Global Risks of Software – new blog on Long Finance

New blog out for Long Finance: #AIfuture#AI#Software

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NEW blogs on after #COVID19

We’ve been busy – in the past two weeks we’ve written two blogs revisiting past work, but now after #COVID-19: How does the pandemic affect the new middle classes in Asia? It may well set them back for years… What has changed since the initial discussions (in 2000) of what London would be like in 2020? Some thoughts on what has changed and what may emerge.

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In Safe Hands – 10 years on

In Safe Hands explores the future of Financial Services in 2020, and the effect of the Covid19 Pandemic. The original Report by SAMI Consulting and z/yen, in 2012, asked whether the Washington Consensus might break – in 2020 we perceive that this happening faster than we expected. In 2020, for the first time in recent history, we are facing a period in which global population starts to decline. In 2020, many of the current Financial Services institutions such as insurance are finding themselves on shaky ground. The briefing by Gill Ringland and Patricia Lustig will be followed by a Q & A moderated by Professor Michael Mainelli.

For those who are interested, ‘In Safe Hands – 10 years on’ will take place on Thursday 14 May at 14:30. Reserve your place!

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Foresight in the time of Covid-19

A version of this blog was first published on the Pamphleteers blog for Long Finance

Prediction and Uncertainty

This article is written at the end of March 2020 and discusses the role of foresight in exploring some of the impacts – beyond the economic – of the current Covid-19 pandemic.

All the news might push you back into  primeval brain patterns, making you think  about the pandemic,  “OMG it’s a bear!  Fight or flight?”  How could we come to perceive the pandemic as “No, it’s NOT a bear?”  This would release our energy and imagination.  As Milton Friedman said[1] “Only a crisis – perceived or actual – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. Our function is to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.” Or as we say, the Overton Window has shifted.

We don’t have experience of this pandemic, so what ideas DO we have to weather now, AND benefit after the crisis?  How do we stop seeing the bear? 

We have some experience – Spanish flu, SARS, MERS, etc. – and we know that epidemics are likely to happen.   We don’t know their size and shape, but we need to do some planning. The current Covid-19 pandemic was predicted, in the sense that, after the SARS outbreak in 2003, a number of countries built systems for containing epidemics. In Singapore, for instance, they took advantage of their previous experience with SARS and all major public hospitals in Singapore have isolation rooms so patients with suspected infectious diseases will not spread them to others.   Europe and North America didn’t adapt their health systems after previous experience with epidemics. 

In the past 50 years in most of the west, experts have been denigrated and public health systems allowed to run down.  Experts’ views that society is unprepared for a pandemic has been ignored by populism.  This lack of preparedness is prompting awareness that the planet needs a better response than the current patchy system with insufficient resilience. 

The evidence is that foresight can enable people to develop alternatives to existing policies.  Views of choices releases peoples’ energies and allows them to perceive the situation as ‘NOT a Bear’.

The role of Foresight

As Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”[2]  When you have made plans for dealing with a pandemic and you find yourself in the midst of it, you are then part of it.  The plan may hold good up to the time the pandemic breaks onto the world stage, and it will get modified as it evolves. Having made a plan means that you know when it needs to be changed. And though plans may well be faulty – because they are based on data that is out of date or otherwise inaccurate – they are the best tool we have at the moment for managing the current situation. 

The role of foresight is different from the role of planning. Foresight helps you implement anticipatory action for moving forward after a pandemic hits. Foresight enables you to manage uncertainty by helping you see what you can[TL1]  change and influence (and what you can’t).  This helps reduce feelings of uncertainty.  It improves the quality of your decisions because you’ve thought through variations of what could happen which gives you a wider range of choices.  And it improves your capability to manage changes because you will have thought through what risks and opportunities there are based on the variations of what could happen and also how you might know which variation was occurring and happening now, so that you can implement the best response.

Using foresight, we can think about society after the pandemic: what may be different and what stays the same.

After the pandemic

As do many others, we think that the world will be very different after the pandemic has receded. Close to home, the potential for political disruption in Europe is enormous – the disjoint between national health systems has led to the closing of borders for the first time in decades. Europe’s future will depend on the ability to rebuild trust between nations. 

Below we consider three areas of global impact: economic, societal and changes in travel behaviour.

First, the economic impact can be thought of in four waves (thank you to Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics):

  • Wave 1, the sudden stop of much economic activity devastates supply chains and cash flow sends many small businesses under;
  • Then unemployment rises to unprecedented levels;
  • A long term effect is on the destruction of savings for pensions through stock markets collapsing;
  • And businesses cut investment as they try to recover.

We can see that though the 1 billion people across the planet at Level Four (in Hans Rosling’s terminology[3]) may be comparatively protected, the large numbers of people who have recently moved to Level Two or Level Three are likely to be highly affected. They have little economic cushion and may well lose their new incomes and savings. We think that loss of their consumer power will have the biggest impact on global recovery.

