Nan Nelson, Board Member
Garry Golden has been a partner of Envision for about 5 years and has worked with both our board and five cohorts of strategic foresight workshop attendees. He is an academically trained Futurist who consults on issues shaping business and society in the 21st century. Garry has worked across a wide range of clients including: Accenture Operations, Allscripts, CVS, Aetna, Dell, Fidelity, and the Walt Disney Company. Garry received his Masters degree from the University of Houston Futures Studies program (M.S.), and is a past member on the Board of Directors of the Association of Professional Futurists (APF). He lives in an old tilted row home in Brooklyn NY with his wife and two boys. We sat down with Garry to take a look at where we’ve been together and what’s next.
Q & A WITH GARRY GOLDEN
Envision: First, your own practice and career have really been evolving from consulting and speaking as a futurist and strategic foresight trainer to something quite new: “Into the Future” – what’s that about?
Into the Future is an afterschool learning space where young people engage in free play and imagining how the future might be different. We opened Into the Future with a vision to bring the power of foresight to young people in our community. Our current theme is the “Future of 7th Avenue” (our local street in Brooklyn, NY). In recent weeks, we’ve asked kids to design the future of sidewalk robots, street lamps and clothing stores. So far, I love it. I’m constantly amazed at the creativity inside a child’s mind.
Envision: COVID certainly proved to a lot of people that we have to get more serious about planning and thinking in ways that shape a preferred future. What’s your take on signals for the pandemic (post-pandemic?) future?
Futurists often refer to the difference between “preferable,” “possible” and “plausible” futures. Preferred futures reflect our aspirational visions of the world we want to live in. Right now, I think the signals are mixed. On the challenging side, continued political polarization limits our ability to create a shared vision of the future. It’s hard to agree on what is the Preferred Future outside of very generic themes like a growing economy. On the positive side, COVID has given us an opportunity to restart and begin reimagining life in our communities. COVID has accelerated certain trends. For me, the most important themes for a Preferred Future include mental well-being where individuals are able to heal and grow into their full potential. The other key signal relates to Work-From-Home (WFH) jobs. WFH is not just about avoiding your local Green Bay commute, it’s about local residents being able to work for companies outside the region. In this future Green Bay residents would not have to rely on large employer companies.
Envision: Do you see Green Bay companies recruiting WFH workers who live elsewhere, or do you see people moving to Green Bay for cost of living, etc., but working for employers outside the area—or both?
Both. There is no single strategy for the WFH era. Employee recruitment and retention is likely to remain competitive despite the convenience. Green Bay region residents who bring skill sets to companies in need of quality workforce will compete with other low-cost high quality of life places. Green Bay companies may find they hire more people outside the region. In the end I think the reputation of quality WFH employees will be what sets apart Green Bay residents. The need for ever evolving work skills and a hard work ethic will remain paramount to employers.
Envision: Do you have in mind another important signal or two that you think people are not paying enough attention to? (For example, we know you’re very interested in mental health, digital currency, energy and other things.)
If the Internet forced us to rethink the future around new types of connectivity, the era of Crypto Currencies forces us to reimagine the future around new dynamics of decentralization. Cryptocurrencies decentralize finance. An individual can exchange value (e.g. Bitcoin, Cardano Ada) with other individuals without the need for a central ‘broker’ like a bank. Or a group of people can pull together money and form their own mortgage pool. This type of peer-to-peer decentralization can also be used to transform markets for healthcare data or supply chain data. Crypto is in early stages of development. It is fraught with uncertainty and hype. But it is a powerful force of change that will play out in the years and decades ahead.
Envision: A group of local visionaries has identified the Upper Midwest, and especially NE Wisconsin as a possible destination for climate migration in 10-15 years. Not refugees as such, but those relocating due to water shortage, hurricane, wildfire, cost of living, commute times, etc. and enabled by WFH. Does that sound like a plausible scenario to you?
Absolutely. I think there will be regions who benefit by avoiding the worst side of the risk spectrum especially around water access, low-cost housing and more stable seasonal weather patterns. Even if it’s cold, there is the potential for a more stable mid-continent seasonal cycle.
Envision: What companies or organizations, in your opinion, are on the cutting edge of implementing foresight strategies?
Foresight has seen a resurgence in recent years. Companies from Ford to Hershey now have dedicated Futurists or Foresight teams. These teams tend to support innovation and strategic planning activities. Sadly, it’s hard to measure the impact. So don’t look for quantitative proof that foresight works. It’s more about building foresight into the culture of the organization to help you navigate periods of uncertainty and market transitions.
Envision: As you know, Envision Greater Green Bay is looking to build a community-wide practice of strategic foresight. Is that unusual? Aren’t some European countries doing this?
Envision Greater Green Bay is unique around its bottom up, grass roots approach to integrating foresight into business and civic leadership across the region. I do not know of any other region with an explicit goal. Be proud! Globally, there are many regions with strong foresight efforts. Governments in Singapore and the UAE require foresight training for the majority of government departments. Europe has been cultivating foresight for many years. In 2004 it formed the European Foresight Monitoring Network. The UK is known for its strong Horizon Scanning program and Finland has formalized a Foresight network across its government agencies.
Here are some examples from around the world: