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Planning for the Future with Peter Kennedy and Joe Dufresne

By October 15, 2020 October 24th, 2020 One Comment

Today Mark talks to Joe and Peter – principals of the Futures Strategy Group. They help large organizations plan for the future in the VUCA world. They’ve worked in various industries, with various organizations, including NASA, FEMA, the Department of State and Fortune 500 companies. They talk with Mark about how to use Future scenarios to take appropriate actions right now.

Learn about:

  • Common themes and needs across several possible future scenarios
  • How it’s unlikely that any particular scenario will happen exactly, but planning for different scenarios lets you prepare for whatever actually is going to happen
  • “Snake wake” – know what externals are going to affect you, and make a straight wake by planning for them and steering your ship in a straight line.

Listen in to hear more about planning and developing business agility

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Hey folks, welcome back. This is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Super-stoked to have you here today.

This is going to be a really interesting conversation for all of us, because we’re living in VUCA times. You’ve heard me talk a lot about that. Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. With this COVID-19, election turmoil – boy, it’s going to be fascinating to see what happens November, December.

I’m strapping in. And I’m sure you are as well. And volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity is something that military special operators have learned to handle fairly well. It’s their new normal – it’s always been their normal, but now it’s a new normal.

And we train for it relentlessly. And it’s mostly an attitude and a mindset. But there’s a lot of things you can do at an organizational and team level to prepare for volatility. And to see through the complexity and all that.

And we’re going to talk about that today with our two guests – who come to us as founding principals of the future strategy group. And Peter Kennedy and Joe – I’m going to blow it – Joe Dufresne?

Joe: That’s right, yes.

Mark: Joe Dufresne. Here to talk about how they help organizations such as FEMA and NASA and the department of state and other Fortune 500 companies, really see through to the other side of that complexity. Get to the simplicity on the other side of the complexity.

And to make good decisions about the future. Boy, don’t we all need that in our lives right now?

Before I have them take a moment to introduce themselves a little bit further, and we get into some kind of rich questions and answers. Or thought-provoking discussions about future thinking – I would like to say that one of the ways that we think leaders can deal with VUCA, is to really unlock the power of their teams.

Because when teams together are acting in a way that is spontaneous, they’re leveraging their intuition. They’re able to get out of their stuck linear thinking. You know, the things that got them where they are clearly aren’t going to get them where they want to go.

And so the leader’s role is shifting to be more of a coach. And a growth facilitator for their teams.

And that’s exactly what our Unbeatable Mind coach certification program brings to leaders. That new skill of not just being the authoritative leader – the strategic thinker. But also the one who is instrumental in unlocking the potential of the team by coaching excellence. Coaching to bring out the intuition and ingenuity of the team.

So if you’re interested in that – please go to and check out the link for the new cohort for Unbeatable Mind coach certification. It’s a profound program.

This cohort will probably be limited to 100 high level individuals, who are you know interested in these things we talk about on this podcast. So I hope to see you in the next cohort.

All right, guys. Thanks for joining me.

Joe, why don’t we start with you? Give us a sense of your background and how you came to be a future thinker and to work with the future standard strategy group.

Joe: Well thank you Mark it’s uh it’s great to be with you here today. I had a career in the Coast Guard. I started out at the academy and did about 15 years of various operational assignments. Both afloat and ashore. Had done my headquarters staff assignments and that sort of thing.

And I was just coming out of the field, and it was time to go back to headquarters. And my boss at the time was going to headquarters as well. And he’s like “I’m going to the office of strategic analysis.”

And he talked to me about it and I followed him there. And really didn’t know what I was getting into. And he said, “I’d like for you to take over the Coast Guard’s program called “project evergreen.”’ which was an alternative futures strategy program. That used the tools to look 20, 30… whatever distance into the future, and then turn around and look at today. And what we need to do today.

Mark: Interesting.

Joe: And I had never heard about project evergreen…

Mark: Can I ask a question? The Coast Guard is maritime, am I right? (laughing)

Joe: That’s right, yep…

Mark: So why do they call it evergreen? Why not like “everblue” or something like that.

Joe: Well, I’m glad you asked that… it stood for a cycle of continuous renewal. So the project had a four-year term; you’d start at the beginning, you’d build scenarios, you’d use those scenarios to build strategies. Implement them.

