Mobiliar is the oldest private insurance and pension company in Switzerland, insuring a third of all households and companies in the country. For nearly 200 years, the company has provided Swiss consumers with safety and reliability. The cornerstone of Mobiliar’s long-term success? A relentless focus on the future of the customer and systematic pursuit of innovation.
We spoke to Mobiliar’s Head of Foresight, Maren Kottler, about how she and her team use foresight to build future-proof innovation strategies.
How do you bring foresight and innovation together?
To drive innovation, we’ve performed trend scans for almost a decade. It’s essential in our work to monitor our environment for changes around us. Two years ago, we introduced a trend platform from Itonics to manage insights more effectively.
"Our goal was to be prepared and systematic in our approach to using the power of trend-driven innovation."
In 2020, we wanted to take our innovation activities to the next level. We discussed with the Rohrbeck Heger team how to strengthen foresight-driven innovation at Mobiliar, and they emphasized the power of scenarios to drive future-proof innovation. So, we set about building scenarios with Rohrbeck Heger in our project called Mobi2030+. The greater objective of scenario-building was to align the organization behind a common view on future markets, opportunities, and risks, and to ultimately develop emerging opportunities for our innovation teams to pursue.
What are the benefits of working with trends and scenarios?
Scenarios give us more options from an innovation perspective. We not only generate more opportunities and ideas, but we do so by defining future use cases and understanding future customer needs.
"Rather than observing our peers or new tech-based entrants to our industry, we own our innovation agenda. Fundamentally, now we are creating our own futures. And that feels very empowering."
The process of building scenarios is also a huge organizational learning opportunity. Going through the Scenario Sprint process with Rohrbeck Heger provided a number of ‘aha’ moments. So, we not only developed a common understanding of what key trends we need to watch, but, more importantly, we developed a common understanding of what these trends mean for us at Mobiliar, our industry, and our customers.
The key to success, and part of the benefit of working with Rohrbeck Heger, is the ability to follow a systematic scenario-based approach to discuss complex strategic questions based on trends. With the scenario method, we are able to deal with a large number of trends, risks, strategic challenges, and strategic opportunities, and search for solutions in a more objective and replicable way than before.
What advice would you give to organizations looking to engage with foresight?
Firstly, commit to the foresight and empower a team of passionate, diverse people. Bring in the loud, radical, revolutionary. But also bring in the quiet, conservative, and analytical. Together, step out of the operative box of the day-to-day. Think creatively, keep a broad perspective, and trust what comes out of the process. It is there that you will uncover a wealth of opportunities.
Second, start with foresight today. We’re living in changing times, and the pace of market evolution is dramatically increasing. If you’re not going to step out and think outside of the box and consider opportunities, changes, and risks, you’re definitely going to miss something.
Remember, your future is not guaranteed— the market, with its old and new competitors, will not be kind to you. So, it's up to each organization to look ahead and see what is coming, anticipate this change, and act to create a profitable future.
Meet Maren Kottler at our next FutureAtelier on April 28, 2021. She will be sharing her experiences from implementing foresight methods at Die Mobiliar.
As foresight specialists, we always stress the importance of preparing for multiple future outcomes. This maxim is especially true when we consider the context of climate change and its possible ramifications on supply chains–where so many variables come into play that will determine how circumstances pan out.
In a previous post, we set out some of these variables and possibilities regarding the future of our planet and explored briefly how supply chains are likely to be affected. We explained what every well-informed individual knows: That this decade is very likely to be a defining one in terms of how we address (or fail to address) climate change. We also articulated a degree of hope surrounding Joe Biden’s concerted efforts to throw the United States' weight behind the mission to offset global warming.
The extent to which climate change is offset hinges of course on how effectively governments across the world regulate against carbon emissions. As is becoming apparent, Europe will play a leading role in paving the way for carbon neutrality, a modus operandi set out in the European Green Deal. This legislation aims to achieve a climate-neutral society by investing in research and overhauling how we work, use transport, and live together while imposing strict targets.
Needless to say, businesses and supply chains with operations in Europe will need to adjust in line with these prudent changes. We argued that a proactive approach in planning ahead that explores a range of foreseeable opportunities and challenges will empower businesses to thrive in spite of the uncertainties we all face.
The art of envisioning future possibilities
But how do we plan ahead amid so many uncertainties? This is exactly what we wanted to demonstrate using the context of sustainability and supply chains in our most recent foresight event part of our series called RH Future Atelier, which brought together participants representing various industries alongside individuals from the public sector and academia.
I am pleased to say that the event was a success and am very grateful for the lively team of moderators guiding our participants on their scenarios development journey. I am also pleased to report that facilitating the workshop in MIRO was effective in bringing together so many different opinions virtually. Brainstorming can definitely be done virtually.
Four possible futures
For the uninitiated, building scenarios help us research, analyze and synthesize ideas in a way that allows us to maintain a broad perspective on how the future might unfold. We break the process down into three stages: Starting with exploring the future, moving on to analyzing key drivers, refining it all down into three to four scenarios that we can use for a number of future planning purposes, including building stories.
In this engaging two-hour session, we focused on the third stage of the process, that is: creating scenarios. We offered up four possible future scenarios and assigned participants to each one, inviting all to take a 'hands-on' approach in exploring how their respective scenario would affect supply chains, using the ‘future wheel’ as a brainstorming format.
These four scenarios were as follows: In scenario one, tough regulation brings about a deliberate slow down as we transition into a post-growth society. Scenario two sees clean technology triumph as green growth becomes a reality.
On the more dismal end of our scenarios are that of three and four. In the former, a world is envisioned where the regulations imposed do not do enough to mitigate climate change. In scenario four, we grapple with the prospect of a world in which we have truly failed the planet, and where a lack of regulation and slow green innovation mean carbon emissions remain high and companies keep sustainability to a minimum.
