Strategic Futurists; Value Systems Specialists

Current Focus & Thought Bubbles

For a Futurist, Focus is a Key Issue

What you look at, how you look at it and where you find your information are critical elements for developing far more effective strategy.  Futures work is about removing the organisational blinkers to increase awareness of risks and emerging opportunities.

Right now I'm working on: How to Stop Japanese Whaling in its Tracks (see article below);Water Theft Increases - how society is likely to respond to increasing water restrictions, private storage capacity and opportunism; the book 'Killing Trends - the Graceful Art of Innovation' which is due for completion this year - quite a while after the initial expected finish date and sometimes the future just does not turn out how it was planned!

My focus as a Futurist is also seeing me closely involved with The Australian Strategic Planning Institute which I have founded recently to help enhance the way in which organisations drive Strategic Planning and extract benefits from the process.  The link between futures thinking and strategic planning ought to be explicit and unfortunately for most organisations, it isn't.  Other serious issues for strategic planning efforts include poor planning processes and a lack of accountability to the strategic plan the organisation develops.  Hopefully TASPI will go some way to developing Strategic Planning into a much more effective discipline.  Check out The Australian Strategic Planning Institute for further details 

Over the past year I've been part of an advisory board for the Australian Bill of Rights Initiative and recently our group co-authored and submitted a small thought piece on the use of WIKIs as a means of engaging with stakeholders.  You can find out more by visiting the 'Re Public' website link here - 

A Carbon Free Electricity generator.  The generator concept is much more fully developed than it was and I've met with a business advisor for suggestions and ideas for getting this thing to the market.  This includes some very interesting opportunities for capital investment, Venture capital or a sell off/licensing of the IP.

Thought Bubbles and Ideas to Consider

Are Interest Rate Levers too Clumsy for a Teetering Economy?

I've been having a think lately about whether the use of Interest Rate movements by the Reserve Bank is actually too clumsy an instrument for effective economic management.  The potential weakness has emerged only in recent times as the signs of a world-wide economic melt down have begun to expose one of the limitations of the GST as an interest mechanism that taxes consumption.

When the economy is booming and everyone feels rosy, the key requirement is to reduce paperwork and simplify processes to maximise effectiveness.  There is little doubt that the GST method is a far more effective system when things are booming.

But I am starting to think that going for a one size fits all approach through a flat consumption tax may not be as great when the only measure left to slow spending is interest rates.  Lifting interest rates invariably hits those who can least afford it the hardest.  Already pressed to the wall to pay home loans or rents, there is often little discretionary spending left in poorer income families.  Interest rate rises are a heavy punishment that in the end, capture many people who are sensible managers of their limited budgets.  And frankly I think it is a clumsy and unfair approach.

Which is where I think there might be some benefit in re-visting the old 'sales-tax' model that the GST replaced.  Not for the purposes of reinstating it but for the purposes of seeing if there is anything of value in the way it worked that could provide a more precise instrument to manage the economy.

The key attribute was the wild variation in taxation rates.  That was also its downfall as things became too onerous for what tax level applied to what aspect of a product or service.  But that variation could be something that a revamped approach to a GST ought to be considered.    Consider then higher rates of GST applied on certain consumer goods.  If a Government could act to decrease the incentive on CERTAIN types of consumer goods (i.e the highly discretionary ones) then an increase in a GST rate for that type of product would be a precise instrument for detering spending, slowing economic activity in that sphere.

Significantly, it means that the 'treat everything as a nail' approach that hammer-like Interest rate adjustments are, do not need to penalise those who can least afford it.  There are a vast number of people who are going to lose their homes, not because they bought a plasma TV or splashed out on a holiday, but because some decisions made by very wealthy senior bankers elsewhere in the world meant that prudent risk management processes were ignored in the search for higher executive bonuses.  Yes there were many executives who were prudent, just as there are some households whose priorities were less than switched on to commercial realities.  But unfortunately the heavy handed interest rate rises approach is clumsy and penalises those who can least afford the change.

In the paper 'A Blueprint to Advance Australia Collectively' which was sent to all major polticial parties in 2000, I suggested that temporary Superannuation incentives might also be a lever.  To some extent that idea was picked up but not as fully as it could have been.  So more flexibility is required and the flexibility that might be afforded Governments in considering short term increases in GST on certain consumer goods might be just the lever to help.

Just a thought...