And then start all over every four years. And so it was the idea that this wasn’t a project like most projects – where you put a team together and they plug through the numbers and they spit out a report. And that’s it.

Mark: And then people forget about it. So you lose all the institutional knowledge. And the learning gets stale, and lost…

So, I love that. So the idea was to have a perpetual look at the future of threats and opportunities for the Coast Guard. And then to have that become institutional knowledge? Both the process as well as the outcomes?

Joe: That’s right. Yeah, and so it didn’t start off out of the gate as very impactful, organization wide. But by the time I got there, the Coast Guard had been doing it probably about 12 years. And at that point, people were starting to understand it – certainly at the senior levels. And it was starting to get incorporated into major organizational decision processes. Like the budget, and hr. And major capital acquisitions, and those sorts of things.

Which had its benefits, but I was a commander at the time and in the military once you get up to the o5 level, you start to have to broaden your mind about the rest of the stuff that the organization does. And it really helped me to understand all the things that the Coast Guard dealt with. And how it all fit together. And begin to broaden my mind, just as a strategic thinker. You know, be able to get that right frame of mind on our strategy.

Mark: That’s fascinating. I want to come back later on – so you can think about this – but what were some of the most interesting or surprising outcomes of some of the evergreen planning? And how did that play out in execution of Coast Guard strategy, or operations? I think there’s some pretty interesting stories there, probably.

Joe: Absolutely.

Mark: So Peter, how about you? Give us a little background on yourself and how you came to work at future strategies, or co-found this really interesting organization?

Peter: Right. My background really is kind of interesting and it was a circuitous path that brought me to this. I started out in my career having studied international relations and Latin American relations. And I was advising major organizations, major companies on political, economic and financial events in Latin America.

And over the course of six years working for the economist group, I came to realize that in environments of great complexity and often volatile change, there’s really no tools for anticipating or planning effectively for that. Or at least I thought at the time…

I found out about this organization called “the futures group,” located up in central Connecticut that actually had developed and innovated a number of really interesting tools including scenario planning, and technology forecasting. And a whole bunch of other really, really powerful tools that I had not been familiar with before.

And I thought, “Jesus, this would be a great way to segway into kind of a state-of-the-art way of thinking about the future. And helping decision makers make smart decisions in the face of unpredictable, unforecastable kinds of change.”

And the futures group evolved, and we were later part of a big consulting organization and then we spin ourselves out about 18 years ago. And became futures strategy group. And we’ve been at it ever since.

Mark: Awesome. So I’m going to ask a question, and I guess you guys can maybe… since I don’t know which of you will be the right person to answer, I’ll kind of let you guys kind of tag team. And we’ll just get into a fun conversation.

Because one of the things that in my perspective – in working with a lot of CEOs and teams – is that we’re pretty target-focused on what’s right in front of us. Did you find when you started this work that it was a real shift in mindset for teams to begin to get part of their mind and part of their thinking to be looking out five to ten years? Because we’re so task saturated, and distracted with what’s going on right now?

And I guess the second part of that question is how did you do that? Because that’s a big shift in mindset.

Peter: I’ll jump in to start. And Joe, definitely you backfill on this, because I think you’d have a lot to say.

I think that is a great question, Mark. And I think that really does accurately sum up the friction and the dilemmas that most big organizations face when you’ve got high-powered teams that typically partner with us in running a foresight project.

Those are the same people who the organization has placed a lot of demands on.

So we – in effect – get the best and the brightest. But at the same time, they’ve got pretty busy schedules, and pretty significant day jobs that they’ve got to manage.

So it’s constantly a tug between their abilities to both focus on their current responsibilities, and also think creatively and rigorously about future change.

I’ll hand it over to Joe, because I think the Coast Guard in the way they developed a core team in project evergreen was really significant in being able to get some of those really great minds and great thinkers. And allow them to step a little bit back from their day jobs and have that core of people who could really, really focus on the future.

And also then – later in their careers – be able to apply a lot of that learning to actual problem solving.

Mark: Yeah, let’s hear how the Coast Guard did that. I think that’ll be a good place to start with that. Joe?

