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Featured image: Navigating Tomorrow's World: Insights into Futures Studies

Navigating Tomorrow's World: Insights into Futures Studies

Daria (Dasha) Krivonos, CEO

"The future is always important but never urgent."

In this episode, we step into the world of foresight and future studies by introducing you to Daria (Dasha) Krivonos, CEO of the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies.

We kick things off with a glimpse into what the institute is all about, setting the stage for an exploration of how the field of future studies can be a guiding compass for both organizations and societies. Together with Daria, we dive deep into the intricacies of navigating today's complex global challenges and rapid technological advances, all while considering the central role of AI in shaping our future. Further, we uncover Daria's journey to leading the Futures Studies Institute and gain valuable insights into her leadership style when steering diverse teams.

Join us for an enlightening episode as Daria takes us on a journey through the importance of understanding the future in an ever-changing world.

Below you will find the full transcript for the episode.

Chris: Hi and welcome back to Innovation Rockstars. My name is Chris Mühlroth, and I have a fantastic guest with me today. I have Daria or Dasha Krivonos. I hope I got that right, and I'll pronounce it correctly. Dasha is the CEO of the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies, which is a multidisciplinary think tank and a consultancy. She's of course an absolute expert in all things future studies and strategic foresight, and also a board member and advisor for several companies. So quite a lot going on. Thank you for your time. It's a pleasure to have you on the show, Dasha.

Daria (Dasha): Well, thank you for having me.

Chris: All right. And as always in this podcast, it has already become a habit. We do have a 60-second introduction sprint. That sprint is all about you, your career, and your current role. So for the next 60 seconds, the virtual stage is all yours. Let's go, Dasha.

Daria (Dasha): Well, I think this is difficult. And I know I've seen the questions before, but still, I think my career more than anything speaks to the future we're heading into, if I have to be honest. So it's coincidental but amazing. What I mean by that is I started to pick an area, I'm an economist by background, a classical economist. And I've done everything from risk in a global company, working across nine different industries, 130 countries, I've done macro modeling of trade routes, commodities, and so on. Then quite by chance I came across the Institute and joined them as a consultant for a couple of months. And then again, somehow things worked out in such a way that I ended up taking over as CEO. I've been doing that for five years now. So I think my current role is a very humbling role because I get to work with a lot of very, very different people. And I know we'll come back to that in a minute. But I think I have spent 10 years perfecting my discipline. And then I've spent the last five coming to terms with the fact that it's not the most important discipline in the world, and perhaps learning from some of the most interesting people I've ever met, but also being in the privileged position of being able to set the stage and the direction for the Institute.

Chris: Yeah, that's interesting. And maybe just to get to know you a little bit better. What I also want to do is give you three sentence starters. So what I would ask you to do is to complete these quite simple sentence starters. And it's completely up to you whether you answer long, short, fast, or slow. But let's see what happens. The first sentence starter is Artificial General Intelligence. So AGI is…

Daria (Dasha): Artificial General Intelligence is several things. First of all, I think it is hyped. What I mean by that is that people confuse it with general AI. And of course, I think that's a very dangerous mistake. The second part is, I think, reading the experts, and I'm not an expert, I think it's divisive. I mean, it divides the experts on whether it's going to be here in a couple of years or never or something, you know, it's hard to understand. And I think the last thing: it is a complete game changer. And I think we're underestimating the impact, the potential impact on society and us as a species. So I don't want to sound alarmist, but I think that while we're discussing it as a fascinating technology, I think we're failing to think through the ultimate impact it might have on who we are, our way of life, and we're missing a golden opportunity to steer it for the better.

“I think we're underestimating the impact of AI, the potential impact on society and us as a species. While we're discussing it as a fascinating technology, we're failing to think through the ultimate impact it might have on who we are, our way of life, and we're missing a golden opportunity to steer it for the better.”

Chris: I think there is a great sense of urgency. I agree. And I guess one way that OpenAI specifically tries to help with that is that they have deliberately decided to release iterations towards a possible AGI early to everybody, right? So that's why they're constantly releasing the GPT models and also releasing ChatGPT as a user interface. From their point of view, it's easier to understand and grasp what this might mean for us and to us if we see it develop over time and can use it, rather than being confronted with it at some point when it's available, perhaps as a surprise. Interesting discussion, but I agree with your position on that. And the second sentence starter would be a futurist.