A multi-purpose brainstorming session
In discussing and sharing opinions on what each of these scenarios would mean for logistics and supply chains, teams were able to create vivid visions of the future. Using their Miro boards, participants worked together to weigh up what is most likely to happen in terms of social, technological, economical, ecological, and political lines, while exploring what it would mean to have to prepare for this.
The results of the discussions were intriguing and thought-provoking, and it was good to see some tangible strategies beginning to unfold that would help industry players begin to chart an adaptable course of action. For the first ‘post growth’ scenario, for example, participants considered diversifying into new businesses and partnering in the last mile distribution owing to the need for shared infrastructures in the circular economy.
Meanwhile, those considering the more disaster-struck world that was scenario 4 recognized that building resilience would be the name of the game. Ideas that came in this group included building redundancies and back-ups into logistics systems to help manage disruptions caused by extreme weather events. Participants recognized that understanding weather patterns in this world would not only help offset challenges but could also provide opportunities and influence consumer demand.
All in all, the discussions proved fruitful. I was pleased to see participants take eagerly to the creative nature of the work, just as I was intrigued to see many interesting opinions on the subject that were thrown around and debated. Regrettably, with only two hours at our disposal, we could not go through the next step–of how best to use these detailed visions. Perhaps that might be an event participants can look forward to in the future. I’d like to thank everyone for their involvement and engagement and look forward to seeing you all at our next virtual gathering.
Register for our next event on financial services here.
For over 70 years, Corporate Foresight has been helping organizations to lay their foundation for future competitive advantage. In this insight, Prof Dr René Rohrbeck provides a brief recap on the history of Corporate Foresight, based on his article Corporate Foresight: An Emerging Field with a Rich Tradition, in which he gives an overview of the state of the art, major challenges, and identifies development trajectories.
Definition of Corporate Foresight
Since the birth of the field, there have been many popular definitions. The early definitions would conceptualize Corporate Foresight typically as a process, while the later definitions emphasize organizational integration, and some conceptualize Corporate Foresight as an organizational ability.
The definition by Rohrbeck, Battistella and Huizingh emphasizes the nature of Corporate Foresight as an integrated practice that permits an organization to steer towards and shape its desired future:
“Corporate Foresight permits an organization to lay the foundation for future competitive advantage. Corporate Foresight is identifying, observing and interpreting factors that induce change, determining possible organization-specific implications, and triggering appropriate organizational responses. Corporate Foresight involves relevant stakeholders and creates value through providing access to critical resources ahead of the competition, preparing the organization for change, and permitting the organization to steer proactively towards a desired future.”
History of Corporate Foresight
Historically we can distinguish four main phases.
1950s: birth of the field
Corporate Foresight emerged as a research stream in the 1950s. The new field had two main roots. The first was the French ‘prospective’ school, founded by the philosopher and high-level public servant Gaston Berger. The second was the ‘foresight’ school, based on the work of Herman Kahn at the RAND Corporation in the US. Both schools differ in their fundamental philosophy. While the ‘foresight’ school proposed sophisticated methods and was based on the idea that expert analysts would engage in foresight work, the ‘prospective school’ favored lean methods that could be applied collaboratively directly by the decision-makers.
1960s and 1970s: the age of scenarios
In the 1960s, the field of Corporate Foresight saw a variety of successful applications of its methodological and processual repertoire. In particular, the application of the scenario method by Royal Dutch/Shell triggered broad interest in Corporate Foresight methods. The planning team of Shell used the systematic approaches of foresight to identify two key change drivers: The depleting oil resources in the US and the deteriorating relations of the West to the OPEC countries. This resulted in Shell being the only major oil company prepared for the oil crisis that followed the Yom Kippur War. This success triggered the application of the scenario technique by a growing number of firms including Motorola, General Electric, and United Parcel Service.
1980 and 1990s: professionalization of methods and processes
In the 1980s, markets became increasingly saturated. Consequently, firms seeking superior positions in their markets needed to upgrade their business and corporate planning tools, and new Corporate Foresight methods emerged. Methods such as (technology) road mapping and continuous environmental scanning approaches emerged and were adopted by an increasing number of firms.
2000 and beyond: organizational integration
The implementation of Corporate Foresight processes has in many firms led to the creation of organizational routines that facilitate the development of future insights. However, many firms still report challenges in translating these insights into organizational responses. The fundamental dilemma seems to be twofold: on the one hand, a large variety of data sources have to be tapped into, and the resulting collections of quantitative and qualitative data require human interpretation by top managers to be effective. On the other hand, the limited time and attention span of top management prohibit sufficient exposure to the raw data.
In recent years, Corporate Foresight research and practice have focused increasingly on ways to integrate processes. Such an integrated approach would leverage distributed organizational sensing, interpretation, and planning capabilities. Corporate Foresight contributes through an orchestration role and fills the gaps left by existing functions, such as research & development, innovation management, strategic management, risk management, and corporate development.
Reach out to us for recent case studies and possible applications of Corporate Foresight in your company.
In April 2016, the former US Secretary of State John Kerry brought his granddaughter along with him to the UN headquarters in New York to sign the Paris Agreement. The gesture was a poignant one: John Kerry’s granddaughter is of the generation that could inherit a world harangued by so turbulent – and in many places – inhospitable a climate as for there to be crisis upon crisis to nations around the world over, upending life as we know it.
This would be a world of unendurable drought in some parts, extreme hurricanes in others. Tropical storms, infrastructure-decimating floods; a world riddled with air so thick and heavy with pollution as to make breathing a struggle, coughing a constant. A world of mass migration, as populations flee to the overcrowded corners of territories wrought with civil unrest, amid conflicts arising over water shortages and other diminishing commodities.
