What does Transparency mean for your company?

‘If slaughterhouses had glass walls, the whole world would be vegetarian’

- Linda McCartney

For many years I was a daily consumer of the popular mouthwash Listerine. Then, on 11th January 2009 the following story was widely reported across Australia’s mainstream media:[i]

Australia’s top-selling mouthwashes can cause oral cancer and should be pulled from supermarket shelves immediately.

Leading independent experts have issued this strong warning after investigating latest scientific evidence linking alcohol-containing mouthwashes to the deadly disease. Their review, published in the Dental Journal of Australia, concludes there is now “sufficient evidence” that “alcohol-containing mouthwashes contribute to the increased risk of development of oral cancer”.

Co-author Dr Camile Farah, director of research at the University of Queensland’s School of Dentistry, recommended mouthwash be restricted to “short-term” medical use or replaced by alcohol-free versions.

In response to the controversy that followed, and amidst claims that Australian sales had dropped by 50%[ii], the parent company, Johnson & Johnson, launched Listerine Zero, an alcohol-free variant later that year. But for this consumer the damage had already been done.

I have not purchased or used any Listerine products since. Still, at least Listerine remains on the market, unlike Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World.

What exposes these silent epidemics?

Transparency is the key! What darkness and secrecy conceal, transparency reveals. The public need to become aware of the issue. The issue needs a voice or a platform; it needs to be aired.

In today’s age of transparency, opportunities to suppress information or behaviour from the public are shrinking, and organisations would be well advised to take a proactive approach to addressing their “areas of vulnerability” before they are inevitably exposed. As they should, given these practices represent the company’s soft underbelly.

Taking a leading position brings with it the following benefits:

- It allows you to remain in control of your own destiny (offensive innovation) rather than being responsive to public outcry, regulatory enforcement, or the strategic shifts of competitors (defensive innovation)

- It de-positions competitors with similar practices who will be forced to defend their practices and follow suit

To do otherwise is to play a form of Russian roulette with your organisation’s future.

How do you detect these silent epidemics?

Often these types of silent epidemics exist within the organisation or industry itself. As such, their detection requires a high level of honest introspection. Ask yourself:

Which of our business practices are the public unaware of, but if they were, it would alter their perception of who we are and what we do?

This question should be asked of all aspects of the business; from the sourcing of raw materials through to disposal of the end product. However, the real challenge is not in asking this question but in answering it. Confronting internal inconvenient truths requires a level of honesty that many companies struggle with. After all, this is what we’ve always done; this is how we make a dollar; and besides, what the public don’t know won’t hurt them, right? It also takes courage to point out potential areas of vulnerability since you run the risk of offending those in charge by presenting a viewpoint they are unlikely to share.

Organisational heretics are rarely rewarded with instant gratitude!

 


[i] Weaver, C (2009) ‘Mouthwash linked to cancer’, The Sunday Telegraph, www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/mouthwash-linked-to-cancer/story-e6freuzi-1111118530255, accessed 23rd April 2014

[ii] Holroyd, J (2011) ‘Listerine cancer claim triggers court battle’, The Sydney Morning Herald, August 29th 2011, www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/beauty/listerine-cancer-claim-triggers-court-battle-20110829-1jh63.html, accessed June 4th 2014

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It’s not you, it’s me

When talking about the benefits of collaboration in a scenario workshop it’s easy to get excited by the prospects of what might be generated through collective effort. How could there possibly be a downside, you ask? Well there is; disempowerment.

Facilitators need to be aware that not everybody is a fan of collaboration; in particular, leaders who dislike feeling disempowered. Sure, in the lead up to a scenario workshop these same people will appear full of enthusiasm for the proposed process; “I’m a great believer in collaboration” they say, “It’ll be great to get the team working together.” But beware; what these leaders truly believe in is autocratic democracy: “Collaboration is fine, as long as we all head in my direction.”

In my experience I’ve come across two outstanding candidates.