Daria (Dasha): A futurist is a professional explorer of possible outcomes. It's someone who makes a living asking what if. Right? Not what we're going to do about it, not then, but it's someone who keeps asking what if, day in, day out. And it's someone willing to consider future paths that may not necessarily feel very good, but as long as they're plausible, you have to keep asking what if. So it's someone who can build several different plausible futures, all underpinned by knowledge data and trends, but they can be quite different. And someone who doesn't shy away from that, regardless of how those trajectories make you feel.

Chris: Yeah. That's a very nice explanation. Maybe the most succinct I've heard so far. Because I think there are a lot of misconceptions about it. Right. So maybe we can come back to that later. Very interesting. And sentence number three starts like this: To start my days right, I...

Daria (Dasha): I leave my phone far away from where I sleep. It's a new thing, and I know it's not a new thing for other people, but it's a relatively new thing for me. So, you know, we're all, you know, our work lives are drifting into our private lives. The phones are an amazing tool, but it's also, it's a trap. So I climbed Kilimanjaro this summer, and I know a lot of people have done it, so it's not like it's, I mean, it was quite an achievement for me, but it's not Everest. But more than anything, it's seven or eight days without being connected to anything because there's no signal. And the first few days are scary, but then you get used to it. And then when you come down from the mountain, you're actually not. Uh, it feels like it's interfering with some kind of mental peace that you've found. So you open your apps, and you see that people are texting you, how's the mountain, you know, friends got divorced while we were up there, etc. So I've actually piggybacked on this detox and taken the phone out of my bedroom. So for me the first thing in the day, right since this summer it's waking up to an old-fashioned alarm clock that we bought, and waking up and taking in what's going on around me, even if it's just for 30 seconds, and not necessarily reaching for my phone, checking the news, checking my emails, etc. So that's how I start my day. 

Chris: Which has become a habit for most, right? That's the thing.

Daria (Dasha): But if it's not within reach, it's not possible. And it's magic. It's a completely different way to wake up your brain.

Chris: Probably a better one and a more healthy one, to be honest, of course.

Daria (Dasha): Maybe not the answer you expected, but that's good to hear.

The Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies

Chris: Well, there were no expectations at all. So absolutely. Can you tell me more about the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies? What does it do?

Daria (Dasha): I would love to, and thank you for asking. First of all, we're a very old think tank. So we sound like a public institution, but we're not. So I guess it originally was given that name to give it some weight and credibility, but we're 54 years old. And it's funny to be bragging about history when you work with the future, but it says something about our approach, which means we never say anything for certain, or we try not to at least. But we work with megatrends, we work with these long-term trajectories, which means we're hardly ever wrong because we never say anything specific, but it's about, now we're roughly 30 people, give and take. And between us, we have 19 different professional backgrounds. We have roughly 11 nationalities. And of course, that means that more than anything, we are this melting pot of views of the world. And again, this is just a moment in time, right? So your profession is a label, and your nationality is a label. And behind that, there's nine, there are 30 different pathways to where we are now. So people bring all of their experience. And I think we're a place where if you're young, we're going to we're going to benefit from your youth. If you've been there for a long time, we're going to benefit from your experience. If you're from a small country, you're going to be stress tested on whether we're only doing things from our part of the world, etc. So it's a place that thinks outside the box. I sometimes call it the CERN of trends. And what I mean by that is like a particle collider. So if I as an economist, I would throw out an idea and say, you know, I think the world is going to go this way, given the geopolitics, you know, I will stay within my métier. But then it's going to collide with a sociologist, it's going to collide with a historian, and the philosopher is going to have a go. And then through all of these colliders, in the end, we're going to shape a more credible vision for what this particular trajectory could mean. Because then it has been challenged by how is society going to respond, it has been challenged by the young people saying, The next generation is not going to perceive it that way, etc., etc. So the Institute is an NGO. We are an independent think tank. We're fully self-funded, completely independent of anything. And we are an intellectual playground. And we are basically a trend collider, just like CERN, but with brains and ideas.

Chris: And I think that's very interesting. You mentioned at the beginning that you have a strong business background, right? And I guess a lot of your team at the institute is very creative. As you mentioned, very diverse, with many different backgrounds, and many different labels, as you said. So now in the role of your CEO and given your background, what's your view and your key learnings in leading such a diverse team at the MD Institute? What are your strongest learnings from that?

“If you're discussing something very complex and people agree too soon, that means somebody's lying or somebody's missing.”

