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The Future Is Where You Find It - Late 2011 Sessions

At the end of another year – my 25th as a futurist – it’s interesting to look back at recent projects for some perspective and observations. My work takes me to a wide range of locations and there’s always an interesting twist to the proceedings.

Parked in between the strategy sessions that form an increasing share of my practice were some intriguing groups and industry situations.

I worked extensively for the Institute for Management Studies this year. IMS is one of my most loyal clients and I’ve been on their faculty for over 17 years. I teach a full day seminar on anticipatory habits, foresight practices, strategic thinking, and informed decision-making. Typically there are executives from a stimulating mix of companies that come together for an interactive day of observations, discussions, debate, and what I think are some excellent case studies. Boston was my final region of the year and my host Bill Brottmiller had attracted top notch people from everything from shoe manufacturing (New Balance) to insurance (Amica and others) to sound equipment (Bose) as well as healthcare, government, and banking.

This group applied the section I teach on “Seeing Around Corners” in some intriguing ways to identify early signals of consumer behavior, an innovation-resurgent America, and some of the next major risks in the insurance field. It was a superb day. That night I sat next to a venture capital guy in the energy field who regaled me with things I’d never known about how to store wind and solar power for use in high-demand periods.

I spent December working largely with agriculture. Funny how that happens a lot when the land is fallow and snow blankets the Breadbasket. I’d never worked with the aerial application side of ag before but I keynoted a conference where I looked, among a range of developments, at the substantial penetration of automation into the field. I’ve long held that jobs that are “dirty, dangerous, or dull” have the highest payoff from robots and automation. The barnstorming background of crop dusters is long gone and is now being replaced in odd corners of the world by small flying robots that could be the safer, more efficient future of that industry.

Earlier in the year I was with a roomful of Washington state mayors. I worked on a long term consulting assignment with the National League of Cities and their Advisory Council which is charged with identifying the emerging trends that will affect America’s towns and cities. This leads to a fair amount of work in the municipal space.

I had an interesting side conversation with Seattle’s Mayor Mike McGinn. When I asked one of my typical futurist questions, “What’s surprised you this past year?” He had a quick comeback. “Food trucks and medical marijuana!” Of course they weren’t connected. Municipalities walk a tightrope in uncertain funding times if they allow any form of “semi-legal” drug use that’s not permitted under Federal law. I won’t say more. But the food trucks comment related to something very interesting: the movement of some of America’s most talented and adventurous chefs out of the restaurant establishment and onto the streets.

Now the cognoscenti among foodies are passing around social media hints, tips, and raves on where to get the best mobile food in America. Many chefs are experimenting, reinventing, and testing recipes from a few burners or an oven inside of a moving kitchen. “Meet-ups” and tweet-enabled magnets of inexpensive, gourmet-quality eats are popping up all over America and McGinn said his city is trying to stay ahead of the massive burgeoning of the trend in Seattle. The future is where you find it.