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Looking ahead


Richard Watson, the Futurist-in-Residence at the Entrepreneurship Centre of Cambridge Judge Business School, shares his thoughts in the series ‘This Cambridge Life’.

Woman gazes thoughtfully at colourful post-it notes on the glass wall in front of her as she thinks about the future.

The “Futurist-in-Residence” at the Entrepreneurship Centre of Cambridge Judge Business School, Richard Watson, says the very word “future” is “an excuse, a subterfuge, which allows people to identify and plan for growth opportunities and risk”.

Richard Watson.
Richard Watson

Even with such a ready excuse, he says many people in business still resist such deep thinking while at the same time seeking reassurance that “the future” will work out just fine even if they do nothing to shape it.

An interview with Richard is featured in the latest edition of “This Cambridge Life”, stories from the people who make Cambridge University unique, posted on the University’s website. There is also a link to a podcast Richard participated in, part of a series entitled “Mind Over Chatter”, concerning the future of artificial intelligence.

Among other points made by Richard in the article, which is entitled “The futurist who’d like the future to slow down – just a little”:

  • Long-term planning is even more important right now because it has become extraordinarily difficult. There are systemic and cascading risks associated with increasing volatility – most obviously connected with the pandemic, but also with climate change, migration, global economics and technology.
  • Strangely, what this means for a ‘futurist’ is that its difficult to say something about the future without it happening sooner than expected. There’s an acceleration of things. I had a real problem with the last book I wrote, Digital versus Human, because some ideas, like car theft through hacking autonomous vehicles, were already being widely discussed by the time we reached copy-editing stage.
  • A good strategy for forward planning in the current environment is to be open to change and able to pivot fast. Entrepreneurs are good at this. They are often united by a vision of a world that doesn’t yet exist but they hope one day will. As Futurist-in-Residence at the Entrepreneurship Centre, I’m excited to be meeting people at all stages of this journey.
  • We’ve just completed a project ‘visualising’ the entrepreneurial mind, drawing on the research of psychologists to illustrate the mix of positive and negative attributes recognised in innovators starting new ventures – problem-solver, rule-breaker, self-doubter. We’re using it at the Entrepreneurship Centre to prompt thinking about how these enterprising behaviours might evolve in future generations.
  • I’m surprised by how much the past is always present in the future – I’m often reminded of William Faulkner’s observation that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past”.

The full “This Cambridge Life” article on Richard Watson appears on the University’s website.