Daria (Dasha): Oh, there are so many. I think first of all, as I said, I come from a big company. I came from one of the biggest companies in Denmark, a world leader in its field. So Maersk is still the biggest shipping company in the world. So of course I came up with a perception of how things should be and what are the right disciplines, what is important, and so on. And so the first thing I learned was that my discipline, while not inferior, was quite narrow. So this whole expert problem, which I've often mentioned in my lectures, is how experts don't know what they don't know. So the best thing you can do with them is to expose them to experts in something completely different. And say there's, you know, there are different ways of doing things. So my first lesson was that there's no one discipline in the world that can have a credible view of what the future will look like. Because the fewer people you ask and the more certain they are, the more wrong you are. That was a lesson. And I come from a world where I had to forecast long-term models and so on. So that was a learning. The second part is that if, and I use this too, we have these cognitive biases, that if you're discussing something very complex and people agree too soon, that means somebody's lying or somebody's missing. Right? So you always have to. Of course, if you're discussing something that needs to be done next week, maybe it's easy, you know, you get there or something. But if you're discussing what the world's going to be like in 10 years, you'd better disagree. So as uncomfortable as it is to be in a leadership position, to have people disagree with you sometimes, day in and day out, all day long, disagree with each other. So the more difficult it is for me to make a decision based on dialogue, the better the dialogue we've had. And then, of course, I mean, just on a personal note, because this is still a bit of a personal conversation, for me to lead so many different people, it's tapping into very old, I mean, different parts of my personality, my leadership style. Some of these parts I didn't even have, they've had to be developed and trained throughout because these people are so different to me. When you come from a corporate world, there's still a profile, right? So you may be different, and you may look different and, you know, have different favorite foods, but you will have commonalities in your profiles. There are a lot of very different people here. So I think being in a leadership position is probably the most challenging but also the most rewarding thing I've ever done because it forces me to develop features that I didn't have and really sharpen the ones that were being asked for.

Future: Important but not urgent

Chris: How interesting that you use the word features, but maybe that's for another conversation. In an earlier conversation, you said something that stuck with me. You said that the future is always important, but never urgent. And that's interesting. What do you mean by that?

“The future is always important, but never urgent.”

Daria (Dasha): Well, actually, I meant exactly that. So the last time we talked, we kind of went into my background a little bit more. I think, remember, I think we also talked about that kid's brainteaser, right? Let's say you're in a race and you pass the second guy. What number are you in the race? And the answer is that you're still second in the race. I mean, and that's what happens all the time with the future. And I'm basing that on the conversations I've had with my former employer. In some of the most senior management teams, meetings, and so on. And I ran the enterprise risk team for four and a half years. So, so risk shares this characteristic with the future that it's extremely important. But I could see from the time spent in meetings and management attention and so on. It was never really urgent. It was always put off to another day or, you know, we've got to discuss something at length. So we're going to shorten the time for risk and so on. And the future shares that feeling or that feature, because every time you would discuss the future, and then what everybody would agree that it's extremely important, we need to know where we are in 10 years, where are these quarterly results, or we have this incident in a factory, If you have factories, or, you know, so it always has to give up first place to something else that needs to be discussed, that needs to be decided, and it's going to take up management attention, but it stays important until it's suddenly urgent, but it's because it's not the future anymore, then it hits you as the present. So it's always important. Everybody says it's important, but it's never treated as something urgent.

Chris: I think you could say similar things about a discipline where we are very much at home, which is innovation and innovation management. We see similar developments. Why do you think there is so little urgency about that future? I mean, sure, yes, there is. I agree. And, you know, Eisenhower matrix, important and urgent. And then you say, OK, sure, it's always important. It's never urgent. What do you think is the reason for that? Because it's not tangible, because it's happening anyway. Why is it not urgent?

Daria (Dasha): Well, I think it's several things. First of all, people tend to overrate change in the short term and underestimate it in the long term. So it's this, we always feel that it's not that bad. You know, it's sometime in the future, we think we disconnect from our future selves. But this thing right here is right now, right? So again, if I have to run a marathon a year from now, I'll keep pushing the preparation because, you know, I have a year. So that's the second bit. With the future, we feel like we still have time to respond, but this here and now, calls for action right now. The problem is, that resources are a zero-sum game. So if you spend them now, you're not going to spend them in the future. It's just as simple as that. So you need to be very, very structured and very disciplined about allocating time to address something that remains 10 years out in the future. Because if you don't do it now, it's going to be nine years, then eight years, and then suddenly it's going to make it to the urgent, but then it's too late. So I think, it's not lack of will, but it's a little bit like risk. So unless it happens, it's invisible. And you can all agree, oh, we hope this is not going to happen. But it's an invisible gain that is somewhere out in the future. And we have a hard time connecting with it emotionally and especially allocating the proper time to do it.