Joe: Sure, Mark. Yeah, well, when I came in and started working with project evergreen, I started reading the scenarios that had been used in the past.

And they were just fascinating. I was like reading five different ones, and it was like reading five very different fiction novels. But it was just real enough where you’re like “wow, this is plausible…”

Mark: Let me pause there, just because I don’t think everyone would know what you’re talking about when you’re talking about scenarios. These are – in my thinking, what you just said was these are scenarios that teams in the evergreen project looked into the future and said, “here’s five possible futures.”

And then you came in and kind of looked at those and said “wow, that’s interesting.” And just reflecting on the different scenarios – you could see how each one of those could play out.

Joe: Absolutely. Yeah. And I mean my first reaction was I had no idea that the Coast Guard was doing something like this. And then followed up “I’m really glad that we are.”

And so it was not easy to do, and we would have workshops with 60 people that were hand-picked by senior leadership, because they were big thinkers. They could get along well with others. They were invested in the organization.

And it’s not easy to step into and live in some of these worlds. Because frankly some of them are quite uncomfortable.

It requires a certain frame of mind to do that, and I would say the largest ones really are to the courage and humility to be able to challenge conventional assumptions. Both Coast Guard assumptions and personal closely held beliefs – not to discard them, but to be willing to look at them. Take them out and spin them around and examine them with a critical eye.

And then again – you may find out that they’re not wrong – but they’re not entirely right. And you can learn something from that. And that’s difficult to do.

Mark: I imagine. Let me first ask this question – how far out are these scenarios? Did you look three years, five years, ten years… fifty?

Peter: It really depends on the client – the problem you’re trying to solve or the future you’re trying to track and understand and plan for. With the Coast Guard the scenarios were – Joe correct me if I’m wrong – 20, 25 years set out into the future.

But we did we typically avoided the mistake of assigning a specific date, because then people get hung up on that, and say “well, you know we’re going to go through so many cycles between now and then, why worry about it?”

We did a scenario planning project in a different organizational arrangement for the Panama Canal that were set 40 years in the future. Because they were thinking about building – this is back in the late 1990s – they were thinking about building that third set of locks and lanes. Which they eventually did.

And they wanted our help to understand what the future of trade flows would look like. Given china’s rising role in the global economy. They wanted to know about climate change, and how that would affect the passages across the arctic in terms of shipping and navigation and so forth.

So it’s for big issues that require major investments of money, and time, and talent. It really does require that big look out into the future, because we know it’s going to be different and we know it’s going to change.

We want to be able in our planning to be able to integrate all the ways in which you can change. So we do the right things and make the right decisions.

Joe: And I found that the date needed to be set far enough in the future where we could be willing to accept something that’s totally different than today. But not so far out in the future that people are just like well “we’re all going to be robots by then anyway.”

But something that allows you to think about something differently.

Mark: It’s great to see this happening in the military. Because generally, we’re always fighting the last war. You know, that’s kind of the going theme. Like something happens and you’re like “oh shit,” and you bring the thinking from the last war to it, and it doesn’t work.

And then you have to innovate. Look at Iraq being… the invasion of Iraq and looking at it as a conventional operation. And then we declare victory. (laughing) and we’re still there 15 years later. “oops.”

So I don’t imagine anyone had a future planning around that scenario. Or maybe there was, it just didn’t get percolated down to the operational level.

Peter: Right, we have had scenarios – we had one that was called “forever war.” I think that may have been in our first round of scenario planning with the Coast Guard. And, in fact, it was really built on just a cascading of global military commitments, that we just really couldn’t get out of.

Mark: That’s actually been fairly close to the truth lately, hasn’t it? Last 20 years.

Peter: It really has. But the key thing is that you don’t plan for one scenario. You really have to look across a range of plausible alternative future worlds and really think about your decisions that you’re going to be facing today or next year in the context of those future worlds. As if those worlds were really going to happen.

Mark: Right.

Many Different Futures


So do then leaders look at those – let’s say you come up with five scenarios – whether your client is the US Coast Guard or Spec Ops or a Fortune 500. And then do the leaders say “you know what? These two or three are the most likely, so to mitigate a risk we’re going to be investing and preparing for these two or three.”

Or do they just have to like cover down on one possibility that they think is most likely?