In the first, many years ago now, the senior executive had only just started with the client and was no doubt keen to establish his leadership and intellectual credentials. Unfortunately, he really struggled with aspects of the scenario building process on the final day of a three-day workshop. Increasingly frustrated, he paced about the back of his group like a caged lion, muttering his obvious dislike for the process.

Then came his attempted coup de grace. With under an hour to go, he thoughtfully reminded his colleagues they needed to complete their weekly office footy tips before 5pm. Of course this meant that each person had to return to their nearby desk to submit their tips.

Seriously, if you weren’t facilitating, you might have stood back and applauded his ingenuity in attempting to disrupt the process.

On another, more recent occasion, the agitator was a respected community leader. Again, the cause of her frustration was the perceived complexity of creating scenarios. And again, her annoyance materialised as contempt for the process. Although more subtle, it seemed her repetitive enquiries of, “Are we still in the future?” were intended more to belittle the process than to actually seek any kind of clarity.

On the surface at least, what’s the similarity with these two cases? Leaders reacting poorly to disempowerment – “It’s all their fault!” Or so I thought.

Upon reflection, there’s another similarity that’s perhaps closer to the truth. Their actions were not borne from some preordained desire to derail the process. In fact, in the first instance above, the participant went on to become an enthusiastic contributor later in the day. Rather, their actions were borne from frustration with the process.

And herein lie some valuable lessons for scenario facilitation.

Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.

- Albert Einstein

On one level, as it is for all workshops, the learning is about being prepared for the different personality and learning types you’re likely to engage. On another, more specific level, the learning is in recognising that creating future scenarios does not come naturally to many people. It’s bloody hard to think of things that don’t physically exist; to imagine changes that might occur. For most participants, it’s likely to be the first time they’ve ever undertaken such an activity.

I don’t believe any participant attends a workshop with the dark goal of destabilising the process. Sure, some may want to bend the process to their will, but most (if not all) are there to contribute and learn, grateful to get away from their day-to-day operations. And here’s the challenge for scenario facilitation; acknowledging the complexity of the future, whilst meeting the needs of participants.

The onus then is on workshop design and facilitation. Clarity of purpose and direction; process logic and flow; simplicity of content delivery; these features of all successful workshops are especially important for scenario building.

And whilst the disempowering aspect of collaboration will always be a hurdle to watch for, is the challenge really any greater than dealing with the participant who constantly checks emails, or engages others in unrelated conversations?

Ultimately, responsibility for success of scenario workshops falls upon the process designer and facilitator.

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Businesses love marshmallows

The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a series of studies on delayed gratification in the early 1970s led by psychologist Walter Mischel, at Stanford University.[i] In these studies, children aged three to five were offered a choice between receiving one small reward immediately (a marshmallow, a cookie, or a pretzel, etc.), or two small rewards if they waited 15 minutes. Of the 600 participants, only one third delayed gratification long enough to get the second reward.

In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better future outcomes, in terms of SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index, and other life measures.[ii]

Just like small children, businesses struggle with delayed gratification. Their desire for the immediate marshmallow hit constantly overrides their quest for better long-term outcomes.

”Scenarios take too long. We need a strategy (or a new product) now, not in six months’ time.”

Yes, scenarios take time. Of course they do. It takes time to research how the future might be different. It takes time to extract insights that are original. And it takes time to reflect in order for new perceptions about the future to crystallise.

But these new perceptions are the reward for the organisation’s patience. They deliver clarity about the future that was previously missing, helping you to act cohesively and with greater confidence.

This clarity is where the time-saving benefit of scenarios kicks in.

Organisations are so busy constantly responding to unforeseen external changes that they rarely give themselves the opportunity to think seriously about the longer term future. With their focus on putting out the latest ‘fire’, or meeting the next short-term target, it’s no wonder that many exist in a state of “temporal exhaustion”. As Elise Boulding correctly diagnosed; if one is mentally out of breath all the time from dealing with the present, there is no energy left for imaging the future.[iii]

Scenarios help to overcome the epidemic of “temporal exhaustion”. And in doing so, they deliver the organisation longer-term pay-offs in terms of time, money and resources saved; whilst they might take time, they actually save time. To borrow a phrase from futurist Joel Barker: Speed is useful only if you are running in the right direction.[iv] Effective scenarios point you in the right direction.

