“I just went down deeper into that rabbit hole, working on an internal research and development project to see how we would stand up in foresight within the company.”
In this episode, we welcome Kara Cunzeman – an energetic woman who loves to reach for the stars. In her role as Senior Project Lead for Strategic Foresight at The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy, Kara gives us insights into her work around corporate foresight.
In this talk Kara emphasizes how important the ability to dreaming and envisioning is for successful strategic foresight. She introduces us to the “Future Pathfinder’s Guide” and gives an estimate of how the commercialization of space will change in the next 5-10 years and what this means for us humans.
Below you will find the full transcript for the episode.
How continuous foresight helps to dream big
Chris: Welcome back to another Innovation Rockstar interview. We have a terrific guest with us today, and we are going to talk about strategic foresight in the space industry with Kara Cunzeman from the Aerospace Corporation. Thank you so much for joining us today, Kara.
Kara: Oh, thanks so much for having me.
Chris: Let's start things off with you and the Aerospace Corporation. Who are you, and what is your role there?
Kara: Sure. Aerospace Corporation is a federally funded research center. We're a non for profit organization that provides deep technical expertise and objective analysis for a wide variety of customers across the national civil security and commercial space. Our name is a bit misleading because we're a space company. Everybody seems to think that we represent the aerospace industry, but we're not. We primarily focus on space. However, we also support a wide variety of applications that maybe leverage our space expertise, and we are involved in a lot of areas, but space is our bread and butter. I lead our strategic foresight initiative at the company, a relatively novel initiative, but we’ll talk more about that today. Our team focuses on transforming the future's mindset for the entire space enterprise and ecosystem.
Chris: Could you take us back a bit and share your story and how you've gotten into this role?
Kara: Sure. I guess I'll start at the beginning, kind of like once upon a time … So I have an engineering background, which was very interesting for those familiar with the traditional track of going into strategic foresight. I was awarded my undergraduate degree in multi-disciplinary engineering from Purdue University, and then I went on and got my master's in Aero and Astro Engineering. I've had an exciting journey. Most of the jobs I've had until I joined Aerospace about six years ago have focused on systems engineering. Systems engineering is the big high-level picture of architectural planning and strategy behind production capabilities and large-scale building systems for those who aren't aware. I believe I have always been a futurist. I just didn't know that it was an actual academic practice and that these methodologies go with it. It was until four years ago that I was tasked to work on an internal science and technology project to maximize our impact on the enterprise, knowing, like everybody else, we have limited resources, limited time, and people. So how would we accomplish that smartly? And I was searching for better ways, better methodologies, and one of the women I was working for was leading the labs. She shared that she had come across this fascinating group at Berkeley called the Institute for the Future. They are in Silicon Valley and have been there since the '60s.
Like aerospace, which has been around for sixty years, there was this big spur of innovative future thinking right after World War Two. That's kind of where all these organizations stood up. Thus, I attended the Institute for the Future, and I very acutely remember one of the first questions they had polled the audience on the first day was whether any one of them had been using a horizon scanning practice; in other words, were we regularly looking for signals as an organization? I would say most of the room raised their hand, but I didn't because our company only had pieces here and there, but there was no conscious effort to have a horizon scanning practice. That, for me, was the spark. It was like an epiphany that there are better ways to pull enterprise knowledge and wisdom and use that going forward for better decision-making today. That, in a nutshell, is how I got started. I just went down deeper into that rabbit hole, working on an internal research and development project to see how we would stand up in foresight within the company. Here I am, three years later, and we’ve got traction, and we're still working on it since we're still very green in the process, but it's something I’m excited about. I could have never guessed where I would be today from the past, and I guarantee you there will be exciting things in the future that I didn't even consider.
Chris: I do not doubt that. I’ve got a somewhat provocative question about strategic foresight for you, and I'd be curious to find out what your opinion is on that. Some claim that the current pandemic within the second half of 2020 is a black swan event. Others would possibly argue that this pandemic is an event that could have been foreseen using strategic foresight and helped to better prepare for the fallout, e.g. the global supply chain disruption. In support of that argument, the global risk radar of the World Economic Forum precisely describes and assesses global risks and their likely consequences. However, to this day, we are still reacting to the unfolding events of the pandemic. My question, therefore, is why are we still responding and have not learnt the insights of strategic foresight?
