Secrets And Trends Of The Future From Markku Wilenius, Famous Futurist

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Mar. 6 2023, Updated 5:36 p.m. ET

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In the unstable modern era, it is important to correctly form a beneficial path forward into our future. But how can we ensure that our assumptions are dependable and that we can trust our predictions when planning? We will dig into this and more in an interview with the international futurist, Knight of Finland, a UNESCO Chair of Transformational Learning and Planetary Futures, and a former Dean of the Dubai Future Academy - Markku Wilenius.

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You represent a rare, but very interesting profession. Tell us, who are futurists and what do they do? What inspired you to become a futurist, and how did you get your start?

My career as a futurist started with a magical encounter that occurred when I was a young researcher. I went to interview a professor at the School of Economics, who I knew was not only a qualified statistical mathematician but also interested in the future of humanity.This was in the early 1990s, when I was part of a research team modeling incipient climate change. The professor's name was Pentti Malaska, he had just founded the Finland Futures Research Centre. What he told me blew my mind: he showed how we could model and project the future development of societies. At that time, I was used to modeling developments in nature with natural scientists, but it was utterly new to me that the same could be done with society. After those couple hours of interviewing, I decided I wanted to devote the rest of my life to studying the future of societies, and that's the road I’m still on!

The way I work as a futurist is as follows:

1) I usually have a few research projects going on, involving a team of researchers. For example, I'm currently studying the future of the bioeconomy and the major societal upheavals that will take place.

2) I teach foresight. As a professor, my role is to teach future studies in my university's master's and doctoral programs. I also give lectures and courses in other parts of the world– in recent years, for example, in Dubai at the University of Rome Tor Vergata and at the University of Santa Barbara in California.

3) I work as a consultant for companies in Finland and abroad. That work can be anything from a single workshop to multi-year processes. I also consult governments, ministries, and regional administrations.

4) I write articles and books and give interviews.I am currently finalizing a book on the great discontinuities of our time while also working on a book on the future of work.

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During your career, you have achieved success and been recognized at an international level. Please tell us how you became a Knight of Finland, a UNESCO Chair of Transformational Learning and Planetary Futures, and a Dean of the Dubai Future Academy?

The first thing to remember is that the sector I work in is still young, and there are not many players. My own 30-year career in futures studies coincides with an era of pioneering academic futurology.When I became the director of Finland Futures Research Centre in 1999, it was one of the very few of that type of institutes in the whole world. When I then became professor of futures research at the School of Economics in 2004, I was one of the very first professors in this field in the whole world. And when I became a futurist at Allianz, the world's largest private insurance company, I was the very first futurist of my kind. When we built a Master's and PhD in futurology at our research center, we were again among the first in the world. And in the many times I've done futurology work, both in the private sector and in public administration, I've mostly been a boundary-breaker and a source of new ideas. These and other accolades have come from a lifetime of pioneering work, and it hasn't always been easy. My work in Dubai over the last couple of years, training thousands of senior civil servants and women in forward thinking, was also hard and not always rewarding. And now I'm one of the first futurists to have created a comprehensive social media strategy. But I love my job as a pioneer and wouldn't trade it for anything else.

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In Finland in particular, I am a widely known person, having made a huge number of public and private presentations over the decades, given probably hundreds of interviews, and served on numerous government working groups. In other words, I have been a social debater and influencer who has helped the various actors in society to see more clearly into the future. For this, I believe, I received my knighthood. I became UNESCO Chair because I have worked for so long with education and learning in the area, which can be called future literacy. This work was noticed and appreciated by UNESCO, which seeks to spread the good news of learning around the world.My work as Scientific Director of the Dubai Future Academy, in turn, started because they noticed in Dubai that I was one of the few people in the world who was qualified in the field of foresight by combining a scientific and practical perspective.

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Despite already being a scientist and a famous professor, you’re now making content and developing your own social media presence. How and why did you decide to choose this particular method for spreading your ideas?

As a teacher, researcher or consultant, you are mostly dealing with a very limited group of people and a very limited location.I wanted to do something that has the potential to reach people all over the world, and I saw that social media really gives you the opportunity to do so. Secondly, I also wanted to try out new ways to do my work. It's very different to give an hour or two lecture to a company, a government department, or my students at university than to condense what you have to say into 10 minutes or even one minute! For me, this use of social media has been very inspiring, and I can already see from the results that people of all ages around the world are really following me. This is really fantastic. I also feel that I can offer them something really unique, something that no one else can do just because I have my own very unique background.

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You are one of the few representatives of your profession actively present on Tik-Tok and have already collected more than 26 million views. Why do you think your content has been so successful on this particular social network?

I'm thrilled to have been able to spread my views on the world and its future so widely in TikTok. Of course, it has taken a lot of work from the very international, top team that works for me. TikTok is a reflection of our times, where time is being fragmented into smaller and smaller pieces, and people are searching online for their "tribe"– i.e. people who share the same values and worldview. At the same time, people have an unprecedented opportunity to access insights that inspire them and help them develop as human beings. This is where I see the real opportunity for TikTok, and I am very happy to be part of this bottom-up revolution, where your ability to make your voice heard is no longer based only on your education and social status, but on the clarity and appeal of your ideas.

