8th Layer Insights 2.27.24
Ep 42 | 2.27.24

Frame the Future: The Art of Becoming a Futurist


Perry Carpenter: Hi. I'm Perry Carpenter, and you're listening to 8th Layer Insights. William Gibson is credited with saying, The future is already here. It's just unevenly distributed. That's really the puzzle of our time. Some are living with tomorrow's technology today, while other entire communities are lagging far, far behind. And so the future is here for some. It's just very unevenly distributed. The future is also something that can rapidly change with unforeseen consequences. So now imagine it's 2045. What's different? Jobs? Privacy? Security? How might artificial intelligence evolve? What will protect our data against quantum computers? And how do we safeguard our privacy when everything is connected and people are trading privacy for convenience every day? Maybe at some point cybersecurity will be baked into everyone's daily lives, seamless, invisible, and indispensable. Then maybe not. We've not done well baking security in for decades. And other questions loom large, like what will AI do for us or maybe to us? How do we protect against threats from technologies that do not yet exist? And what's the price of our interconnectedness? Thinking about the future, is it simply about imagining what may come? It's about the how. How do you adopt a forward-looking stance? How do we anticipate the ripple effects of today's decisions? And what's our framework for anticipating the future so that we're not just reacting, we're acting with intent, with strategy, and vision. My guest today is Jeremy Treadwell. Jeremy is one of my favorite people. He's an amazing presenter, a deep thinker, and he has a human-centric focus in everything that he does. In fact, if you've been listening to the show for a while, you very likely recognize his name from previous episodes about creativity and security awareness. Today, I'm bringing you my conversation with Jeremy about -- wait for it -- the future. Well, more specifically, how to think like a futurist. And so, on today's show, framing the future, how we can begin to adopt the mindset of a futurist. Welcome to 8th Layer Insights. This podcast is a multidisciplinary exploration into the complexities of human nature and how those complexities impact everything, from why we think the things that we think to why we do the things that we do and how we can all make better decisions every day. This is 8th Layer Insights, Season 5, Episode 2. I'm Perry Carpenter. Welcome back. Let's dive right into our interview with Jeremy Treadwell. >> Jeremy Treadwell:. My name is Jeremy Treadwell, I am a technology transformation artist, and I focused on understanding the future through human experiences. I want to dig into that first phrase that you used, technology transformation artist. Describe that.

Jeremy Treadwell: The focus for me is through the lens of the human experience, and there are so many facets to that as we talk about your customer experience, your employee experience, citizen experience. How do we engage in technology, and how does technology influence the relationship that we have with corresponding brands and experiences holistically? So my organization, Treadwell Agency, brings the human element to the center of understanding what are the people involved in a process? What are the processes and the steps, and what can be automated through technology and, really, also looking at the holistic experience. How does that make the users feel to ensure that we are able to deliver the most effective outcome for the business, the organization holistically through understanding who is involved from a people perspective.

Perry Carpenter: For you, why is the person important enough to bring and put at the center of that equation?

Jeremy Treadwell: I Think there are a number of factors, and the first one I'll explain is the golden rule. Many different generations and birth cohorts have operated off of the Golden Rule, which is the foundation of our relationships. The Golden Rule simply states, Treat others how you want to be treated. The problem with this, as we enter a stage of multiple generations in the workforce; multiple different definitions of diversity, inclusion, equity, belonging, justice, all of this variances and how we perceive and understand relationships and from a corporate and from a personal standpoint, we need to migrate more towards the platinum rule, which states, Treat others how they want to be treated. The underlying statement there is, I don't know how you want to be treated. Therefore, I need to understand you to understand how you want to be treated. And that is the origin of design-centered thinking and experiences. And I think from my standpoint, as a technologist, and as a futurist, understanding the future of you will help me understand and build ecosystems and industries and economies that will thrive for generations to come.

Perry Carpenter: When we think about the ruts that we've gotten into as a society or even an organization, a lot of that we don't know that the reason why something happens. So as you start to think about breaking forward and going into the future, what are some of the tools that somebody like you has? And maybe even before we get there, talk about what it is to be a futurist and how you got that title. Walk me through that a little bit.