Chris: What we are seeing more and more in the private sector is new roles coming up called foresight managers or corporate foresight managers or things like that, which I think is a good step, maybe even a good step in the right direction. But then, you know, they tend to be in the job for maybe a year or two, maybe three, depending on the company and the speed of change or the rate of change for that company. And then they run into problems in proving and communicating the value of the role. Because it's, you know, they also tend not to position themselves because sometimes it's just not possible, you know, in one way or another, they create options, they open up possible future trajectories like this could happen or that could happen, but obviously, the business has to decide, so product management or technology or R&D or whoever has to decide. Yes, they're seen as internal consultants, maybe as advisors, but for example in times when the economy is contracting to a certain extent, which we're seeing now in 2023, it's sometimes hard for them to justify their impact and influence in the now, which is exactly what we've just been discussing. Do you see the same thing when you're working with private companies, or is it different from your point of view?

Daria (Dasha): No. I think absolutely. And I was also, so we had an interview in one of the biggest Danish dailies this summer, and I was asked, so, you know, in light of COVID and Ukraine and all that, do you feel that people are more ready for change? Are they more vigilant? You know, are they? And frankly, and again, this is a personal opinion, but the senior CXOs that I talk to sometimes or work with, there seems to be a paradox that there's uncertainty fatigue. So rather than being more vigilant, people are like, can we please just go back to normal? So I think it is the same thing. So the people who are working with the long term have a really hard time getting through to whoever it is because you have to sort of prove your worth now. But it's, and this is where it says that risk management shares that function is like, yeah, but how do you measure something that hasn't happened? Right. So you know, we avoided all these risks, but yeah, yeah. But you know what if you never know? So all things being equal doesn't work in the real world, right? You can't measure these things. And I can see that the futurologists have the same problem. But I have to be honest, a bit like risk, it also depends on where you embed it in the organization because it can be a failure by design. And I have the greatest respect for people who work with law and lawyers. But the moment you put risk management under the legal structure, under the CEO for example, then legal, you know, it becomes compliance, it becomes a checklist. It's passive, basically making sure you're compliant with something, it's, I'm not going to say it's unambitious because it's not fair to the people who do all the hard work, but it's not proper risk management. Right. Then you're just checking a process. You're not looking at the risk. I used to be in shipping, and one of our competitors, one of their ships broke in half, but it was fully compliant with the class requirements. So there's a difference between compliance and sufficiency. And I think that's what some of the practitioners of foresight also come up against, is, yeah, we, you know, you're somewhere in a structure that's going to call you when we need you, so to speak. And yeah, oh, that's going to happen in 10 years, but we're looking at investment in three months. So thank you. So I think it's with the best of intentions, but it's that the organizations haven't matured to fully realize the value of these people or these roles. And then they just run, they run out of steam before they even start, which is a shame.

Chris: It is certainly with the best of intentions, of course. But there are two things. One is, can we get back to normal? We've seen that in a lot of different conversations, but we also have to be honest, there's not going to be the old normal. That's gone. It will never come back. Um, and what we're seeing right now, despite maybe some economic endings, sure, I agree, but you know, that's normal. Um, times of prosperity and then times of contraction are super normal. That is normal. Um, if you just have a short-term horizon and look at maybe two, three, five years because that's what your contract is for. Well, yeah. Then maybe you're not so, you know, used, you're not used to these waves. Um, but that's normal. Um, and maybe the amplitude is different. I agree, but that's actually what's normal. And that's one thing. And the second thing is, based on the conversations you have, what do you think is the best, or where have you seen foresight practitioners positioned most effectively in an organization from an organizational design perspective?