“We are proud to be back. […] President Biden knows that we have to mobilize in unprecedented ways to meet a challenge that is fast accelerating. And he knows we have limited time to get it under control.” – John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate
This month, the U.S. reentered the Paris Agreement in hope that immediate climate action can prevent this vision of the future from becoming a reality. President Biden has previously said that the decade we are in is one that will prove decisive in cutting the world’s carbon consumption such that the future of our children and grandchildren does not become this harrowing dystopia we fear. The Paris Agreement requires governments to commit to the endeavor of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees – ideally at 1.5 degrees celsius, with a longer-term goal of achieving carbon neutrality by mid-century.
The road ahead will not be easy, especially given the fact the effects of climate change are already palpable. To offset their challenges, nations, communities, and companies will have to work together to adhere to targets forcing them to dramatically alter deeply entrenched ways of doing things that will become unconscionable given the state of urgency and impending climate crisis. But as foresight professionals reiterate time and again – and as living through a pandemic has shown – crisis is certainly not cause for despair but should rather be encountered as a vital trigger point through which to make ways for a thoroughly new way of operating and envisioning success.
The USA’s re-entry into the Paris Agreement has come as a relief to the demographics that accept the severity of the situation, especially in Europe, a continent that has pledged to strive for a carbon-neutral future that is climate-resilient – a modus operandi set out in the European Green Deal. This legislation outlines ambitious aims to fight climate change and achieve the transition to a climate-neutral society by investing in research and innovation, and fostering change in the way we work, use transport and live together, alongside imposing strict targets.
What does this mean for the business world, exactly?
It is fair to say that climate change and sustainability will be and remain a megatrend through these and the coming decades, as businesses and supply chains across the world will be forced to adapt. To our eyes, two main approaches are available moving forward. Businesses can reactively adapt to the tough regulation as and where necessary. A much more proactive and desirable approach would be to become leaders in grasping emerging opportunities in their respective industries.
Grasping said opportunities – while putting in place measures that enable companies to adapt to the changing conditions of the world – is and will continue to be a complex affair made all the more challenging by all the unpredictabilities that the future holds. All the more pressing, then, that businesses get in the habit of mapping out the future scenarios that might occur. Doing so can help them identify threats, opportunities, and innovation needs while allowing them to envision strategic moves and new business models.
Such endeavors will empower businesses to undergo their own “sustainability transformation” – a process that will separate the wheat from the chaff, much like how the need to undergo digitalization has empowered some businesses while leaving those unable to change in the dust. Nowadays, products oftentimes consist of thousands of parts, sourced from multiple geographies around the world. Over time, these supply chains have been honed to deliver maximum efficiency and speed. How effectively supply chains adapt and thrive through their sustainability transformation will hinge a lot on how well prepared they are to take on a range of eventualities that might occur, while exploring the possibilities and opportunities that might also present through these times.
The probability heavy rare earths production is severely disrupted from extreme rainfall may increase 2 to 3 times by 2030 – McKinsey
The risks that supply chains face as the climate changes and amid a host of much-needed regulation pressures are myriad, and their impact will vary depending on a number of factors, including the type of supply chain. For example, the event of hazardous climate wreaking havoc on the downstream player of a supplier of specialized goods will have a severe impact on the whole supply chain. If a disaster interrupts the production of specialized goods such as airplane fuselages, this raises costs and prices and hurts corporate revenues.
Those who prepare proactively will outcompete the rest
But that does not mean that supply chains of commoditized goods have an advantage. Without the right preparation, disasters will also have their impact, with a sudden reduction in supply affecting a larger number of downstream players as prices spike. As such, all players need to prepare for the possibility of harsh climate events, exploring ways to foster resilience in their operations. Options players might consider exploring to this end include diversifying their sourcing, developing best practices emergency procedures, while also working on building strong, accountable, and mutually-supportive ties with suppliers in which collaboration, due diligence can help develop the robustness of the entire supply chain. What will matter across the board is the accumulation of long-term data on climate change that can allow players to devise comprehensive risk strategies.
These are just some of the many strategies to be explored by supply chains taking a forward-looking approach to managing, and learning to thrive through times of unprecedented climate change. In an upcoming two-hour open workshop, we will apply different climate change scenarios with the participants to envision the impact on logistics and the supply chain and will furnish them with a host of tools to apply to the art of creating effective and agile strategies that allow players that proactively and sustainably transform with our changing world.
If you are looking for further readings, here are some resources to get started:
MIT Sloan: Supply chain resilience in the era of climate change
EIT Climate KIC: How the Global Supply Chain is Doing its Part to Fix Climate Change
McKinsey: Could climate become the weak link in your supply chain?
BCG: Designing Resilience into Global Supply Chains
You have heard that you need to be ready to change, refine and innovate your business model. You know that this is key to staying competitive. You know that the business model needs to be different from the ones of your peers in order to yield superior performance.
And now you’re wondering how you should go about it?
In this article, I share some insights from the academic side of Rohrbeck Heger.
In the MBA and EMBA classes at EDHEC, where I am Director at the Chair for Foresight, Innovation & Transformation, we have created a game plan that takes you all the way from analyzing your current business, to stress testing and innovating it. The figure below shows how we enhanced classical business model innovation techniques (white) with methods from strategic foresight (blue) to create a powerful journey for top management teams to develop winning business models that advance the status quo. The white elements build on the techniques introduced by Alex Osterwalder and Ives Pigneur (2010).
Five Strategic Foresight Tools to win on Business Model Innovation
Trend audit (assessment)
To execute the trend audit, we identify 3–5 trends driving change in the larger industry or sector in which the case is situated. The challenge here is to look beyond the scope of the current business by looking ten years or more into the future. After a brainstorming session to create a list of candidate trends, those that are deemed particularly important to the business model are selected and subjected to a “trend audit” that consists of four questions (Gordon, 2010):
DRIVERS: What are the driving forces that create and sustain the trend?
