Archive for April, 2008

7 million litres of water

Jo Phillips writes:

Our More London office reopens today after two days of closure following the Great Flood of Tooley Street. Some took the fact that the nearby Greater London Assembly building was out out of action in the week of the mayoral elections as a bad omen for Ken Livingstone. The events have demonstrated rather vividly the vulnerability of all city infrastructure; you might have thought a fifth floor office would be immune (I did), but servers and electricity supply in the basement are – unsurprisingly – vulnerable to street level flooding. Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospital was similarly affected.

In this instance, 7 million litres of water poured out of a burst water main. But it gives us a glimpse of a possible future London — as we see more climate-change related extreme weather events, what will change? What I learnt was that crises in the real world push us further into the virtual world. With email and phone systems down, our company used text messages and a blog to disseminate important information. Local residents similarly used the SE1 community forum to communicate with each other. One possible outcome is an increase in mobile working (or more exactly, ‘extended working’, in which the workplace is extended in space and time), but this leads to interesting questions about infrastructure. Maybe not that sensible to leave it below street level when the local flood risk map looks like this:

So maybe there’s likely to be less emphasis on managing your own infrastructure, and more on getting it delivered to you as a service by a supplier – already a strong developing trend, as Nicholas Carr blogged this week. Having servers down in the basement may provide an illusion of control, but would not prove very resilient in a world of increasing environmental risk.

30 April 2008 at 6:19 pm Leave a comment

Something more permanent

Emily Pitts writes:

I took this shot of the back of London Bridge station recently – something about the way the light was falling, illuminating the bus and the signage on the station, caught my eye. The woman standing by the van looks so dated! It was a surprise to find a hint of something more permanent than the hordes of tourists outside the London Dungeons each day and the dull chrome geometry of Foster…

26 April 2008 at 6:34 pm Leave a comment

Blind spots on globalisation

David Eppstein, Containers, 2001

Joe Ballantyne writes:

Back in the late 90s, and even more recently, globalisation was all the rage. Some people thought this was a jolly good thing and it would make us all rich and free, while others thought it was a really bad thing. which would lead to greater poverty and environmental damage. Either way, almost everyone agreed that we were careering towards a brave new globalised world, ruled by the free flow of capital between nations, and characterised by global institutions and global flows of people and goods.

Fast forward a decade, however, and things start to look quite a bit different. Countries like India, Russia and China are much wealthier and more powerful than ten years ago, the expansion of international groupings such as the EU seems to have all but halted, and the ongoing drama of the credit crunch suggests that financial deregulation has reached its limits. Protectionism is a recurring theme in the Democrat candidates’ contest in the US, and the chief executive of Deutsche Bank was recently quoted as saying that he “no longer believes in the market’s self-healing power” – and when the head of a major bank starts saying that financial markets need some sort of state intervention, you know something’s up. The public seem to think so: most of us admit a growing suspicion around the role free markets in the economy.

So how did the global theorists – from both the left and the right – so misjudge globalisation? There’s a whole thesis to be written on this, but some pointers could be:

  • Many of them were working in internationally-focussed institutions such as universities or global banks – which probably blinded them to the attitudes of the majority who weren’t globetrotting, post-national types.
  • Many of them had come to believe the widely canvassed idea that financial power will always trump state power – where as in fact, nationalism is a tremendously strong driver of domestic politics and therefore of political change.
  • The Brits in particular lived in a country which had probably gone further than almost any other towards developing a ‘post-national’ identity, embracing the market and minimising the role of national symbols such as the monarchy, religion and so on. But what happened in Britain wasn’t replicated elsewhere.

One of the things we say in futures work is that if the filters you see the world through are too strong, they act like the blinkers on a horse – and create blind spots which make it harder to see signs of change. It’s interesting to think of other blindspots our assumptions about the world might create for us.

The picture was taken by David Eppstein.

24 April 2008 at 10:44 pm 1 comment

Flying the flag (post 2 of 2)

Jake Goretzki writes:

In the first half of this post, I wrote about flags as brands with an army and navy – but still in need of relaunching or repositioning from time to time. When they do work, relaunches are marvellously transformatory. Imagine Canada with this blazer badge of a flag (below) – unbelievably, this survived until 1965. It seems to convey the notion of Canada as some kind of British backwater. How could it ever have stood out? The Maple leaf on the other hand is ownable, differentiated and unifying. That said, of course, Quebec might beg to differ – anyone for a rebrand?

Canada Pre-1965

Canada Post-1965


22 April 2008 at 5:36 pm Leave a comment

But what about Tim?

Holly Moore from Yankelovich writes:

The latest television programming kerfuffle over the U.S. fashion reality TV show Project Runway is telling us something interesting about both the future of the reality genre, and the increasing visibility of life coaching.

For new readers, the kerfuffle goes like this. The producers of Project Runway, now a four seasons-old hit, are trying to move the show from Bravo (the U.S. cable network owned by NBC Universal) to Lifetime Television, a cable network that’s looking to diversify beyond programming that’s often about women in crisis. NBC claims it still has the rights to future seasons, and so, inevitably, is suing the producers.

But viewers are more likely to worry about the future of the person who has become America’s favorite mentor, Tim Gunn. Unlike many reality show stars, Tim’s the compassionate master of constructive criticism and tough love. Gunn is the tutor we all hope to have and the manager all managers should strive to be. (I recall an Echo Boomershow and a big gig as the creative chief at Liz Claiborne. comedian once saying, “I so wish he was my gay dad.”) His popularity and fashion judgment have already earned him his own

We talk a great deal about the importance of coaching in the Yankelovich MONITOR. And in an era in which so many of us under 40 were raised to think that we were unconditionally special, it’s rather remarkable to find a voice who can find the balance between nurturing growth and encouraging exploration while still reinforcing objective standards of excellence.

So while the courts decide where viewers should ultimately tune in, hopefully content creators will notice how quickly Gunn’s brand star rose – and the void he filled in the landscape of back-biting reality programming – to help make Project Runway a TV brand worth fighting for.

(Image from

17 April 2008 at 3:45 pm 1 comment

Some new contributors

Andrew Curry writes:

Regular readers of the blog will recall that we merged with the American research company Yankelovich earlier this year. We’re going through the usual processes of finding an appropriate name for the overall group, which will take a little time. Our new American colleagues already produce a short weekly newsletter, the Monitor Minute, which takes a lookat US consumer trends and insights. (The Monitor Minute sign-up page is here). In addition, however, they’re going to be contributing to this blog as well. The first post, which will be going up shortly, is by Monitor Minute editor Holly Moore.

17 April 2008 at 3:45 pm Leave a comment

The next age of the train

An ICE train in Koln station

Andrew Curry writes:

This is one of those unexpected pieces of data. According to figures just released by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), more miles were travelled by train in the UK last year than in any other year, at least in peacetime. The total mileage – just over 30 billion passenger miles – topped the previous record figure set in 1946. In fact, rail has been growing much faster than car mileage since 1995; the reasons include greater road congestion and rising car costs, investment in new trains, and more accessible information and booking (through online, for example).

ATOC marked the occasion with a booklet, The Billion Passenger Railway (opens in pdf). As it happens, it has been involved in a recent scenarios project we’ve run for the rail sector on the future of a sustainable industry, and through this I was invited to contribute a picture of rail in 75 years time – a story I thought might well be about European connections. That future scenario, ‘A Europe of City States’, is below the fold.

Image by Atlan at his Cityscapes and Skyline Photos blog.


16 April 2008 at 6:00 pm 2 comments

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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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