What future do you want?

March 10, 2016

What future do you wantUsually, when my customers contact me, their purpose is to have me tell them my vision of the future. Since the dawn of time, people have always had the secret hope that someone can tell them about their future. People have always sought to reduce uncertainty and looked for a more predictable future, be it in the stars, in a crystal ball, in cards or goat insides. If the purpose is the same, there are different attitudes and expectations when it comes to the future. I would identify four main types of requests.

Some are interested in what I would call Fantasy Future. Their expectation is not so much to have a realistic view of the future but they want to see a picture of unlimited possibilities. Their focus is primarily on the potential of new and as futuristic as possible technologies. They want to stimulate their imagination as much and as possible. Presentations that sound a bit like science-fiction fit quite well for such audiences. Whether such a future is actually possible and viable is secondary. Escaping from hard rational reality of day-to-day operations is a great way of getting new hopes, see new opportunities and building a dream about how thing might be. There is no real timelines for when that future might take place and it is fine, as it is not so important in this context.

Another form of future that is also in the realm of fantasy but more dangerous is what I call Wishful Thinking Future. For as much as with the Fantasy Future, it is clear that the predictions are quite speculative and the tone is more one of entertainment, those who tend towards Wishful Thinking Future have the tendency to think that, just because they believe in a particular scenario, it will and must happen, regardless of whether it makes any sense from a technological, practical or economic point of view. Usually, those who look at the future from the wishful thinking angle rarely do a thorough analysis of the actual possibilities and of how sensible their scenarios are. Quite often, they do not have the thorough set of skills and knowledge to carry out such an analysis. They seem more interested in pushing their dogma on others and they generally have a hidden agenda. The danger here is that it misleads and even possibly deceives the public. In the end, it is a major waste of time and money. Unfortunately, Wishful Thinking Future is much more common than one may think and unfortunately not that rare with some so-called influencers with some ego, and that is where the danger lies.

I enjoy some Fantasy Future once in a while. It is entertaining and, usually, the audiences that are interested are quite relaxed and curious. There is always a good energy in such meetings. However, I always present the futures scenarios in a very practical way to connect my story to the day-to-day activities of my clients. I also always present the limitations and what I think the odds of such scenarios are to actually concretize, so that my clients keep in mind what to expect. I do not engage and cannot stand the Wishful Thinking Future. Making people believe things that are not realistic, not possible or, worse, not true, is not in my DNA. I have exposed some non-sense quite a few times in the past, which is usually rather simple with the help of grade 6 math. Yet, I am always surprised how non-critical most people are and many fallacies get spread quickly and reach large numbers of people through social media. Fortunately, there are more alternatives to sketch a more sensible future. We live in a world where many one-eyed try to be king of the blind, I see my function to get my clients have 20/20 vision.

One approach towards realistic future scenarios is what I call the Likely Future. It is based on actual trends and historical patterns. The scenarios are the result of a rational analysis and usually such scenarios have a high probability to realize. In a sense, it is a cautious approach of the future. On the one hand, it takes into account facts and data and on the other hand the emotional and psychological aspects of human behaviour. It has little to do with fantasy and absolutely nothing with wishful thinking. It is based on verifiable facts and the scenarios can be discussed in a rational manner. It may not be the most exciting exercise but is creates the basis for the development of alternative scenarios and to assess their feasibility and assumptions by identifying areas of uncertainty. I wrote my first book, Future Harvests, with this approach in mind. What was the result? Pretty good because most of the issues that have now gone mainstream were all mentioned in the book, which I wrote in late 2009 and early 2010. Many other issues mentioned in the book certainly would deserve to get the same exposure but getting the message to the average person is a baby step process. Clearly, my approach of likely future works. I wanted to see whether the world could feed 9 billion people. I just wanted to get to either Yes or No, and I found the answer, and I also debunked a lot of myths and fallacies in the process. To me, the Likely Future is a good first step towards a strategy, but it is only a first step. By connecting such scenarios with resources, ambitions and desires for the future, it is possible to go to the next approach of the future, in my opinion the most interesting but also the most challenging: the Desirable Future.