Peter: Well the way the exercise is played is that you really take every single world that you develop and treat it independently. And come up with a set of plans and strategies and actions that fit that world.

And then towards the end of the exercise each of the groups then presents its own strategies and plans and stress tests them in the other environments. So that you really get a sense of what are the common issues, and themes, and needs, and requirements that fit across most if not all…

Mark: The generalized requirements that you can set up that’ll meet all the worlds…

And then you become less reactionary when one of them starts to play out, I imagine. Because you’ve already gamed it out or simulated it…

Peter: You’ve taken it into consideration. And you build a set of contingent plans and strategies for wild card kinds of things. Or unexpected, or extreme kinds of events – you build that into it.

But, you know, it’s really important that decision makers get away from the whole sort of knee-jerk thinking that one of these worlds is going to happen.

Because none of them will. The probability of any one of the world’s coming true is zero. Even if you get something right…

Mark: So do you also have a process to let’s say you go through one cycle and then you’re coming back – I’m thinking of the Coast Guard, every four years you kind of reset the process with a new team. Do you have a lessons learned process, where you look back and say “here’s how we did based upon these five scenarios. And it sort of came in between, but maybe it was close to this one.”

And that’ll refine your thinking going forward? Or the projections going forward?

Joe: Well, I would say from my experience the scenarios are really just a tool. And so the tool gets built pretty much using the same process from time to time.

And there’s certainly some common themes. I don’t think I’ve seen a set of scenarios yet that doesn’t have a pandemic in it.

But what is interesting is when you can go back to previous cycles and look at some of the insights and the strategies that came out of those cycles. And then look at the strategies and insights that came out independently from the next cycle.

And if you see things that are continuing across four years, eight years… that’s compelling, you know. And it’s something that you can sink your teeth into.

In the Coast Guard, I had a couple of those nuggets that came out.

Mark: Such as…?

Peter: Well, I think, Joe, I think you were going to probably say this… I think early on in the evergreen history – the arctic emerged as an important focus for future Coast Guard operations.

Joe: Yeah and from the early stages when “project evergreen” was actually called “project Longview” back in the mid ‘90s – there were some insights that came out of that. One being maritime domain awareness – which is an obvious term for us these days, but back then the concept of having an awareness of all of the capabilities, authorities, threats that are going on in the maritime – particularly in the coastal domain – was something new. And frankly that hadn’t really been explored much yet.

And then 9/11 happened. And then the boat lift of the evacuation of everybody off of Manhattan reinforced that man, if we had had a strong maritime domain awareness plan in place for that – not just in New York – but all across the coast. When everything locked down.

And then also there was a strategy that talked about merging our traditional stovepipes of various mission programs into one unified commander – operational commander – that had all the authorities and all the capabilities in a geographic region.

Those are things that hadn’t been acted on yet, but after 9/11, the Coast Guard saw that that would have really helped out. And then eventually moved forward on it.

Mark: Yeah. I want to talk about that so 9/11 you’re just saying kind of catalyzed the understanding of the importance of this VUCA type forward planning. So you become less reactionary and more responsive.

But it seems like the Coast Guard was pretty damn responsive on 9/11 to organize that flotilla so quickly. And to do what you call that Dunkirk in America operation. Can you talk about that briefly?

Joe: Sure, absolutely…

Mark: Fascinating. And I don’t know how many people know about that.

Joe: That evacuation – of course – was not exclusively Coast Guard. But the Coast Guard’s piece to it was that you had this operational commander out there on the water looking at what was going on. And responded in frankly typical Coast Guard fashion, because the Coast Guard has this set of principles of operations that have been passed down to us derivatively since Hamilton and as revenue cutter officers.

And some of them being things like flexibility, and unity of effort. And the biggest one – which you know very well, being a SEAL – is that on-scene initiative. You know, that granting the operational commander who’s on the ground, sees what’s going on – the ability to make those field decisions without having to go up through all the chain of command.

But to do that – of course, they’re not just cutting out the chain of command. The chain command has to provide that strategic context to that commander before he’s out there.

And this whole process began to build operational commanders that think this way. And are able to translate high-level strategic direction to the field… that’s the holy grail, you know…?

