Stefan Hajkowicz, principal scientist in strategic foresight, CSIRO

Slow down, do less, but achieve more ...

How do we know when the future has arrived? Will it be that day when finally we see someone gliding down the road on a hoverboard? One thing is for certain and that is the future is coming and with it comes change of magnificent proportion. Stefan Hajkowicz is a man who plans to identify what those changes are and how we might cope in the new world. As the principal scientist and Leader of CSIRO Futures, Stefan spends his time thinking about how people make decisions and plan for an uncertain future. He is currently leading a diverse portfolio of research on global food security, the rise of the digital economy, the future of Australian sport, new models for retail and human service delivery. He is also the author of Global Megatrends, a new book that identifies seven patterns of global change, and tells a story about how the world will change over the next 20 years. The Weekend Edition caught up with Stefan to discuss what it means to go back to the future.

Take us back to the beginning. What were you like as a child?
I was the middle of three boys growing up in the inner-west of Brisbane. We spent most of our time outdoors in our backyard and we had lots of wonderful camping holidays. I was pretty shy for much of my youth and never really had much interest in being part of a social clique. I think I was probably an introvert. I did enjoy sport and I really liked science (particularly biology and physics). When I was around 12-years-old, I built a metal detector. I was quite entrepreneurial, and at around the age of five set up a household library and made various attempts to establish an import export business. My favourite subject by far and away was geography. I had a fantastic childhood and am still very close to my brothers and parents. We’re all really good friends.

How did you come to be involved in the field of strategic foresight?
In 2009 I was sat down in a restaurant in Canberra by a senior CSIRO colleague. The restaurant was aptly called Du Juor which translates from French to English as “Trend of the Day”. That’s where we kicked off a project on global megatrends. The search for megatrends was the beginning of an amazing journey for me which is still happening. People are inherently fascinated about the future. The aim is to combine scientific facts and hard evidence with creative and imaginative narratives about what the future holds. Imagining something new, different and better is the beginning of actions which lead to a better future. Albert Einstein famously said “imagination is more important than knowledge”. We need knowledge to create the platform but we need imagination to stretch beyond the existing platform into a new world.

You recently published a book titled Global Megatrends. For those of us who aren’t aware, what exactly is a megatrend?
A megatrend is a pattern of change which builds gradually but gathers momentum and eventually expresses itself with explosive force and completely reshapes the landscape within which we operate. What happened to the film company Kodak during the 1990s and 2000s was a megatrend about digital technology disruption. The same megatrend happened to the age old Swiss mechanical watchmaking industry which lost market share to digital devices. Megatrends typically happen over a decadal time period and occur at the intersection of numerous trends; more specific time-bound patterns of change.

You’ll be presenting at Creative3 on September 18 as part of the Creative3 Masterclass. What can attendees expect to learn on the day?
This is a unique event which brings together entrepreneurs, innovators and business people to form connections and build new products which can build new companies which can build new industries. We really need this in Australia. We need to diversify in the wake of the mining boom and build a new economy for the future.

Can you give us a snapshot of what you think the world will look like in 2035?
There will be a much greater use of auto technology. Artificial intelligence will be common place. Privacy will be a forgotten concept. By then, jobs will have become more interesting and human innovation will be growing faster and continuing to solve the problems for the world. We will have a much greater dependence on technology and a closer connection to technology overall.

How will future megatrends impact business and the creative industries?
The key change will be the shift in the world where the routine is repetitive basically where boring tasks have been replaced, placing greater weight on the creative complex and social interaction.

What do you consider to be the next positive megatrend?
Wealth growth in emerging economies where billions of people escape poverty and develop new economies in new industries. Basically, moving towards the escape from poverty is the next positive megatrend. A billion people in Asia going from the low income bracket to the middle income bracket.

Some say that in the next 20 years a large percentage of employment will be automated. What are your thoughts on the way automation will affect our daily lives?
I think automation will happen. Many of the jobs we do today will be replaced today by robotics because they are more efficient and cheaper. It’s not just about jobs being extinguished; jobs will be created as well. The industrial revolution created more jobs than it took away. Many of these jobs that it removed were unpleasant, difficult and dangerous. The information era will take away many of the routine, repetitive and boring jobs but will create new jobs involving complexity and creativity. The risk is that not everyone makes this transition. This won’t clearly happen across the board. Some people will lose their jobs and not find new ones.

Do you share the concerns of the likes of Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking with respect to artificial intelligence?
I see artificial intelligence as a positive thing. It improves the quality of life that humans enjoy. I’m not worried about the terminator style overtaking of humans by robots. I can’t see a feasible pathway for that but I am worried about the transition from how we live and work today to how we will live and work in the future. It is a rapid transition with uneven impact across society and is not one well understood by governments or industry.

How do you think these future advances and megatrends will shape Australia going forward over the next 20 to 30 years?
Australia has benefited from the mining boom. That’s also made us complacent. The US and European economies have reinvented themselves by necessity arising from the GFC, we did not. We felt nowhere near the same level of pain that they did but our challenges lay ahead. Our proximity to Asia and strong knowledge economy gives us vast opportunities but we are being sluggish to seize these opportunities. The new markets are a source of opportunity but also a source of new competition.

What’s your idea of complete happiness?
Sitting on the back steps of the old people’s home with the knowledge I made the world a better place and all of the things that happened on that journey, and to know that I’ve loved and have been loved in return.

What do you believe is worth fighting for?
Social equality and justice. Despite all of my work on technology, I firmly believe that wealth creation and good quality of life are underpinned by the principles of fairness, equality and justice in society. Where these things exist, human innovation occurs, technology develops, and lifestyles improve.

Do you have any words of wisdom to share with our readers?
Slow down, do less, but achieve more. You live in times of amazing technology but an amazing amount of clutter generated by that technology. You are information rich but also information overloaded. So much of what you need to do is about prioritising and simplifying your life.

Perk-up … 
Soccer in the park in Taringa (we play casual soccer Sundays at 4:00 pm)
Relax …  Hiding under the doona in bed asleep
Dine …  Our back deck on Saturday evening (so long as the mozzies aren’t out)
Catch-up …  
Abode Cafe, Taringa. Great coffee, great community and very alive.
Be inspired … Gallery of Modern Art, South Brisbane


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