The Desirable Future is really a lot of fun to investigate. It mixes the Likely future with the development of a vision. In this regard, it makes both brain hemispheres work. It combines a rational approach with strategy, creativity and leadership. By using the Likely Future as a basis, it aims at not taking the outcome as inevitable. It is a matter of finding out what will be if we act “normally” and then challenge it to deliver a better prospect. It leads towards a positive, collaborative and stimulating vision of the future. It is an extensive exercise that includes many disciplines and many stakeholders. Futurists mostly like to talk about technologies, but building the future depends much more on leadership and managing human nature than it does on technology, which will only offer tools to achieve future goals. Technology is only as good as the use we make of it, as I explained in a previous article. Earlier on, I mentioned both brain hemispheres having to work together, but the cooperation goes beyond what is inside. It calls for a collective approach. It requires enthusiasm and respect of others. It is about building a better world for all and not just for a few. There will not be a better world if a select few build a future for themselves only. The Desirable future is by far my favourite approach. It is energizing and an endless source of hope and happiness for me. This is why I sketched quite a few avenues about the Desirable Future in my second book, We Will Reap What We Sow, which was ahead of its time when I wrote it and still is (unfortunately?) and still will be for years to come (that’s fortunate for me!)

So, dear reader, what future are you most interested in? The answer is important because it will shape yours!

Copyright 2016 – Christophe Pelletier – The Happy future Group Consulting Ltd.

Why now may be the best time to work on the future of food and farming

October 21, 2013

Now is the right time to look forwardAlthough agricultural commodities markets have recently calmed down, the past few years have been turbulent. The result has been an increased attention for the world’s food supply and demand. Even in food secure regions, it is quite important to not take food security for granted, as it is always a work in progress. In this regard, the stress on agricultural markets and the recent price hikes have been a good thing. They have forced many to take a closer look at the situation and to start reflecting about the things to come. I have been among the ones who started earlier than most others, for two reasons. Firstly, it was obvious that meeting the demand of a strongly growing population would bring some challenges. There was no need for a crisis to figure that out. Secondly, I did not find analyses that connected the dots beyond the particular interests, the particular regions or the particular business areas of those who produced research and documents about the subject. This is why I have developed my foresight activities for food and agriculture and published the two books. The first, Future Harvests, answers the question of whether we can feed the future population and the second, We Will Reap What We Sow, reflects on how our future behavior towards consumption, together with the quality of our leadership, will decide whether the future will be prosper or gloomy. Those of you who read them know what the answers are and why.

Although the period of tensed markets helped bring valuable attention to the food issue, it has produced more quantity than quality about what should be next. Between those who announced the end of days and those who see it only as an opportunity to use fear to stop others from thinking, there has been little structural long-term thinking. Both groups play on short-term fear to push agendas that serve mostly only themselves. The future cannot be selfish; it will be about helping others succeed. Profit is only a by-product of sound decisions. Those who will foresee the actual needs of the future will make lots of it in the long term. The others, although they might score in the short term, will not win the race. In food and agriculture, foreseeing the future and defining winning strategies are complex activities. I say complex, but I do not say complicated. Ironically, the more thorough the analysis, the less complicated it comes out. When done well and communicated properly, there is no reason why others would not be willing to build a successful future. The complexity comes from the many levels involved in food security. The interactions between natural conditions with the political, economic and cultural environments, together with the many – and often divergent – interests of the players of food value chains are difficult to reconcile. But this is not all. The fact that food production systems and consumption behavior are also influenced by many other sectors competing with agriculture for resources adds to the complexity. The issue is not just about production techniques, new technologies or functioning of markets. Other societal issues play a role, too. The quality of a society and as a result of the people of which it consists will play a role. Health, education and on-going training are very important components of how we will manage the future. Each of the “blocks” I just presented are complex in themselves, simply because they deal with life and keeping the dynamics of life running harmoniously is no easy task. On top of that, the fact that these different blocks, depending on how they individually function, interact with each other and affect the performance of the others, it is clear that we need to look at the issue of feeding the world in a comprehensive manner. We need to identify and integrate all these elements in the analysis to determine the proper action to take. It would be quite convenient if future actions depended only of what directly affect a particular sector. Unfortunately, limiting the thinking to one degree of separation is not enough, by far.