Mark: Yeah, that’s so important now for leaders to be able to allow the autonomous operations of their folks in the field like that. But to provide top cover and strategic guidance – like you said, right? But to trust that they’re going to be able to make good decisions.

So that’s mindset, but there’s a lot of training involved. And of course military organizations are relentless with their training, and that’s one of our drum beats as an organization. You gotta train mindset, you gotta train flexibility, you gotta train foresight.

It can’t be just a one-time thing – like a seminar with you guys – it’s got to be something that… and I’m sure, once you’re done with the scenarios, part of the follow-on is to set up a training plan so people can constantly flex these new muscles. Otherwise they’ll just go away, right?

Joe: Right.

Mark: So let me… just imagining that we’ve got an executive team that’s listening… or a CEO is going to share this with their team. And they’re already thinking “you know what, Peter and Joe? We’re already a pretty agile organization. And we can pivot quickly. We pivoted quickly with the pandemic, so why do we need more training in foresight? And what’s the difference between agility and foresight?”

Peter: Yeah, I would say that foresight – scenario planning – is really almost a precondition for being an agile organization. Because until you really go through the process of systematically thinking about how your operating environment – your Markets, your customers and technology, competition, regulators – how all of those things are apt to play out in the future, and think of your business in that context – you’re really not going to be agile. You’re going to really be merely repeating what you’re doing and making incremental changes. And not putting yourself in a position where you’re going to be able to respond in a decisive manner to a very different set of conditions than you’re otherwise expecting.

Mark: Yeah, it makes sense. Let me just opine on that, and then I’ll turn it over to you, Joe.

It’s like in the SEAL teams, in order for us to do contingency planning, we had to be able to imagine what contingencies would face us, right? And so we couldn’t just be able to adapt quickly, we needed to know what to adapt quickly to, so that we could plan for that. And train for that.

Peter: Right. And really take you out of your comfort zone.

Mark: Yes.

Peter: That’s a really big thing.

Mark: Yeah, setting up the expectation that those contingencies will probably be… one of one or more of them will be the likely outcome, and not the plan that you put together.

Joe: Yeah, it’s not the plan, it’s the planning, right? Yeah, I mean agility can take two forms, too. You can be reactive, or you can be proactive. And you can be agile in either way.

And I always like to describe it… being in the navy, you may understand the “snake wake.” Someone who’s driving a ship or a boat, if they’re not very experienced and you look behind them their wake is looks like a snake, because every time a wave hits them, they overcompensate, and it goes back and forth.

And a good a good ship driver – good boat driver – knows how to look for an external influence that’s going to affect it. And can make that correction before it actually comes.

And it’s that same sort of thinking organizationally when you do this type of stuff. Even when you do get hit with something that you didn’t expect, it doesn’t scare you. Because you’ve been through it before either virtually or in practice. And you can react to it quicker.

Mark: Right. When you work with a team, when it comes to process… the most successful teams that develop foresight and proactive agility, what kind of process do they implement? Or – I should say – new processes or new standards they implement into their organization, that really ensure that this new type of mindset is ingrained into the culture.

Peter: Let me jump in there, because it brings up, I think a really important attribute of foresight. And that is that we all talk about that this must be a sustainable process – it’s not one and done. You must continually renew it.

You need to bring increasing number of people inside the organizations. Make them part of the team… make them own it. Make them understand it and feel ownership over it.

And in the early days working with the Coast Guard, I had the privilege of being there in the really early days, when it first got started. The people who were part of the original project team tended to be in many ways very much kind of right brain thinkers, and outside the box and imaginative… I mean, they had operating skills, and all the really good traditional Coast Guard attributes.

But there was a lot of really open-mindedness and creativity there. That made a very, very strong team.

One of the things that we learned after that was that sometimes you need… in order for this to be something that is sustained and driven deep down into the organization, we also know that you need the people who have that strict engineering mentality.

You know, the numbers people. The more conventional left-brained thinkers. We need them on the team too, because those are the people who are… we’re going to be relying upon them to actually put these great insights, and strategies, and plans into action.

And that was a really important learning that we had throughout the course of evergreen. That we can’t just be comfortable with the creative types, the innovative thinkers…

We also need the people who are a little bit uncomfortable in that environment. But we are going to rely upon them downstream, for making sure that these big ideas get put into action.