ENABLERS: What enables, catalyzes, or supports the drivers of the trend?
FRICTION: What inadvertently stands in the way of the trend, slowing it down?
TURNERS: What or who is working to actively block the trend?
Business model stress testing
To stress-test the current business model, we apply an approach loosely based on Haaker, Bouwman, Janssen, and de Reuver (2017) that assesses a BM’s robustness in the medium term (5 years) and in the long term (10 years). We assess how each building block would perform under the conditions of the trends (stress factors) that they identified as being salient to their case. Colors are assigned to BM elements that reflect their viability, or the “level of stress”, that affects the BM elements. This results in a visualization that shows how the current, well-functioning business model will increasingly fail as trends unfold their disruptive force (see below).
The benefit of the stress test is the sense of urgency it creates and its intuitiveness. This helps to create the necessary buy-in from top management and relevant stakeholders.
In this step, science fiction vignettes, images, and states of the future are used to help think through radically different frames. We may use dystopias or utopias that often involve an exaggeration of current technological capabilities. These images challenge the status quo and current mental models by inciting fear or optimism and reframe our conceptualization of “how things work” (Peper, 2017). A group exercise to create a business model for a problem described for a fictitious future society can be facilitated. We use passages from science fiction novels and invite others to prototype a business model for a future use case (Schwarz and Liebl, 2013). As a primer, our students listen to the Gartner podcast with Brian David Johnson.
Forecasting future markets
The forecasting future markets block is used to create quantitative estimates about market sizes and analyze the financial viability of new business models. We start with creating a value formula and estimating the values for each variable. In the group, we discuss different approaches to estimate calculations and various ways of running estimate calculations (top-down, bottom-up, and explicit estimates). We aggregate these calculations using the principle of triangulation to produce a future market forecast.
BM Wind Tunneling
Wind tunneling builds on scenarios or trends to test how the business models will perform in different environments. It is important that the scenarios cover all plausible futures and that they are sufficiently distinct from the status quo without becoming unrealistic (van der Heijden, 1996). Here again, we leverage outputs from the trend audit and identify branching points in the trends that could result in different outcomes and implications.
One of the major obstacles in BMI is the difficulty of breaking free from three main cognitive bounds (Gavetti, 2012):
The rationality bound which results from dominant representations shared across an industry or sector, where managers, when assessing the world around them, fail to recognize more distant, radically innovative business opportunities.
The plasticity bound which results from inertia. Or in other words, firms might fail to act on opportunities because they fail to understand that they could or might lack the resources or capabilities.
The shaping-ability bound describes the inability to legitimize needed action, where managers fail to secure the necessary buy-in of stakeholders, such as board members or investors.
The table below shows how the five strategic foresight tools contribute to overcoming the three cognitive bounds.
From teaching this course for over eight years, I can confirm that the strategic foresight tools are powerful to enable and force participants to think outside the box, overcome groupthink and identify new strategic alternatives. In some courses, I have also expanded the wind-tunneling exercise to a full scenario-based strategizing approach, which includes the analysis of multiple strategies across multiple scenarios.
From a European perspective, the lead from the US and China on AI innovation often seems overwhelming. The US leverages on the AI programs of its dominant tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google. China leverages its huge amounts of data, which it collects through its governmental program that aims to make China the world leader in AI by 2030. While the US still has a lead on venture capital investment, China is perceived to be leading on the amount and breadth of data. The Centre of Data Innovation created a scoring model that places the US in the lead with 44.2 points, followed by China with 32.3, and sees the European Union trailing with 23.5 on a 100-point scale. One crucial factor in predicting the future winner of this race is however also the access to digital talent. Here the Center for Data Innovation puts Europe still ahead of China, but slightly trailing the US on Top AI Researchers (see table below).
At the summit, we wanted to hear from our panel with Vanessa Cann, Managing Director of the German AI Association, Tanja Jovanovic, Head of Technology and Innovation Management at Bayern Innovativ and Bart de Witte, founder of Hippo AI + Future/IO how they predict the outcome of the race. Tanja emphasized the academic strength and pointed out that the problem is not a lack of innovative start-ups. The challenge is that good start-ups are moving to the US or Israel when they become scaleups. One challenge is, says Sven Taubert, Head of Corporate Foresight & Market Intelligence at Lufthansa Technik, that AI is often overly technology-driven. AI with high potential is often not used because companies fail to see the business case.
Vanessa sees another promising path for AI innovation to be the highly innovative hidden champions, i.e., small companies, for example, from the German Mittelstand, which are globally leading in technology and often with global market shares of over 60%. These companies have a strong appetite for advanced technologies but today still lack AI literacy. But with this right upskilling, these hidden champions can become the motors of AI Innovations in Europe.
I believe that the challenge ahead for companies is symbolized nicely by a “Business Highwire Act” drawing from Rupert Hofmann. The drawing captures impressively the difficulty of balancing the more traditional visionary competencies that hidden champions are typically great on with the new data knowledge that they need in order to develop the business of tomorrow.
The panel closed with a note of caution from Bart de Witte that the current AI development might lead to an oligopoly in which few governments and few large for-profit firms hold the data and with it the power. To develop AI as a source of economic growth, we need leverage on smart regulation to democratize AI and make it accessible to the developers and users on equal playing ground.
Some of the articles we’ve found interesting recently. You’ll find food for thought in the areas of foresight, business & tech, health & people, energy & environment, logistics & mobility, AI & computing.