In my years of the Food Futurist, I have had the opportunity to notice that the multidimensional nature of the issue is the one that seems the most difficult for most organizations to fathom. There is no shortage of reports or publications about the future of this or that. However, although they clearly are of excellent quality and the result of hard work, many of them miss the dot connecting part. They focus on the area of interest but tend to neglect the bigger picture. It is only natural that organizations look at the future from the angle of how it will affect them. Yet, nobody should investigate the future from a self-centered kind of production-driven manner. This tends to produce a self-serving strategy that will not prepare those organizations to deal with what will come from the higher degrees of separation. The here and now is nice, but to thrive, they must focus at least as much on the elsewhere and later. I must say that I also have dealt with organizations that do have this comprehensive approach. I found that they had several qualities in common with each other (and with me to some extent): serenity, a rather positive and optimistic outlook on the future, and the quiet confidence that we can overcome the challenges.

Yet, even these “better” organizations still need to go further than they have in preparing the future. Their comprehensive understanding on all the factors that will influence the future needs to go to the next level. All organizations, those with the comprehensive outlook on the future as well as those who carried out the exercise in a less deep manner must translate their understanding of the future in specific strategies and effective execution. In many cases, this is still missing. Organizations must let go of the past by not assuming that past, present and future are linked in a linear manner. That way of thinking is still dominant and, considering the magnitude and the nature of the changes to come, it will not be the best approach to be successful in the future. Another important aspect to take in consideration is to clearly identify in advance what the effect of their actions will be on the rest of us. The latter will be a prerequisite for a prosperous future. It is amazing to see that most plans have no plan B. Without a plan B, a plan is pretty much not a plan. There cannot be only one strategy. There has to be an arsenal of options. What must stand fast, though, is the final outcome. Building a strong future is also about being prepared for the unexpected and to adapt accordingly to succeed. Such an approach would also show that their future actions are taken in with responsibility in mind.

The current times of agricultural markets calming down and readjusting to more reasonable and realistic prices are, more than any other, ideal to focus on how to proceed to build the future of food and farming. As grain prices have slowed down and the animal protein sector is improving financial results, everybody is in a more serene mode. The white noise from the media and the fear mongers has faded for now. Everyone can hear him/herself think again. That is quite a good thing. However, this is no time to lay back or become complacent. Such a serene environment will not last. The population keeps on increasing. Meat and poultry producers will resume production increase as demand for their products is among the fastest growing of all foods. With grain and oilseeds prices less attractive, the incentive to push for more production will also slow down. It will not take a genius to figure out that demand for animal feed will grow faster than production of feed ingredients once again. Lately, Asians have also hoarded agricultural commodities to have stocks at hand, but as availability of commodities increases, they will get more relaxed about it. For all these reasons, agricultural prices are going to go up again, hurting animal protein producers again and sending agricultural markets up as investors and speculators will see their chance for quick money. Let’s also be sure that there will be some climatic event somewhere sometime that will also join the party to add on the stress. When the different parts of the food value chain do not plan ahead globally to ensure a balance between supply and demand, such cycles persist and crises come back. It probably will be a couple of years (my guess is three to five) before we face a similar crisis again. This is why the time to act is now by developing solid plans, engaging in the right partnerships and collaborate closely and intensely to work on the future of food and farming. I mentioned earlier that analyzing what will happen in the future and to prepare for it is complex, the exercise is actually easier than it sounds. It is only a Herculean task for those who want to solve all the world’s problems on their own. One simple trick is to see the big picture but to define what the realistic contribution of the organization to the whole problem actually can be. Another one is to ask for help and support, and thus engage others on the right path. The contribution can be products, services or collaboration. Nobody will fix the situation alone, and nobody should think in such terms. The essence is to act and make others act in the right direction. Communication towards others is quite important as it helps other organizations to determine their respective objectives. In this regard, conferences and events about the theme of the future of food and farming are quite useful. I have participated to quite a few already. Sometimes, I wish they were more focused on what it means for the partners and the audience than what it means for those organizing such events, though. It is clear that many of such events have a marketing and/or image purpose, but that too can only be a by-product. The most important is the added value to the attendants and what they can use practically in their own operations from what they heard at the events. At least, that is my philosophy and how I approach such speaking engagements. Too often, participants present their offering, such as new products for instance, but so far I have not heard anyone ask what I think is the most important question and the key to success: What do you need from me or from other partners to succeed? There are too many conferences about the future of agriculture that do not even include a farmer among the speakers! The customers are the ones who know best what they need from others to do a better job in the future. Let them speak out!

