Subscribe to the Source!

A free monthly newsletter that's actually worth opening!

We bring you the latest ideas, concepts and strategies from our speakers, business thinkers and thought leaders. Stop relying on the algorithm to show you the content you need; The Source is your curated collection of the latest insights and inspirations from around the globe. 

DISCOVER THE SOURCE

In this episode of The Speaker Show, Maria Franzoni interviews Tom Cheesewright.

Tom is known as the applied futurist, helping people and organisations around the world to see the future more clearly, share their vision, and respond with innovation.

He is a consultant, training and advising global 500 companies, governments and industry bodies, a writer of two books on understanding the future, and a frequent face and voice on TV and radio, appearing over 2000 times to offer insight into tomorrow’s world across the BBC and other broadcasters.

Episode #221

Future Proof your Business

Maria Franzoni

00:00:17 – 00:00:48

Welcome back to The Speakers Show. It’s me, your host, Maria Franzoni. In today’s show, we will be talking about seeing the future more clearly. Before we get started, let me remind you that The Speaker Show is brought to you by Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau for the world’s most successful organisations, providing keynote speakers for events, conferences and summits. My guest is known as the Applied Futurist, helping people and organisations around the world to see the future more clearly, share their vision

Maria Franzoni

00:00:48 – 00:01:13

and respond with innovation. He’s a consultant, training and advising global 500 companies, governments and industry bodies. A writer of two books on understanding the future and a frequent face and voice on TV and radio appearing over 2000 times to offer insights into tomorrow’s world across the BBC and other broadcasters. Please welcome my guest today. Tom Cheesewright.

Maria Franzoni

00:01:13 – 00:01:21

Tom, thank you so much for taking time out of your day. I know that this is a really busy time for you. So how are things going?

Tom Cheesewright

00:01:21 – 00:01:42

Well, in an extreme fashion, I tend to take a good chunk of time off over summer and since it’s sort of the tail, the last week of my holidays always tends to be some emails popping into my inbox, saying, What are you doing in September, October and November? And then progressively ramps up towards Christmas to the point where November is an insanely busy month.

Maria Franzoni

00:01:42 – 00:01:57

It is. November is always busy. I always startle me how everybody decides to do their events on the same day. They’re crazy. So tell me before we get started in the introduction we refer to as an applied futurist. What’s an applied futurist?

Tom Cheesewright

00:01:57 – 00:02:29

So it’s a good question because I’m probably the only one you’ll meet. And what it really means is that I do two things, like most futurists or futurologists, the terms of a kind of interchangeable. I help people to look at the future. And sometimes that’s the near future, clients come to me and say, You know, what are the risks that might take us out at the knees in the next few years? What are the opportunities that we should be taking advantage of? And sometimes it’s the far future. It’s, you know, what’s the world going to look like in 2030 years’ time? And that might be big corporations. I mostly worked with

Tom Cheesewright

00:02:29 – 00:03:08

sort of global five hundred’s. It might be bits of government, a huge variety of questions. You know, sometimes I’m talking about the future of snacks I’ve been doing, like work with Pepsi and Mars this year. Sometimes it’s been transported and looking forward. You know, a huge range of things. But then, quite often you’ve done that when you said, what the future you think the future looks like or help them to imagine it for themselves, they come back with another question is what do we do about it? And so the applied bit is I get involved in solutions as well as problems that particularly gets focused around organisations. How do we make organisations future-ready? Future proof? What can we do to improve resilience and agility and innovation?

Maria Franzoni

00:03:08 – 00:03:24

And absolutely super important. I mean goodness gracious, being future-ready I wish we had been more future-ready in 2020 Maybe, that’s another topic. Let’s not go there. But what are the exciting projects that you’ve been working on this year?

Tom Cheesewright

00:03:24 – 00:03:47

So, you know, I mentioned forward that was a great call to get. I’m a bit of a car nerd. I’ve actually built my own electric car in lockdown with my daughter, and so that’s what, that was actually came out of a project a car project with. I was working with AutoTrader on the future car was doing some research, came across this possibility of building your own EV, and so I thought I’d dig into the research and a lot more depth than actually do it.

