The future is currently in high demand. One reason for this is that many people feel that a lot of things are not running smoothly. While the economy is booming all around, Germany is lagging behind.

The big DAX corporations are doing huge business - just not at home, but abroad. It seems that not only the many small and large crises we have experienced in recent years, but also delayed reforms of the past are taking their toll. But that doesn't mean nothing can be done about it.

On the contrary: Companies that help other companies, organizations, associations, or politics to transform themselves and the world are currently in great demand. Many saw it when Amy Webb, the famous futurist and founder of the New York-based Future Today Institute, stood on the big stage at the SXSW digital conference and explained to the world what the near future will bring. She spoke of a "supercycle" of technology that is becoming visible out there; driven by new, overlapping technology trends, scientific and economic breakthroughs. It's an exciting time that calls for explanations. Because not everyone can keep up with every new technological revolution.

Combined with the "Europe 24," where Webb spoke about possible futures that could await Germany, she created a loud moment of future research and showed what's currently possible in the business. However, it's also clear that this field rarely comes with such a bang. Rather, it quietly and secretly moves forward, advising, experimenting, and probing. We spoke with Christina von Messling, the European head of Amy Webb's Future Today Institute, about what future consulting can do.

By the way, Christina von Messling is one of our speakers at this year's SpaceWalk Talks, the future conference by robotspaceship.

 

The Future

robotspaceship: It seems like future research is having a big moment right now. Why is that?

Christina von Messling: I would say it's because it feels like a lot of things aren't going right at the moment.

Why do you tell people what their future could be like, as you did at SXSW?

Primarily, our goal is to generate action. We want to initiate visions or the beginning of vision formation. And then, of course, we also want to motivate people to act.

The world has changed: geopolitically, climatically, technologically. Yet, major transformation initiatives are missing.

Why?

Because many are unsure about what comes next and don't know where to start changing things. Many are now calling for AI, more AI, and even more AI. However, the question, "How exactly?" is rarely asked.

And then there are those who don't want to change anything because business is booming. They ask, "Why should we think about transformation now?" They overlook that other times will come again.

That sounds like the situation many companies in Germany are currently in: Many years of growth, and then suddenly many crises they can't cope with.

Exactly. And Germany is not the only country where this is the case. In the USA, we see plenty of companies that don't look beyond the current situation, that don't prepare for the future.

But it's true, the general climate in Germany seems bad across industries right now. It feels like something is stuck.

Is the country really in such a bad state?

I would say the situation is tragic. Not because everything is so bad, but because the country has enormous potential, everything it needs to be successful. We are looking back on 40 years of almost uninterrupted success story and now fail to activate the innovation forces we have.

What's the reason?

It certainly has a lot to do with mentality. We in Germany are very negatively inclined. Everything is always terrible and awful, and we just sink into our little depression.

How does the Future Today Institute identify these moods?

We take a very strategic approach. A lot of it is desk research. That means we collect various signals from the desk and analyze them. The more condensation, the more often repetitions occur in different areas, the more it's an indicator that it indeed represents a trend.

For the Germany scenarios we've released, we also interviewed 40 CEOs in Germany - and in those conversations, the current malaise was something that kept coming up. That means we have the information and assessment from several channels.

What did these CEOs say?

Very important: We need innovation. They participated in our survey because too little is happening in that area in Germany.

Where exactly is too little happening?

In many companies. But then there's also innovation on the political and societal side. Innovation doesn't happen in isolation, it needs to occur in an ecosystem - this includes politics setting the right course. But mentality plays a role too. And of course, corporate leadership is part of it. However, this only works embedded in an ecosystem. Of course, individual companies can achieve something, but to really gain momentum, more is needed.

What we found in our conversations is that many companies keep hitting their limits due to the framework conditions. And these limits seem to exist on all levels.

What does that mean concretely?

It means that companies are constantly struggling with regulations and that employees are currently more likely to discuss the four-day workweek rather than follow the principle of performance.

 

What is the Future Today Institute?

The Future Today Institute is based in New York and helps companies to engage with the future, build resilience, and prepare for unforeseen events. CEO and founder of the FTI is Amy Webb, one of the most distinguished futurists the market currently knows. Her appearance at the SXSW digital conference in Austin, Texas, caused a stir recently. There, she gave an insight into what companies and entrepreneurs need to prepare for in the near future. Watch her appearance here 👉 on YouTube.

Click Here 👉 to download the current FTI.

 

 

More work, less life then?

No, not at all. I am very much for work-life balance. I even believe that's one of the great strengths we have here in Europe, that we approach it a bit differently than the Americans.

On the other hand, we need to roll up our sleeves. Here we need to shift the discussion a bit. The question should be, in Kennedy's words: "Ask what you can do for your country." However, that doesn't mean it's not also important for the country to do something for the people.

Do all these things come into play in your reports?

One of our main tasks is education. We look at the most important trends we see and summarize them in a report. Another important pillar, of course, is uncertainty. In the first step of our work, we show the trends, i.e., what we can know. In the second, what we can't know. And only then does it become really meaningful.

