Category Archives: talks

‘Learners inherit the Earth’ [SESSION SLIDES]

Earlier today I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking at the first session of a network for education and lifelong learning institutions in east London brought together by Aston Mansfield, a community charity.

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Industrial Strategies and a Stakeholder Economy [SESSION SLIDES]

Earlier this week I spoke at on Industrial Strategies and a Stakeholder Economy at an event on ‘Redesigning Capitalism: From shareholder to stakeholder capitalism’.

The event was run by Promoting Economic Pluralism, which is creating and supporting spaces for diverse voices, perspectives and approaches to understanding our economies to help co-create truly sustainable, resilient and inclusive ones. PEP is run by the inimitable Henry Leveson-Gower, who deserves great praise for pushing for requisite variety in economics.

Some people from the session were asking for the slides. Here they are. In a perfect world I would write a blog post of my talk, but the perfect is the enemy of the good. So, better than nothing, here are the key points from the talk:

  • We’re in a profound mess.
  • Industrial strategy is ‘back’ because new approaches are needed.
  • There is a spectrum of industrial strategies, reflecting different political preferences.
  • Addressing transformation failure probably requires a ‘participative’ approach.
  • That makes a ‘stakeholder economy’ both a means and an end.
  • Orientating everything in an economy to address the profound mess means we have to experiment everywhere.
  • There are hints of an emerging practice of transformative, participatory industrial strategy.
  • We need many global ‘social learning cycles’ to get better at using participative approaches in industrial strategies to deliver a sustainable footing.

SPEECH: ‘Successful Sri Lanka in a sustainable world’

At the end of November, I had the honour of giving the Keynote speech at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Best Corporate Citizen Sustainability Awards 2017. I was there as an affiliate of Good Karma, a Sri Lankan consultancy I’ve had the pleasure of working with this year. You can read my speech below on why economic transformation is inevitable, the best way to win the future is to invent it; and, that Sri Lanka can choose to grow towards a sustainable future.

“Rather than burden our children with our mistakes, we can inspire them with our example.”


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‘In shocking times, sustainability needs to pivot.’ Closing remarks to edie 2017 Sustainability Leaders Forum

As chair of edie Sustainability Leaders Forum 2017, I could close the event with my key themes: 1. the context is shocking; 2. there are leaders making great strides; and, 3. even so the corporate sustainability field needs to pivot. This piece was first posted on edie.

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Talk: How digital innovation will have a profound and disruptive effect on society and our environment

This is the text of the talk I gave at Forum for the Future regular energy drinks. My brief was to describe how digital innovation will have a profound and destructive effect on society and our environment in 10 minutes. It’s one part of my sabbatical effort to understand how we can surf the digital revolution. Here goes.

Let’s start with the bold claim. If we are on track for sustainable future in 10 years time it will be because we have figured out how to surf the digital revolution.

Behind this bold claim is the idea that digital technologies are a general-purpose technology. To quote McAffee and Brynjolfsson, they will do for mental power walk the steam engine did from muscle power. We can expect the impacts to be as profound. And the Industrial Revolution had some consequences! We moved from farms to factories, stagecoaches to locomotives, local time to timetables, villagers knowing each other to towns and cities of strangers. All this illustrates how social change and technological revolutions go hand in.

But it is still difficult to grasp what that means for us now. So, let’s imagine again my life in say 2020.

I wake early and my phone has registered disturbed sleep. It tells my yoga app and my health insurer. Over breakfast I reward my son who has had a good end of term report with Amazon’s points. He wants to spend them on the force re-re-awakens.

Citymapper tells me that my commute is disrupted so I don’t work in a local cafe. I paid in ‘Brocks’, the local currency in Brockley South East London that I earned from my solar surplus into the local electricity grid. I commute in on the Elizabeth line what used to be called crossrail.

My first meeting is assessing the work that has come back from researchers. We put a request out to our crowd, and people have sent back their findings. They get paid a little bit for effort but more if we like the insight and decide to use it. Just before lunch my phone tells me an old friend is now by and we have and impromptu get-together.