 


[i] Mischel, W; Ebbesen, E; Raskoff Zeiss, A (1972) “Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay of gratification”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 21 (2), pp. 204–218

[ii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment, accessed April 3rd 2014

[iii] Boulding, E (1978) “The dynamics of imaging futures”, World Future Society Bulletin, September-October, p. 7

[iv] Barker, J (1993) Paradigms: The business of discovering the future, HarperCollins, New York, p. 208

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Caution: Scenario Bias Ahead

To varying degrees, the selection of driving forces to drive and shape the development of future scenarios will be influenced by personal biases. And as the leader of a scenario exercise you will constantly be in the position to influence these choices. The trap here is in repeatedly using the same drivers that a) you personally feel are most important (bias), and b) you personally feel most comfortable with (safe).

This is a trap I fell for.

Early days I tended to influence scenario participants across different industries to adopt the same driving forces to form at least some of their critical drivers. This habit was driven by my biased belief that these particular drivers were most important (undoubtedly they are important, but whether they were the most important for multiple industries is a point of debate).

My bias was also driven by a level of comfort. I knew these drivers. I knew the broad directions in which they might influence the scenarios. As an inexperienced facilitator this knowledge gave me some semblance of control and comfort. The result was a process that reinforced similar themes scenario after scenario, client after client.

My actions were those of a novice. I was clinging to the safety of what I knew, rather than trusting the process. The value of scenarios comes in their capacity to produce surprising results. And novelty can rarely emerge if the process is too controlled or safe.

It was only by letting go of the security of familiar drivers that I was able to experience the true re-perceiving power of scenarios. The creative and intuitive act of generating scenarios allows participants to build meaningful scenarios from a multitude of driving force combinations. It’s never simply a case of choose these particular drivers or the whole process falls over.

So, while the ultimate value of scenarios is in exploring futures that could really make a difference to the client, the subjectivity of the exercise means that groups of people are rarely likely to be in total agreement about just what the drivers of these scenarios might be. And that’s ok. After all, only hindsight can be the true judge of what really matters. The key is to accept the subjectivity and trust the process. Just because particular variables are chosen to drive the scenarios does not mean the influence of other important variables is excluded. On the contrary all important forces for change should be represented in the scenarios, and invariably they are.

The learning here for would-be scenario practitioners is:

1. Be conscious of biases – Before each scenario exercise, note what you feel are the most important drivers of change and be conscious about overtly influencing participants into adopting a similar position.

2. Accept subjectivity – Defining drivers that are important for the future is relatively easy; choosing those drivers which are most important is sure to raise the hackles of some. Trust that the creative, intuitive process will produce meaningful scenarios no matter which important drivers are chosen; and these scenarios will include the influence of all important driving forces.

3. Spurn safety, pursue novelty – Even the most proficient of scenario planners can repeatedly return to what they know best, habitually churning out scenarios that have the same underlying themes. Over time, like any idea or product, these scenarios pass their use-by date, failing to detect significant change at the fringes. What’s important is that the drivers chosen are always pertinent to the client’s strategic challenge, not to the facilitator’s strengths.

 

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Maximising Impact through Collaborative Strategy

When presenting scenarios to senior management, the two responses you’re most likely to hear are: “We already knew that” or “That’ll never happen”. The first response suggests a lack of novelty in your work, which is often the case when obvious trends dominate the scenarios. This can occur regularly if the scenario planner is beginning their art; when they still cling to the safety of trends or haven’t developed the skills to generate surprising insights.