Kara: I think that’s a great question, and you would feel more than ever that is the ultimate wake-up call. Going back to your earlier question on Black Swan, if you're referring to the exact definition of Black Swan, then the pandemic is not a Black Swan event. I agree with the World Economic Forum. There have been many signals broadcasted on pandemics over the centuries, right? That is not a new thing. It's just implausible to have such a widespread thing since it's considered as high impact, right? I also believe that surprises are in the eye of the beholder. If you're paying attention, there were signals everywhere. For many decades, there have been signals about the breakdown of the ecological systems, the food chains, the markets, etc. We knew that this was going to happen. It just was a matter of time. The real issue was that everybody was hoping it was not happening on their watch. Of course, on the flip side, I believe claiming that the pandemic is a black swan event is almost a cop-out for leadership by claiming that they never saw this coming. They only said how lucky we are to have such leaders to help us get out of this mess and react as quickly as possible to get things back on track. The fundamental hard part of this real question is when you start pre-planning that requires resources to take away from something else. The challenge is that surprises (good or bad) wait at every corner. How do you prioritize what surprise areas you want to mitigate compared to others? I believe that governments and we, as people, have a hard time coming to grips with. How do you prioritize those things? It's not easy, and that's why I think our leadership has just said that the world is just symbiotic; we're just going to take the punches as we go. I believe your final question about why we are still reacting is because it's in our DNA. Our brains are wired to be reactive, which forces us to evolve. Say what you want, but we live in times where we are offered the most incredible opportunity to recognize that need for evolution.
Strategic foresight at Aerospace Corporation
Chris: It may be directly tied with certainty to the activities performed at the strategic foresight level. Given that you are active in that field and a practitioner, what are the most significant myths you encounter when speaking to your team or institutions about strategic foresight?
Kara: That is such a great question. I think I always kind of take in strides and be blunt, especially when somebody, like an executive leader, isn't familiar with what we do. Number one: I don't predict the future. I'm not a fortune teller. Everything isn't just about a scenario or strategic planning. It sure isn’t voodoo. Instead, it is a set of systematic methodologies that could help you better prepare for the future by taking action today. I believe that scenario planning isn't about the things being done but about the involved people. It's the processes from which you gain your insights, and then the leadership can take those insights and turn them into action. That is essentially the reason why there is a foresight community to elicit better decision-making based on insights. Many folks, who may have been doing strategic planning over the last twenty years, think that they're practicing foresight, but they're not. I see this all the time when our strategic leaders believe they are thinking strategy when they are not. They're doing tactical and reactionary planning, and that's about it. Hence, the big myth is that most don’t know strategy or foresight.
Chris: I suppose you are not predicting the future, as you mentioned, right? You're trying to show possible paths and trajectories to link them with scenarios of the future to remove some of these surprises from the equation. I understand that you recently were a guest speaker in a panel discussion at I-Tripple-E-USA. If I remember that correctly, it was said: “We have systemic short-sightedness.” That specific statement caught my attention and made me think for a while. Could you elaborate on what you meant by that statement on "systemic short-sightedness?"
“The pandemic is just lifting that curtain and showing us our vulnerabilities within our democracy or the systematic breakdown of the emergence of technology. Time to fix that and not sit it out, waiting and hoping that things get better on the other side without actions.”
Kara: I think it goes back to your initial question, where I mentioned that we are hardwired. Our brain is hardwired to have a significant disconnect from our future. The only thing that it resonates with is the present. When you start thinking about other people in the present, your neurons go way down. However, when you create a project and think about yourself in the future, it's like dealing with a stranger. The most demanding part lies in breaking that kind of mindset of the here and now. Don’t get me wrong; I believe agility and adaptability are essential skill sets for the future.
Still, if you don't have a solid understanding of where you want to go and navigate across that uncertainty, you're just going to be feeling things out with no general purpose. I think that's the message foresighting practitioners to embrace and to try to push through with the pandemic. As I mentioned earlier, we have this excellent opportunity to learn from what wasn't working before the pandemic, right? The pandemic is just lifting that curtain and showing us our vulnerabilities within our democracy or the systematic breakdown of the emergence of technology. Time to fix that and not sit it out, waiting and hoping that things get better on the other side without actions. Spoiler alert: They're not going to get better. Nevertheless, there are things that we can do right now to make sure that we're better off.