As far as I am concerned, I have now started to work on my third book, the topic of which will be about strategic foresight for food and farming. It will be about anticipating the changes that will come as well as the changes that must take place with the main purpose of presenting adequate strategies to adapt and to prosper. It will review the future evolution of the different productions, the different links of the entire food value chain from DNA to consumer. It will present strategies for and between stakeholders in the different regions of the world, as they face different challenges and conditions, with the objective of showing how it can work for all. I believe it will be a welcome follow-up to the previous two ones, which had already paved the way to show options a building a prosperous and viable future for all, here and now as well as elsewhere and later.

Copyright 2013 – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

Bright future for The Food Futurist

September 19, 2013

Christophe Pelletier speaking - Pic Talk03-4As another year is soon to end, it is a good time to look back and reflect on the future direction to take. Just as I repeatedly advise my clients and audiences to look forward, identify the changes to come and to adapt timely, it is a useful exercise that I carry out for my own business as well on a continuous basis. For the Food Futurist, 2013 has been a great year. The amount of business has grown strongly and the work of the past years is fully delivering its fruits. Venturing in a new area and starting from scratch has been quite the thrill, especially considering how much time it takes to get visibility, recognition and a solid reputation when the business is about mostly about what is in the owner’s brain and how that brain functions. My literature and the positive word of mouth have helped growing the business without me bothering organizations with cold calls or mailings. My clients have found me or heard about me in one way or another; and one thing leading to another, they decided to hire me for their projects and events. All assignments have run successfully with satisfied customers, all being very reputable and professional organizations.

I am quite optimistic about the further growth of The Food Futurist. The motivation now for me is to keep the strong momentum going and to grow further. As this business is growing, I am getting more “hungry”, too. I love what I do, maybe even more so than anything else I have done before; and the more business comes my way, the more fun I have and share with others. In my work, I always insist on the power of helping others succeed. Therefore, it is going my turn to ask a little bit of help from my friends to reach my goals. If my work can add value to you or to organizations or events that you know, please do not hesitate to contact me or have them do the same. I am always open to new ideas, I am quite approachable and I always reply to serious requests.

So what do I want to achieve in the next year?

  • An average of 1 to 2 speaking engagements and/or seminars a month
  • Between 3 and 5 small projects (max. 100 hours each)
  • Getting 1 or 2 large projects (around 500 hours each) in the areas of strategic foresight and strategic business development are well-manageable numbers for a whole year
  • Getting 2 or 3 positions of advisor on boards of organizations with focus on strategic foresight activities

So, all it would take is probably less than two dozen new interested contacts. Considering the number of events and projects of all sorts out there, that should be achievable.

Next to the usual topics of innovation, sustainability, leadership and market orientation, I would like to do more seminars on niche marketing, effective reconnecting of producers and consumers and, last but not least, reach the youth to get them interested in food and agriculture. In terms of sectors of activities, I would love to be more involved with animal protein producers, retailers and food service operators than I am today as, for different reasons, future changes are going particularly important for these them.