The second response, which is just as common, is “That’ll never happen”; it suggests a lack of engagement between management and the scenarios. Presenting senior decision makers with a foreign picture of the future is never going to drive action. There’s just too big a leap between where they’re at, and what they have just been presented with. There needs to be a bridge between their mental model and the future novelty.

When I first started building scenarios I noticed the literature was always drumming on about the importance of the storyline or the scenario title, and how these needed to evoke rich images of the future to capture the imagination of others and drive action. So I focused on the scenario stories. I tried to bring them to life with evocative descriptions and drama and images. But let me tell you, not even a combination of War and Peace and Fifty Shades of Grey will drive managers to act if they don’t have an appreciation for how the scenarios were developed. And expecting them to develop this understanding via a 45 minute presentation is foolish.

Scenarios are not about stories. These are merely the medium for delivery. Scenarios are about participatory learning. Collaboration and co-creation provide the necessary bridge to understanding and action. This is why as many people as is practical should be involved in their creation. This especially applies to senior managers and the end-users of the scenarios.

Maximising a sense of ownership is best achieved when the creative learning experience of building scenarios is shared. This participation enables a deeper understanding of the business drivers, which can then be incorporated into future decision-making.

In my time I’ve facilitated scenarios involving as few as 5 people from a single department, and as many as 90 people from across an entire industry. And while more participants might increase the complexity for the facilitator, there is no doubt that it also leads to greater organisational impact.

And this is what you want.

______________________

 

  • Victorian Public Libraries 2030 Strategic Framework was recently recognised by the Victorian State Government as a winner of the 2013 Arts Portfolio Leadership Awards for Leadership in Collaboration

 

  • The Victorian Public Libraries 2030 Strategic Framework can be found here.

 

 

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Re-assess how you think about the future

There is no argument that techniques for collecting business data have become more sophisticated over the past quarter century. There is an equally strong argument to say that better decision making and competitive advantage have not been achieved as a result of this sophistication. This failure to improve performance is due to the so-called age of information being based upon two out-dated premises:

  1. 1. Greater information provides better insight into the future.

This philosophy is only valid in times of relative stability. Technology, globalisation, changing social values, and environmental pressures have all combined to produce increasing uncertainty about the future. With this uncertainty and increasing rate of change, historical information has never been less effective as a guide to the future, a fact borne out by the high failure rate of corporations and innovation launches.

  1. 2. Greater information provides competitive advantage.

This philosophy is only valid if a) the information you have is useful (refer above), and b) if your competitors don’t have access to the same data. However, in an age where information is ubiquitous this second condition is becoming increasingly unlikely.

In many industries we have the absurd situation where competitors are receiving the same syndicated information from the same suppliers on the same day. The only winners under this scenario are the suppliers of the syndicated information!

This reliance on traditional information sources not only places individual organisations at risk of disruptive change, but entire industries are in danger because of their common approach to data collection and the convergent view of the future that this encourages.

As for the effectiveness of such an approach, you can provide your own assessment by reflecting on the following:

1. Over the past ten years, how much time, money or resources has your organisation spent acquiring and analysing information?

2. Over this same time period what have been the most significant changes or events to impact your industry?

3. And how many of your information sources prepared you for these changes ahead of time?

4. Compared to your competitors, how different is your business strategy?

There has to be a better way!

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Reports of the death of public libraries have been greatly exaggerated

Public libraries are an idea whose time is now!

Now if you haven’t stepped inside your local library any time over the past twenty years this might seem ridiculous. In fact, ask the average person on the street what a public library could be in 2030 and the mainstream response is likely to be: “Libraries won’t exist because books won’t exist.”

To these people, the image of a public library remains indelibly linked to the past: ceiling high rows of books, hawk-eyed librarians, and a deathly silence occasionally interrupted by the echo of shoes on floorboards or a distant “Shhh!!”

Today’s reality is quite different, and for many years now public libraries have been undertaking a (not so) quiet revolution. In fact, if you’ve been lucky enough to attend your local library during their weekly Story Time or Baby Bounce sessions for infants, you’ll agree that public libraries have become a vital community source for providing vibrant, creative and yes, even noisy experiences.