Chris: So, you have two different parts of the equation. On the one hand, as an organization you have the adaptability and agility to be reactive and adaptive in the short term. On the other, it requires visionary thinking for the medium to long-term outlook into the future. Somehow I consider this to be a contradiction in some way. Could you give us a glimpse into your activities at Aerospace in your Strategic Foresight initiative? How do you do that?
Kara: You bring up such a great point about what we call the push and pull of the future, right? That push is all about the signals, the technology, the quantitative and qualitative data that backs it up. In contrast, the pull is about where you want it to be? Where could things go? What's in the realm of possibilities? What are the wild cards? I am pretty confident that most people in their organizations probably are doing reasonably well on the push. I would wager that some are doing better than others in terms of how good of a job they’re doing at analyzing what's happening in the marketplace and what startup companies you should be watching out for. However, humans and businesses are generally very oriented on that data set that tells us where we think things are headed. We have massive consulting industries for that very purpose. Based on the push, the pull is hard. It's hard for everybody, and I think it's been even harder in the work environment that we live in. Leaders aren't incentivized to look at the pull. Leaders are incentivized to consider every decision that they make carefully. They can point back to where the push is coming from, but meaningful and purpose-driven transformation only happens when you focus on the pull. There are organizations and companies like Disney, for example, who understand the importance of dreaming, imagination and creativity as part of that process. If you can't picture it, you can't make it happen. That requires a very different mindset. Something that we've tried to do at our company is leverage. We have over 4000 world-class engineers, scientists, technical subject matter experts across a wide variety of specialized areas relevant to space. So why not use them in analyzing the push? The pull for us is a bit more complicated. Still, I'll tell you that we have some extraordinarily creative people that I found across our organization and who have helped start imagining and stretching that mindset. The future's map is a great example, and we'll talk more about how we were able to break the mold of not just what's happening but also what could happen. That requires spending time in a room, creatively thinking, doing some exercises, getting inspired and lots of talking. I believe this is a vital piece talking to external perspectives. We get caught up in group thinking and what the data presents us or what we think the obvious futures are. That is a killer and a mistake, in my opinion, for potential opportunities to transform.
The Pathfinder’s Guide to the Space Enterprise
Chris: Yes. That is an interesting point that you are making. So, what I understood from you is that it is tough to spot a specific phenomenon emerging in any kind of foresight, which is inherent to the nature of uncertainty. Even if you have a good sense or a good gut-sense, it is still difficult to nail something down as it is happening or potentially could happen. Suppose a phenomenon occurs and could have been foreseen by strategic foresight, anticipating and preparing for the consequences is indispensable. Neglecting to do so could increase your vulnerability to unexpected changes. As can be seen today, most will switch into panic and reactive mode when faced with such eventualities.
Kara: Yes. The one caveat related to your question is that there will always be a black swan, too. The myth that foresight is the only answer to unlocking the secrets of the future is also a fallacy. It facilitates opening up the mind, which helps to make better decisions. Nonetheless, there's also always going to be the element of surprise that is just a fact of life.
Chris: Right. I don't think it will ever be possible to achieve 100 percent. That's true under that light. You and a few other colleagues recently published The Pathfinders Guide to the Space Enterprise. Brilliant name, in my opinion. Could you share more about this guide and why you created it?
Kara: For all those fans of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fans, that’s a slight nod to that. My team and I created a futures map designed around pre-pandemic thinking and where we would be at conferences and speaking with people. The idea was to hand out this map to people so that they could touch, feel and take it with them. Some might even adorn their office wall with it and every day would look at it and think of something different.
Chris: I printed mine out, and it's in my office right now as we speak.
Kara: There are instructions to print it out to the size we created it. Spoiler alert: We have poster-sized versions that we hand out during conferences as special swag. Anyways, the whole point of the map was to take advantage of a unique opportunity. We had a place where we could explore the art of the possible for space agnostic and make it available to any stakeholder that exists today. Where are the signals coming from? We already covered the push and the pull, right? Where are the signals coming from that may indicate a significant paradigm shift that we aren't thinking about collectively? Also, where could this go and what wide variety of areas? That was an inspiring and refreshing activity because this was foresight for the sake of foresight. I wasn't trying to hit on a keynote for a specific stakeholder. I wasn't trying to carve out a particular area because that's what they were interested in. We were objectively looking across the landscape and trying to pinpoint what would matter. We attempted to answer the key questions we felt were needed because there was some apparent conflict across the enterprise. That presented us with such an exciting and creative approach, and we're looking forward to doing another similar activity again since not many organizations have that chance. Whenever you see a report, there was almost certainly a hidden ulterior motive behind the initial study. That is the benefit I have to work for a federally funded research center; in other words, a non-profit organization. My goal is to be objective, and that’s why I value that role.
