Last week on Metaverse, I was joined by Susan Cox-Smith, a highly experienced futurist and partner at Changeist. Founded in 2007, Changeist is a team of strategists who collaborate with companies and governments alike to “envision preferable futures for all.” During her time with the company, Susan has consulted on some sizeable projects, including with Comcast, the National Lottery Fund UK, the International Federation of Red Cross, and a number of Silicon Valley companies.
An overarching theme of our conversation was Susan’s emphasis on how companies and governments alike need to “step back a little bit and consider what the world will be” as a result of their actions, whether that be policy or the products they’re creating. One of her main goals is to “instill a futuring mindset” so people can think about the future productively and creatively, incorporating it into their day-to-day work. Generally, Susan believes Silicon Valley is ahead of the curve with tech being created for good, although certain “unnamed” social media organisations could benefit from reflecting on the future they’re putting forth for people. Moving forward, she predicts social media companies will need to think more carefully and creatively about what types of control they have and what ground rules they establish for interaction. Regarding governance, Susan thinks we’re starting to see a shift towards looking at where we’ll be in the next twenty years instead of just what will make our countries the most wealthy, but believes there is still much room for growth in turning a critical eye upon our own actions.
We covered a number of fascinating topics in Susan’s work, including her focus on personal transport and health. Regarding transport, Susan notes how urban planning that is future-focused and future-proof can’t ignore that regular cars will still be around in the upcoming decades, so when designing future cities, they’ll need to be adaptable to multiple modes of mobility. Susan sees this as a “really nice Horizon 2 problem to think about” – referring to the second strategic horizon, or how we get from where we are now to how things will be in the future. On the other hand, Covid-19 has fast-tracked our thinking about what it means to live in a world where pandemics are easily possible – even though there were trend reports from international development organisations for decades pointing to the increasing likelihood of a pandemic. Whilst the mishandling of Covid-19 was preventable, it now means that moving forward we will all have to come face to face with global health issues, which will shift a number of priorities across other sectors, such as working remotely.
Susan has also been involved in a number of exciting projects around the future of arts and culture in both post-climate change and pandemic universes, from discussing how many people should be allowed in a room together to what might be possible to experience remotely. Speaking to curators, directors, performance venues, directors, artists, and musicians from all across the world, she’s learned how the entire idea of performance and audiences and funding and venues are all now on the table again, ripe with possibilities for change – and we’re seeing a lot of fascinating innovation and experimentation as a result.
Having come, which allows her more of a creative, experiential angle on strategic foresight as opposed to the perspectives of more academically-trained futurists. As a confessed optimist who’s critical of her personal agency to influence the future, Susan is excited about the Horizon 2 we’re seeing unfold in real time before us, but aware that much of it is out of her hands. She notes that a lot is going to change over the next ten years, and a lot of it could be for the better, but only if existing powers don’t step in the way.
As someone who came to futurism “sort of through the side door” as a print and exhibition designer, Susan offers a pragmatic, solutions-oriented way of looking at possible future outcomes – but she notes, she’s not a “salesman for the future,” and unfortunately for us, there’s no crystal ball. In the meantime, it was fascinating to discuss what might unfold and how we can prepare for these different eventualities. To hear the full breadth of our conversation, you can listen to the podcast episode here.