But what of the future? Surely the omnipresence of technology and growth in e-books has reduced the relevance of public libraries?

Well, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of public libraries have been greatly exaggerated.

Over the past year I have been working with the State Library of Victoria designing a strategic framework for Victorian Public Libraries that addresses the question: ‘What is a public library in 2030?’

The process involved over 90 public library employees from across Victoria in the creation of future scenarios, the development of future visions, and the setting of future strategic objectives.

And what was the key finding from this process?

Public libraries can play a significant role within their communities in the future.

This project identified the emergence of five prominent social trends that could shape community behaviours, wants and needs over the next twenty years:

Creativity, collaboration, brain health, dynamic learning and community connection

As these trends emerge, more and more people will be seeking to explore and develop their creative interests.

They will be looking for opportunities to partner and share with others, both as individuals and as organisations.

They will recognise the need for lifelong mental engagement, stimulation and care.

They will feel the need to continuously learn new knowledge and skills to participate fully in a rapidly changing environment.

And they will have an increasing desire for stable and trusted relationships with people and places of common interest.

All of these trends play to the strengths of public libraries.

And as these trends emerge, public libraries have the opportunity to become vibrant creativity hubs, facilitating communal creative development and expression.

They have the opportunity to become co-working hubs, bringing people and organisations together to collaborate creatively, socially and professionally.

They have the opportunity to become the community’s brain gymnasium.

They have the opportunity to provide community learning programs that support 21st century literacy.

And they have the opportunity to become the community agora – a meeting place for people to gather, share and learn.

These trends not only offer public libraries the opportunity to continue their transformation towards providing active, service-based experiences, they also provide a directional purpose for future strategic planning.

So, what could public libraries become in 2030?

In essence, a public library’s core proposition in 2030 will remain communal content and literacy. However, the nature of these services will broaden significantly, in line with changing community wants and needs.

To satisfy their community’s emerging creativity needs, public libraries will provide the programs, facilities and assistance that enables the community to achieve their creative goals. This might include studios for rehearsing, recording and editing content; workshops to facilitate individual and group artistic development; or formal business spaces for collaborative tele-commuting.

And to meet their community’s emerging dynamic learning needs, public libraries will provide the programs, facilities and assistance that supports 21st century literacy needs. This might include community learning programs, training and workshops; communal meeting spaces for forums and public lectures; or social spaces that provide for informal learning.

It’s this potential for a broader mix of functions around the central concepts of content and literacy that presents such an exciting opportunity for public libraries in the future. A future in which public libraries occupy a relevant and prominent position at the centre of their local communities.

 

The Victorian Public Libraries 2030 process and strategic framework was designed by Steve Tighe. The Full Report and Executive Summary are available for download from the Public Libraries Victoria Network website

 

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The Limitations of Experts

The future will be a combination of persistence and novelty – some behaviours will persist, new behaviours will emerge. Anticipating which trends will persist, which new trends will arise, and what the implications and opportunities from these changes might be, is essentially the job of a corporate futurist.

The weakness in traditional corporate strategy typically lies in the absence of any planning for the emergence of future novelty. Instead, existing trends are extrapolated and plans are developed based on a business-as-usual scenario.

Now there’s no doubt that anticipating the rise of new behaviours is the harder of the two futures to foresee. However, since change is inevitable and the future is not linear, the business-as-usual scenario is actually the least likely to eventuate.

So how can companies improve their search for future novelty?

A step in the right direction is to recognise the weakness in relying too heavily on industry experts as guides to the future of your industry. Whilst experts have superior knowledge of the past and present, their insight into the future is usually only as valid as the next person’s. Often it is less so. Their perceptions are so tied up in the conventions of today and yesterday that they find it hard to break free and see future novelty. Since there are no facts about the future, there are no experts about the future.