Saving the Polar Ice Caps

Okay I admit that on the first take this idea might sound a little crazy.   I reminded myself however of that saying that 'all great ideas must at first sound crazy to the existing paradigm...' or some such thing.  You might know who said it (please send me an email if you do).  So I am throwing this idea out as one that might need you to stop your knee from giving a habitual 'jerk' thus preventing you from immediately proclaiming to all and sundry 'Ridiculous!'.

'Let's cover the polar caps in a massive white reflective blanket!'

Yes you read right.  The good oil on the bad outcome is that the polar caps are melting, that as they do so less heat will be reflected and more will be absorbed into the now (exposed) darker areas of the artic land mass, thus accelerating the problem.

So let's cover the polar ice caps (the Arctic in particular).  Lord knows for the sake of 'art' the entire white cliffs of Dover were covered in a material shroud.  Lord knows that the average advertising panel n a giant Billboard promoting perfume, cars, weightloss and fast food is big enough to cover a netball court and we thrown thousands of those into the tip every year.  So why can't we just cover the most exposed areas in a solar blanket to reflect sunlight, keep the ground cover white and hopefully delay or avert the melting?

Yes, yes I know it's a big ask requiring lots of effort and more consideration of potential adverse impacts.  But surely those potential impacts would be less adverse than the ones coming when the caps melt?

How to Stop Japanese Whaling in its Tracks 

Whilst I appreciate the efforts that Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd and the various Australian Governments have given regarding their aims to have the Japanese cease their annual whale harvests, I'm not quite sure they are tackling the issue through the best means available.

Sure the confrontational approach of ramming ships, climbing aboard vessels, getting in the way of harpoons and all of that makes for great TV and dynamic press coverage.  Who hasn't thought 'gee that'd be something I could get passionate about' as you see the pint sized rubber duck take on a giant slice and dice whale factory in the middle of the ocean?

But the challenge with this approach is that whilst media sexy, it misses the glaring gap in the Japanese push for whaling.  I'll come to that a bit later.

First up though we have to consider just why the Japanese are so 'passionate' about whaling.  I say 'passionate' because the number of Japanese who are in fact 'passionate' is quite small.  Is it the historical factor?  No - plenty of research shows that quite few Japanese eat whale meat, fewer still are aware of any historical links and there's certainly little real evidence to support whaling by Japan along the lines of the Inuit peoples.  So if it isn't about history, how valid are the claims of scientific research?  This is the multi-million dollar question that also provides the clue as to How to Stop Japanese Whaling in its Tracks.  Without going into too much detail let me expose my own values and say 'I don't buy the scientifc research' claims as anything other than a myth.  There's plenty of others who feel the same way, hence the anti-whaling ships hunting the Japanese whaling vessels this year and in past years.

So why then do the Japanese want to pursue whaling?  The answer lies in economics, population growth and geography.  Without putting it too simply, Japan lacks room.  Because Japan lacks room it does not have the ability to farm cattle.  That means it must import cattle and that means it spends money in places like Australia and the United States - countries with an abundance of room to grow cattle.  If Japan wants to increase the protein consumption of its population it has but a handful of choices:  Import beef/lamb etc which costs the Japanese economically; increase the amount of fish on the diet yet international fisheries are under extreme pressure (and the tastes of Japanese are evolving which means fish though dominant is no longer deemed sufficient); and increase chicken consumption (and also egg consumption) but in order to do that it has to import appropriate forms of feed stocks at a time when China is absorbing a goodly portion of the world's grain output.

Which leads to the obvious conclusion:  No room for cattle, fish stocks under pressure and no desire to increase imports at the same time as there exists a desire to increase the available amounts of protein means one thing - Farm the Oceans for Protein.

And one of the best sources for protein in massive amounts that is easy to 'harvest' is whale meat.  The real reason the Japanese want to maintain and increase their whale numbers has nothing to do with scientific research and has everything to do with accessing cheap sources of protein.  The Japanese wish to use the oceans as their 'farms' and to treat whales as their 'cattle'.  A low cost, self feeding, no maintenance farmland with the ship crews acting as the cowhands, the Antarctic ocean as their stockyards, and their ships acting as the slaughterhouse.  And they get all of that for free, plundering a resource that belongs to the world for their own benefit.

So what can be done? 

The answer to the challenge lies in the very reason Japans offer as to why they 'whale' - scientific research.  We know it's rubbish, the Japanese Government knows it's rubbish; the Japanese whalers know it's rubbish.  So the answer to 'How to Stop Japanese Whaling in its Tracks' lies within the very heart of what it means to be Japanese:


The Japanese are big on 'Honour'.  REALLY BIG.  In fact culturally it has been and continues to be a key driver in how they negotiate with the world and with each other.  The need to save 'kao' (face) is critical.  Attacking their ships does not allow them to save face and so they will rally against it.  Boarding their ships only enables a relatively disinterested Japanese public to stand behind their own.  Attacking them in whaling commissions also won't do it - we know that because the loophole that is 'scientific research' was offered up because a total ban was not going to be approved or accepted. 