Daria (Dasha): Well, I think, of course, if you have a visionary CEO, I mean, someone who has to look beyond the numbers - and again, I've worked in the finance department for 10 years, so it's not at all neglecting that -  but if you want to make proper use of foresight, you need to disconnect the whole P&L thing, at least for a little bit. You need to be able to entertain qualitative discussions. And that doesn't happen in a CFO track. That is all you need to turn it into some sort of either a revenue or cash flow or, you know, which are fair disciplines. But this is about considering things that haven't happened yet and may never happen, but you need to be ready for them. So I think the first thing you can do is remove the constraints of having to deliver on something right here, right now. So I would guess the CEO track is probably the better track because this is someone who's supposed to be thinking wider. The second thing I would probably... I guess my take would be that it should have some sort of connection to the board, because the board is actually stewards of the longevity of a company, right? So even the CEO still has to deliver every month, every quarter, every year, while the board transcends that both in there, I mean, the terms that they serve, and they usually work across different CEOs, right, in time. So I'd probably have a dotted line, or some sort of conversations on the board level because these are the stewards of the broader future of a company. So yeah, I think that would be the biggest success factor. And I think you need the mandate, and you need very articulated support from the top saying we believe this, this role adds value, and they should be in the room, even though they're not going to give you the best guess of, you know, whack or discounted rates for anything over the next three months.

“You need some sort of conversations on the board level because these are the stewards of the broader future of a company.”

Chris: Yeah, to the board, that's very interesting. That's a very interesting perspective. And, you know, we've got so much going on at the same time basically right now. We've just mentioned the global challenges. You name it, you get it. Climate change, political instability, inflation going wild for some time, the substantial increase in monetary supply, and so on and so on. And of course, now we have the AI or maybe the even more advanced AGI discussions. But there are also other technological advancements aside from AI. It's just hyped right now. From what you've seen, and you've worked across a lot of industries, a lot of organizations, probably a lot of leaders too, how would you say that future studies can help organizations, and then at the broader scale, maybe also society, prepare and adapt? Because yes, it's plausible futures, it's plausible trajectories, but how does it help you actually to be prepared for that new future when it hits?

Daria (Dasha): Well, I have a lot of colleagues who have only done foresight, and they're really, really good at it as a discipline. So the shortcomings that I have in foresight as a discipline I hopefully make up for because I can bring it into the real world from the corporate side. So I think what futurology does more than anything else is it challenges your wishful thinking. And it shines a light on the blind spots. So it forces people to move away from a preferred future, because no matter what we do, even if you invite the risk team into the conversation, which people rarely do, I mean, when I left I was told that behind our backs we were called the business preventing office, which is not really fair. But I think what future studies have been able to do, what foresight can do, is to force every decision maker to consider and imagine an outcome other than what they're planning for and say, okay, this is great because usually most companies fall in love with the future, they plan for it, and very quickly they switch to an internal focus, like what do we need to do, what system should we have in place to capture all of this, and who should we employ, and so on. So they completely forget about the external environment. So I think it forces you to think about what needs to be true. And I think that's the most important part of the conversation. It's not about how many headquarters you have to have or where it should be. I mean, when you fall in love with a trajectory, you put yourself, you know, you decide on a strategy, you park the strategy. And then in that environment, you close your eyes, basically go into a room together, and say, OK, let's be honest, and let's describe what needs to be true in the external environment for this to be successful. And very quickly you find out that there's, so I try to break it down in two ways.

“What futurology does more than anything else is it challenges your wishful thinking. And it shines a light on the blind spots. So it forces people to move away from a preferred future.”

So there will be three different things that have to be true. And there are going to be pillars that support this journey for you, right? And you'll really, you'll quickly realize that some of these developments you can control. Some of them are external market developments. If you're a big player, you might actually be able to influence the market with some things. Then there are a bunch of things that you can't control, but you have a pretty good idea where they're going. You know, like some of the megatrends. And then there will be a big set of assumptions that you can't control. And if you're honest with yourself, you really have no idea where they're going. That's the one dissection. So first of all you have to be honest about these three groups and say some things we can control, some things we can't, but we can map them. And the last part is basically it's just wishful thinking. And you have to be vigilant when it starts to move away from what you wanted it to be. The second way to dissect it is that most strategies, most visions of the future, assume three different things without knowing it. They assume that some things will continue to evolve, you know, whether it is technology or urbanization. So some things will have to evolve. There will be some things that they will have to stop developing, which is a little bit, and I'll give you an example in a minute. And it's very, it's an unconscious thing. And then you have to check yourself and say, okay, how realistic is it that whatever this trend was is going to be stopped? Last but not least, some things actually have to go backward. And then you can also sit down and check yourself. So I would say if you're Tesla or whoever, so if you're putting all your eggs in the electric vehicle basket, you're going to need the battery development to continue and hopefully peak and, you know, progress or not peak but progress. You're going to need hydrogen development to stop because that's, that's basically the competition, right? Maybe we'll have hydrogen cars, and you've got to, uh, the next generation goes back to sharing and using public transport, you've got to go back to who we were and buying four vehicles per household, right? So if you're an electric vehicle manufacturer, there are actually things that you have to develop, things that you have to stop developing, and there are things that you have to go backward on. That's something that people rarely think about, but they should, because how realistic is it that something is going to stop? And how realistic is it for something to go backward? If you're a dictator, you want democracy to come back. Right, again, so your whole strategy is based on something regressing, but we never really discuss it in the open. And I think that's what foresight can do. It can force you to look at these things in these categories and then think about what you should be looking out for.