In the background lots of things happening that I don’t need to take any part in. My home concierge is turning devices on off to get the cheapest energy. Someone borrows our lawnmower and pays in ‘Brocks’. My digital assistant is dealing with my emails; I only see the ones that I’ve taught it I really need to see.

In the evening there are leaving drinks for some back-office staff. I taken either home driven by an unhappy former black cabbie.

All this illustrates a couple of points:

– My life will rely on digital
– People will be paid based on how well they work with robots (to quote Kevin Kelly)
– Individuals with more exposed and, paradoxically, have more power
– It will support an exhilarating energy revolution, Through local small groups and smart buildings
– There will be alternative models: the access economy; the sharing economy; the circular economy; the gig economy; the local economy.
– Life will be faster more automated and more bespoke

There are two great hopes of digital revolution:

– The productivity gains will mean we can meet all material needs.
– Because we can meet nonmaterial means in nonmaterial ways, we will need less stuff to have more fun and we can come back within planetary boundaries

But alongside those hopes come some big fears:

– How will people have worthwhile work?
– How will people get value from data about themselves?
– How will we address the ‘winner-takes-all’ dynamic that is driven faster by the ’network effect’ of digital technologies?
– What will be the institutions in a digitally-enabled world that are worthy of our trust?
– How will we evolve our selves to always-connected, ever-accelerating lives?

More fears can be devised and there is much we cannot know. We can know is the digital will have a profound effect on society and our environment – and so on our lives. Because networks are at it’s heart, digital technologies hold out the promise of us organising like a living system (which I think is crucial to a sustainable future – see here). If we can do that then we could have a society where people can choose how they live within planetary boundaries.

Getting this to happen will be tough. It will require us to come up with new institutions new regulations new values in fact a whole new political. But we must.

Because if we are on track for sustainable future in 10 years time it will be because we haven’t figured out how to surf the digital revolution.

“If I had £1m to spend on a more resilient economic system I would…”

A couple of weeks ago Friends Provident Foundation asked me to finish this sentence “If I had £1m to spend on a more resilient economic system I would…” in a filmed interview. That’s not out yet, so here’s the 10 ideas I gave them.

“If I had £1m to spend on a more resilient economic system I would…” do 2 sorts of things: (1) address shocks that we can anticipate, and (2) grow our ability to bounce back better from shocks we can’t predict.

(By the way, below are the 10 ideas, organised under those two headings. I try to preface each idea with a diagnosis (“Right now…”) to set up the rationale. The ideas are informed by The Community Resilience Lab and Global Dashboard’s Brookings paper “Confronting the Long Crisis of Globalization: Risk, Resilience and International Order”.)


Let’s start with the shocks we can anticipate.

There are price shocks: energy, raw materials, and food. For each of these there are more people, more prosperous in more places driving demand, while supply is constrained by the natural world and societal/industrial bottlenecks. What can we do?

Idea 1: invest in assembling s network of player who can address the financial barriers to investment for resilience in:
-clean, secure energy supply
-reducing energy demand through efficiency
-get more value from using less physical stuff by creating the infrastructure for a circular economy

Idea 2: scope out how to shift to a diet that is less exposed to price shocks and also healthier (probably – less meaty).

Another shock we can anticipate is extreme weather events. This is a big, big deal but I hope the recent floods mean that government will address this.


Now let’s look at growing our ability to bounce back better. Think of Detroit. Why did it struggle over the last few decades? Because of a lack of diversity. It relied on 3 big companies in only one industry. When the industry changed, the risk and resources for response were both too concentrated. Therefore, we need to distribute risk and the ability to respond more widely, in order to bounce back better.
Right now – complex challenges tend to go up to senior leaders because organisations are arranged in hierarchical silos. Therefore we need to create shared awareness of the need for resilience at a senior level.

Idea 3: a ‘Leaders for the Future’ course. Mix together top civil servants (especially from the Treasury) with business people and beyond. Help them push the ability to respond further down their organisation.
Right now – UK towns are at the whim of globalisation and the sheer economic density of London.