Chris: How did that go? Can you walk us through the creation process from the initial concept to the final map
Kara: Sure. You never know how the end destination will pan out exactly when you start a journey. I will say, however, that we wanted to create a physical map because it is something tangible. We wanted somebody to hold the future in their hand, and that was the kind of mindset we went with. We ended up having a range of over seventy subject matter experts and bright minds across the company, and external folks kind of helped us do some brainstorming. We used some foresight techniques like fringe signals and convergence matchups. We asked ourselves what interesting threads we could pull in this map. We had over four hundred different ideas coming out of a series of workshops and eventually narrowed them down to seventy ideas. We roughly categorized what we thought the critical drivers for the future would be. It wasn’t for the present but the future. That's where we got our seven categories from, and we'll talk about that in a bit. Our strategy made this map cohesive: to come together in a room and hash it out. We all flew out to LA and remained in the room for a week. We blocked out an entire week. I made this a priority, and we worked on different ways to communicate all of this information. We had about six or seven other models, and we decided on this one. The decision process wasn't easy because it's not the most intuitive if you look at this map, right? It's not a linear thing. There are no timelines on it. It's very abstract. Despite that, it was the best way for us to communicate the kinds of information we wanted in a 2D medium. We're exploring other things right now, primarily digitally, like doing some 3D representation of this data. For the time being, however, this is what made sense. If you want to create a visual product, have your media team be part of the process from day one. It was essential for us, and we're very fortunate that our home office, which is in El Segundo, is right next to Hollywood. We have world-class media folks who work at the company and leverage. I immediately knew that it was a resource that I wanted to take advantage of, making it so visually appealing and technically competent.
Chris: Let's briefly look at the map in more detail. You mentioned seven categories or seven core themes developed from hundreds of ideas with dozens of experts. Could you possibly go into one or two examples of those core themes and what they could mean for the future of space or the end of the space enterprise
Kara: We had some obvious ones, like access to space or intelligence infrastructure, but maybe one that people aren't thinking as much about is resources. When I need resources, I’m talking about the physical and virtual jewels coming out of exploring, developing and then bringing back those benefits to Earth and humanity. Hence, the term resources is a much broader and more significant concept than simply mining or similar. To be honest, that is true today. I bet most people don't know that they are connected second by second to space when they're eating food or using a cell phone. Most people don't know that. Imagine expanding and broadening this space ecosystem; what would those tools bring back humanity? Another essential thread is the players. There's going to be such an incredible and vast amount of new players coming into space. We've been seeing just the early stages of it. Still, there will be explorers, scientists, entrepreneurs, innovators and people who love to take selfies and post them on their blogs, videos and space service provider infrastructure. One Japanese billionaire created going around the Moon by bringing artists, dancers, and musicians. He felt like we needed to be getting that emotional piece of exploring space back to humanity. There's going to be this extensive interest in space that we haven't thought about, but we're seeing inclinations of it now without having pulled it together yet. We haven't made sense of it yet.
Chris: Having that said, would you agree with the statement that artificial intelligence, or even a general AI, could also be a player in-game in space? What do you think?
Kara: I think that the argument for artificial intelligence in X will be the case in the future. It can come to fruition in many places and will initially most likely take hold in apparent areas in the immediate future, like formation flying, real-time data sensing and processing, and integrated networking. We're already kind of seeing that. The fact that AI could be keeping humans emotionally tuned in while they're traveling through space. We know that space can be very emotionally and psychologically challenging on humans; thus, what would the role of an AI be? Going further, AI could even become indiscernible between what is human and not. We know space travel is arduous on humans; therefore, how can the infusion with AI help in making space traveling sustainable and smoother? Perhaps there's some hybrid human model. We also point out a cognitive transfer in our intelligence piece of the map, which is looking at how the collective set of connected brains, whether that's artificial or real, can transfer information and data seamlessly? Imagine being coupled with quantum communication in the future that is almost instantaneous across the universe as we're traveling. It sounds crazy, but that is the kind of science being developed in real-time. We also have another thread about sensors and programmable matter. Think about the insights gained if you could use every cell, plant and animal to help you make better predictions about the climate or understand the ecosystem's health and provide real-time feedback. Imagine what that could be, but space has to be part of that since you can't observe without that mental picture.