Tom Cheesewright

00:03:47 – 00:04:08

So that was fun. And that leads to lots of work in the automotive industry had already worked with BMW and Audi. And so when you talk to forward about the future of electric cars, that was really good fun. And so I continued that theme done quite a lot of work and where we’re going with self-driving cars, et cetera. But then you’re a complete sort of reversal of that completely different industry because I do work across all different domains

Tom Cheesewright

00:04:08 – 00:04:44

was getting phone calls from these big food companies a variety of different food companies this year who are really interested in what are changing lifestyles and life patterns are going to do to the food market, whether that’s out of home, whether what our attitude is going to be to restaurants and takeaways and things like that, or actually what we’re going to want to eat to suit, working from home, working flexibly, working remotely. So you’re completely different conversations about ingredients, the effects of climate change on different ingredients, a huge sort of broad range of input. And that’s really what makes it so much fun is that ability to jump into different topics.

Maria Franzoni

00:04:44 – 00:04:49

I love that. I love that. I’ve got to ask you. How long does it take to build an electric car?

Tom Cheesewright

00:04:49 – 00:05:16

Well, I thought it was going to take six months. It actually took 15 to get MOT. So my daughter and I were, both my daughters have got kind of into cars. During lockdown, we were watching lots of car content and they asked if we could buy one of these beautiful sixties Roadsters and I don’t have £2.5 million spare. So I said no, but we could build one, and it sort of emerged from there. And 15 months later, we have a car. Not pretty yet, but functional on the road and MOT.

Maria Franzoni

00:05:16 – 00:05:25

It was just brilliant. I love that. Absolutely brilliant. So I also love food. So I want to know. What sort of things are you predicting then? How are we going to eat differently?

Tom Cheesewright

00:05:25 – 00:05:59

So one of my favourite food projects was around the future of pizza, which originally came out, came out of a STEM, you know, science, technology and engineering and maths there for children. And they wanted to talk about a topic that was going to be really relevant to children. Obviously, most kids love pizza, so they asked me what the future of pizza would look like. You got some core ingredients, you’ve got cheese, you’ve got tomatoes and you’ve got the base, which is mostly made of flour. And so you look at things like climate change, which is quite possibly going to disrupt flour production is going to disrupt wheat growing.

Tom Cheesewright

00:05:59 – 00:06:31

And you combine that with the fact that actually more and more people are going to some high protein diets and trying to cut out the carbs. We said, well, could we replace some of the wheat in the base with an alternative? And what we came up with was insect flower, and so you can actually grind the insects to make it completely just slightly nutty. Doesn’t taste of anything odd. A sort of slightly nutty high protein flour, which were mixed with wheat flour, increases the, reduces the carbs, increases the protein, protein content and might be an alternative to very expensive wheat flour.

Maria Franzoni

00:06:31 – 00:06:35

We’re not kneading insects’ dough. Is that not going to be a concern? And we’re going to create another problem?

Tom Cheesewright

00:06:35 – 00:06:36

Well, absolutely.

Tom Cheesewright

00:06:36 – 00:07:07

He went around starting to sort of grind up of bees that would be an issue, but they’re trying to find insects that can feed on waste and can actually do two jobs. Basically, turn our waste into food. It’s on its soil and creepy. But, yeah, it doesn’t sound very appealing. But if you’re looking for a good source of protein that’s much more environmentally friendly than pork, beef or even chicken, There might be one option. I’m not saying it’s without. It’s not without its issues. A lot of the insect farming at the moment isn’t actually that environmentally friendly, but it’s a possibility for the future.

Maria Franzoni

00:07:07 – 00:07:17

Fascinating. And I love the fact that you brought up the environment. You brought up climate change I imagine that a lot of the future and what you’re recommending with regards to being future-ready takes that into account?

Tom Cheesewright

00:07:17 – 00:07:53

Huge. I mean, you cannot get away from the climate crisis. We’ve just had the report from the UN saying, actually going to be really lucky to stay under 2.7 degrees of rates and what I tend to get into is sort of the real impact of that the people haven’t thought about. People are very sort of, they have this idea in the back of their head of melting icebergs and polar bears and all these things, but don’t necessarily bring it back to the real-world impacts, for them and their business. So you know what I was talking about with a client earlier? And heat waves, You know, a lot of our infrastructure isn’t designed to cope with persistent heat, particularly a place like the UK, where we don’t get an awful lot of persistent heat.

Tom Cheesewright

00:07:53 – 00:08:07

And so actually, are we going to be facing more building damage or infrastructure damage that might distract transport, might increase maintenance bills, you all sorts of things apart from the direct human cost of heatwaves. There are things that people just haven’t considered.