FORESIGHT A Better Crystal Ball
Philip E. Tetlock of ‘Super Forecasters’ fame explains how to better think about the future. Developing New Future Scenarios for the U.S. Coast Guard’s Evergreen Strategic Foresight Program
RAND shares insights into the U.S. Coast Guard’s ‘Evergreen’ Strategic Foresight programme, and the latest global planning scenarios used to evaluate and define future service readiness. “Without weighing the long view of changes in the operating environment …, the Coast Guard will not be able to have full awareness of what blind spots might exist in current strategies and plans. Being ready for the spectrum of challenges the future might bring requires mindfulness of both the near and long terms and how change will affect the Coast Guard.” Scenarios for Geopolitical Order in 2025-2030: What will Great Power Competition Look Like
The CSIS Risk and Foresight Group share 4 scenarios on the future geopolitical landscape towards 2030. The scenarios were all designed to test policymakers’ preconceived notions about the defense and security challenges facing the United States and its allies in the second half of this decade. The four scenarios especially address the increasingly competitive bilateral dynamics between the US and China – indeed, none of the scenarios envisioned the U.S.-China relationships to be fully cooperative and positive.
BUSINESS & TECH Why Amazon Might Outlive the Rest of Big Tech
New York University Stern School of Business professor Scott Galloway believes Amazon.com Inc. will outlive the other biggest companies in tech. Galloway argues ‘Amazon was created for this pandemic’, and predicts that Amazon’s next big move is into healthcare by having what he calls ‘a three-dimensional avatar of your health: “They know what food you order, they know what products you buy, they know what your body mass index is, they know your income, they know whether you are in a monogamous relationship, they know your zip code, your education, all the signals that go in an actuarial table…”. Can AI Make Your Job More Interesting?
Two DARPA researchers argue that artificial intelligence will never overtake human capacity in its entirety. Instead, AI will coordinate diverse forms of intelligence and human capabilities to achieve superior outcomes. They envision a future where an AI-augmented platform supports an “open” organization capable of both adaptation and scale (Agile Teams), dynamically coordinating and distributing tasks between humans and AI systems. The Future of Jobs According to the WEF
Forbes summarises key take-aways from the World Economic Forum’s ‘Future of Work’ reports. Though based on survey data, the report finds that: companies are increasingly automating jobs, and ‘contracting out’ task-specialized work (gig economy?); income inequality will widen (low-paying, manual labour); remote work will grow (where possible); reskilling remains important.
HEALTH & PEOPLE Want to See the Future of Digital Health Tools? Look to Germany
This article dives into how Germany’s Digital Healthcare Act (Digitales-Versorgungs-Gesetz, or DVG) seeks to accelerate the digitalization of healthcare in Germany. One of the law’s more novel ideas is the creation of a formal registry of “prescribable applications” (Digitale Gesundheitsanwendungen, or DiGA), which physicians can ‘prescribe’ to patients (and which are subsidized). Forgive us for saying so, but for once Germany seems to be taking the lead in digital – though our Nordic colleagues disagree. The Digital Ruins of a Forgotten Future
The Atlantic revisits ‘The Second Life’, the virtual world that launched in 2003 and was hailed as the future of the Internet. Until Facebook (and everything since). Second Life consists entirely of user-generated content, built by virtual avatars controlled by human users. Usage peaked in 2007 with 1 million users, but usage remains constant today at 800,000. More impressively, in the first decade after its launch, users spent $3.2 billion of real money on in-world transactions. Users argue that Second Life truly has become their virtual home, with ‘objects they could never keep in their real home’ and an avatar of the ‘perfect me’. The Future of Staying Home
This article chronicles how the home – and our expectation of the home – has evolved over time. Increasingly, our houses are not only a place to recharge – but also a place to protect ourselves from an increasingly hostile outdoors (germs, fire, flooding, and heat).
ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT Why did Renewables Become So Cheap So Fast?
Renewable energy is safer and cleaner than fossil fuels – and now, in most places, also cheaper. This article dives deep into the numbers behind this remarkable transformation. Noting, for example, that the relative price of electricity from solar photovoltaics, for example, declined by 89% from 2009 to 2019 – making it more expensive to provide electricity via coal. In fact, in 2019, renewables accounted for 72% of all new capacity additions worldwide. Due to the ‘learning curve’ nature of renewable energy technology, we should expect the price difference between expensive fossil fuels and cheap renewables to become even larger in the future. Say Hello to Artificial Intelligence to Manage Our Power Grid
This article discusses the two major problems the grid operators must overcome. It explains the need for the proliferation of the autonomous energy grids using AI, renewable energy, and energy storage to optimize the grid. Adidas and H&M Kickstart an EU-funded Circular Fashion Project
In the fight to mitigate climate change, this article highlights how Adidas and H&M kickstarted the EU-funded New Cotton Project 2020 with the aim to collect, sort, and regenerate old clothing into new items for sale on the high street. Pessimistic Outlook for Oil Prices
A Texas oil giant lowered its outlook on oil prices, suggesting it expects the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic to linger for much of the next decade.
LOGISTICS & MOBILITY Air Transport will Never Be the Same Again…
René Rohrbeck discusses the four drivers of change that herald a radical transition in air transportation:
business travel, regionalization of routes, “star” networks, and flight shaming. Taiwan and New Zealand Show Business Travel’s Future
The Financial Times looks at what the future of business travel may look like – by understanding what has changed, and what hasn’t, in two countries largely unaffected by Covid: Taiwan and New Zealand. Some predictions: travel will be subdued for some years due to health and environmental concerns; ‘three days at home, two days in office’ will become the norm; people will attend conferences remotely; intra-company visits in Europe and US will decline. Amazon Outpaced
Amazon’s third-quarter earnings soar as pandemic sales triple profits. Yet, the juggernaut of e-commerce is far from being invincible — it is being outpaced by dozens of competitors in Europe. This piece carefully covers the challenges Amazon is facing in Europe.