Chris: How can they find it for anyone interested in exploring your map? Is it publicly available?
Kara: Yes, it's right on our website. I can send you the link and tag it to the podcast if you want. It's on Aerospace's website. The guide itself is called Pathfinders Guide to the Space Enterprise.
Chris: It's called Pathfinders Guide to the Space Enterprise. I do warm-heartedly recommend it. I think I lost myself in it for one or two hours since it included some terms I've never heard before, but one specific element that caught my eye said that a general AI would be the CEO of about forty percent of the S&P 500. That's a bold statement, and for anyone interested in that, go and check out the methods. It's a great one. Are there any large or small disruptors you would consider having on your radar when looking at space? For example, fostering the preparedness of aerospace or humanity?
Kara: Well, for me, just understanding how quickly we're making progress in genetic modification and that we are actually at a point where we can engineer our DNA. There are obvious potential benefits for applying those capabilities to space travel and enhancing the sustainability of humans, especially since the radiation environments are just really harsh and they're one of the biggest inhibitors. That's one of the reasons why we send robots in the first place. So that is on my radar. Absolutely. Looking at the business side, we're still not seeing large establishments in the commercial sector getting involved in the space. Once we start seeing the media companies come in whole droves and the utility companies and many others, big things will happen, and we know they're curious. It's just a question of when they will pull the trigger. Is it five years? Is it ten years? Is it fifty years? So what are the things that we can do, especially as governments, to set up the proper infrastructure to help accelerate that capability? If you don't have the infrastructure, just like we have roads, airways and air traffic control, it will not happen organically in the commercial sector. If it's too costly, then the insurance companies aren't buying off on it; thus, we need to be smart here. I think we have a lot of momentum going in the right direction, but that can fizzle out if we're not careful. Also, I will say, interestingly enough, on our workforce side of the map, we kind of called out something called Space Rabbit. If you're familiar with TaskRabbit, which outsources different tasks, you can hire freelancers to do various tasks for you. We were thinking about what kind of people will be working in space and how that will evolve in the future, right? That is a bigger question of what the lot of work will look like and how we will obtain matching types of talent. We had considered this concept of space rabbit. Well, it turns out there's a company called SPACELY that just got started in January and is doing precisely that. For me, that was a success story because we’re calling out all these different things in the ecosystem, and they're happening in real-time. I'm kind of excited to see what else over time pans out in our map and what doesn't. Again, it's not a predictive tool to stake my head-on, but it shows that we're thinking about the wide range of possibilities.
Chris: Are we, as a nation or as humanity, as a whole, solving all these issues and problems? Obviously, and I am not a space expert, but I think all these issues, all these problems and technological challenges need to be solved on Earth, right? Because we cannot test things on Mars, we cannot test things on the Moon. So everything that we are building, enhancing our capabilities, skills, the know-how that we need to do something in space ultimately needs to be created on Earth. Because that's the only place where…
Kara: That's changing, though. We now have orbital manufacturing. Many small startup companies are building very quickly, very cheaply. They're putting it in space, and they're testing everything and working out the kinks and then rewiring the mission of their payloads just by doing a software upload. I think that aspect of space is changing, and it's going to change radically in the next ten years or so. You don't have to do everything on the ground first anymore, only to push it up into space.
Chris: That is blowing my mind. I’ve never heard of that before, and that sounds crazy to me.
Kara: It's not crazy how things are happening right now. I can tell you crazier things, but you wouldn’t believe me.
Aerospace’s digital foresight platform
Chris: It sounds like there is lots of information on startups, technologies, trends, signals, wild cards etc. All of them are somehow associated with ultimately shaping the future picture. I suppose one of your following big projects is to build an end-to-end digital foresight platform together with Itonics. Why would you need a digital platform for all of that? What are its goals?