Maria Franzoni

00:08:07 – 00:08:20

I hadn’t considered any of those. That’s really fascinating. So you obviously work on a really diverse range of projects. You’re asked by lots of different industries to understand them and know them. How do you get to grips with all these industries?

Tom Cheesewright

00:08:20 – 00:08:44

It’s funny to think about this idea that somehow this fountain of all knowledge and I have this I spend all my time just absorbing and absorbing and absorbing, and I kind of do. But I only do it on a case by case basis. I look at what someone pays me to look at, and it sounds quite mercenary, but thankfully, there are enough people pay me to look at interesting things to keep me interested, and what you do is you have to have is a framework of pattern, a methodology

Tom Cheesewright

00:08:44 – 00:09:28

that allows you to get to the important stuff fast. And this is why this is the first thing I built when I started doing futures in full time. I’ve come from a background and the technology industry originally engineer, then running some various digital businesses and then a tech startup and then came into futures in full time having done it amateurly for a few years as a blogger and broadcaster. And the first thing I did was build my own toolkit. I said, how can I get into these topics quickly? How can I find answers for people to the questions they’re really looking for? And it’s exactly that. It’s not about having a massive brain, it’s not about knowing everything. It’s just about having a have been curious and having a process and methodology that allows you to get to what’s important, fast.

Maria Franzoni

00:09:28 – 00:09:57

Really important to have a process and methodology and a toolkit. That’s very clever. So I mean, you’re underplaying your intelligence here and now you mentioned that you are an engineer. Of course, it makes sense that you would sort of be able to build an electric car. So it’s all coming together. It’s all making sense here. Excellent. So in your last book, you talked about future-proofing, it’s called Future Proof of Business. You talked about future-proofing business. You talked about athletic organisations. You’re not going to make us all go off and run marathons now, are you?

Tom Cheesewright

00:09:57 – 00:10:03

No. Yeah. I probably ought to go and run a marathon. I think we all worry about to run a little bit more. But it’s this idea that

Tom Cheesewright

00:10:03 – 00:10:27

if you’re going to future proof, your business, there’s a number of characteristics you wanted to have, a number of traits that it needs and what I realised that those traits were quite well aligned with the traits of the greatest athletes. And what do great athletes have that? Certainly, I don’t. Number one is there in shape for the game they’re playing. And I think the game of business has changed a lot over the last 20-30 years, particularly driven by the instruction of digital technologies.

Tom Cheesewright

00:10:27 – 00:11:08

And lots of companies just aren’t in the right shape. They literally not structured for these waves of change that we’re facing. And so I talked to organise about how they change the structure, how they get in shape for the game they’re playing, but you’ve also got to see what’s coming. Your great athletes are really good at sensing what’s going on. They have, you know, the football brain of the greatest midfielders or that sort of tactical, really strategic sense of great runners to know when to put that burst of speed on and you’ve got to have that ability to be connected to your market, but also to look forward. And you know it’s something that, it staggers me is how bad most organisations aren’t thinking about the future. So try and teach them about that, which is this sort of sense

Tom Cheesewright

00:11:08 – 00:11:41

and then the last thing about decision making. You’ve got two great athletes. They see what’s happening. They use that agility, that fitness that built up to make decisions fast and act on those decisions. And again, so many organisations, they might see what’s coming, but they act so slowly. They take decisions so slowly that they respond too late. And so those three things that the shape of the organisation, the ability to sense what’s coming and the ability to respond at speed. Those are three critical athletic characteristics that I try and teach to my clients.

Maria Franzoni

00:11:41 – 00:12:00

That really makes sense. It makes sense. By the way, I’m in shape. I’m just not sure what shape so, especially after lockdowns and stuff. Let’s not go that so it’s not just about companies those, is it? You also offer advice for people on future-proofing their careers, talk to me about that.

Tom Cheesewright

00:12:00 – 00:12:22

Yeah, I often, I always get to ask the same questions, and this is kind of what this came out of. I do a lot of after dinner speaking as well as sort of the big, big conference events and go and do dinners and things. And the question always came up in the more quieter Q and A afterwards was. What should I be teaching my kids? Or what should I be doing for my career in order to give them or me the best prospects?

