How to shape strategy and lead for 2050: SxSW Sydney session


Australia’s national science agency CSIRO and leading deep-tech venture capital firm Main Sequence Ventures sponsored a 2050 content track at SxSW Sydney. It is fantastic to see truly long-term thinking in action in venture capital and tech innovation in Australia (or anywhere).

As part of the track Main Sequence Ventures partner Phil Morle and I had a conversation on The Next Blur: How To Be Ready for a World of Accelerating Change, essentially how to think strategically about 2050 for entrepreneurs and business leaders.  

Here are some highlights from what we covered:

Framing thinking about 2050

Main Sequence recently ran a 2050 workshop for the leaders of its portfolio companies, focusing on the interactions between different technologies, which generated this chart (click here or on the image for a zoomable image).

To give us context on the path to 2050 Phil ran through some of the massive shifts over the last 30 years, including the interaction of rapid technology development and society.

“There are probably some two way interactions. But you’re starting to see the particles all hit each other, so you can start to think through the world and see all these things affecting each other. 

The beautiful thing that happened in the workshop is when we started joining dots together, creating a noise of ideas and connections. It’s like a neural network. 

All the AI people hadn’t even thought about quantum. So when they understood what quantum computers were about to be and they started thinking about AI they started realizing they could do more. And then all the people making healthcare solutions realized that if AI can do that because of quantum oh my god, I can do all these things. There are going to be all these all these ripple effects. So it became a super interesting conversation.

It just gets really, really interesting. I think these things are colliding so quickly today, they’re making each other go faster and faster and faster.”

Why the world is accelerating 

I followed by discussing some of the forces leading to the acceleration of change in technology, society, and business.

“Everyone’s been saying forever that the world is changing faster and faster. So is it actually going faster and faster, accelerating? The evidence seems to be that it is indeed accelerating.

There are a number of underlying factors. The first and most important one is connectivity. Simply whenever somebody comes up with an idea we can immediately communicate and collaborate around the world, which wasn’t the case not too long ago. Another fundamental shift is preprint and open access journals. There used to be a massive gap from development of scientific research to that being available, whereas now with preprint everything’s immediately available. The acceleration of knowledge is increasing.

Another development which has been absolutely fundamental is open source. Many of the lower levels of the technology stacks are open source, so people can immediately go to higher levels of value creation. Of course another development feeding on itself is AI, machine learning and generative AI are able to design capacities to be able to do things faster and better.

One of the shifts that is often ignored is health care, where when we have longer, healthier lives and better abilities, we’re able to spend more time doing things rather than tending to our diseases, thinking more and better. Better healthcare means more people have more resources and more time to accelerate. There is a whole array of other driving forces, all of which are feeding on themselves.”

Foresight methodologies

I then spoke at a high level about foresight methodologies.

“If you look at every single foresight methodology, essentially it incorporates two key aspects: understanding the trends and the driving forces, and overlaying the uncertainties.

For any trend – which is data from the past pointing to today – possiblities include: will this trend will continue as it is? will it accelerate? will it decelerate and reduce? Or will it stop and reverse? In fact, many trends have reversed for various reasons.

Foresight is a structured approach to thinking about the future. We cannot predict the future. But there’s a whole array of different methodologies we can apply by observing past developments in data patterns, what we can call a trend, thinking about the scope of the uncertainties, and combining those.

[Scenarios] must be multi dimensional worlds. These are the tools we have to do effective planning for building businesses, developing new technologies, creating better societies, and all the other good things everyone here is doing.”

AI as copilot for future thinking

Phil shared the “Forces to 2050” future scenario generator that Main Sequence has created to allow founders to explore possibilities from the intersection of technology, geopolitical, and social forces, and the rationale for it.

“When people try to use AI to write a blog post about the future, we all just know how awful and generic that’s going to be. But it’s not going to be like that forever. It’s going to get better and better and help me to get there. It becomes my job to teach my AI to write good stuff and to do that quicker. I have to work on that with prompt engineering and visual production.

[The generator] is not making great science fiction writing. But as a co pilot for an innovator it’s useful if you’re about to start a company in that space. That’s interesting. What if that did happen? What if I could make that happen?

What if that could be my job in 10 years? Like back testing your career, how could I be that person? What do I need to learn to get there? It’s helping me think.”  

Lessons for long-term thinking and strategy

These were just some highlights of the discussion, there was a lot more, including Phil and I running through some examples of charting long-term company trajectories, the critical challenge of getting timing right. and using backcasting as a strategy tool.

The overarching frame for the conversation is that we not only must think about the long-term in our ventures, we can. There are a whole set of tools, methodologies, frames, and approaches that are incredibly useful for founders, boards, investors, and government leaders. 

Phil and I both have a mission to share this thinking. The SxSW Sydney session was a step on that path.