This is our final ThrowForward Thursday for 2023, and I look back at the work I have done with 154 different client engagements. There are five big themes that have emerged during the year, and I am sure will continue into 2024:
- Generative AI
- Future Trends – TIDES – Grey Elephants – opportunity mindset
- Antifragility – Future of work and people
- Peak Performance – 4 day work week
- Think Like a Futurist – especially rethink and unlearn systems
See you in 2024. Have a good break if you’re able to take one.
2023 will no doubt go down as one of the most pivotal years in human history, certainly in our lifetimes. Our team at TomorrowToday has spent the year doing what we always do, which is helping our clients to make sense of the change that is happening but also to anticipate what that change means for the future and where the world is going in the next few years.
My name is Graeme Codrington. This is ThrowForward Thursday, but as we head to the end of 2023, I thought I’d just changed the format slightly. I want to do a quick review of 2023.
As I look back over the 154 different workshops, events, consulting sessions that I’ve done with clients in the past year, and we can multiply that by four or five for the whole team TomorrowToday. There are five key themes that have jumped out at me, these didn’t take a lot of in-depth analysis because these five themes absolutely stood out in the work that we’ve done. And this is the questions that we’ve been asked, the themes of the various sessions that we’ve been run, and the ways in which our clients have asked us to assist them. So, let’s dive in.
Number one is, well, it’s the technology of the year by far. It’s generative AI. We’re of the belief that it’s not really AI, it’s more IA. We’re not just playing with words. It’s intelligent assistance. We’re back in that zone when the technology whiz-kids have thought that they’ve found something that’s going to solve everybody’s problems. I was literally listening to a podcast yesterday that was talking about Radium and the fact that 100 years ago, the Curies and all of their friends thought that they had discovered something that would solve every disease and sort out all of our health issues, of course, in the end, it actually killed the Curies because it can do the things it can do, but there are a lot of limitations, and that’s really where AI is at the moment.
Lots of promise. Certainly, it’s the most powerful technology tool that we have discovered in my lifetime, but it nevertheless has limitations, and we’re still going to be working those out over the next 3-5 years. Proper AI is coming, and what we found in 2023 is we’ve had our warning shot. A lot of companies are going to spend too much money chasing the hype and not enough money getting themselves properly prepared for when real AI emerges. The generative AI is theme number one from 2023.
Number two is then stretching beyond that. We’ve done a lot of work using two different models this year. We’ve had a model that we’ve used for many years called the Tides Model of Disruptive Change, technology, institutional change, demographics, the environment, and social values. These are the five places we think you should look in order to see disruption coming.
But what we did in this last year is we added the concept of Grey Elephants. We like to use visual images to get people thinking and instead of asking people to look many years into the future and anticipate the signals, those weak signals on the far horizon. We actually think that the big news is actually the forces that are already here, but two things are problematic. The first is that people are actually ignoring them. They’re ignoring and you might think, no, people aren’t ignoring them because it’s things like extreme weather and climate change as one of those Grey Elephants. You think nobody’s ignoring them, but of course, actually, a lot of people are. We know that this is happening around us, but how many companies actually have fully worked out strategies for extreme weather and climate change? To use one example.
Other examples are the big squeeze, multipolarity, the emergence of demographic shifts, especially longevity being a major factor in the world that people are living longer, the angry people in the world, and our list goes on, of these Grey Elephants.
People are not pulling these big forces into their strategies and taking them seriously enough. I think they’ve just become blurry background noise, and they now need to come into clear focus. But the second thing is that people need to see the opportunities in this, and that’s really probably been the thing I’ve enjoyed the most this year, is helping people to see these massive forces and they’re not get freaked out about them, but actually to see the opportunities that emerge.
Now that probably leads nicely to the third big piece, which we’ve called Antifragility. This is a word we’ve borrowed from Nassim Nicholas Taleb and his book of the same title. But this is really what we see that people need to be focusing on when they think about the future of work. Is not just building resilience into your system, the ability to take a knock, dust yourself off, pick yourself up, and get going again, but rather building an organisational system and culture that actually when it takes a hit, when the tough times come, when the disruption is real, that your system actually gets stronger, that this is where you benefit, that you take massive leaps ahead of your competition.