AI & COMPUTING Deep Learning Has Reinvented Quality Control in Manufacturing
IEEE explains how lifelong learning systems can optimize deep neural networks and optimize manufacturing. Artificial Intelligence Is Now Smart Enough to Know When It Can’t Be Trusted
AI is already making decisions in fields that affect human lives like autonomous driving and medical diagnosis. But now, researchers have made AI self-aware of its own trustworthiness – through Deep Evidential Regression. Fundamentally, the AI bases its scoring on the quality of the available data it has to work with. Achieving Quantum Supremacy
TechRepublic has six experts share their predictions on the future of quantum supremacy. More companies will look for specific use cases that can be leveraged sometime in the next decade, as computers improve and the number of available qubits continues to grow. The Transformational Power of Recommendation
In this data-driven market, one can consider data to be your DNA, provided you spent 100% of your life experience on or through it. This article talks about the recommendation engines that promise to revolutionize how customers buy and employees work.
Four drivers of change herald a radical transition in air transportation:
business travel, regionalization of routes, “star” networks, and flight shaming
The post-Covid scenarios will emerge around these four factors
Studying these different possible scenarios will be the subject of the continuation of Professor Rohrbeck’s research project
“In less than 65 days, we have returned to the flight plan levels of 65 years ago. This is extremely bitter, devastating, and painful”. This was the observation made by Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr when he addressed the German company’s shareholders on 5th May 2020.
In spring 2020, Lufthansa’s number of passengers only amounted to 1% compared to 2019. This figure illustrates the scale of the crisis, as well as the gloomy global outlook for the aviation sector. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts a 55% decrease in passengers worldwide compared to 2019, including months when traffic was still at a normal level.
Despite this unprecedented crisis in its intensity, a future without air transport remains unthinkable. For most of Professor Rohrbeck’s students, air travel is the only way to join the EDHEC campus and go back to their families; for many, it is a way to discover new cultures and make new friends and drive global understanding. It also has a strong role in supporting the global economy and fuel the growth of prosperity. Compared to any other global crisis, the one we are living in today has a stark contrast in its intensity in the history of air travel evolution. So, can the airline industry be saved? And if yes, how? And, what will it look like after the crisis?
Business travel, back to normal?
Perceived as an essential driver of economic growth, business travel has enjoyed the magical aura to transform physical meetings around the world into a business and economic opportunity for many years. It has also been an important growth engine for the airline industry. However, business travel may never return to its pre-crisis level.
As the feedback chart below suggests, travel bans involve fewer (or no) flights, resulting in lower budgets and tougher travel regulations that may prevail even after travel bans have been lifted. If such a cycle is stopped within 4 weeks, new behaviors will not have time to adapt, and the system will generally return to its original state.
However, the longer the crisis, the more likely it is that systemic changes will become permanent. The lack of business trips and face-to-face meetings has led to the adoption of mass alternatives, such as video conferencing, virtual collaboration, online whiteboards, etc. If these alternatives can show that they can increase productivity, business travel would become an exception for meetings, as was the case 65 years ago.
From globalization to regionalization?
Since 2005, globalization has shown signs of slowing down. Business internationalization strategies are increasingly focused on local responsiveness and less and less on control and dependence on international headquarters. Global trade tensions, such as the U.S.-China conflict, may decrease intercontinental travel. The Covid-19 crisis could accelerate this trend and promote regional trade and supply.
A recent study showed that an important response to the Covid-19 crisis was the relocation of supply chains and, in particular, the emphasis on the use of regional ecosystems. This response could become permanent, reinforced by the low level of international travel. Recent figures from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) show that while inter-regional travel has picked up from an average of 250 million passengers before the crisis to 100 million today, the number of international passengers is 20 million, well below the pre-crisis 160 million.
The end of the hub & spoke model?
It is interesting to note that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been felt differently by low-cost airlines such as Ryan Air or EasyJet, and traditional network airlines (CATR), such as Air France, Lufthansa or Singapore Airlines. CATRs rely on central platforms where short-haul flights are connected to long-haul flights that are more economically attractive with their larger aircraft capacity. This hub-and-spoke model also creates powerful network effects, allowing major airlines to achieve economies of scale and create powerful entry barriers for newcomers.
These benefits for CATRs, however, come at the cost of passenger acceptance. Indeed, these routes involve connections. Normally, this can be called into question for environmental reasons and may be perceived as an inconvenience by passengers. But in times of health crisis, hubs are key risk areas in passenger travel, as it remains difficult to guarantee standards of social distance at airports. The interdependence between short-haul and long-haul flights is also a huge obstacle to recovery. For CATRs, the absence of long-haul flights means that short-haul flights must be reduced. The absence of short-haul flights will make it impossible to fill large long-haul flights. Low-cost, full-service airlines operating a point-to-point model can be much more responsive in opening and closing routes to meet fluctuating demand. Most CATRs have a strategy to hold on and eventually restart their hub-and-spoke model. But to avoid a breakdown of their long-haul refueling system, they must keep open roads that are not profitable. This makes them, in most cases, dependent on state aid. The question is how long this strategy can be maintained and how long taxpayers will be willing to cover the losses.
It’s no wonder that some CATRs are rediscovering holiday travel with their point-to-point offerings. “Never before have we included so many new holiday destinations in our program. This is our response to the wishes of our customers,” explains Harry Hohmeister, a member of the board of directors of Deutsche Lufthansa AG.
And what about flight-shaming?
The growing awareness of the environmental impact has led to a flygskam (flight shaming) movement in Sweden to avoid air travel that has now gone far beyond the kingdom’s borders.
However, there are also signs that containment-related measures, in response to Covid-19, have increased citizens’ desire to adopt a calmer lifestyle. This raises questions about the cosmopolitan way of life that the middle classes have so easily adopted. This point remains at the heart of aviation players’ concerns, even if its real influence on consumer behavior remains difficult to measure.
In September 2020, EDHEC Business School launched a project on the future of the air transport industry. As part of this project, 13 partners from the airline ecosystem are supported in using different forecasting methods to study scenarios for this industry’s future.