So far, my client base is in North America and Europe. I want to grow further in these two regions, but I would like to gradually expand it in other regions as well. I would like clients from other countries to be more familiar with my work and my vision of the future of food and farming. The list of the regions that I have in mind is rather long. Actually, it covers the whole world. Because of their current and future strategic importance, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, the Black Sea region, India, China and Arab countries are high on my wish list. But I would like to get a chance to also present how the math works with market orientation and waste reduction, and how it opens the door to huge business opportunities for Africa, India, Southeast Asia and South America in particular.

Ideally, the number of assignments outside of North America/EU that I would like per region is as follows:

  • India: at least 1
  • Russia/Ukraine/Kazakhstan: at least 1
  • Latin America: at least 1
  • South East Asia: at least 1
  • China: at least 1
  • Australia/New Zealand/Pacific: at least 1
  • Sub-Saharan Africa: at least 1
  • North Africa/Middle East: at least 1

If you are interested or if you know an organization that would be interested, please do not hesitate to contact me. To reward those who will bring me leads to assignments, I am willing to pay you a finder’s fee.

Looking forward to hearing from you or from the contacts you will send to me.

My futurism

April 16, 2013

The future has had the same intriguing appeal since the dawn of time. The reason is simple. Trying to predict the future is simply about reducing uncertainty. Looking into the future is about anticipating change. It is about preparing to adapt. Regardless of whether the motivation is fear, greed, pride, power or any other reason, the urge to foresee the things to come is really about one goal only: survival.

The material I offer focuses on how the future will affect my customers and what they can do to adapt and thrive. My approach to futurism is centered on how my clients can turn future changes into a competitive advantage for themselves. One of my main objectives is to show them how their activities are actually interconnected with developments that seem out of their daily world. It is quite easy to overlook these connections, but they exist nonetheless and will have an effect. Bringing the big picture helps create awareness and stimulates critical thinking, curiosity and questions. It makes the experience active and lively. The big picture broadens the scope away from the tech gadgets innovation part. It includes the human dimension, and the interactions between people and technology. It initiates a reflection about what to do and to use, as well as what not to do and what not to use.

In that regard, I could describe my form of futurism as practical and applicable. I do not limit my presentations and seminars to storytelling. Setting up a science-fiction-like story is rather easy to do. In very little time, anyone can gather the latest news about technological advances by going on internet and doing a search on these topics for agriculture and food. It probably will make this very website pop up high on the list. I have to admit that presenting scenarios that sound like science fiction always appeals to audiences. It has the mystique of an ideal world in the making where all problems will be solved by science and new technologies. Such an approach of futurism is fine for entertainment purposes. Journalists, writers and performers will excel in this kind of exercise. It is true that technology has brought many new possibilities. It has helped overcome many challenges, as well as it has open new frontiers. However, technology alone is not enough to describe the future. Especially not in an activity that depends so much on nature’s laws and nature’s forces as agriculture and food.

My Futurism

As a futurist, I often get the question of whether I have a crystal ball. It could be useful to have one, but so far I have not heard of any futurist predicting that crystal balls will ever exist. Ironic, isn’t it? Especially more so when some predict things as bold as plants will communicate to each other, as I read recently. If we can insert some sort of a nervous system in plants, I am sure crystal balls have to be in the realm of possibilities. Futurist can’t support that. I suppose it would put them out of business. I do believe that artificial intelligence will help replace them, as the technology will help create machines that can analyze faster, better and without interference from emotions and bias. One tempting pitfall to fall into is to try to make exact quantified predictions on market components, in particular prices and volumes. Until this day, I have seen many of such predictions fail quite sadly. After all, even computer models must contain in a factor of uncertainty. Personally, I do not try to give exact numbers, but I explain the trends and the dynamics behind to show in which range such specifics would land. Since food production and consumption can be influenced by many factors on which we have relatively little control, it is always good to remind audiences of such uncertainties. Although my approach may not appear particularly bold, my predictions are of rather good quality (click here to some of my past predictions).  For instance, when I started giving presentations or participating in panels, I crossed skeptical looks when I was telling that Africa is a region that has tremendous agricultural potential and that opportunities abound there. It has been ice since then hearing some of my apparently skeptical clients now seeing that continent as a key one for the future and theirs as well. Similarly a few years ago, I received amused smiles when I was mentioning the rise of robots, drones, sensors and other futuristic devices that would help farmers make better and faster decisions, and that in a time when I hardly ever heard any of the futurists talk about them. Now, most of them bring up this same topic. Yet, the information had been there all along. It was rather easy to know what was in the works. By then, agriculture had not reached the level of fancy it has lately. That will pass and practical analysis will replace entertainment. I also prefer to not make many predictions, which saves me from ending up tongue in cheek. I always give the preference to the sensible and the prudent. Until this day, it has helped my predictions to be accurate and valuable to my business partners.