Probably my favourite quote of the year is one that my colleague, Dean van Leeuwen, discovered. Ayrton Senna was a Formula 1 race car driver, one of the best of all time, before he sadly passed away, and he was known as the master of wet weather. He was absolutely nobody, nobody could touch him when you were in bad weather. He was just so far ahead of everybody else that it was almost not a race anymore. And yeah, he said, you can’t overtake too many people during a Formula 1 race when the weather is good. Everybody’s roughly got the same capabilities in their cars and in their driving skills. He says, but when it’s raining, you can overtake 20 people, and that’s the attitude that we want people to bring, not just to analysing those Grey Elephants for an opportunity mindset, but also building that into the culture, into the systems, into the DNA of your organisation, so that you are Antifragile.
A fourth part of that was maybe the most surprising element for me. I’ve always been a futurist, focused on the future of work, and I’ve left the softer side of dealing with people to others, people who are more focused on wellbeing and work-life balance and mindfulness and so on. But I’ve just become more and more and more concerned that my clients are talking a good game around wellbeing and work-life balance and so forth, but they’re not doing anything about it. In fact, as a reset after COVID, most of my clients are actually trying to squeeze more out of their people, and I really think that we need to be focusing more in 2024 on getting the best out of our people, not the most out of our people.
Think about that statement, there’s a lot there. For me, the thing that has been unlocked, as I’ve researched all of the various projects and the experiments all around the world on the four-day working week, I’ve realised it’s not really about a four-day working week, it’s not about having a long weekend every weekend, but it’s about peak performance. It’s about understanding the intensity needs to ebb and flow.
Just like a professional athlete can’t give 100% effort and energy all of the time. There needs to be a time to back off a little bit to recover, their light training days, and then there’s peak performance available. And the same is true for your brain, the same is true for all office workers, for all knowledge workers. And if we just ignore that, if we just pretend that you can give 100% all of your time, that we just measure people by the hours they work and the emails they send and the meetings they attend, you’re going to collapse in a heap and your company isn’t going to be here in 2030.
And so, for me, this has become an urgent part of the message I want to get across to people about the future of work, and I don’t want to frame it in the you’ve got to be nice to your people because otherwise, your people will break, and I’m being a little bit sarcastic for effect. You’ve got to do it because if you want innovation, if you need creativity, if resilience and responsiveness to change are important to you, if adaptability and agility are essential skill sets in your business, well, none of those things come unless people have free time, some flexibility, and excess capacity in the system.
Think about that statement, I’m not wrong. You’ve got to have excess capacity and free time in the system, you’ve got to have ebbs and flows of intensity, you’ve got to have a peak performance mindset, not an efficiency, productivity mindset. Get the best, not just the most, out of your people.
And the fifth piece of my puzzle is thinking like a futurist. One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed this past year is helping clients to recognise the confirmation and cognitive biases that beset our thinking that we are limited. It’s not a criticism or a complaint, it’s literally just a comment on the design, the way your brain actually works. And there are simple tools and simple techniques that help you to overcome the inherent limitations that you have, limitations that cause you to see the world only as it is, not as it could be, to actually see the world as you are, even more than actually as it is. And to overcome those by learning how to rethink, how to unlearn, learning the power of knowing what you don’t know, and then giving yourself permission to reimagine for the future.
That’s really what a futurist does. We can’t predict the future, but we can improve our strategic imaginations in order to be able to both anticipate what might happen but also get excited about what we can make happen. We can’t predict the future, but we can create it, and that’s what I love helping my clients to do.
So that’s been my year. Those are the five things that I’ve really spent time doing and engaging with. If you have been in any of my sessions, if you are a part of the workshops and strategy sessions that we’ve done, thank you so much for your support and your engagement, thank you for making 2023 one of my favourite years ever. It’s been a year of tremendous change, a lot of growth and development, lots of new things to learn from me, and that’s what I love the most.
So, from me to you, I hope you had a great year and I hope that the work that we are TomorrowToday do can help set up for an even better year in 2024 and the second half of the 2020s. We look forward to walking that journey with you.
All the best and thank you again for sharing the journey in 2023. Here’s to a wonderful future together. We’ll see you on the flip side.
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Graeme Codrington, is an internationally recognized futurist, specializing in the future of work. He helps organizations understand the forces that will shape our lives in the next ten years, and how we can respond in order to confidently stay ahead of change. Chat to us about booking Graeme to help you Re-Imagine and upgrade your thinking to identify the emerging opportunities in your industry.
For the past two decades, Graeme has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, travelling to over 80 countries in total, and speaking to around 100,000 people every year. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, and on faculty at 5 top global business schools.