So the strength of the expert – their paradigm expertise – becomes a weakness when thinking about the future. Their depth of knowledge proving to be a barrier that prevents them from seeing future disruption. Unfortunately, with paradigm depth comes paradigm blindness!

If you want to improve your company’s future planning and innovation performance, rather than relying on traditional sources, try cultivating a group of perception pioneers. Perception pioneers rarely have an in depth knowledge of your industry – and this is their advantage – they don’t carry the baggage of paradigm depth. Instead, they offer you a different perspective – they see the future differently. They can help you to anticipate the emergence of novelty.

Detecting future novelty does not rely on data – by its very nature of being on the fringe, there will be little statistical evidence pointing to its future significance. Instead, it relies on being sensitive to the silent epidemics that are simmering beneath the surface of today’s trends.

And this is the advantage that perception pioneers can bring to your company.

By regularly tapping into their diversity through formal strategic conversations that become part of the ongoing planning and innovation process, companies can continually challenge their own assumptions on the future, leading to fresh and unique perceptions.

This source of future insight is not only far cheaper than most approaches employed today, it is by far the most effective way to discover future novelty.

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Planning for the future? Try a new paradigm!

The results from IBM’s first ever global study of Chief Marketing Officers were published online recently under the heading CMOs feel unprepared for future complexity.

From a strategic foresight perspective, three key findings emerge from the study:

1. Overwhelmingly, CMOs believe the level of complexity they will have to manage in the future will be high or very high (79%),

2. Less than half those surveyed feel they are equipped to deal with this complexity (48%), and

3. The #1 concern of CMOs is the feeling they’re ‘drowning in data’ yet unable to identify insights.

Or to put these findings another way:

Despite their vast amount of data, managers continue to feel ill-equipped for a future that appears increasingly complex.

Clearly the accumulation of more historical data is not the answer.

Instead, a new planning paradigm is required.

The Information age is coming to an end!

Organisations operate within environments where the desire and search for competitive advantage is never ending. Over the past 20 years organisations have tried to achieve this advantage via the accumulation of historical information. In effect, we have come through a sort of information age, an age where the race has been on to purchase more market information than your competitors.

In many industries we have now reached the absurd situation where competitors receive the same market data, from the same suppliers, on the same day. The only winners under this scenario are the suppliers of the syndicated information!

The folly of this approach is evident in the concerns of CMOs listed at the top of this article.

Historical data serves several purposes within a business. It is useful for interpreting the past. It is also useful for guiding shorter-term, operational decisions. However, it provides limited value for longer term decision making. There must be a better way!

There are no facts about the future

The future will be a combination of persistence and novelty – whilst some existing trends will persist into the future, other new trends will also emerge. The extrapolation of historical data into the future only accounts for the persistence of trends that are visible today. Trends which are also visible to your competitors.

It’s the novelty of the future that provides the opportunity for marketing and innovation. And it’s the novelty of the future which also has the potential to disrupt entire strategies.

It’s their inability to discover just what this novelty could be, that so frustrates CMOs and CEOs around the world.

This is where strategic foresight fits in.

Whilst there are many aspects of the future which are uncertain, what we do know is that the future is not pre-determined, and hence, there are no facts about the future. So the acquisition of more and more data to unravel the future just doesn’t make sense.

In the absence of any facts, it’s our internal perceptions of the future – the perceived future environment – that are the most important component of business planning. Since all logic is borne out of perception, all planning and innovation is based on our perceptions of the future. How ironic then, that the most important component of the planning process is also the most overlooked!

And this is why planning and innovation fails. Because organisations get the future wrong!

Faulty perception of the future is the #1 reason organisations fail

Any visioning or strategic planning that is conducted without a rigorous exploration of your internal perceptions of the future is almost certain to fail.

So my advice to the CMOs and CEOs who continue to feel overwhelmed by the seeming complexity of the future is to reduce your addiction to historical data. It’s your reliance on this data that traps you in today’s conventions and prevents you from seeing the novelty of the future.