Tom Cheesewright

00:12:22 – 00:13:00

And so I got to thinking about this quite a lot and then got involved in a project looking at the future of education, and these two questions came together. What should we be teaching and learning and what should we be doing for our own futures? And we came up with this concept of the three C’s, like these three critical skills for the future, and I think it’s a great way of future-proofing your career by focusing on these three C’s, the ability to curate, the ability to discover and qualify information, that ability to search through the morass to penetrate the enormous cloud of dust of information that’s out there now and find what’s valuable and learn those research and qualification skills,

Tom Cheesewright

00:13:00 – 00:13:45

the ability to create, the ability to synthesise something new and fundamentally that the core of so much of our value in the workplace. And I think broadly as human beings the ability to make new things, the ability to create something, and so that creativity, those skills of iteration and recombination, I think, is really important. And then, lastly, communication is the last of the three C’s. It’s no good having these wonderful creations if you can’t sell the ideas to your colleagues or customers or friends or family. The actual ability to share your ideas and sometimes that’s going to be speaking, sometimes it’s gonna be writing. Sometimes it’s going to be designed. It couldn’t be all sorts of different ways. Not everybody has to do it the same way. But I think by holding those three capabilities, the ability to discovering qualified information,

Tom Cheesewright

00:13:45 – 00:13:53

the ability to create new things, the ability to communicate those ideas. You really do future proof any career, whether you’re talking to a child or an adult.

Maria Franzoni

00:13:53 – 00:13:57

The three R’s are being replaced by the three C’s then.

Tom Cheesewright

00:13:57 – 00:14:29

Very much so. Very much so. I think, don’t get wrong that the three R’s are still important. But the direction of travel of education over the last 10, 15 years has been very much a return to knowledge-based, literally learning rotes, lots of information about the world, and I just don’t see the value of that in a world of search engines. I’d much rather somebody who could, you know, great to have a few quiz answers, you know, stuck in the back of your head and some knowledge with which to contextually the world. But fundamentally, what I want is somebody who can use the tools of the world as it is, to do great things.

Maria Franzoni

00:14:29 – 00:14:41

I think there will be a lot of children if there are any listening in. I hope they do. Who will be absolutely applauding you and agreeing with you because that whole learning by rote is just so dull, isn’t it? Let’s be honest.

Tom Cheesewright

00:14:41 – 00:14:42

Yeah.

Maria Franzoni

00:14:42 – 00:15:02

Yeah. I’m sure that’s fantastic in the future education is so important, you know. Is education future-ready? You know. Are we creating the people that we need for the future for what’s happening? And I suppose there’s a huge piece of education around the people who are educating so that they are ready. So you actually, I can see how you’ll be very busy in that area,

Tom Cheesewright

00:15:02 – 00:15:12

Yeah. I think the disappointing thing is, I think there are a lot of teachers who are future-ready or are ready to teach people for the future. They’re just not necessarily operating in a framework that allows them to do so.

Maria Franzoni

00:15:12 – 00:15:22

That’s really disappointing, really disappointing. And actually question for you. Did you ever when you were a youngster when you were at school, did you ever imagine that you would become a futurist?

Tom Cheesewright

00:15:22 – 00:16:04

So I always say, it’s 1981 and then we’ll come back to the story. We can’t come back to this story, this podcast. But in the future one, If we come back, we’ll come back to the story. But in 1981 my mom bought me and I’m waving it to you now, though, maybe the audience can’t see this. The Osborne Book of the Future and it has been a sort of Bible for me ever since, And it really did. It showed me the idea that actually, there are people who get paid to think about the future. And so it was about 15 years ago I started a blog called The Book of the Future, which was really my entry point into futurism. And around the same time got asked on the BBC to explain a few things that I, that

Tom Cheesewright

00:16:04 – 00:16:16

a DJ understood I knew about, and then, the two kind of came together eventually. That’s what really been a passion from the age of three about thinking about the future, To turn into a career back in about 2012.

Maria Franzoni

00:16:16 – 00:16:32

Well done, Mum. How good is that? Another futurist there. Well done, Mom. Brilliant. I like that. So here’s a big question for you. Maybe it’s a bit unfair, but, hey, why not? You know, you’re a futurist. We want to know what’s your big prediction for the future that we should all be looking out for?