If there is one thing we might take away from 2020, it is that it certainly helps to prepare for the unexpected.
As we have all learnt this year, living through a pandemic exposes weaknesses in companies that cannot swiftly adapt to changing circumstances, especially those that were already hesitant about moving with these increasingly digitalising and data-driven times.
Conversely, it is the case that companies that do have a future-facing mindset have found ways to cope with, and in some cases, even thrive amid this unique brand of uncertainty and crisis. They have done so using creativity, agility and a host of first-rate decision-making skills undergirded by sound and rigorous understanding of the potential data offers us in this area.
At Rohrbeck Heger, we ourselves have been put to the test and forced to modify many approaches that worked well for us before the crisis struck. A core pillar of our work involves bringing people together and fermenting discourse in a variety of offline scenarios, which, naturally, had to go online.
A cherished event on our calendar, our AI-enabled Tech Foresight Summit, in which, in partnership with ITONICS and the EDHEC business school, we bring together a host of world-renown speakers operating at the cutting edge of business, politics and advocacy, also underwent a drastic change in format: We offered our audiences a hybrid platform boasting panels that combined in studio chats and live missives from a host of home offices beyond Berlin.
We were excited to engage with audiences by experimenting with ways to make the most out of the diverse forms of interaction that took place that day, accumulating insight into how our audiences related to the ideas and themes explored in panels via polls and questionnaires. One poll in particular struck me as insightful: It revealed that very few companies seem ready to work with data, and that that was because few – only 52 per cent of those polled – had data at all.
Who’s afraid of big data?
That discovery came as a surprise, and proved just how important it is for our community to engage with and learn from pioneering AI experts such as those gracing our panels. Through the day, we learnt about how forward-thinking companies are starting to harness the potential of data and artificial intelligence in determining their course of action, what such work truly entails, and how far we’ve come and have left to go.
That was a subject that lay at the heart of our first panel, in which Claudia Pohlink, who heads up Artificial Intelligence at Deutsche Telekom’s research unit, described the painstaking and nitty-gritty effort that goes into using big data and AI – a point echoed by Innovation Head of Siemens’ Bernd Blumoser, as Didier Boulet, the Group Chief Designer at Thales, emphasized how integral a human-centered design that inspires – and warrants – trust, is to artificial intelligence.
“We need to have realistic expectations around AI, as it’s not a magic tool. It’s hard work,” said Blumoser, a comment elaborated on by Pohlink, who went into describing the cross-disciplinary complexity that comes with dealing with big data and using it to make smart decisions.
“You have to organize all these data sources, and you have to orchestrate. And you don’t just need data scientists, you also need domain experts,” she said. “You cannot just take a data set and put that into the machine learning software and expect some results. You need specific questions where you think artificial intelligence or data and analytics can answer these questions. And finally, you need patience.”
In this ‘Cyborg Strategy-Designer’ panel, which explored thoughts on what the relationship between man and artificial intelligence will look like in the years to come – and the extent to which we will be able to pass on important decision-making responsibilities to our machines, we addressed the question of whether passing on such power might end up endangering or even annihilating us.
“AI poses the most serious threat to the survival of the human race,” Elon Musk has said; an inflammatory statement that our panelists weren’t all that enthusiastic about. Blumoser’s retort was quick and pithy:
“I think the biggest threat for the survival of humanity is the human,” he said, addressing alongside Pohlink and Didier how dystopian Sci-fi has coloured our perception of where artificial intelligence is headed. Another interesting point sprung from Pohlink raising the question of whether gender plays a part in how we perceive threat, competition and the inevitability of aggression, noting that, from her experience at least, doomsday AI commentators tend all to be men.
She went on to remind audiences that our fears of AI stem from particular biases, and that, in any case, the AI the world operates with at present is simply “pure statistics,” in which predictions for the future are made based on historical data. Provided we do enough “homework” and take care not to let these biases get in the way, such insights can help us make wiser decisions, she said.
My main takeaway from this enlightening panel is that while there is certainly a great deal of promise in this area of using AI for strategic decision-making, we still have a long way to go – and that we’re unlikely to see a Terminator show up and wreak havoc on the world any time soon.
The future of decision-making
Our second panel flowed seamlessly from the first, featuring a group of online and offline speakers delving deeper into the subject of decision-making, particularly in the short term. This at times scintillatingly recondite session my co-founder René Rohrbeck kicked off by explaining, from his home office in Lille, the evolutionary-basis behind the mistrust humans have in algorithms, and how this is something we might have to unlearn if we are to make the most out of big data’s potential to guide us.
He was joined in the panel ‘Better decisions with AI’ by virtual participants Michael Berns, a veteran consultant who currently serves as director at PwC’s AI and FinTech practice, and Michael Grottke, the principal scientist at GfK SE and professor at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg who likes to debunk AI’s hype and push for better understanding of the reasoning systems this term represents.
Lufthansa’s Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics VP Dr. Susan Wegner joined us in flesh, and hammered home Pohlink’s earlier point, that using AI to support decision-making is no child’s play and that collaboration across departments is key to getting this done.
To help us really understand the realities of working in this way, she described how Lufthansa cargo were able to make various predictions, including forecasts of which routes would be most profitable based on customer demand using a variety of strands of data and techniques. Like Pohlink, she emphasized the importance of collaboration between data scientists and domain experts.
Among the challenges we heard about, Wegner described how resistance from different departments unwilling to accept new technologies posed a continued struggle, especially when it came to having them work from the cloud.
These were just some of the fascinating insights gleaned from a session that revealed how we’ve come a lot closer to using AI to at least support decision-making.
Visions and values for the road ahead
A much broader conversation followed right after lunch, during which we dove into a host of meaty topics around AI’s relationships with societies of the future, kicking off discussion with an enlightening spitballing session of how each participant envisioned an AI-enhanced world 20 or 30 years on from now.