Jeremy Treadwell: Absolutely. So I have been really fascinated by the concept of the future. As, you know, even as a child, I think there are people who were naturally inclined to look to the future. What comes next? What are you building? Where are you going? And that you believe there are others who are, you know, more inclined to understand what has happened, why it has happened, and what were the drivers of that influence and the result of that, right. So there are some people who lean more towards being historians, and there are others I believe, lean more towards being futurists. In my case particularly, there's an organization that I've been tracking called the Institute of the Future. And they have been around since I believe the '70s. They are a fantastic organization based out of California with the sole purpose of understanding the future of certain industries, the future of certain economies. One of my favorite works of theirs is the future of work, where they chronicle all of the impacts to the workforce to help organizations better prepare for that pivot. And, as you can see, each entering birth cohort has a different mode of working, has a different analysis skill set and different way of thinking about the job. As we, you know, entered the pandemic, we've had the great resignation and a few other cultural trends that have happened that through, you know, a significant amount of foresight could have been planned for. So, with that being said, I did over the course of the pandemic take the certification course, which was like a week long and a really in-depth analysis, and you have to build a futures project for yourself. And it was the most eye-opening experience. It really allowed me to find my tribe, people who communicated the way that I did, spoke the way that I did, thought the way that I did. And the beautiful thing about it is their organization allows for the symbiosis of culture, economy, organization, and the individual. And I love that because it takes in all accounts, but it allows for this safe space of innovation and crafting really what a future might look like. One of the terms from the futurists nomenclature would be artifacts of the future and understanding what artifacts will exist that we can craft in the here and now. And so, to expand deeper on what is futurism or foresight, what is understanding signals of change and drivers of change that exist in this plane here and now but that link and identify changes in how human behavior, industry, finance, how we view these things holistically. And so the industry and field looks five to 10 years into the future and helps organizations really understand risk and understand disruption and understand fore coming shifts within any of the aforementioned styles. One of my favorite quotes around foresight is, The future is already here. It's just not evenly distributed. And that's profound to me because it signals that there are cultures in Australia that are already, you know, doing things online, just as an example. There are cultures in different parts of the world who are doing things that haven't, you know, become pervasive, but they are indicators of change. One example would be the disruption of, you know, Lyft and Uber. Technology enabled us to disrupt a system that's been in place for centuries, pretty much, with hailing a cab. And being able to, you know, foresee that through technology may not have been there. But understanding that we are moving away from a centralized resource, such as Hertz and Enterprise platforms such as that they have unified resources through one organization to a decentralized model where, you know, there you have a wonderful car that you're not using. I can go on the Turo app and rent that for the weekend and in really putting that relationship back in the hands of two individuals, as opposed to a, you know, a person-to-business transaction where they own all of the assets and all the resources. Look at Airbnb. Look at the plethora of decentralized access that technology has allowed us to have through just the means of communication. Hey, I have something to sell. I have something to let you borrow. I have something that you can leverage, and here's the price that I'd like for it. And you on the other end have the ability to accept that. So technology as a medium has unlocked a whole other mode of communication but also created an entirely new economy. In the meantime, talking about the gig economy where people can have multiple, you know, employment opportunities simultaneously, whereas in previous generations it had been you work one job for 25, 50 years, and you have a pension at the end of it. And we've done away with the pension for the most part, and we're moving more towards 401K or Roth and different industries. And there are now apps that can help the gig economy individuals manage their finances from these multiple streams of income.

Perry Carpenter: Yeah.

Jeremy Treadwell: I mean, the possibilities are endless. But it really starts with, one, the human understanding what we want and how different generations view the problem of this capitalism society and how we earn and how we value money in our relationship; and, two, really looking at resources and how we leverage that. In the past, my car was just my car. And I'm paying interest, and I'm paying insurance. And it's just mine. Now I have to be mindful when I'm asked -- when I'm looking for car insurance, they're asking me am I Ubering, or am I touring it? How -- will there be any additional liability associated with the utilization of this vehicle? And all of those are pertinent questions, but it still comes back to my neighbor Perry wants to borrow my car, and here's the platform that's allowed me to do so and kind of industrialize myself, which is truly what capitalism is all about when we think about Marx and how that is structured. Self-branding of myself and my assets is a product of capitalism. So as we explore this path, coupled with, you know, the decentralization and looking at cryptocurrency, etc., there is this shift that's happening that I think futurists around the world are taking heed of.