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What is unique about your content? Tell us how your videos are created and what secrets you use to hook the audience. What works best?

My uniqueness lies in the way I’ve practiced my thinking using futures research methods such as scenario thinking and systems thinking. On the other hand, I have read and worked extensively in a wide range of areas, from technology, to food, climate, economy and even the evolution of human values. I have seen that my own work is precisely to understand developments in very different areas and to draw conclusions about the future. Simultaneously, I always try to see the links between the past, the present, and the future. My hooks and my way of approaching any question comes from these very premises, and I believe that no one else can do it the way I can.

My videos are born out of the idea that I could in some clever way produce high quality content on the important issues of our time and our future so that people can better understand the world around them and have the tools to positively influence its course. I have been incredibly fortunate to have a reputable international team (Veritas Creative Media) and a top-end, talented videographer (Bogdan Zhuk), whose uncompromising quality criteria have contributed to the success of our channel.

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You discuss the most pressing issues of the future from a scientific point of view, then share these discussions through social networks, where people spend much of their time. In your opinion, what is the role of social media in the future of education and in the planet as a whole?

A lot of opportunities to learn something you see as important are based on the fact that you were born or live in a particular place, or that you have parents wealthy enough to pay for quality education. This has to change so that we can unlock the true talent and capacity of more people than we have today to create the common good. I see social media in the coming years and decades evolving into a learning platform where everyone, regardless of background or wealth, can learn about the things they are interested in. This is the tremendous promise that the evolution of social media is making possible.

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You have a new book coming out soon. Can you tell us how it complements your social media content? What will your audiences be able to learn through it that they won’t be able to find online?

In my book, I want to help people understand why we are living in a time of such great discontinuity and upheaval. The pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the exponentially accelerating competition between the US and China, the dramatically rapid penetration of new technologies into every part of society, climate change and so on: all these phenomena show that the world is becoming more and more complex and fractured, and for very good reasons. I want to bring this transformation to light in a way that we can understand, and also to explain how we ourselves must navigate this world towards a better future. My mission with this book is not only to help us understand, but also to point to solutions. I hope to have the book available to readers by the summer. Before then, you should read my 2017 book Patterns of the Future, as this book can be considered its sequel.

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Being a logical continuation of Patterns of the Future, your new book leads readers to improve system thinking and helps them adapt to a new reality by developing new skills. What kind of useful answers do you think readers from different generations will be able to find for themselves in your work?

The first point I want to make is that the world is not a mindless, chaotic and irrational place. Instead, we live in a world where certain laws and chains of cause and effect apply, and I bring them to an understandable level. Second, I want to help my readers better understand the consequences of their own actions. We all need to think more sharply and more clearly, especially about what we really want in this world. This is not a rant, but a serious argument. Thirdly, I want to help people understand the importance of always considering alternatives. We often think in our everyday world that we don't have options, but in fact most of the time we do. And finally, I want to spread the good news of systemic thinking: only by looking at the world in a way that makes us realize the effects and consequences of our own and others' actions do we have the chance to truly evolve and create something genuinely new. This is what I want to demonstrate in a concrete way for the reader.

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In your publications, you raise the most important issues related to changing the climate, politics, and economics. Can you share the most important, unknown trends that you’re seeing now?

First, I want to highlight a little-understood factor that is revolutionizing our energy market. Even today, the vast majority of energy experts believe that we will not get rid of polluting fossil fuels in the coming decades. Personally, I see things quite differently: I see an exponential trend and, on the other hand, the terrifying scientifically proven change that is already taking place in our climate.We have the knowledge, but not the awareness of these factors. Already in this decade the energy sector will change radically, and we are now seeing the first very strong indications of this change. Secondly, I would like to highlight an interesting trend: although 90% of the world's materials are still thrown away in trash and landfills, the explosion of recycling, based not only on environmental protection but also on economic thinking, is changing the situation very radically around the world. I believe that some of the most progressive new technologies will completely change our perception of what can be recycled and reused as raw materials.Thirdly, I want to highlight an interesting growing trend that agriculture is the solution to climate change. With the right techniques, agriculture can capture all the carbon we need from the atmosphere into the soil. Not only would it improve the quality of the soil, it would help to eliminate the greatest threat to humanity: unleashed climate change.

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And finally, you have the ability to predict the future and the events that may occur. What makes you stay positive and optimistic despite this unstable and critical time?

I have always believed in the human ability to change. There are many factors in our time that easily make us think that there is no chance for a good future when we still have so many wars and conflicts in the world. However, history shows that we have often been able to change our actions radically when we truly need to. Human creative capacity is limitless, and our intentions really do create our world. We just have to intend good things and at the same time dare to face reality, whatever it looks like! Only through this can we build something lasting and beautiful. The development of my own country, Finland, from a backward country to a pioneering one that is praised the world over has also been an inspiring example of what can be achieved.

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Where can people learn more about what you do?

I constantly create and post new content on my TikTok, YouTube and Instagram accounts, where I talk about the latest and most interesting developments in global events, technology, geopolitics, climate, and make predictions based on my unique lens of being a futurist what our future is going to look like. Follow me there to learn more about what the future holds, and how to make accurate predictions yourself.

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