And from the mix of both, we then write scenarios. There we try to figure out what desirable futures in the various industries could be. And then, of course, there's another question: What happens after the scenario? It doesn't make sense to leave companies alone with it.

What does the work look like afterward in concrete terms?

We try to find out what the future of companies could look like, what future they wish for themselves. But it's also about what's possible. Once we've figured out where a company could be in 15 years, we enter a process we call backcasting.

Together with the client, we then work out what the next steps, what the priorities are. It's important to us that people in the companies know what they need to do on Monday morning after they've received input from us.

How can one imagine this - input, briefing, action?

No, the future and making the future is an agile process. You have to keep checking annually or biannually where you stand: What has just happened and what impact does it have on my vision for the year 2040?

Can't I just draw a straight line from now to 2040?

That's a long time span, I can't include all parameters. You also have to adjust short-term and see what's going on.

The future is a very abstract topic. How do people you work with react to the scenarios you develop?

Getting from the level of abstraction to reality is always one of the most exciting parts of the collaboration. Because that's exactly what it's about, that's the moment when we clarify: What does this mean for today?

Here we then look at what we need to prioritize - and that can of course also mean: What are the things we need to avoid? So, reactions can vary. Moreover, the whole thing can be perceived differently at the organizational level than at the level where Mrs. Schmidt now hears that from Monday she has to do XYZ.

How do people react at that level?

Breaking up structures and transformation is always a bit scary.

Is there a remedy for fear?

It helps to break everything down into small steps. Then it's not only concrete but also not such a big block anymore, but digestible steps.

How long does such a future process with your clients last?

When we develop scenarios with clients, that's our longest process, it takes six to nine months, sometimes even a year.

And what does the path to the scenario look like?

So that we don't overwhelm our clients with a huge report at the end, we include many small intermediate steps, the whole thing is an extensive collaborative process with many intermediate deliverables: Trend reports that show where the journey is going. And of course, many questions:

How do our clients see the role of their company in various situations? What are the effects if there are geopolitical shifts? If the export market collapses? If China loses its economic power? And so on. You then play it through. We have various workshops that we hold with our clients and with experts, it's about discussing as many different variables as possible.

So, in all the abstraction, is it still about incorporating as much reality into the process as possible?

Exactly. The future is not something that just happens, we shape it. We don't look into the crystal ball or engage in card reading and say, "Well, this is exactly what will happen."

Our focus is on preparation and on proactively shaping our future. However, we see that many companies today only look two, three, at most five years ahead and therefore always have to react to things others work on and shape. And to really develop something new, you have to look further ahead, those cycles are longer.

Who is Christina von Messling?

Christina von Messling is the European head of the Future Today Institute. Her tasks include advancing the local business of the American company. As Head of Europe, she focuses on the geopolitical, economic, demographic, and cultural peculiarities of the region and their interplay with North America as well as in a global context. She divides her time between New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, and London.

What are typical scenarios that are repeatedly important at the moment?

There are many things that many just don't expect. The pandemic was something like that, it was a black swan for most, an unimaginable event. And this, although warnings about possible pandemics had been issued for a long time.

Now we of course include in the scenarios the question of what will happen if the North Atlantic Current dries up. Of course, our focus is not always on these large external factors. But it's also important to play them through.

How do people in Germany respond to this look into the future?

I would say, very well!

If you observe events like SXSW, you quickly get the feeling that when it comes to the future, much more is happening in the USA than here and that people there are more open to the topic.

To be honest, I have the opposite impression. My observation is that there's much more happening in Europe in terms of foresight and that the topic is much more deeply rooted in the culture here.

So, it's possible to "generate action" with the topic?

Absolutely. And I am convinced that we all still have a lot of future ahead of us.

The Big robotspaceship Trend Report 2024

At robotspaceship, we publish a trend report every year in which we examine the most important technological developments of the year. This year, we have identified so many trends and hypes that we have included a legend in the report. This tells you whether you should already be looking at what is currently happening, or not. If you have any questions or suggestions about the report or need help implementing new technologies in your company, our Chief Futurist Sean Earley would be happy to assist. Here 👉 you can write to him.

Here 👉 you can download our Trend Report. All you have to do: Sign up for our newsletter. In it, we regularly provide you with everything that is currently visible around the topics of the future, transformation, and innovation.

Engage Germany – Visionen für Deutschland. The Future Conference from robotspaceship

Christina von Messling will speak on April 24 at the SpaceWalk Talks, the future conference by robotspaceship, about how to prepare for the future. An important part of her presentation will be how to move from an abstract future scenario to action and start getting your company and yourself ready for the future. Buy your tickets now and learn about the future. 

Click Here 👉 to get your tickets. Act Fast to get Early Bird Tickets!

🚀 Want to Bring Your Whole Team? Talk to us for Bundle Pricing! 🚀 

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Bastian Hosen is a business journalist and content consultant. He was trained at the German School of Journalism. Before starting his own business, he worked at Business Punk and Capital.

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