Perry Carpenter: So if you were to give somebody just some really quick advice on either tools or frameworks to look at or questions to start asking, what would those be?

Jeremy Treadwell: One of my favorite tools -- and I'm going behind the curtain. I'm revealing the Wizard of Oz here.

Perry Carpenter: I want to see the Wizard.

Jeremy Treadwell: One of my favorite examples is look back to look forward. It's an idea that you can chart out the history of any given thing -- person, place or thing, right, insert your noun here, whether it be cybersecurity, whether it be any given logistics, an entire industry, right, it can be anything and really track what's happened in the last, you know, 10 years, 50 years, however long this item has been around. And then start to track any -- the vectors I try to include in that are any regulatory requirements or shifts that are coming. One example might be to look at privacy. As we explore where privacy started in I think the thing to run, the Federalist Papers. There's a number of concepts of privacy that started way back then. And a lot of articles and papers that were written to define what privacy looks like in the federal government as it was being defined, which I think is a fascinating topic. Fast forward to GDPR and CCPA. Before that, there really wasn't much of an expectation or requirement from the corporation standpoint for privacy, again, because all of our relationships have been B2C. Therefore, they own the data. They housed the data. Therefore, the data is theirs. GDPR, CCPA, and several other states have introduced privacy bills that really start to put power back in the hands of the individuals to manage and oversee their own data. That doesn't necessarily transfer ownership in the standpoint of access, right. I can't access all of the data that Microsoft or Amazon has on me. But if I live in the state of California, I can request that they delete that data.

Perry Carpenter: Right.

Jeremy Treadwell: So looking at any given industry through understanding its past and starting to document any impacts to that so any advances in technology when we look at biometric utilization, look at how data is stored and understanding how companies or regulatory bodies will -- or have been making changes to that concept, to that construct, whether it's a person, place, or thing, that is one example of how to start thinking as a futurist. As you start to document these things, you may see trends and patterns. And, as you do more research, you might find something surprising with how that industry is existing in a different country or a different culture. And then you can start to see, oh, that's fascinating. And then you can take action. The duality of foresight in my opinion is that, first and foremost, listening, right. You are an active listener and trying to understand what is happening around you. What are people doing? How are things changing? Music industry, like, every industry is undergoing some type of disruption. Streaming was one for music, right? I talked about taxi, talked about Uber for the taxi or, you know, that type of industry. So that's the first part, right, to understand what's happening. A lot of times the disruption is inevitable. But, through foresight, organizations and industries and economies have an opportunity and really a fighting chance to evolve with the transition instead of being disrupted by the transition. But the other side of foresight really is an active participant in that change, understanding -- my favorite example in this case is looking at Meta or aka Facebook. Facebook is a platform that is kind of growing out of the public consciousness. It's -- you know, a lot of new platforms have risen to power. New generations don't even bother with Facebook. So Facebook as looking to the future, I believe their groups say, Well, what is the future of human communication? What is the future of, you know, their mission to connect everyone on the planet? And I believe their answer to that was looking at virtual reality and how we will engage in that space. So being that company, it seemed to me that they said, You know what? Let's rebrand the company. Let's focus on the future that's coming, that we know is coming and get ahead of that, you know, disruption instead of being blown out the water by another company that would rise to power, you know, toting the ability to -- to kind of transport everyone to a fantasy world where they can live as they truly identify, right?

Perry Carpenter: Yeah.

Jeremy Treadwell: So Facebook to me was on the leading edge, right, that active listening edge of disruption and kind of got ahead of it. And now all their communications, all their branding is highlighting the ability for that type of integration, interaction to one another through virtual reality. They aren't necessarily the first. They don't own all of the technology around virtual reality. But they are leading the industry in that space as opposed to waiting for a disruption.

Perry Carpenter: Yeah. Well, and even -- I mean, you mentioned the principle of looked back to look forward. I think Facebook didn't have to look too far back because it was written about not a long time ago, Neal Stephenson's I think it was Necromancer had Metaverse and forecasted a lot of that. And then we've seen other versions of that pop up in ways. But Facebook, I think, with the computing power that they had, they're just like, we could -- we could create a ton of space here. And we already have a lot of data. We can help people connect in that way. So, yeah. I think you're -- I think you're right. They were also probably seeing the disruption of all of this impending privacy regulation and all the fact that they're constantly in court or being hauled in front of Congress or other governing bodies. So it's like, how do we remonetize. After the break, the conclusion of our interview with Jeremy Treadwell. Welcome back. So in addition to looking back and looking forward and trying to think about the ripple effects that things in the past have had, what are some of the other tools that are there for continuing to look behind the curtain?

