly inclusive. And no cover charge.
This band rocked. I asked them who they were and when they were playing their next gig, and they said they’d prefer not to plug their next gig because it was more important that people focused their attention on keeping Martin Place vibrant.
Another of the many hand made signs. None of the signs could truly capture the sentiment or feelings of the thousands who participated in the first week, but the positivity of, ”We Occupy Martin Place because another world is possible!” does a pretty good job.
“Everyone is welcome” the pink flag to the left (obscured) reads, “What if we were prepared to sacrifice our comfort for change?”. The banner is part of a city-wide art exhibition. The serendipity of its placement reassured many of those sleeping under street lights.
Throughout the week, the ever-present police were hanging around talking to each other and mostly looking bored. They had joined the force to catch bad guys, and now they were stuck here watching people discuss massive corporate crimes that were well outside their jurisdiction… Must have been frustrating for them. Occasionally they’d read a poster or engage in a brief conversation about political ideas. I spoke to police every time I visited Occupy Sydney, and not once did they advise me that I was participating in an activity that was “in breach of the city’s camping regulations”. They sure didn’t manage to warn anyone that because people were sacrificing their comfort for something they believed in, riot police and bomb squad personnel would soon be deployed.
Danny (pictured, above) recognised the ever-present risk of violence, and made himself a billboard to advocate for police pay and conditions. He is a true lover of peace and happiness. Every city could do with a few of him. If you ever see him, say G’day to him, and pat his dog, Smarty.
The Occupy Sydney statement that was created through consensus by the participants of Occupy Sydney on Friday. The riot police showed up on the Saturday rally that celebrated one week. The police “kettled” the protest by lining the only two exits out of Occupy Sydney. There had been plans for some participants on Saturday to leave the space and do a tour of Sydney, highlighting some of the misdeeds of various corporations who occupy the city buildings.
Through a democratic process, it was agreed that the police presence meant it would not be appropriate to embark on the tour. Such a tour would have involved the crowd confronting two lines of riot police. A walk would risk violence, and as a peaceful democratic movement, we agreed the tour would instead take place in small groups later in the week.
And so the people stayed. They stayed and played music, talked, shared political ideas, and handed leaflets with cartoons and jokes on them. They stayed and ate sausages on bread rolls. It was a laid-back picnic protest. It wasn’t what a few of the gung-ho activist types would have liked (they rightly argued that the riot police showing up was intimidating and unnecessary, and if citizens had to cross a line of riot police to go for a walk on public streets, than so be it)…But it was a global movement expressed with an Australian flavour… Many of us weren’t rusted on activists… We were simply participating in a democratic action. The presence of riot police was more bemusing than anything. We weren’t doing anything that would call for riot police! This isn’t a police state, after all.
This morning I woke to the news that the riot police moved in at 5am. I’ve read reports that those who were asleep were woken and given 5 minutes to vacate the space. Tired, indignant, sleepy, angry… Some participants decided that their peaceful protest, a statement aimed in part at strengthening democracy, didn’t deserve the riot squad, and chose to stand their ground.
An hour before daybreak, away from the transparency and accountability of sunlight and cameras, the police pounced. They destroyed the signs that quoted statistics about poverty and pollution, and the people were dragged away. A number were arrested. The space was cleared of both character and civility. The area between the Reserve and Westpac banks was made plain, boring and uninviting again.
I felt sick. I felt sorry for the people who were busy keeping the space alive overnight… Holding the space for those of us that showed up during the day. I wondered what happened to the people who I’d talk to. To the gentle souls like Alan, who suggested to me that if everybody shared, nobody would go without:
I was gutted. I tweeted:
Pictured: In this exact spot, every hour for a week, conversations about peace took place. Today, storm troopers with guns and tasers instead took pride of place. I wonder what refreshing ideas were discussed here today? NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch explained it was time ”to return Martin Place to the community of Sydney.”. The community of Sydney already had the space, thanks Mark. No matter how hard you scrub, the ideas that were discussed here, the connections that were sparked, remain.