Tom Cheesewright

00:16:32 – 00:16:57

So the one that’s really hot at the moment and I think is very, very widely misunderstood is the Metaverse. There’s a lot of conversation around them because Facebook is apparently pivoting to become a Metaverse company. And people have this idea that it’s really virtual reality, that we’re all just going to be putting these giant headsets on and leaving the physical world behind and, you know, just never seen another human being again and just existing

Tom Cheesewright

00:16:57 – 00:17:39

in a world of virtual avatars. And that’s not the case at all. Maybe where the metaverse started, it started in science fiction in a book called Snow Crash is exactly that. But these days the people actually building the metaverse, so really thinking about it as the integration of the physical world in the digital world. Right now, the two are separated by that sheet of glass on the front of your phone. You’re never actually in the digital world because it’s inside your device, whereas as we shift from handsets to headsets and we start to project the digital world on top of the physical world so you can see a virtual person and they could look as real as the physical person walking down the street. Or it could be a robot or an alien or anything you like,

Tom Cheesewright

00:17:39 – 00:18:12

and you start to interact with them as humans have interacted with each other for hundreds of thousands of years. Suddenly, those digital and physical worlds blend, and I think that’s a really both terrifying prospect in terms of what it means for us as a species, but also what it means to business retail, what it means for, interpersonal communication, what it means for dating. It touches every aspect of our lives. And I think people right now are dismissing it as some dodgy idea by a bunch of Silicon Valley billionaires. And actually, I think it’s going to be truly transformative.

Maria Franzoni

00:18:12 – 00:18:15

Wow. How far in the future is that would you say?

Tom Cheesewright

00:18:15 – 00:18:19

It’s a bit like nuclear fusion? I think I’ve probably been saying it’s 10 years away for about the last 10 years.

Maria Franzoni

00:18:19 – 00:18:20

Okay.

Tom Cheesewright

00:18:20 – 00:18:58

But I mean, I think we’re probably less than five years from having the first serious mixed reality headsets that you might walk down the street in and not look a total fool. And 10 years from it, being made in the studio is a bit like the smartphone you could get a smartphone in 2002. I had one of my friends laughed at it because it was a giant brick. But they’re one really took them up until Apple got involved in 2007, and I think the same thing will happen with the Metaverse. There’ll be weirdos like me walking down the road and slightly odd looking glasses in a few years’ time. But it won’t go truly mainstream until a few years after that.

Maria Franzoni

00:18:58 – 00:19:08

Brilliant, brilliant. Well, you’ve given us so much great value today. I really, really appreciate it. Is there a thought you would like to leave our listeners with about the future?

Tom Cheesewright

00:19:08 – 00:19:51

My main one was just, is to think about it more like we’re all futurists. Like everybody who’s ever bought insurance, plan the holiday, ironed a shirt for the day ahead, but you’re thinking about the future. We don’t do it in a very structured fashion. I want to try and encourage all my clients to do is to carve out 1% of their time as an individual or at work to focus on the future, which is only one day every six months. Can you find one day every six months to focus on the future and do it in a structured way break out of the day to day, you think, Just go look at what’s happening in adjacent markets or what other people are doing. What’s happening abroad is always really interesting. Go and look at China or South Korea or parts of Africa. Always interesting things happening

Tom Cheesewright

00:19:51 – 00:19:59

and see what you can learn. But just carve out that time. Give yourself a chance 1% of your time focused on the future.

Maria Franzoni

00:19:59 – 00:20:06

I think one day every six months is incredibly doable, really, isn’t it? When you put it that way, stick it in your diary and make it happen.

Tom Cheesewright

00:20:06 – 00:20:09

You really hope so. And yet so few of us do.

Maria Franzoni

00:20:09 – 00:20:22

Okay, I’m going to put it in when we sign off. I’m going to put a day in my diary every six months to think about the future. Get my crystal ball out and look at what could be. Tom, thank you so much. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself. It’s been it’s whizzed by.

Tom Cheesewright

00:20:22 – 00:20:25

Yeah, really enjoyed it. Thank you, Maria.

Maria Franzoni

00:20:25 – 00:20:57

Wonderful. And thank you all for listening to The Speaker Show. If you enjoyed this episode, please go to Apple podcasts and give it a rating. Keep up with future episodes at the Speakers Associates website, which is speakers associates dot com or your favourite podcast app. Of course. And if you would like Tom to come into your organisation and help you to be future-ready, please contact Speakers Associates in very good time because you’ve heard it here. He’s super busy. Thank you very much indeed. And bye bye for now.

Connect with Speakers Associates

Live interview

Maria Franzoni is an established and recognised speaking industry expert and one of the most experienced speaker bookers in Europe.

As well as working with speakers, Maria also hosts live shows and podcasts. She currently hosts The Speaker Show podcast for Speakers Associates.

Related podcasts