Jeremy Treadwell: As far as tools and kind of ways to think about it, I encourage as much conversation about the future of, you know, your industry, your organization, really looking at listening to the customers.

Perry Carpenter: Right.

Jeremy Treadwell: You know, I think UX research is really powerful. And understanding who your customer is, your customer lifecycle, your customer journey, your personas, all of that has significant leading indicators of where your business is going and how it's being perceived in the marketplace, all of this data is absolutely a great way to do it. And I think another thing is to really take a look at the future of you. And that, I mean, is that introspective process where you're looking at where you've been, where you are now, and where would you like to go. My -- one of my favorites is to really apply foresight to myself and analyze my experiences and my passions and my interests, understanding myself better in order to think about what I would like to accomplish in the future and look at how I'm changing. How do I respond to things, you know, as opposed to how I responded to things 10 years ago. So I think leveraging the -- all of these, this mindset of being a futurist, I think everyone should call themselves a futurist and should be accountable and responsible for envisioning their futures and starting to construct those futures for themselves. I will say being a futurist is not just about, you know, being the -- being the scribe and being -- being a -- you know, yes, an active listener, but that's it. You stop once you're done listening. I think really being a futurist is about taking action. It's about being -- being experimental, taking the time to construct an experiment. I'm constantly conducting experiments on what I believe a future to be, understanding what that looks like. Organizations should do the same. I encourage every organization to build a foresight department that focuses on launching small projects to envision the future, to craft the future, to market to the future, to try to get this data back and understand how their brand is being perceived, how their product is being conceived, what potential impacts, regulatory or otherwise, could impact, you know, their position in the marketplace and leveraging all of that to make the organization better, to, you know, seek whether they should go global or think about their internal organization or think about, you know, employee experience is one example, with everything that's happening. And we have, what, I think four or five different cohorts, birth cohorts in the workforce at one time. You know, let's apply some foresight and strategy to our hiring methods and to our growth techniques within the organization. Who do we choose to promote? What are the types of competencies skills, and what's the culture that we're highlighting within the organization? Foresight can be applied to all of these. And you can deploy small kind of research projects in pockets of the organization. Gather feedback and determine if particular research projects should be scaled --

Perry Carpenter: Yeah.

Jeremy Treadwell: -- to the organization and even beyond. So I think there's a lot of work that can be done and should be done with the foresight strategy in mind and looking at, yes, I do active listening. But then I also do experiments. I build hypotheses and test those hypotheses in the real-world, even if it is in a small way to understand how and the impact that it has to my business.

Perry Carpenter: Anytime you're talking about the future, you always get people that ask about black swan events, which are, by definition, things that are really, really hard to plan for, if not impossible to plan for. What are your thoughts as a futurist when it comes to those kinds of events? How do we, if not plan for them, find ways to manage the risk around them?

Jeremy Treadwell: That is a fantastic question. So my thoughts are, of course, the future is not 100% mitigatable, which a word I just made up. But, ultimately, I think that nuances and elements of it, right, there's the event; then there's the blowback, right. Like you mentioned earlier, the ripple effects of such an event. I do think breaking down the event and understanding was there a communication failure? Was there technology failure? Was there a people failure? Was there a process failure? What truly compounded this to make it the impact that it was? And how do we start to put remediation in place for all of these? Now, none of that really is a foresight activity. But it is really important because, once you start to break down the problem and understand where it sits in your ecosystem, it may point to there's a cultural issue in the organization. Or it may point to a technology issue in the organization. It might simply point to a procedural issue in the organization. So of course there's the event. But, from a foresight standpoint, looking at not only just what you can mitigate -- of course that's really important -- but looking at the surrounding impacts, right, that change management element, the psychology of the human that really had a lot to do with this event happening. And I think that a lot of people, you know, spend time thinking about threat actors and psychologically profiling these individuals. But when's the last time people have thought about the profile of the -- those leading their SOC, the personality types and how they correspond and how they communicate with one another, right. All of those have a great impact to the work environment that's created. And if it's a high stress, high tension environment, maybe events happen or mistakes happen because it's so stressful because people aren't fully prepared or feel comfortable. You know, I'm sure somewhere around the world there was a breach. And they didn't know how to tell the supervisor about the breach. They were thought they would be blamed personally, so they held on to it. Or they -- you know, they weren't quite sure how to speak up or how to eloquently speak to that. Maybe we offer organizational conditions in those in that role training on how to breach these topics and management coaching on how to respond to your staff doesn't necessarily feel right. You can handle the situation. But also understand that there's humans in there. There's people doing this. These aren't machines. So how do you take a look at the human at the center of all of the activity in your organization and look at how that is impacting the work that has to be done.