Chris: It's interesting because right now in society the discussion around artificial intelligence implies that it's going to go on and on and on. But I rarely see discussions about what if it doesn't. What if, and maybe for some capacity reasons, not because the algorithms are there, but maybe just because we are going to reach a natural limit of processing power, graphics units, and whatever it runs on? And personal disclaimer: I think it's going to be a huge change. It's already having a tremendous change in everything and every area of life, including business, right? But what if not? And the discussion is geared towards, yeah, we're going to be facing AGI pretty soon. So let's talk about universal basic income because there won't be any jobs. And we're kind of assuming that that's the, maybe not even the preferable, but the only way this is going, and maybe the majority of the public discussion is going in that direction. So you would, for example, step in and say, well, there are different outcomes that this could have, and have you ever considered them before?

The role of AI in future studies

Daria (Dasha): And that's exactly it. So we would present alternatives to the trajectories that people are imagining now. And I think it's funny you say that. And that's the thing. So first of all, again, I'm not an engineer. So the little I know, I know from the popular literature, again, so people who don't work with this daily, they don't know what AGI is, what it could mean. But everybody's like, yeah, it's going to be here any minute now. The scary part is we're seeing And if I can step back a little bit to the technology discussion, I think for me, I think we're being naive about technology. What I mean by that is, we keep moving the goalpost. You know, when Deep Blue beat Kasparov, everybody was shocked. There's this famous picture. You see all these, I'm going to say tech or chess enthusiasts, nerds in the background. They're like, whoa, oh my God, he lost the return match. But we move the goalpost saying, okay, chess is just one discipline. Then it, you know, machines could, then they pass the Turing test and, you know, Okay, fine. That's not intelligence, either. And now we're seeing the next versions of open AI or the language models. I mean, the experts are saying we're seeing some sort of sentient thought, or it's reflecting on, I don't want to die, or the Google people who left. And we keep saying, yeah, but it's just an algorithm. And that makes me question, then what are we? I mean, We have no idea how neural networks work, so maybe we're going to miss the moment when it's here because we keep telling ourselves that's not it, you know, we don't recognize it for what it is. So I have a concern that we're being naive, and we keep moving the goalposts on something, you know, I'm not a believer, but, if Jesus came back today, for real, he'd end up in a mental asylum, because that's how we would greet him, like, you're what? We can help you with this, you know. So I think we keep changing our vision for what AGI will be, which means it could easily arrive here in a month, and we wouldn't even know. We keep saying, oh, but that's not really it. So that was a little bit of a deviation, but that's back to your question saying, for now. And I agree with you that some of some said, you know, it's going to take over everything. But there's been my challenge with the AI discussion, maybe exactly because I'm not a tech expert in layman's terms, at least in Denmark, and in Scandinavia, I think it's been polarized for at least we wasted the first seven, eight months, and we can say happy birthday to AI in the general public now, right? Because it's about a year ago. Yes. Maybe it's very, maybe it'll be symbolic too, to write to actually light a candle for different reasons. But the discussion has been paperclip, so we're all going to die. It's going to turn all of us, any carbon atom it's going to find will be turned into a paperclip. And then there are the other ones, which are going to solve everything. And all we need to do is figure out what to do with our lives so we don't get depressed because we have nothing to do. I think the real world is going to be somewhere in the middle. But we've wasted so much time being either scared or utopically excited that we didn't get to discuss this, not properly. So I think the main trajectory that I would like people to consider now is actually what happens in between. So rather than do the extremes, say, what can AI do? What will be its pathway through society? Because imagine it's a river. How is it going to flow through society, in education, in social elements in work, in health, in public administration? So just let these rivers run and see how we actually see them making their way through it and what impact are they going to have throughout.

