Futurist Derek Woodgate on "Resetting" the American Dream on Inkandescent Radio

Futurist and author Derek Woodgate is the CEO of The Futures Lab, a futures-based consultancy based in Atlanta, with six satellite offices around the world. The firm specializes in creating future potential for major corporations and institutions, especially in the fields of entertainment, media, culture, communications, and new communities.

He spent nine years as a British diplomat, and 13 years as a corporate executive, and is an authority on the application of emerging and immersive technologies and the changing human in the design and production of experiential entertainment with his creation of what are termed “Sense Events.”

In his foresight work, Woodgate is known for developing what is considered a paradigm-shifting approach to future studies, demonstrated in his book “Future Frequencies” (Fringecore 2004) and his work on leveraging dystopian futures and rhizomatic thinking techniques, as well as in his merging of progressive culture with future studies.

His clients have included Philips Electronics, Intel, Shell, Fiat, Nokia, Pemex, AKZO-Nobel, GSK, Casio, Nestle, SWB, MTV Europe, Intel, Ford, Kellogg’s, Coca Cola, BBC, WorldSpace, Nissan, and many more.

So it was a pleasure to talk to Derek in this podcast interview about:

  • The Futures Lab—what it is, why he started it, and what the organization is working on today.
  • The big companies he’s worked with, and how the research he’s done for them played out in their business and society at large.
  • His work on the Future of Play—and how it impacts small businesses.
  • His books, including your newest, Future Flow to be published this year.
  • And, the emerging issues that small business owners need to be aware of.

“Download our interview here.”:

Scroll down to read a transcription of our interview.

Learn more about Derek Woodgate, and book him to be a speaker at your next powerful event: InkadescentSpeakers.com.


Be Inkandescent: So let’s get started! First, tell us — What is the Futures Lab?

Derek Woodgate: The Futures Lab, Inc. is an internally renowned company founded 17 years ago as a foresight consultancy that create and optimizes future potential for leading global companies and institutions through a comprehensive, proprietary six-stage futures process.

Originally founded in Belgium with a partner office in London, we moved the head office to Austin TX in 2000 in order to better service our increasing number of US clients. Since 2000 has global business has accelerated and we now also have offices or partners in Beijing, Belo Horizonte (Brazil), Tokyo, Paris, Istanbul, Santiago and Mexico City. Over the years, our client list has covered many of the world’s leading companies and a multitude of categories, although in recent years we have tended to specialize in emerging media, entertainment, communications, future education and sustainable living spaces.

Be Inkandescent: Who are some the big companies that you’ve worked with, and how has the research you’ve done for them played out in their business and society at large?

Derek Woodgate: Everybody from the top automotive companies such as Ford, Nissan, FIAT, Landrover, Volvo, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, etc. to a vast array of consumer product manufacturers such as Nestle, Coca Cola, Kelloggs, DIAL, Dulux, Cadbury Schweppes, Purex, etc and leading media, entertainment and consumer electronics companies such as Philips, Nokia, MTV Europe, Showtime, BBC, WorldSpace, Harlequin Books, Clear Channel, Microsoft, etc.

We ensure that the preferred futures we create are human-centric and of value in terms of advancing society. Our work is based upon the concept of discontinuous change, which means that we are looking to create revolutionary outputs, whether it be in terms of products, new business models, new ways markets or even new industries and categories.

The research we undertake, which is just a part of our process, not only involves scanning and discovering/identifying early signals, emerging issues and major shifts, whether they be societal, technological, economic or otherwise, but includes discussions with experts in cross disciplines relative to the subject matter, as well as what we call Frontline Panels, which involve bringing together panels of multidisciplinary specialists to help connect the disconnects and to create unexpected ideas which we can extend and augment into visionary scenarios.

Most of our products deal with a 7-10 year horizon, which has very practical implications, depending upon necessary development cycles of course. Once we have a 10 year future strategy/direction, we use what we call rolling back the future in order to demonstrate the path towards that future starting from a year out.

I think that the way we ultimately help clients to create world-beating futures is by changing perspective or creating a completely new context. On that is future focused rather than an evolution of the present.

It is very rewarding to see our work either in its original form or augmented, finally reach the market, whether it is new products or product categories for Philips, glass-roofed cars for Nissan or a revolutionary publishing approach for Harlequin. However, at the end of the day, no matter how persuasive our creations and strategic recommendations are, it is ultimately the client that makes them happen through significant investment technological brilliance and business acumen.

Be Inkandescent: You’ve done a lot of work on the Future of Play. What does that mean, exactly, and what IS the future of play? And, how will that impact small businesses?