Mark: Oh, that’s really interesting.

Joe: Yeah. And I mean, I can speak from the Coast Guard – you talked about that training, Mark, we would go out and brief project evergreen – the strategies – to our senior leadership workshops and meetings… it was part of the curriculum for the senior enlisted leadership course – the mid-grade officer leadership course – so you start building.

And the Coast Guard’s like the other military services. The next commandant – 30 years from now – is already in the service. And so you start to build that commandant and train them right at the mid-grade officer and enlisted leader level.

Mark: Right. Well, last time we spoke, I mentioned my experience with McRaven when he was a commander. And then as a captain – o6 – commander. He was my SEAL team three co, then I worked for him again at naval special warfare group one, when he was a captain. And he was the commodore.

It’s funny how we have these different terms for the same… (laughing) he’s a captain, but he’s also a commodore.

But he was one of the SEAL leaders who really was – either through his own training or just naturally inclined to be a future thinker. And to imagine way outside the box.

And he on his own initiative began pitching something called NSW 21. And here’s this guy… there’s three different naval special warfare groups. And then there’s the headquarters above that. And then there’s the whole special operations command above that.

And here’s this one – kind of in this sense – a lowly guy. Who’s pitching a change to the entire structure and way that the SEALs operate. And I remember him being kind of like a one-man band.

In retrospect, I’m like “why didn’t we have a futures planning group that supported him in that?” And I’m hoping that spec war does or Socom does. I don’t know… maybe you guys know whether Socom has this type of initiative.

Joe: I don’t know that.

Peter: I don’t know, yeah.

Mark: So what’s really interesting to me is like you guys now have been working with a lot of different companies and NGOs and whatnot for years. And so there must be some generic kind of sense or knowledge that you guys have gleaned, because scenarios keep coming up that overlap or look the same whether you’re working within Exxon, or Coast Guard, or NASA.

So can you share… with the increasing integration of new advanced technologies and ai and internet of things and all that.

Along with things like accelerating climate change, if we assume that’s a real thing. Global warming, if we assume that’s a real thing. Political instability, nationalism… pandemics.

What do you see as plausible…? I’m not going to say “probable” or “likely” – but plausible scenarios that could play out in the next five to ten years. And any thoughts on how some of your clients are preparing for those?

(laughing) do I have to pay you for this information, by the way?

Peter: (laughing) so, Mark, you successfully went down a pretty robust checklist of really mega-forces…

Mark: (laughing) did I? Framing the question.

Peter: Yeah, really. But talking about climate change and talking about the future of work and the role of ai and machine learning in in our worlds. The rise of nationalism, future of china right, the future of trade flows. And the infrastructure needs and demographic changes of emerging and developed countries.

I mean all those things are really the big mega-forces for change, that are going to create and interact in all different kinds of complex and confusing ways. And as a company we’re really reluctant to go out and… in fact, we refuse to say, “this is the most likely.”

I mean we can say some forces for change are going to be more powerful than others. And they’re going to be more impactful in certain circumstances. But in terms of being able to give one or two integrated pictures about how that’s all going to come together is something that kind of clashes with our main reason for being.

Mark: You want to train people to be thinking about these things. You don’t want to make predictions. You don’t you don’t want to be a predictive organization.

Peter: Yeah, because even the most what – we say even the most prescient view about the future that really gets a lot of things right – the more detailed it’s going to be, the more it’s going to be wrong in fundamental ways, too.

Mark: Right.

Peter: And we certainly don’t want to put anybody in the uncomfortable and disadvantageous position of having gotten something really big wrong. When they should have been in a much more aggressively hedging kind of a hedge situation.

Mark: Makes sense.

Joe: And the beauty of these scenarios too is that it allows you to study say like ai, without studying just ai… you can put it into a scenario… or global trade and vice versa. So it gives you a much more freedom to explore it.

Mark: Yeah, so we don’t have to look at just one of these facts… you cut out a little bit so I’m going to reframe that – you don’t have to look at just one of these as an individual impact. Like what’s the impact of ai, but you can frame in the context of how ai or advanced technology can affect the future of warfare. Or trade flows, like you said. Or political structures, right? Because they’re all interrelated these things.