“The real world is going to be somewhere in the middle between being scared and utopian excitement. So the main trajectory I want people to think about is actually what happens in between. So rather than focussing on the extremes, what can AI do?”

Chris: I mean, you know, being human and humans are attracted to fantastic stories, right, the extreme stories. So I attribute that at least to the question of why it's doom or utopia. So that's certainly a factor. But what would you say from your perspective, what role will AI play in future studies or maybe even foresight?

Daria (Dasha): You see, I was thinking about it when we discussed it, when I saw the question because I fell into the trap of saying it will be something we will be applying foresight on, right? So what I mean by that is that we're going to use our discipline to explore how is it going to impact society. It's not going to impact us, really. And then I was thinking about it like, OK, now I'm falling into the same trap as everybody else. I'm not really considering what if for us. So I can see we are going to have to use it as a tool, for sure, because others will. We're going to have to find the edge it doesn't have because there are many things it can do that we do now, no doubt. If you do it right, I mean, it's like, no, I can't make rap music, but, you know, I can, with the help of AI, I can actually make rap music. It's not going to be as good as the original, but it's, you know, it will be out there, which means people now can do Foresight without us. So we need to consider this critical angle of how we then add value. So it's going to impact our work because it can replace a lot of our work. And I have to be honest and say it can. I know people keep saying, I think it's more story we tell ourselves that, you know, it's not creative. It doesn't have original thought, but God knows we all know a lot of people, including ourselves, who don't have original thought.

Chris: I mean, thanks for saying that. That's exactly my opinion, too. Yeah. That's 100% my opinion.

Daria (Dasha): Good, because sometimes people are like, yeah, but at least we can... I'm like, really? I mean, if you listen to pop music today, really?

Chris: Is that original?

Daria (Dasha): Is it just... I mean, we know what rhythm works. We know, you know, what videos work and... It's not. Exactly. So I think it will affect our work. No doubt. It can do a lot of what we do, at least in terms of processing, and of course, it will create more work. Because again, as you said, this is one of the big unknowns. And if you had talked to me in October last year or maybe even mid-November last year, I would have said I don't think technology changes much in the world, period. And I would be very unpopular for saying that because I'm a futurist. I should be thinking about cyborgs and flying cars. And we've always talked about flying cars. Every time we talk about the future, we go to science fiction. Science fiction is very often about technology. And I sometimes jokingly say that anyone with a pacemaker is a cyborg. I mean, they have arrived. Let's just accept it. So until recently, I would probably say that technology is a force multiplier and very few technologies have changed the world. Yes, I can FaceTime everyone now, but there are still relatives in the US that I never talk to because no technology in the world makes me miss them more. The technology is there, but the communication is not until AI comes along. So AI will be something we'll be working with to explore what it will do to social structures, businesses, etc. But it's also something that's going to work with us because it's going to affect the way we work and the fact that a lot of what we do can be replaced.

Chris: And for the foreseeable future, I think it would be interesting to understand how it's progressing, for example, in future studies and foresight tasks. At least I'm not aware of any study, which could be qualitative or maybe even quantitative, it doesn't matter, that compares the output, the results, maybe even the creativity in those areas, in future studies, and foresight areas. I've seen some other studies where an AI and basically just a big language model, to be honest, has already outperformed the human creativity of what they call an average human, whatever an average human is, to be fair. I mean, none of us are average humans, right? But in this study, they had to do it. and cluster these groups. And yeah, it actually came up with more distinct and more original ideas than the largest group and then the average group of people in that study, which is interesting. So I don't know if we can still say that creativity is the thing and the ability of humans alone. But certainly, we'll have to see. I agree.

Daria (Dasha): I would say, I mean, I know we treat creativity as a divine quality or some kind of divine gift, which is, I mean, outside of Mozart and so on. Yeah. That would be, if I was a believer, I would say it's divine because you just can't explain where it comes from. But for the rest of it, it's a very nice evolutionary ability to say, hmm, how should I use this rock to crack a nut? I mean, that's creativity. That's basically connecting things in the brain that aren't normally connected and saying how can I do this differently? So I live very close to the water, which is fantastic, but I've seen seagulls drop shells from high up on the pavement to make sure they break. So that's pretty creative, isn't it? So we're not, it's not unique to us in that sense. So I would say creativity is a very, very nice ability to do things in a way that hasn't been done before, but based on pre-existing knowledge, except for these glitches in nature, we get Mozart, Einstein, and so on. But the rest of it is just a way of combining existing knowledge and experience in new ways.