Idea 4: Pick a medium-sized town to pilot ‘being resilient’. Throw a lot of resources at it, as a pilot that you can learn from and then scale.
Right now – assembling the necessary coalitions for specific challenges is expensive and slow.

Idea 5: provide core funding for semi-permanent platforms that are ready for co-ordinated action when the need arises.
Right now – risk of failure is usually carried by the weakest member of a supply chain (e.g. the smallholder producers of tea, rather than the multinationals).

Idea 6: create financial products that distribute risk according to who benefits and has the resources to respond, not according to who can dictate terms.
Right now – investment professionals are blind to the systemic risk presented by climate change. Our pensions could be wiped out, unless we take action.

Idea 7: get behind the carbon bubble / divestment campaign.

Idea 8: invest in making climate change a consideration in the ‘macro-prudential’ analysis that financial regulators are now focussing on.
Right now – the UK does not have the requisite variety of industries. We’re too dependent on The City for economic growth and tax take,

Idea 9: get behind efforts to create more entrepreneurs, especially ones which are have ideas that could mean we have fun within environmental limits.

Idea 10: get behind efforts to grow the ability to adapt in the young and the less-skilled (and therefore, more exposed) worker.


Finally, it’s also worth bringing resilience into your investment decision.  In practice that means:
-create a portfolio that create medium-term options
-learn as you go, and kill what’s not working
-leverage in the resources of others


No idea if Friends Provident Foundation will take any of these ideas. We’ll see!

Talk: What do we mean by a sustainable future for a creative economy?

Earlier in May I was a panelist talking at a University of Art London event. I had five minutes for a pretty complex question – what do we mean by a sustainable future for a creative economy? – but I boiled it down to 5 points.

It’s in the text of the talk below. Enjoy!

Let’s talk definitions
(1) A sustainable future is one where people can meet their needs without compromising the ability of people in the future to meet their own needs. This is the Brundtland definition of sustainable development.

It is strange that we are threatening our own ability to enjoy the future. It’s a bit like society is an habitual smoker.

How would we know if we were in a sustainable future? If people could realise their potential because their essential needs are met and there are the social and political foundations they need – all within environmental limits.

This second version is important. It’s not about hairshirts and sandals. It is a liberal, market-based democracy position. I’m saying you can have fun, as long as you don’t harm others. I’ve put this in terms of Sen’s capabilities. Forum has turned this sort of thinking, with funding from the Technology Strategy Board, into the Horizons tool.

But how do we get there?
It can be easy to talk in terms of hard, technological solutions. But as a society we will need to be learning:

-open to the data of new experiences
-make sense of a complex world
-gain novel insight
-act on that insight
-and repeat

Therefore (2) getting to sustainable future is a creative act.

What I see in my day job
I work at Forum for the Future to help leading businesses go further, faster on sustainability.

Why are they acting? Because sustainability issues are shaping the context they operate in. Doing nothing represents real risks. Acting now opens exciting opportunities. It is in their long-term interest to act.

What are they doing? I see leading companies doing two things. First, shaping the context so we’re on the path to a sustainable future. Second, innovating to win along that path.

Now, NESTA defines the creative industries as ‘using creative talent for commercial opportunity’.

Therefore (3) there is a massive need and opportunity for the creative economy, in order to:

  • Make sense of complexity through art and culture
  • Shape expectations and desire through advertising and the media
  • Make it easy for individuals to act through design, architecture, and innovation

What does this mean for you?
Bad news: the need for sustainability is unavoidable over the coming decades. So, it is unavoidable in your careers.

Good news: (4) you can make a difference, whatever your role in the creative industries. There is a contribution you can make.

So, what do we mean by a sustainable future for a creative economy?

(1) A sustainable future is one where people can meet their needs without compromising the ability of people in the future to meet their own needs

(2) getting to sustainable future is a creative act.

(3) there is a massive need and opportunity for the creative economy

(4) you can make a difference, whatever your role in the creative industries. 

Which brings me to my final point. Past generations have had enormous challenges to overcome, fascism, communism and more.

So, (5) Building a sustainable future is the task of our generation.

It will be tough – and a great life’s work for us all.

Thank you.