Perry Carpenter: As a futurist --

Jeremy Treadwell: Thinking --

Perry Carpenter: -- let's just say five years out, what is the thing that most worries you from a cybersecurity perspective? And what is the thing that most comforts you from a cybersecurity perspective?

Jeremy Treadwell: Oh, boy. Hmm. Okay. So I'll answer this with extreme hesitancy. So during my certification process, they asked me to -- to kind of define a futures project, one that I would like to explore, document, research. I can't say that I've had the time to dedicate this -- to this that I would like, but I chose the future of cyber hygiene and trying to understand the nuances of every day more and more people come online. And we spend more and more time in digital interactions, completing digital work, playing games, interacting with friends and family, all through a tiny device such as our phones. I would say that, really, what bothers me most and what I feel as though should be done -- and it's a little twist on your question --

Perry Carpenter: Sure.

Jeremy Treadwell: -- in the next five years is a drive towards a migration from cyber hygiene from a corporate responsibility to a personal responsibility. A lot of times we -- I haven't seen this, an organization that truly focuses on helping individuals of all walks of life, all cultural backgrounds, all socioeconomic income status levels to understand their personal responsibility to safeguard their personal data, their finances, their, you know, reputation, all of the things that, you know, companies look for when they talk about risk management, that individual should have the same level of understanding and, more importantly, to really understand the concept of risk and managing risk, accepting risk, mitigating risk, right. All of the -- but from a personal standpoint. And I think that that is one of my biggest hopes for the next five years of cybersecurity is that we move towards a place where individuals understand how to safeguard their personal data and understanding what data is being requested of them when they download a new app or sign up for a new service, have a vested interest in understanding those terms and conditions. That might mean holding the company accountable for what they say as far as the safeguarding and privacy regulations. But that also may mean pushing back against some companies based on the data that they want to request. I think that also means really having a personal standpoint of what data is personal and that I, you know, have no interest in sharing and data that I'm willing to share and relinquish to certain -- to gain certain things.

Perry Carpenter: Yeah.

Jeremy Treadwell: Right. Now data is viewed as a gateway. You know, I download a new tool, sign up. You check the box, you know, little text box there. It says terms and conditions is hyperlinked.

Perry Carpenter: Right.

Jeremy Treadwell: But no one clicks to read that. So, you know, as a kind of HCI, human-computer interaction specialist, I really focus on really what is the adoption strategy here? What are we trying to accomplish? And a lot of times those -- you know, I wouldn't say it is considered a dark pattern, which is kind of like surreptitious, if you will. But, to me, I truly believe that we should elevate and surface the concept of privacy, the concept of protecting one's personal data, personal assets. And so the company, yes, can do the education and training and awareness work, as well as building their policies and standards. But it's not as much of a burden on the individual from the corporation standpoint of protect the asset, protect the asset. It's now you know how to protect yourself. You know how to protect your children, and you know how to protect the company's assets. And all are valued equal.

Perry Carpenter: Okay. One quick follow up question on that, then. Is there an inflection point that has to happen to get us there? Because that -- it sounds good. But it also sounds like a generational mindset shift --

Jeremy Treadwell: Very much so.

Perry Carpenter: -- which are -- I think would be hard to accomplish without some kind of tipping point or inflection point to make that an imperative.

Jeremy Treadwell: Yes. I agree. There -- there would need to be some type of, you know, tipping point. What that is, I don't have enough research to kind of articulate. But I will say that, when you look at historical, like, large-scale cyberattacks, you know, nationwide, you know, I think one example might be like, non pecha.