Another important thing for me is to stick to a sector that I know and understand. I do not believe it is possible to have enough insights in everything. The more sectors one wants to follow thoroughly, the thinner the outer layer of practical and applicable knowledge he/she can bring over. The risk, in my view, is to fall back being the storyteller with the nice tech gadgets of the future. It is entertaining, but with little direct use for my public. I follow many sectors, always with the angle of what it might mean to food and agriculture. I am convinced that many developments that will help food production progress in the future will originate in other areas, but I am not going to pretend I am an expert in all these sectors. I stick to food and that is already vast enough a domain.

From my end, what I want is that the members of my audiences can go back home with several concrete points that are important to their work and that will affect them one way or the other during their professional life span, not in 50 years. Ideally, I wish they can start using my material the next morning to build a better future for themselves. Considering the lines of people who wish to speak to me after my presentations and the number of contacts that I receive afterwards, I believe that I reach both my goal and theirs.

With this philosophy in mind, I will add soon several programs that will be useful for my customers to envision, shape and build the future.

Copyright 2013 – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

Why I love my job

September 29, 2011

One of the most interesting parts of The Food Futurist venture is my getting in contact with many people, with many opinions about food. This usually generates active and stimulating discussions. Regardless of their background and their occupations, all the people that I meet are concerned with very similar issues: how to make sure we have enough affordable food, how to ensure that food is safe and healthy, and how to keep our ability to do this in the future.

This past weekend was no exception. I had been invited to Cape May, New Jersey to speak at the Cape May Forum about the future of food production. It was a good opportunity to hear comments and questions about the current food offering. For three days, I attended the other speakers’ presentations and I had the pleasure to have some good conversations with them. Although the different speakers had different angles on the subject of food, all these conversations were quite constructive and informative. As a sharp contrast with the heated and often aggressive statements that I can see in the media, traditional or online, all the exchanges at the Forum and around it were very respectful. I found this quite refreshing and encouraging for the future, eventually, it is necessary to evolve to food systems that can function and meet all the criteria, be it nutritional, social, environmental and financial.

However, there has been much more for me than the speaking and the discussions at the Forum. I have discovered a little gem with Cape May, NJ. I have met many kind people who are truly passionate about their community, and for good reasons. Cape May is a lovely town at the southern tip of New Jersey. The many Victorian houses aligned along the streets give this community a romantic charm that I have rarely seen elsewhere. Walking under the sycamore trees on Washington Street was a very soothing way of getting to the conference hall. The town center offers  a group of pedestrian-only streets that make shopping safe and fun, just a couple of blocks away from the long sandy beach where encounters with the harmless prehistoric–looking horseshoe crabs are common. Nature lovers have many things to enjoy. Migratory birds pass and stop in Cape May, bringing many birdwatchers with them. In the second half of the summer, Monarch butterflies fly around the area in large numbers. Those who like a trip on the water can choose between various activities such as whale watching as sport fishing. To finish the day on a culinary note, Cape May offers an impressive choice of restaurants that will accommodate even the most delicate palate with excellent food and local wines.

Back on my way home, I had left Cape May a few friends richer.