Chris: And animals do it, I mean. Animals do it. And to be honest, when we talk about mathematics and physics and all that stuff, we didn't invent it, we just discovered it. So, you know, that's the thing. And yeah, this is going to take us in a completely different direction. And I want to make sure that we don't go down that road in this episode, we're coming to the end of this episode, but we actually have a new tradition on this podcast, which is that the previous guest leaves a question for the next guest without knowing who my next guest is and what we're going to talk about. And the previous guest has left you with the following question. The question is: what was your career aspiration as a child, and why?

Daria (Dasha): Yeah. I'm just thinking. I think when I was a kid, I was really into technical stuff. So it was never a conscious thing. But I think the moment I became conscious, I wanted to do something completely different. I was born in the Soviet Union. And I was born at a time when commercial flying was not normal. So people didn't fly very much, which means that if someone in your family was going to fly, you'd put on nice clothes and the whole family would go to the airport to see you off. And there would be tears. And then when they arrived, they would all want to meet you and there would be tears again. As crazy as it sounds, well, you asked me, I always wanted to work in an airport because of all the emotion. And it didn't really matter what I was doing, it was the engineering part. I think I've always wanted to do something with engineering and airports.

Chris: That's fair. At least you had some career aspirations as a kid, to be fair. Interesting. Okay. And when you look back on your career so far, with all the sums that you've experienced, not necessarily, and only in quotes, within the Institute, what would you say has been your biggest Innovation Rockstar moment so far?

Daria (Dasha): So my biggest rock star moment, to stay with the actual word rock star. I think I played an amazing concert, if you like, with a microphone that wasn't on. What I mean by that is in my previous life with risk, we did a big study on large vessels. So at the moment the biggest ships, container ships, they're almost 400 meters long, right? So that is half a kilometer of a ship. It's an amazing machine. And we mapped out a scenario of what would happen if one of our ships got stuck in the Suez Canal and blocked it. And we did, this was before I knew about foresight, really. So we, you know, we had the discipline of saying, we gradually went through a logic of this could happen and that could happen. So basically the Swiss cheese diagram. And then we ended up saying, one of our ships could block one of the main avenues of global trade. And then I came down with my playlist to my colleagues who work with shipping, you know, basically the container liner, and we were, if not left out of the room, then almost. Because they basically asked me, have you ever been on a ship? You don't know anything about it, blah, blah, blah. So it was like, but I've got this playlist and it's amazing. But the mic wasn't on because they were going for the guy, the girl, the messenger, saying oh you're corporate, you're young, you've never been on a ship, this can't happen. A few years later, I turned on the news. Luckily it's not a Maersk ship, it's someone else. A ship is blocking the Suez Canal. So I was probably one of the few people who actually had my arms in the air a little bit, just unfairly. So my rock star moment was a quiet moment where we'd done everything right. We'd thought outside the box. We did the risk perspective. We could explain the whole journey of plausible events, but the idea and the message were ignored because of who was delivering it and how little it matched other people's reality. And maybe that's a nice way of going back to what we started with, you have to be able to say what if. You really do, because if you can't deny every plausible step along the way, then you're forced to look at the outcome, no matter how unpleasant it must feel. Because if you don't, you're failing at your job. And sometimes a gut feeling in the boardroom is just the stomach flu.

“We could explain the whole journey of plausible events, but the idea and the message were ignored because of who was delivering it and how little it matched other people's reality.”

Chris: Yeah, it certainly is. That's a great rockstar moment. I'm hesitant to call it an “I told you so” moment. But luckily, it didn't play out for Maersk, but another company. But yeah, congratulations. Probably a very defining moment in the career also from a psychology perspective. And that's it for this episode. Dasha, thanks so much for being my guest. It was a pleasure and a very interesting conversation. Thanks for investing the time.

Daria (Dasha): Thank you so much. It's really been a pleasure.

Chris: And to everybody listening or watching, if you enjoyed this show, simply leave us a comment or drop us an email at Now that's it. Thanks for listening. Take care, everybody, and bye-bye. 

About the authors

Dr. Christian Mühlroth is the host of the Innovation Rockstars podcast and CEO of ITONICS. Daria (Dasha) Krivonos is CEO of the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies.

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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