“The human factor will be even more important in the future.”
Johan Peter Paludan
Dream Scenarios in Time Starved Society
Interview: Johan Peter Paludan is director of CIFS (Copenhagen Institute of Future Studies) and a renowned futurist, giving around 100 talks a year. Founded in 1970, CIFS entered the international future scene in 1999 with the bestseller ’The Dream Society’. In 2004 CIFS published ‘Creative Man’ – a follow-up and a rethinking of ‘The Dream Society’.
Key Facts on CIFS
* Founded 1970
* CIFS supports future decision-making
* Contributing with knowledge and inspiration
Q: Why do you think TIME TO THINK is a good theme for the conference?
Johan Peter Paludan: In a way it is always a good theme. Decisions have to be made today but work in the future. You therefore have to contemplate the future in the present. The higher the rate of change the more necessary it is to think. We do seem to be in a period of acceleration. Therefore Time to Think is a very relevant theme.
Q: How does CIFS work with trends?
Johan Peter Paludan: A cheeky answer could be we don’t. If you define trends as trends for the next say 2-4 years we usually do not work with trends. We leave that to competent organisations like Kjaer Global. We work with megatrends. These are broader movements with an inertia that makes it likely that they will be around for at least 10 years.
Working in dialogue with the customer, is the first step in a process where we sketch a picture of probable developments in customer environments. Working with megatrends is the first step because you are still on pretty safe ground. The inertia means you can take them for granted. However, their broadness means you have to work with what kind of consequences each megatrend could have for the customer.
Q: Have CIFS always worked with (mega) trends the same way?
Johan Peter Paludan: Well, you know, I am an old hand at CIFS. Next year it will be 30 years, so I can remember the time when we didn’t work with trends – short or long term – at all. Instead we worked with prognoses. Those were the days when the rate of change hadn’t accelerated that much so you could believe in prognoses.
In the old days an assignment from a company meant going back to the Institute and working in splendid isolation. A report was produced and that was it. Then we realised our work wasn’t applied which was bad for the company – and worse for CIFS because the company would not come back for more. So we learned the hard way to work in a dialogue with the customer, thereby ensuring the combination of expertise from both individual company and our futurists.
Q: How do you personally get new ideas or refresh your thinking?
Johan Peter Paludan: A good night’s sleep, voracious reading, surfing the net, deadlines – and meeting people from the real world.
Q: What lifestyle changes do you think will be most important in the years to come?
Johan Peter Paludan: As I said earlier trends and lifestyles isn’t really our business. But I would like to point to two developments that are bound to have consequences for the development of lifestyles. First, the ongoing change in the role of the family – its stability and its fertility. Low fertility means that we are dying out in the modern world.
Something is bound to happen. We have still not realised the full consequence of this new situation. As Ulrich Beck has pointed out the family is a ‘Zombie-category’ – still living in our minds but nearly dead in reality. Second, the ongoing revolutionary development of biotechnology is going to have a big impact on the development of lifestyles.
Q: How have CIFS managed to stay ahead and what is your vision for the years to come?
Johan Peter Paludan: Here I do have to start by being modest: have we really been staying ahead? If we have – and I am still not sure this has always been the case – I think part of the answer is the unique combination of an academic approach with the conditions flowing from being a self-financing organisation. We do have an academic approach to the future.
I know people at universities will say that that is a contradiction in terms because you can’t study anything that doesn’t exist. If that is true it puts us in the same predicament as historians – and maybe students of theology. We do think our approach is academic, but it is tempered by the sobering fact that somebody has to think that what we do can be used commercially. Otherwise we will have an economic problem.
Q: What do you think is the most important challenge that tomorrow’s company has to face?
Johan Peter Paludan: Getting the right people on board. As you probably know we are currently quite excited by our recent book (so far only in Danish I am sorry to say but we will remedy this soon), Creative Man. In this we are saying, in short, that in our part of the world we have to, we want to and we can be more creative. This means that the human factor will be even more important in the future.
Q: Can I get a speed conclusion?
Johan Peter Paludan: The future has probably never been a more exciting prospect than it is today. Therefore this really is the time to think.
Interview: Questions by Kjaer Global for the Time to Think Conference, December 2005
Anne Lise is a futurist and keynote speaker working across the world