The effect on social structures may be less immediate than the economic impacts, but the pandemic has many facets which will change the world in the longer term.  Some of these phenomena are:

  • The role of volunteering to work for the benefit of strangers – over 500,000 people in the UK volunteered to back up health and social care services for people at risk from Covid-19;
  • The extent of scientific collaboration in life sciences has broken many barriers as companies share data, and information on the virus is shared in the literature as soon as available in the lab;
  • Governments could fall if their response to the pandemic is seen as incompetent – rumours abound as we write, of what is happening in Brazil;
  • Urban surveillance, mobile phone tracking and face recognition is likely to be introduced as emergency measures, and civil society will need to regulate this.
  • IT platforms becoming ever more ubiquitous, reducing social face to face interaction, makes the questions about how it is regulated and who owns the data increasingly important;
  • Once IT-enabled teaching has been proven to be effective, we could have a new education system;
  • The agricultural ecosystem was under stress before the pandemic, and it may cause a radical change in people’s eating habits – not just through the closing of restaurants but also through changes in peoples’ tastes;
  • The role of experts in contributing to policy has started to be recognised – after the rise of populism in the last 50 years.

And finally, the impacts of changes in travel behaviour are both immediate and long term: 

  • Severe reduction in the amount of travel has a large direct economic impact (travel and tourism account for about 10% of world GDP);
  • Globalisation is questioned;
  • It changes the nature of family links, which, for several decades have often been maintained through regular flights home;
  • The rise of video conferencing tools like Zoom and Skype for personal connections is being mirrored by their use in business to replace face to face meetings. Work and lifestyles will not revert when travel is again possible;
  • Office space may well become an oxymoron, so property prices in city centres and industrial parks may plummet;
  • There is also an environmental impact: the reduction in air pollution is visible globally;
  • Reductions in travel will add to the problems faced by fossil fuel companies as they try to realign to renewables and recover from the low oil price.


A lot of people are saying that change is happening, the world is becoming unrecognisable.  Fewer are thinking about the second order impacts and the longer term.  As the discussion above illustrates, foresight can improve the perception of possible futures such that anticipatory action can follow.  It can help us see that what is out there is ‘NOT a bear’.  It makes clear where we have choice and influence.  This builds hope.

Patricia Lustig and Gill Ringland.  March 2020.



[3] Hans Rosling et. al. Factfulness: ten reasons we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think. 2018. and

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Our chapter in After Shock, Future Shock at 50

Patricia Lustig and Gill Ringland were asked to contribute a chapter to After Shock as “The world’s foremost futurists reflect on 50 years of Future Shock and looking ahead to the next 50”. You can see a copy of this chapter at our book website:

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New Blog on the Radix site

Changing the conversation – an example for how it can be done.

copyright P M Lustig 2012
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New opinion piece published on Radix UK website

Following on from our blog on the Overton window, we are publishing a new series with Radix UK. The first blog is on changing the prevailing conversation Radix: .  There will be some more coming where we share case studies of positive change.

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New blog on the Behind the Headlines website

We’ve just put up a new blog on our book website – please have a look. We are exploring how Shifting Values effects public discourse.

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New blog on Long Finance

We have just had a new blog published about “The Overton Window” and what it means for public discourse. Please see:

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Megatrends and How to Survive Them: Conclusions

Megatrends and How to Survive Them is the title of our book that is published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. This is the last of a series of blogs based on the work we have done for the book.  Our focus in the book was on global megatrends that would play out during the time span of an organisation’s planning.  It wasn’t about the Start Trek, 100 year in the future type of predictions (or science fiction to be more exact).

Trends can emerge in many different ways; we have suggested a particular way that each megatrend might go.  But, a reminder that trends are not forecasts!

Trends are not forecasts

A forecast is a single point in time, a prediction.  Usually with a note of the percentage possibility to hit the prediction.  Also it is usual that these forecasts are no more than 9-12 months in the future.  Philip Tetlock ran a research project called “The Good Judgement Project” to see what sort of person could make good predictions.  You can find out more about it in his book, Superforecasting: the art and science of prediction.

We had to make generalisations of each of the trend to keep them accessible.  We supplied a list of questions (some of which we’ve repeated in the previous blogs) to help people to go deeper into each of the trends, to explore in more detail just how they might emerge and, indeed, what could disrupt them.

The underlying theme across all the trends is that an increasing number of people across the world are able to make choices – in life style, in where and how they live, in what they buy.  These choices are driving innovation, society, technology and the economy, as well as impacting our global limits and climate.

Exploring these trends and how they might play out, however, is only a first step.  There are several more before you can develop options, decide on a strategic direction and implement a new strategy.

We suggest three provisos:

  • Beware of cognitive biases. There is plenty going on in peoples’ lives; cognitive biases help us to deal with information overload, lack of meaning, the need to act (react) quickly and they can help us to remember things.  They are assumptions which we base thinking and decisions on.
  • Be cognisant of the fact that many people find change threatening, so change management is needed. Change is facilitated by using images of the future which can be built to be relevant to your organisation and can be based upon these megatrends.
  • Trends are not independent, they are part of complex systems, so when thinking about how to respond and what you might do to influence a particular trend, you need to consider it in the context of the larger system. Any action that you take may have delayed effects on one or another of the trends.

The most important thing that you can do with these trends is to explore them and stimulate a different sort of conversation, a different and deeper understanding of how they may affect your organisation and the work you do in the coming 10 – 15 years.  And of course, what the opportunities (and risks) might be going forward.

The future is a foreign country – enjoy the exploration.

We live in interesting times!

Authors: Patricia Lustig, MD LASA Insight and Gill Ringland, SAMI Emeritus Fellow and Director, Ethical Reading.


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