Futurist asks the right questions
SPEAK to Sohail Inayatullah for 46 minutes, and don't be alarmed, firstly, if your head hurts.
Also, try not to be surprised by the impressive list of people and organisations he has worked with, a sort of name-dropping on humble steroids.
The Singapore Prime Minister's office, Interpol, Australian Federal Police, BUPA, Victorian Museum, Boeing, Queensland Libraries, Victoria Health, Islamic scientists in Pakistan, Gold Coast council, the Hawaii State Judiciary, a "large cola company" and the Dubai Ministry.
Who is he?
Born in Pakistan, Sohail moved countries every two years due to his parents' work, living in Geneva, Malaysia, New York, Hawaii and Brisbane. He moved to Mooloolaba in 1999, lured by beachy promises from a QUT academic who heard him deliver a speech in Finland.
He has a PhD in political science and macro history, the study of big patterns of change going back thousands of years. He is an adjunct professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast. He is a Fellow of the World Futures Studies Federation and part of the International Advisory Council of the World Future Society.
Aged 55, he has two children, a daughter in Year 12 at Mountain Creek and a son studying linguistics in Barcelona. He became a vegetarian in 1975. He travels overseas delivering speeches four months of the year, and is home in Mooloolaba for the remaining eight months.
What does he do?
It can be hard to get your head around, but the question probably should be: what doesn't he do? He travels the world running foresight workshops. He says his job is not to predict but to "help with scenarios" to create a preferred future.
He has worked with a number of justice and law enforcement agencies on the future of policing, bringing his "transformative foresight" to their planning.
"I have spoken to AFP and Interpol to help police executives adapt to a changing world. When they grew up, it was about using physical strength to solve crime, now it's something called big data," he said.
"We are moving towards predictive policing using technology.
"In the old days, effective policing was about driving around seeking out crime. Now we can use data to target where crimes might happen. That will translate to a better use of funds and crime prevention."
The future of health insurance is another interest area.
"It will shift to personalised health, where each person's health profile will determine the premium, and that's if you smoke, where you live, what your gender is, what you eat," he said.
"A British company is offering cheaper premiums if you are a vegetarian, because they see a correlation between the consumption of red meat and cancer."
He regularly works with corporate CEOs.
"I ask them, 'why don't you let your staff work from home?'. They say they don't trust them, even though the research is clear: people are more productive," he said.
"They are talking about putting in avatar robots to check everyone is doing what they're supposed to be. That's not the way I want it to go. It should be based on trust and completion."
All of his work, he said, is designed to encourage humans to lift their gaze to a further horizon.
"As the world shifts, do you have the skill set to manage the changing future?" he asks
"To do that well, you've got to figure out factors driving future demographics shifts and technologies, but also the weights...the things stopping them.
"They are often narratives we tell ourselves about the future. Think of a person who is 40kgs overweight who goes to the doctor and asks for a new knee.
"I look at that narrative and say, 'does it help me achieve the future, is it predictive?'
"Everyone has a core story, every organisation can figure out what needs to change. And ever since SARS, the GFC, climate change and 9-11, everyone gets the old paradigms have changed.
"It's about finding a new story."
"I asked the large cola company that I consulted with, that I can't name, what should be your main product in 2040? Cola could become the tobacco of the future, so do they want to be in dying industry or do they want to move to the health industry?
"Consultants and planners do the current, and the present is tough to change. But the future becomes the safe space you can use to change the present.
"Everyone gives me 50 reasons why change can't happen. But if you say 'what might it look like in 2025?'; it opens up and allows a gateway stream of possibilities."
"An aging society. Who will work if everyone retires? In Australia, there will soon be 2.5 workers for every retiree; it's four right now.
"If the worker-retiree ratio shifts unfavourably, where do you get the people? Most workforces are anti-elderly; people want to work from home; so how do you create mixed careers where you can work at home part-time? How do you create community spaces to combat the loneliness people feel when working from home?
"This is a new way of thinking about work."
"I love it here...the beach, it's clean and green," he said."But I go to places like Barcelona, and it has more acceptance of...weirdness. You walk on the beach and there's a crazy sculpture. They embrace difference and they get if you are different, you are doing better.
"If you are like everyone else, you are the McDonald's of the economy. The Sunshine Coast can compete, but what do we do differently?"
"You have to be planning for 2020 - but there is a level of uncertainty in newspapers. Will subscribers access news on the net and be willing to pay for it, at what cost? Or will it be a no subscription peer-to-peer information transfer? Ask yourself what happens to me in each of those futures.
"If peer-to-peer takes over, the issue becomes the curation. Do you trust friends to tell you the news? I would prefer it to come from a trusted source. Journalists become the quality assurance.
"Talking to museum and library managers, I ask them if you are the curator, what happens when the collection is not so important - as the world switches more digital. How do you bring people in? Shift a library from books to a place for the aging population to meet and do workshops.
"Kids like technology, so how do we make the physical space more digitally amazing? Amp it up with holograms and I've been encouraging libraries to get into 3D printing.
"A kid can design a dinosaur on a PC, print the dinosaur and then paint it.
"How cool would that be?"
"In China today, there are seven workers per retiree, by 2020 it drops to two. There will be 300,000 Indian tourists in Australia by 2020. What's the long-term strategy for getting them here?," he said.
"I am perplexed (about foreign buy-ups of Australian land).
"Part of me likes local people having control of their economy, it's the Maleny scenario.
"But you think local people look just like me. How do you get the global-local mix right?
"You must ask when you leave a city if you are leaving it more beautiful or less, and there needs to be restrictions."