Perry Carpenter: Yeah.

Jeremy Treadwell: Like, the whole country was impacted, and the economy was unable to move forward. Well, I will say it was able to move forward, but the technology was wiped out.

Perry Carpenter: Right.

Jeremy Treadwell: If something like that, you know, the true global, like, nationwide scale impact, that might happen, you know, to be the shift. I mean, think about COVID and how we view germs now, how we view transmissible diseases, you know. Still wear masks. Still, you know, protect self, self-isolate, you know. And, of course, it's not 100%. Everyone has their own perspective and their own prerogatives. But that type of transition is helpful. But I also think that there is a path, definitely a not well-defined path, where if a generation is passionate about privacy and understanding the data rights of themselves and their children, that can be passed down that way from an education standpoint. I mean, I would love to see -- you know, we talked about digital -- what's the word I'm looking for -- acquiescence, regularly understanding how to use technology. We're teaching kids how to go online, how to use the software, how to type, and how to engage. When are we teaching them about password security? When are we teaching them about, you know, storing your password in a safe place? When are we teaching them about, you know, scanning QR codes? When are we teaching them about, you know, the impact of malware and, you know, having your data in a open cloud, right? When do we teach that? So I do think there's an education path that can impact, you know, a future generation --

Perry Carpenter: Right.

Jeremy Treadwell: -- in a truly transformative way. And that's the path I would like to see. No one wants the -- you know, the well-traveled path, you know, typically has a lot of resistance and overcoming that resistance. But the less traveled path really focuses on that training, that awareness but from a human standpoint. I think it can be done. It's just something we have to think about. And, again, as a futurist, I could -- we can research and find out that, you know -- you know, as you know, risk can be accepted, mitigated, or transferred.

Perry Carpenter: Yeah.

Jeremy Treadwell: So how do we think about the risk to the next generation if we don't get a grapple on privacy and how we handle and educate the next generation on security, whether cyber or otherwise?

Perry Carpenter: Yeah. Fantastic. All right. So then the very last question is, is there a question you wish that I had thought to ask that I was too insensitive to ask? I just didn't think about it. It wasn't on my -- my agenda. Could be like, you know, seriously obvious question when it comes to futurism, but I just skipped it.

Jeremy Treadwell: That is a good one.

Perry Carpenter: If you were to ask you a question, what would you ask?

Jeremy Treadwell: The burning question for me typically, is, you know, what do you do with what you find, like, foresight. And then I was able to fold that into previous question. And I think that's so important. If I can just harp on that one more time, it's --

Perry Carpenter: Yeah.

Jeremy Treadwell: -- foresight gives you the ability to not only listen and understand, you know, drivers of change and forces of change but also gives you an opportunity to create change, given a vision or something we want to create. I think that's the beautiful thing about leveraging foresight, identifying a problem and then finding a solution that doesn't exist yet and putting it out there, creating a space for that to exist. I think that's what -- I think the part I'm most passionate about is building futures that are inclusive, equitable by design really is something that I would love to see in my lifetime.

Perry Carpenter: Awesome. And that's all the time that we have today. As Jeremy said, we are all futurists. We may not have the title, but success depends on being able to understand, forecast, and adapt to trends. When you think about it, it is much easier to adapt to trends when you've predicted them and have done the necessary prep work. So let's imagine for the world maybe three years from now, five years from now, 20 years from now. What things can we be certain about? Where can we look back to look forward? And what steps can we take today to build a safer, more secure world rather than repeating mistakes from our past. And, with that, thanks so much for listening. And thank you to my guest, Jeremy Treadwell. I've loaded up the show notes with more information about Jeremy, as well as a ton of relevant links and references to information that we touched on today. If you haven't yet, please go ahead and subscribe or follow wherever you like to get your podcasts. Oh. And I'd love it if you tell someone else about the show. That really helps us grow. If you want to connect with me, feel free to do so. You can find my information at the very bottom of the show notes for this episode. The show was written, recorded, edited and sound designed by me, Perry Carpenter. The 8th Layer Insights branding was designed by Chris Machowski at RansomWear.net. That's W-E-A-R and Mia Rune at MiaRune.com. The 8th Layer Insights theme song was composed and performed by Marcos Moscat. Until next time, I'm Perry Carpenter, signing off.