In Conversation with Tom Savigar

20th anniversary
type - in conversation
In Conversation
Tom Savigar joined The Future Laboratory co-founders Chris Sanderson and Martin Raymond in 2005, and was a partner in the business, running Strategy and Foresight for 15 years. Now running his own independent consultancy, Avansere, he reminisces with Chris and Martin on 20 years of foresight practice and how the challenges of leadership in 2020 require a certain mindset…

Read an excerpt of the conversation below, or scroll down to watch the full Zoom video.

CS:     Tom, the three of us worked together for 15 years out of The Future Laboratory’s 20, so we shared that journey and that change. But if you think back 20 years when we were starting out and you were also starting out on your journey into the future, how do you think the world of trends, trend forecasting and foresight has changed over the past 20 years?

TS:     You know me very well, I like structure. So, I prepared a little structure. Back in 1998/1999/2000, WGSN was a start-up, it was all sort of – the word I was thinking of was something like speculative foresight; it was about intuitive lifestyle, fashion and cultural trends, but it was mainly used to inspire design and communications. It was about energy and forces and feelings. And then, as you guys know, when The Future Laboratory began it was very much about social foresight, it was about predicting consumer market trends to inform and inspire brands. But it was also about innovation, it was about doing something with that foresight and creating a sort of social buzz. And I remember our early days, the PR kind of work we used to do, which we still do. And then it moved to strategic foresight and that was when I think the world got difficult and it was about forecasting future operating environments. So, if you’re a business, how the hell are you going to run your company, especially after 2008? These three waves – from speculative to social to strategic foresight – definitely marked a shift in the feeling, the methods, the intensity. The joy, I think, has changed. What is the joy of doing this again because it’s a lot more serious now? I think it has evolved and I think, as we know, the market’s exploded. You guys were pioneers in this industry. But it was an unknown thing and then it became a science, then it became a methodology and it has changed a lot.

CS:     Well, that perfectly segues into the next question: what next? You’ve very neatly put three S’s in there. What’s the fourth, what’s next after strategic foresight?

TS:     The three of us have definitely had these musings at 11 o’clock at night on many, many an evening when we thought that something’s missing. I think the next step is systemic foresight, and this is where it takes prowess and professionalism, but also the power of something like foresight that really starts to say: ‘How do we foresee the intervention points in living systems and then go to work on transformation?’ And I think that asks a lot of people using foresight. It used to be ‘here’s the foresight, goodbye!’ versus ‘we’re not going anywhere; we need to use this’. 

So, I think there’s a shift from Sapere Aude, Dare To Know – the motto of The Future Laboratory –  to Agere Aude, which is Dare To Act. That’s a change from conducting an orchestra to actually curating something properly, from having a monologue to very much a trialogue, which is a term you often use; from broadcasting to guiding and from magic and the wonder of theatre to keeping that but making sure that it has meaning.

I think (it’s about) changing from gurus to citizens and from talking to acting. So, there’s a lot of not just doing it for the sake of doing it, but doing it because it’s going to change.

Published by:

14 December 2020

Author: The Future Laboratory



CS:     I think you’re so right. What you’ve neatly transposed there are the conversations that we were having about this shift from the experience economy to the transformation economy, and how it’s about this far more proactive sense of where change needs to happen and what that change needs to actually invoke or evoke; that it is systemic, that it is about changing systems, it’s about changing not just a philosophy or an experience but a way of life and a way of doing things. And I think that’s very profound, and it’s probably going to keep us all very busy for another 10 years…

TS:     I think so. You’ve rightly coined the phrase the Transformative Twenties because it is really hard at the moment, we all know that. And it requires new tools. I think being able to think in systems is not easy – to be able to actually codify knowledge and make sense of it, understanding what impact really is – and if you have foresight how do you measure return on foresight, or ROF?

I think diversity is the sacred power – how do we make sure that diverse perspectives are going into the conversations at the beginning, which I know we’ve talked about in the past? So, there are a lot of tricks that are missing still. And obviously there’s technology. So how do we put the right tools into the hands of human foresight capabilities to make sure that humans can really feel like they’re able to foresee properly? Because whether you’re a leader or a CEO or a citizen, being able to look around the corner is even more important now.

MR:      One of the things that I’m fearful about is that, particularly with CEOs and leadership management teams, they’re going to try to get the ship back onto the same course because that’s obviously a) what they do and b) where there’s potential profit, and that they fear the new normal – if it’s as bad as the old normal with a twist – is just pointless. So, the question is how do you persuade leaders and business people that they should be setting a completely different course anyway; this is the opportunity and you’re there to give them the tools?

I know that with your new business, part of it is equipping them with the tools so they can get on and do it. What’s your reading of the market and your hesitancy about their abilities? What are you seeing that business needs to think about before it can even get on with this new journey? What are the factors that you think show they’re not ready for it?

TS:     Unfortunately, I think a lot of people only realise what transformation is when they’ve had something happen to them. Speaking to over 200 coaches this year, real transformation happens when people say: ‘I understand that I need to change.’ And you can’t make that happen, you can’t inspire them to do that. I think it has to happen. You get this situation where they are innately vulnerable and positively vulnerable and then, all of a sudden, they see the light and they see transformation. In March, I was talking to one client, and they said: ‘Not right now because of the pandemic.’ And the analogy is ‘Let’s zip ourselves up in a tent and let the storm pass’. But it’s not going to pass… after three days you’re going to run out of food, so you’re going to have to go out into the storm and be brave. So, I think it’s demanding an awful lot of people who are in leadership positions; your point, Chris, about being a CEO – I would not want to be a senior right now who is the steward, trying to keep everyone going. I think it requires CEOs or leaders to embrace being almost like a Sherpa mixed with a gardener: knowing that your garden will overgrow, you’ll need to prune it back, you’ll need to reduce it down and it will blossom again, but at the same time dictate what you want it to look like. You need to lead it into the form – it’s not for the faint-hearted. I was talking to one client the other day who said: ‘What will it take?’ and I said, you’re going to have to stop so many things if you want to properly reset. And then that affects lots of things in terms of shareholders. So, I think the winners are going to be the ones who are really brave, who understand human needs, who have the ability to think in systems, which is not easy. And then, ultimately, those who gamble and take a risk, and that’s the chance that I think some sectors will have, while other sectors will be reborn…

Watch the full Zoom conversation between Chris Sanderson and Martin Raymond, co-founders, The Future Laboratory and Tom Savigar, founder, Avansere.