Peter: Right.

Mark: Yeah, interesting.



You’re familiar with the work of George Friedman?

Joe: Yes.

Mark: Yeah, George…. He’s one of the folks that – for me anyways – is a trusted source of future insight because he looks at the world from the perspective of geopolitics. And geopolitics generally has a big influence on the movement of people, on power structures…

And then there’s kind of a predictive quality of how certain boundaried countries or structures that we create as human beings are influenced by the geography. And do you take into account that? Geopolitics?

For instance, it was probably fairly predictable that china would emerge and rise as a global power 100 years ago, 75, 50 years ago. And people could have been preparing for that. Because of their geopolitics and the land mass they own, their access to the oceans and their aspirations as a culture. And all that kind of thing.

They just had to deal with their internal struggles. Once they solved those, then they could turn their focus externally.

There’s a question in there somewhere (laughing).

Peter: (laughing) yeah, the question is do we take those big, foundational geopolitical things into consideration…

Yeah, absolutely have to. I mean there’s usually a major defining variable in our worlds that has to do with sort of the state of the world. And who in the world are the really dominant defining actors in those worlds?

And that requires then thinking about china – for example – becoming an economic hegemon almost the way Great Britain was in the 19th century. And the US was, in the second half of the 20th century.

Thinking about it really in those terms. And then what are the implications then for supply chains? And what are the implications for the future role of the dollar in global commerce? As the reserve currency of choice, as it is today.

And lots of other things as well. In terms of where value is getting produced. Where young people want to move and start their careers. We don’t take it for granted that it’s going to be in the united states and western Europe.

Mark: So without being predictive, can we talk about trends that are fairly obvious that are happening? Like, for instance, I’ll throw it out there and you guys can push back or say yes. Because you’ve already touched upon several of them.

One is that we’re heading toward really a bipolar world where china and its surrogates are kind of squaring off technologically and through trade and economically. And militarily – both on the oceans and maybe on land – but also in space.

So you have us, Europe and those allied kind of squaring off against china and Russia and those allied. Is that a trend that you see? Is there accuracy in that statement? And the world’s kind of lining up that way?

Peter: I can make a case… I can develop a coherent story – as you just outlined – and I can also write something that’s very much in a different direction.

Mark: Is that right? That’s interesting.

Peter: Yeah.

Mark: What would the different direction be? Because it seems like all the things that I read and see kind of point to the direction that I just outlined. So I’m curious like to poke a hole in that thinking.

Peter: Uh well, I mean, personally, I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that all of the pressures that China as a state and as an economy – as a society are going to be ameliorated in a way that really brings it to the position of dominance that it’s really depending upon to achieve all those both terrestrial goals and in space – which is a really fascinating thing to consider, as well.

I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion by any means.

Joe: Well you can also just think of it in terms of power. And we always think about global power in terms of nation states, but who’s to say that there isn’t some other form of power? Maybe it’s technological power…

Mark: Power of the people…

Joe: Exactly. Maybe you get these diasporas of people that don’t live in the same country that actually control public policy and foreign policy.

Mark: That’s fascinating.

Peter: Yeah. You were speaking, Mark, before about what other really big forces for change are out there. And I think it’s probably worthwhile for your listeners if we share some of the things that we’ve heard recently. Really from both government, and from private sector, and from NGO kinds of clients – is that just that everybody now is thinking about climate change.

And really what that’s going to mean in terms of where people live, how they live, price of fuel. Alternatives. Developing shipping lanes, supply chains – what we consume, how we consume it. What kind of regulations are going to come out of that?

Where are the ingredients? We have a food manufacturing and Marketing client that wants to know where future ingredients are going to come from. If they can’t get corn grain and soybeans at a reasonable price. Do they have to start stockpiling alternative ingredients, given the pressures on the environment now? And the lack of reliability on traditional levels of harvest.

Mark: Right. This is one that that affects everything. There’s no stone unturned when you’re talking about global climate change and the impact. I mean, you could have whole cities that end up being submerged

I read one interesting scenario that said New York city might need to be abandoned in a hundred years with sea level rise. That’s one possible scenario. I don’t know how plausible it is.