Kara: Oh man, that is going to be an adventure. I'm already really excited about that. My team is small, and we have to juggle such an immense amount of information and insight, then try to triage that for decision-makers and then tailor all of that analysis to a wide variety of decision-makers across the enterprise. We are doing all of that manually. It's impossible, right? Therefore, we're looking for tools to help us accelerate our ability to focus on what matters most for foresight practitioners, which is that insight piece and more data is not always better. It's really about the types and diversity of the data that you need to help inform your inside activities to bring only relevant information to the table of decision-makers and what will matter for them. I genuinely believe that having this end-to-end digital foresight platform will help us expedite in getting to and focusing more on insight. That's what I'm passionate about and where I think the community needs the most work. Of course, if we're creating this living, breathing ecosystem of signals, changes and possibilities, you can cross-reference that across the enterprise. We have all these stovepipes, but now you're at a point where you can communicate at the same level and start working towards building a common purpose. I'm looking forward to enlightening conversations that show that if I work with these various other entities, we will be much greater than the sum of our parts.
Chris: It's not only about bringing information together, but also about bringing people together, right? Because ultimately, what you create with that is some single point of truth around various views. What are some of the activities that you want to transfer to the digital space? I assume you will probably be doing workshops still in physical rooms by meeting people. However, what are some of the activities being done on the platform beyond information sharing? Is it also building a community? Can you give some insight on that?
“A platform is a place for us to organize and share this information to help make it visual and tangible. When you have everything across the enterprise represented in a single platform, it helps people understand how those pieces start tying together. That's where the real AHA moment comes from.”
Kara: I think the platform will help organize the activities that we were already doing, which, as you mentioned, are highly people-centric. The people are the most critical part of this, right? And then I think second comes the methodologies and the tools. A platform is a place for us to organize and share this information to help make it visual and tangible. When you have everything across the enterprise represented in a single platform, it helps people understand how those pieces start tying together. That's where the real AHA moment comes from. We're still going to have a dedicated set of folks who are constantly looking for signals, meeting regularly, talking about the implications of those signals and whether they are building new trends. That's an integral part of the process. We're going to have workshops doing the pull of the future, focusing on the art of the possible. Where could this go? What are the scenarios? What are the critical scenarios that we need to be considering for various stakeholders putting those in the system? Of course, that includes hosting workshops with our executive leadership to talk about what we are seeing. I think you need to bring them into the process because the platform provides that baseline and that sense of objective, tangible evidence behind the discussions we're having. It will be easier for them to start making decisions when they can see the buildup of evidence and see the clever people behind them. We expect to be doing all of these activities, which, as I'm sure many of our listeners know, is a very daunting task to do foresight. It's an immense amount of work, but the rewards on the back end of it are irreplaceable, right? Shaping your future to a preferred one that you want to be in, there’s no price on that
Chris: I agree with that statement; there can be no price on that. I’d like to hear your last comments on this topic; what kind of long-term vision or long-term goals are you pursuing regarding the accessibility of the platform? Do you plan to open it up to a broader external audience someday, or will it be restricted to governmental institutions or private companies only?
Kara: I am not a big fan of crowdsourcing, and I sit in an unique organization in that we have incredibly insightful subject matter experts that know space deeper than pretty much anybody else. We have a wide variety of them that represents the space industry. That being said, we are also very prone to group thinking, right? It's equally essential to grab external perspectives and expertise to help round out our review. We have already been doing this, but we probably will have more formal programs to bring in those external contributors. We're going to vet them very well, and they're going to be part of our broader team to help us bring in that insight. I also foresee that it will be necessary for us to reach out to every stakeholder who wants to change for the better and work with them almost on a one-on-one basis. Hopefully, over time in my current role, we will start bringing those stakeholders together, which is our ultimate goal because we want to remove the stovepipe approaches we've been taking.
Chris: Kara, we're already progressed far into our interview. Let's take one step back and return to the bigger picture again and focus more on space since most of our listeners won’t have any experience with that. I think they'd be highly interested in your opinion on that. How do you see the commercialization of space change in the next five to ten years? What kind of challenges do we have to face and what impact will it have on us as human beings?