What must happen for us to be able to Stop Japanese Whaling in its Tracks is to get the Japanese people to question the 'honour' of hiding behind 'scientific research' as the reason for whaling and bring their own pressue to bear on their Government.

And to do so, the place to start is to question the ability of Japanese Scientists.  Which means the messages that are sent out work something like this:

  • 'Japanese Whaling Scientists are the worst and most inept scientists in the world.  We know this because no where else do scientists make so many blunders, require so much base stock and make so many errors in the research process'
  • 'How stupid are Japanese Whaling Scientists?  In other parts of the world we can harvest stems cells from scrapes of human tissue but in Japan they need not only whole whales, but thousands of them each year just to work out what whales eat'
  • 'Only the poorest of scientists would work for the whaling industry - how else could they do so little with so much?'
  • 'To be a whale scientist in Japan is to have no honour - how else could they hide behind the facade?'

You get the picture.  By and large Japan has produced some of the smartest and greatest scientists in the world and still do.  But to have all of Japan's scientists tarred with the brush of ineptitude, stupidity and lack of honour would be something that culturally would be too painful for the Japanese community to bear.  In a very short time the facade of scientific research would end and that is How to Stop Japanese Whaling in its Tracks.


What the Weather Bureau can do to help this Drought

I'm going to come back to an idea I first floated back in 2004.  By and large it is hard to change societal perceptions.  Doing so requires on going effort, time and often resources like money to create marketing campaigns of some description.  Unless you have a crisis.  And right now it might be fair to say that we have a crisis regarding water availability in Australia.  It is NOT a new crisis.  It is many, many centuries old.  Yet for some, lack of water seems to be a shock so it is clear that perception and reality are not in agreement for a lot of people.

So what can the Weather Bureau do to help?  Well it is surpringly simple.  And that is to get rid of the word 'fine' to describe the weather.  Fine means 'okay' or 'pretty much the same' or 'not much will change'.  But in Australia, things are NOT fine and they certainly are NOT 'okay'!.  They are 'dry'.  What I would like the Weather Bureau (along with all of the TV, Newspaper and Radio weather persons) to do is begin to use the word DRY as a replacement for the innocuous sounding 'Fine'.

DRY is a habit forming word that will help the wider society recognise the seriousness of our predicament in Australia.  DRY is a word that talks about the reality of the situation.  The day is not so much '26 degrees with slight north easterly winds and mainly fine'.  It IS 'Dry, 26 degrees with slight north easterly breezes'.  Even when there is a sprinkle of water, the day would be "...MAINLY DRY, with..."

You get the picture.  It is time the Weather Bureau ditched Fine for a touch of helpful perception creating realism.  DRY it is!

Inverting the City/Country Dynamic

At a recent session with the Gen Y group working on the 'Future Melbourne' project for the City of Melbourne I suggested that the group consider what the result might be if they could 'invert' the way the State of Victoria operates.  What would you be likely to see if more of the functions of the city occured outside of the CBD and more of the functions of the country occured in the City?

In pushing them to think further than they originally did, I suggested that there is no reason why these monolithic edifices called office buildings would be used for temporary storage of workers.  After all, I reasoned, the function of the CBD would be conducted elsewhere which means workers would begin to gain benefits from the broadband access now denied to them and the required management techniques that fostered remote working.  One element of the CBD inverted to the country.

But what to do with the existing infrastructure?  That of course is a no brainer - the city office blocks would become our farms.  More predictable and controllable weather patterns and water use, we'd have Wheat growing on floors 3-9; Corn on 10-16 and Rice on 17-20.  In the underground carpark right to the ground floor we'd run cattle and other stock.  The methane captured would be used to power the 24 hours a day hydroponic lamps that grow the crops.  There'd be a reduction in transport costs as local farm sites began popping up right where they are need - next to the actual population that needs to be fed.  In Austraia with our relatively poor soils and ever increasing periods of drought we have a real boon in food production.

And think of what all that new city space could lead to in terms of community engagement projects.  That's not to mention the drop in stress levels as hundreds of thousands of work hours lost in traffic crawls to and from the city get converted into usable and highly productive time.  And just think of the air quality in town!  A case of the rural activity inverted to occur in the city.

It's no pipe dream.  Just one that requires some serious thinking.

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