What do you do? The dislocation of all those coastal regions if the sea levels do rise that much because of melting ice?

Yeah, and there’s so many in food production and distribution… wow.

Peter: Yeah, and then also how that that triggers mass movements of people. In developed rich societies, we can deal with that over time, I think in ways in which it’s not destabilizing and disruptive to normal life, and politics, and policies.

But you just think about that in developing world countries that are already living close to sea level, and what that’s going to mean. Southeast Asia, especially.

Mark: Well, also… I mean, to push back a little bit on what you just said. Look at the immigration from the wars in Syria and Sudan that almost broke up the EU a few years ago, right? And so that mass migration could change everything. Not just the war-torn or poverty-stricken areas.

Peter: Absolutely.

Mark: It could bring a whole new way of looking at how we live and structure the organization of human lives.

And I think part of that’s moving out of that is being in a post-industrial era. Everything’s on the table. In technology – the acceleration of technology and ai has allowed for new thinking on forms of governance, and what it means to be a citizen, and… you know what I mean?

How to handle some of these challenges… blockchain is a great example of that right? If we move to decentralized governmental structures, instead of centralized. Decentralized currency structures instead of centralized. Or some sort of hybrid, wow.

Then all sorts of interesting things start popping up. Anyways, I just went off in a little tangent there. Sorry.

Joe: Yeah. Well and as organizations – having this toolbox of different futures allows you to think about things that you might need to start doing today. I mean, do we need to start building our communications infrastructure? Centralized or regionalized?

What does our human resources package need to look like that we’re going to be building for the next 20 years? Specialists versus generalists.

You know all these sorts of dilemmas you can tease out in various different ways and look for common threads.

Mark: Right. So what you’re saying is – and we can kind of wrap up on this – it’s not just about thinking with foresight, but acting with strategic intent. Like, you’ve got to start acting now in ways that are going to build the mindset for strategic foresight, or that foresight thinking.

But also, how do you act and set up contingencies and train for those contingencies? And take very deliberate actions?

Like you said earlier, Peter – that are gonna span across all these potential futures that will help you build a foundation to be able to be proactive in your agility, as opposed to be reactive in your agility.

Peter: Yeah, exactly. It’s like I said before, people get the impression that practicing foresight is building strategies for the future. And really what it is, is using the future as a lens so that you make the smartest and the best decisions you can possibly make today, and next week, and the week after that.

So it’s really present based. The hard deliverables – what we call the deliverables of that – is more robust plans, and strategies, and insights that are going to work no matter how the future turns out.

Then the soft side of that is the change in thinking that you referred to, Mark, before. Thinking with strategic intent, so that it actually changes the way people assess the environment around them, the options they have at their disposal. How they relate to their organization, to their job, to their world and so forth. It has a very, very powerful effect on that.

And even beyond their jobs, too. In their personal life, as well.

Mark: Yeah. This is something that affects everybody at all levels. The future that’s upon us – or coming upon us fast.

Guys how can people learn more about your organization? What’s your website? Do you have social media?

Where can people go and anything you want to tell folks about your organization and how they could work with you.

Peter: So website’s a good place to start. Make sure you say “futures” as plural – that’s intentional.

And all of our social media connections are right there on the front page of our website, as well.

Mark: Okay. Awesome. And who’s your ideal client?

Peter: Joe?

Joe: Ideal client…? Uh anybody – any organization, frankly, that has a level of uncertainty in their mission. In their portfolio. Or just in their scope of operations.

Because they’re the ones that are ultimately going to need to deal with that level of uncertainty.

Mark: Right. Awesome.

Gentlemen thank you so much for your time today. This was an important discussion and super-fascinating. Especially to me. And I look forward to further collaboration with you guys. And I appreciate what you’re doing. So Hooyah.

Peter: Thank you very much, Mark.

Joe: Great conversation, Mark. Thanks.

Mark: I agree. Thank you very much.

All right folks, that’s a wrap. This is the Unbeatable Mind podcast. That was Joe Dufresne and Peter Kennedy of the Futures Strategy Group. I think this is essential knowledge, essential skills for any organization any leader that wants to thrive in VUCA.

So check them out. Share this podcast. Thanks for listening and stay focused and be unbeatable. See you next time.


Divine out.

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