To simplify the future and improve your future performance, companies should establish an internal process of strategic conversations designed to draw out the mental models of managers that implicitly guide corporate decision making. The goal should be to make your corporate worldview explicit.

This explicit knowledge – with its weaknesses now on show – provides a platform from which to launch a superior planning and innovation process for the future.

Illuminating the opportunities of the future does rely on information, but it’s the mining of internal information (perceptions), not the mining of external information (data), that should be the focus.

In the words of renowned futurist and scenario planner Peter Schwartz:

‘Don’t worry about your files, worry about your perceptions’

This shift in understanding and focus represents a major opportunity for business planning, market research, and innovation in the future.

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The Decline of City Populations

The easiest thing in the world is to take a trend and project it forward. When it comes to planning, it’s also the most dangerous!

All trends are an outcome of certain drivers. The danger with planning is that we tend to make the assumption that existing trends will persist into the future without giving much thought to the drivers of the trend.

Consider existing population forecasts for Australia’s capital cities over the coming decades, which are all bullish.

One source, population expert Bob Birrell from Monash University projects Perth’s population to increase by over 40% between 2005 and 2021, whilst Melbourne is projected to grow by 25% and Sydney 18%.

But is a forecast of population decline in our major metropolitan areas equally plausible?

What’s required is a change in social perceptions about cities that could drive a trend that no current data is otherwise suggesting. However, such a shift in perception has already occurred in our cities in recent memory.

For 100 years, up until the early 1990’s, the population of inner city regions showed year-on-year decline. Nobody, it seemed, wanted to live close to the CBD. Underpinning this trend was Australia’s dominant traditional values of the time – couples were getting married in their early twenties, babies were being born in their threes & fours, and the outer suburbs with the lure of their ¼ acre blocks, were all the rage.

Seemingly overnight this long term trend was overturned.

All of a sudden the inner city lifestyle became aspirational and disused docklands were transformed by high-rise apartments. This shift in social perception came with no warning from historical data. Instead, the foresight for this movement came from understanding how human values develop.

The rise of Materialistic values, with its emphasis on individualism, which in turn led to the delaying of marital commitment and a generation of people spending their twenties and early thirties cashed up and single, meant that the suburbs were no longer the place to be.

So perhaps, understanding how values develop can also shed a different light on how city populations might change over the next couple of decades.

Materialistic values are essentially about the pursuit of visible economic achievement. And where have you historically had to go to pursue this goal? Why a city of course – with its abundance of employment, education, and entertainment options.

But what happens if many of us have now achieved our economic goals? Or if some of us are beginning to question the worth of pursuing these economic goals to the same degree that others have in the past?

These are the circumstances that lead to the rise of Post materialistic values. And it’s the rise of Post materialism, combined with technological advancements and availability, which provide two drivers likely to shape population movement in the future – two drivers which are unique to this point in time.

And the combination of these drivers suggests that an equally plausible scenario for city populations in the future is one of decline.

Post Materialism and technology, representing as they do, the pursuit of lifestyle goals and the means by which these goals can be achieved remotely, present implications for the future growth of cities, and opportunities for so-called lifestyle regions.

All social perceptions, and the behaviours that follow these perceptions, produce winners and losers. With the rise of Materialism, cities have been winners, to the detriment of rural populations; possessions have been winners, to the detriment of natural resources; and employers have been winners, to the detriment of employee’s personal time.

As each of these losers become scarce, our perception of their value changes, and consequently so does our behaviour.

So when projecting future populations for any region, whether it be city or rural, it’s important to consider the influence that Post Materialism might have on the future movement of people. Whereas the focus with Materialism has been on the accumulation of material possessions, a Post Materialistic age will place greater focus on time and space – two features that have become scarce in cities, yet exist in abundance in coastal and rural regions.

It’s this thinking which underpins a plausible scenario of population decline for Australia’s capital cities over the next 20 years.

 

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