Derek Woodgate: My team and I have worked on the future of play both in simulation and visioneering work with clients and through experiential entertainment produced by our division FEEL (Future Entertainment and Events Lab) formally Plutopia Productions. We have created and put on some very large shows around this theme in an attempt to demonstrate to the public just how much “play” in its broader sense has become part of multiple aspects of our professional and personal lives.

Whether in terms of gamification for ….. or in terms of collaborative, interactive innovation spaces for approaches to future learning or simulation techniques for teaching math or the sciences or for R&D, incubation and testing of new products, play has a significant role in the future.

Over the past decade, I have specialized in the broad area of experiential entertainment, both for the public and clients such as Intel. I created the name Sense Events for these manifestations, which pay particular focus to the creation of sensation and multi-sensory augmentation through interactive and highly immersive worlds. We integrate anything from converged media, telepresence, robotics, augmented reality, transformative spaces, gaming, sensors, synthetic worlds, holograms, etc. to design blended experiences that vastly improve engagement and learning. We use interactive storytelling/narrative to create a framework for these events and also for the way we develop futures scenarios.

We recently added a new division to The Futures Lab, namely LIFE (Learning Innovation for Future Education) under the guidance of my colleague Maggie Duval. We are working with the Skyridge Academy in Austin TX and some other institutions in order to help bring future-focused, innovation education to middle and high school students. I am also enaging in some of these learnings in my Consultant in Residence role in the Digital Arts and Entertainment Lab at GSU.

Be Inkandescent: You have written many articles and a number of books, including your newest, Future Flow to be published in 2013 on the future, in which way do you approach the subject differently from your colleagues.

Derek Woodgate: Well, my 2005 book, Future Frequencies was considered to be paradigm shifting in its approach to future studies. I was also very open about disclosing our consulting approach, which surprised a few people.

However, I think my tendency towards post-structuralist writing and rhizomatic conceptualization helps readers approach the future in a very different way by taking on paradoxes and issues such as finding comfort in discomfort or unraveling the “unthinkable” in order to create hybrid realities. I speak a lot about the concept of remix lifestyles and the issues of multiple and future identities and changing and human Morphing including the work I did on revisiting Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

In Future Flow, I expand upon some of the earlier writings, but deal more with the wonderful work that is going on outside of the public eye that will create a wonderful positive future worldview vastly different from that which frightens and causes so much anxiety amongst the public today.

I was inspired to write the book when I read the Pew research that showed that for the first time in recent American history, people felt that the future would be worse for their children and grandchildren than it had been for them. Future Flow whilst celebrating our humanness, demonstrates the potential from sustainable design, the changing human through transhumanism, the power of the neurosciences, nanotechnology and a new robot and digital revolution, to new understanding of aesthetics and the power of imagination.

Be Inkandescent: What are the 3 (to 5) emerging issues that small business owners need to be aware of? And what are your forecasts for how these issues will play out in our lives in the next 3-5 years?

Derek Woodgate: I would say:

1. More powerful networks including the Cloud with autonomous agents that will provide easier, faster and more efficient business support. Multi-source data inputs, analysis and solution building will be key.

2. Blended collaborative spaces that will allow more open sourced sharing and will make the employment structure more fluid and adaptive. There will be less in-house staff and more networks of specialists and part-timers that can be called upon as required. Improvements in telepresence systems will make on-line conferencing highly effective and cost efficient, both B2B and B2C.

3. Better, personalized customer data enabling highly targeted, customized marketing and sales. The data will be automatically collected and analyzed from multiple sources including social networks. Experiential and interactive marketing will provide customized consumer interfaces with a greater degree of immersion and engagement. Trans and cross media marketing accessed from varying devices will make seamless, ubiquitous marketing possible.

4. Increased mobile trading and cardless payments, subscription models and account benefits, as well as the further increase in the power of peer reviews, etc. This will include purchasing products advertised or demonstrated within TV series and movies facilitated by split screen TVs.

5. New types of retailing, both on and off line, as well as new business categories driven by emerging technologies and new business models. Think about the degree the mobile space has changed in the past few years and the opportunities that it has fostered. Emerging media, new interfaces, nanotech, simulation tech, new materials for sustainable urban development, smart transportation solutions, health and medicine, virtual leisure, next stage avatars called PALs, augmented reality, etc.

Be Inkandescent: Last but not least, tell us what is the most important trend that small business owners need to be aware of?

Derek Woodgate: As a small business owner myself, I am following very closely developments in automated data analysis tools and emerging communications technologies and spaces. Particularly where these can be brought together in collaborative environments that can leverage a deeper and broader level of collective intelligence both human and through artificial intelligence.

Learn more about Derek Woodgate, here.