Kara: That is like the trillion-dollar question, which many argue will be the future commercial marketplace. There are real challenges in access to space and the enduring complexities until we change that paradigm. The good news is that space advancements haven’t slowed it down too much during the pandemic. The investments are still there, and technical progress is still being made. That, to me, is a very good sign. I'm a little worried about maybe some of the long-term external implications from the pandemic that might have on funding and that might end up trickling into the venture capitalists that have been propping up. Of course, the defense and government budgets have also been helping to move some of that progress along in the commercial sector. That's from a financial standpoint, and that's what I have on my radar. However, for now, things are looking pretty good. There are a lot of exciting things happening in the near term. We're seeing this big push for increased LEO, Low Earth Orbit, to set up these massively distributed networks. I think it's vital for us to understand how quickly that will be set up over the next year or two. What is all of that going to be providing to humanity? Well, it means you're going to have seamless communication pretty much around the globe. That will vary by location, but it's going to be much better than it ever was. And there's going to be people who have access to the internet that never had access to it. These systems are starting to be integrated, like other platforms and sensors, and they're starting to talk to each other and get smart about real-time tasking. I think the other examples will revolve around climate change within the environment. We're going to need much more innovative ways to understand how our climate is changing. Hopefully, we can start healing our planet by understanding how we can overcome and help mitigate these issues. I look at those as really great opportunities. There are other more well-known examples. Let's look at Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos with their tech companies, and let's assume whatever they are doing in Silicon Valley is successful. The whole premise behind that is to make that next step to go to the Moon or Mars, right? If they're successful, that is. That is a fascinating one-off question for us to ask. Let me tell you that the track record has been pretty good with some of these folks, right? I'm just constantly saying, wow. Some individuals set their hearts to something and never stop. They never said no. Take SpaceX, for example; that company has been very successful recently. Elon is most likely going to do it again with Starlink. I certainly hope he's successful in getting to Mars because I think that could have some fascinating implications for the commercial industry and humanity in space.
Chris: Now that we're going into space and expanding humanity into it one step at a time, what would you think would be different in space than on Earth?
Kara: Well, number one: We should be practicing foresight. We should be treating resources with the respect that is due to them. We are all made of stardust, and whether that's on Earth or in space, we should be leveraging that moving forward. Let's get realistic. We will take the same problems we have here on Earth and bring them to space. However, wouldn't it be great if we could do it differently?
I would say we need to be treating space, even though it's a vast place, with the care diligence it deserves. The things that are happening with debris in low Earth orbit, we have to clean that up. We need to be treating that as natural resources. On the flip side, I think SpaceX can provide a unique lens. Ask any astronaut who has viewed Earth from space, and they will tell you they have never considered their home the same. I believe that we can leverage those perspectives as we travel farther and farther out in space and bring that home to understand how important and valuable our home is to us as humans.
Chris: Just one last question occurred to me before we wrap this interview up, and it may be a personal one. With all that you do these days at the Aerospace Corporation, what does it all mean for future generations, for you but also your children?
Kara: It has been kind of a wild ride in my personal life. In the last year and a half, my father recently passed away, and he was my biggest champion, a massive advocate for space. I became a mother for the first time, and then we had the pandemic. I think the silver lining in all of these great circle of life events is that you realize that we have a limited time on Earth, and what you do with your time is precious. Everything that I do in work, I want to make sure that I'm truly making a difference for future generations of my company, for my children and their children. I think it's helped me. I've always been passionate about that, but becoming a mom has made me double down on the importance of foresight for humanity since we are moving from the industrial age to the intelligence age. We have to have and bring in the human aspect to the things around us. Otherwise, technology is going to swallow us whole. I don't want my child living in that world. I want her to live in an abundant world, and I think we can get there, and people are starting to wake up. I think that's the silver lining. I think of the pandemic as a tool to strengthen our capabilities and help us build a better world. Of course, having tools like a digital platform can help us expedite and get there.
Chris: I think that is a perfect ending for this interview. Kara, thank you very much for this super exciting conversation. Take care once again. Thanks a lot for your time. And anybody interested in looking at the map that Kara has created, just visit Aerospace’s website. Kara, again, thanks so much. Have a good one and take care.
Kara: Thanks for having me. Take care.
Chris: Thank you. Bye-bye.
This was Innovation Rockstar Kara Cunzeman from Aerospace in conversation with ITONICS CCO Chris Mühlroth on how important dreams and creativity are for successful strategic foresight, the fine line between foresight and prediction and the future development of the commercialization of space and its role for us humans. The video of this podcast together with the FUTURE PATHFINDER'S GUIDE MAP as well as further exciting podcast episodes can be found on our Innovation Rockstar Podcast site.
About the authors
Dr. Christian Mühlroth is the host of the Innovation Rockstars podcast and CEO of ITONICS. Kara Cunzeman is the Senior Project Lead for Strategic Foresight for the Center for Space Policy & Strategy.
The Innovation Rockstars podcast is a production of ITONICS, provider of the world’s leading Operating System for Innovation. Do you also have an inspiring story to tell about innovation, foresight, strategy or growth? Then shoot us a note!
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