These futuristic visions, which encompassed personal dystopias and utopias, drew from the expertise of three influential speakers who helped us contemplate and consider what values it is we most want to hold on to through these disruptions.
AI healthcare activist Bart de Witte, who has founded Hippo AI Foundation – the world’s first global NGO for open source based AI in medicine, shared his two cents of what 2030 might look like, alongside Managing Director of the German AI association, Vanessa Cann, who brought her perspective as a political scientist, and Dr. Tanja Jovanovic, a business innovation expert.
“AI is a tool, it’s an instrument. And it really depends on how we use it, so it can be in the interests of society,” said Cann. “But, on the other hand, it can also be in the interests of single people, of single companies,” she said, warning that issues around the sharing of data will persist in Europe if we find ourselves dependent on Chinese and American companies.
“I think we have to be careful about really developing our own AI that also enforces our European values,” she added. This expansive conversation covered all things political, economical, social and technological related to AI, trust, open data and the question of how data will be handled.
Countless takeaways to be had here, and it was a delight to hear about the ways in which we might – as individuals and as a society – have agency in shaping our cultures and societies as they develop with increasing enmeshment with machines. And that trust is paramount.
Forecasts on foresight
Rounding off a long and stimulating day was a discussion on a topic very close to my heart of course, and that is innovations in foresighting.
We welcomed a lively panel of experts in this area, including Sven Taubert who heads up Corporate Foresight & Market Intelligence at Lufthansa Technik and who brought a refreshing whimsy to the conversation, alongside Prof. Dr. Sven Schimpf, Managing Director at Fraunhofer Group for Innovation Research and Dr. Michael Durst, Founder & CEO of ITONICS GmbH.
Here audiences could build on much of what was learnt through the day about where AI might take us and empower us in terms of being clever, agile and efficient in our business strategies, while exploring how AI can and will add value to organizations.
Much food for thought here, but some of my favourite observations were on the limits of such technologies, the limits on AI – inviting us to contemplate what it is that makes us human.
“AI will never replace the imagination,” said Schimpf rather resolutely, while expounding on a host of fascinating work driving AI-fueled innovation at Fraunhofer.
While AI cannot replace the imagination, it does have potential to play a facilitatory role, he explained, offering curious cases. Meanwhile, on the subject of AI’s limits, Taubert described a scenario in the iconic Science Fiction series, Douglas Adams’ ‘The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy’, in which a vast computer is asked for “the answer to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything,” and responds with ‘42’ – a real head scratcher for everyone involved. Taubert then reminded us that it is unlikely that we’ll be enjoying a beer or two with our AI. Although, who knows. It’s good to be prepared for all sorts of future outcomes, as we like to remind our clients and communities time and again.
Levity aside, this session served as a sobering reminder that while certain trends and supports in this area are promising, we still have a long way to go when it comes to harnessing AI’s foresight potential to support innovation. This said, I am thrilled to see how this space unfolds as such technologies grow up alongside societies as a whole.
These are just some of the fascinating insights we were all privileged to enjoy through a day so thought-provoking I am already looking forward to next year’s edition. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved for their support and myriad talents.
To receive access to the full recordings of the summit, click here.
This year’s topic of the quer.kraft annual conference on October 13th, 2020 is “Foresight – How to lead companies into the future with foresight”. As scientific keynote speaker, our very own Prof. Dr. René Rohrbeck will give a presentation on “Building the right capabilities to drive opportunities in crisis”, including Dos and Don’ts in crises, skills of innovation leaders/vigilant companies, Strategic Foresight tools, early warning and response system tools, scenario-based strategy development and finally, combining and linking these tools and skills.
When it comes to strategic innovation management, Dr. Rohrbeck likes to compare this with surfing. Simply put, surfing is about anticipating the approaching wave, being in the right place, preparing all your skills for the right moment and then paddling away with full confidence when the wave starts to break. The fact that this is difficult to learn is what makes surfing so fascinating. The same applies to strategic innovation management. It is about developing the same four processes to perfection.
First, to anticipate the waves of change,
second, to understand the systematic effects that drive the wave,
third, to develop the skills necessary for success and then
fourth, to define automatisms to be the first to use the window of opportunity at the right moment.
Similar to the surfer who first systematically develops his skills and then studies the weather, tides and shore conditions, the strategic innovation manager today can rely on a variety of proven methods and tools to dramatically increase his chances of success. The three main difficulties we have encountered time and again are underestimating the task, lack of a systematic approach and lack of perseverance in continuously developing and perfecting one’s foresight skills.
In addition to this speech, an exciting panel discussion will take place. Speakers include Dr. Karoline Haderer (Head of Group Marketing, Communications, Online, CX at Nürnberger Versicherung and member of the Management Board of GARANTA Versicherungs-AG), Michael Klimes (COO of Nabaltec AG), Dr. Martin Kassubek (Head of Corporate & Digital Development at Nürnberg Messe) and Christoph Schmitz (Head of Global Marketing Medical and Head of Innovation at medi GmbH & Co. KG). This year’s discussion will be chaired by Dr. Andreas Volek (Diehl Stiftung & Co. KG), who himself has gained a great deal of practical experience in the field of foresight.
quer.kraft is a unique and fascinating combination of medium-sized hidden champions and leading large companies. We are looking forward to exciting and controversial discussions about the sense and nonsense of Foresight in companies and to the opportunity to take up new impulses.
quer.kraft is a non-profit innovation association that supports companies in developing promising ideas into marketable innovations. In doing so, quer.kraft relies on four pillars: In conferences, working groups and best practice meetings, quer.kraft brings together representatives from business and science. Previously unused innovation potentials of companies are specifically identified. The latest research results help those involved to permanently optimise idea management and innovation processes. This creates an interaction: industry and research inspire each other and benefit from the joint work.