Reflections on The Future is Now

Like many, I have been wondering what the future might hold. I am inundated with ideas, resources and online meetings and with this comes the need to sensemake. I like to sit back and draw on some of the credible sources of information and then synthesise by writing and connecting ideas. This post is my synthesis of a recent discussion paper, The Future is Now: Implications of COVID-19 for New Zealand released in April 2020 by Koi Tū. In this article, written by Sir Peter Gluckman and Dr Anne Bardsley, there were some key themes that stood out for me, as follows:


There is a clear message for us to understand the interconnected nature of what we do and our place in a networked world. We must be able to work across sectors and disciplines, developing greater relationships between public and private sectors, between government ministries and agencies. This requires us to be aware of our self-interests, values and biases and being open to the worldviews of others. More than ever we need the skills of dialogue and consensus building to build our self awareness. This relates back to the top two levers of change that I referred to in my last blogpost.

It’s time to pay greater attention to incorporating the knowledge of communities, business and leaders of civil society. It’s time to involve iwi as partners. No longer can academics look at these issues from “within an encapsulated ivory tower”. We all bring strengths to the conversation but we also bring our own cognitive biases and that is why the diversity is really important.

There is a great deal of literature in the area of transversal thinking and the need to look at skill clusters, rather than thinking about a ‘job’ as discrete. This is even more important to understand in periods of unemployment as we seek new work and new meaning. It relies on us to change our thinking about the future of learning and work.

Social Cohesion

Social cohesion is the thing that will bind people together. What we learnt in post-earthquake Christchurch, and again after the terrorist attack in March 2019, is that social cohesion is most evident after a disaster but its effect can dissipate quickly. The greater the gap in cohesiveness the lesser the levels of trust.

If we are going to move forward as a country leaders need to be transparent in decision making, credible in communication and forward thinking by design. This intentional leadership requires the ability to maintain a healthy tension between addressing the needs of the here and now, while also having a view to the future. This leads on to my third key point from the article.

Planetary welfare

We have not landed at this point in history by accident. Our world is overpopulated, overheated and polluted. While some would call COVID19 a black swan (something no-one predicted/a surprise) an outbreak of a corona virus had been predicted by those working in the infectious diseases field and papers have been written considering preparedness for a pandemic.

Sohail Inayatullah and Peter Black have explored four possible futures for our world with the COVID19 virus, each affecting planetary welfare in different ways. The four are:

  1. Zombie Apocalypse
  2. The Needed Pause
  3. The Global Health Awakening
  4. The Great Despair

In conclusion: this crisis is a health crisis but, of course, it is much more. It is about leadership and governance , about what type of world we wish to live in. It is a test of the creation of a planetary civilization, working together to solve problems.

If we simply move through stages of response to COVID19 hoping for a return to what we had before we are kidding ourselves. Short terminism got us where we are today. Long term thinking must include very clear steps towards addressing climate change and sustainability.

We have the opportunity to reset thinking and to move away from marketing throw-away goods, and towards more sustainable product lines. We have the opportunity to focus on highly sustainable tourism, building a circular economy and optimising learning for the future.

Learning is the future

I would argue that the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn is critical in working towards a preferred future closest to Inayatullah and Black’s third scenario. Gluckman and Bardsley (2020) make the case for learning to strengthen “transdisciplinary teaching, micro-credentialing, online credentialing of international students, bespoke mentoring.” This is about learning at all levels, stages and places not just our academic institutions. For example, in Christchurch we have a thriving health precinct acknowledged globally for its ability to collaborate. There are huge opportunities for us to be world leaders in interprofessional education and health data.  Likewise we have a strong innovation precinct that works across industries and sectors.

Like many countries, our schools have undergone rapid change as they moved to remote learning with digital learning “teaching skills such as critical thinking and emotional self regulation” with a “focus on transportable and generic skills.” We have learnt heaps and there is a real opportunity to take this learning and connecting beyond the school gates. Places like museums and art galleries across the world are seizing the opportunity to move into a more digital world. It comes back to the importance of interconnectedness and unsiloing our thinking.

From Me to We

The digital divide and the equity gap have always been there, but now they sit like open sores that must be confronted. We have kept families at home during lockdown yet for some this is the least safe place. We have approximately 800, 000 students in our schools but until now 100,000 have had no internet. The Ministry of Education has been working with schools to ensure access is available to families. This is critical in ensuring that all have access to learning and it is our collective responsibility to build on this so that connectivity is maintained and digital learning opportunities help build national skills.

Given the labour market disruption that is a consequence of, or made more obvious by COVID-19, we need to think about both the skill sets required to bounce back and to retrain thinkers not just workers. With estimates of unemployment peaking at between 13% and 26%, depending on how the pandemic plays out, we need to think beyond linear models and timeframes for the future of learning and work. Check out Heather McGowan and Chris Shipley’s latest book The Adaption Advantage for excellent ideas and graphics to aid your thinking.

We cannot do this work alone.  A re-set is required in our thinking so that people and relationships matter more and that we understand our collective responsibility in moving forward as a nation and planet.

2 comments on “Reflections on The Future is Now
  1. Yes agreed Robin. That is why much of my thinking and the work of Leadership Lab is in the space of polarities ie and both. The ability to stand in the space of disorder is critical in the changes we are facing. There is a lot of pressure on right now to revitalise the economy and as a businesswoman I get that. Everything is bound together but if we simply cannot go back to a place where there we are only driving the economy forward. That’s why I keep coming back to the polarities! And to the need to finally realise that when all citizens thrive we all thrive.

  2. A wonderful synthesis of much that is out there, much that seems overwhelming as we try to consider our futures. I see a tension between ‘cashing in on the new learnings before they too dissipate’, and ‘being considered and thoughtful about change management to take people with us’ to optimise the likelihood of real meaningful change.

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