Tom Cheesewright is the Applied Futurist, helping people and organisations around the world to see the future more clearly, share their vision, and respond with innovation. Tom helps clients and their audiences to connect tomorrow’s world to today’s experience, and make sense of what’s happening next, and why.
Tom’s clients include 25 global 500 corporations, government departments, industry bodies, and charities. He is the author of two books on change and futurism, and a regular face and voice in the media, appearing thousands of times across TV, radio, print, and online.
How did you get to become an expert in your key topics?
I’ve been obsessed with the future since I was three years old when my Mum bought me the Usborne Book of the Future. Following a degree in Mechatronic Engineering, I started my career helping technology firms to communicate their ideas to the public. After that I founded a series of businesses, each time making a bet on my own view of the future. I started writing and broadcasting about the future in 2006 and made it my full-time business after leaving my most recent start-up in 2012. Since then I have developed the tools and techniques I use through experience and published a guide to them as part of the Penguin Business Experts series in 2020.
What sub-topics are you most passionate about?
Whatever sector I’m working in, I believe in driving sustainable success. Strategies that help leaders to leave a legacy they can be proud of while delivering for shareholders, staff, customers, and the rest of the population.
I really enjoy working in sectors that cross over with my own interests: food and drink, technology, and cars. But I’m just deeply curious. I can get passionate about just about any subject, which is good as my work is very varied. I once went from working on the future of supermarkets to the future of superyachts in just one week!
Who influences you within these topics?
Science fiction is enormously important, from Isaac Asimov to William Gibson, to James Corey. Beyond that, the influence depends on the sector I’m looking at for a particular project. Sometimes it’s scientific research, sometimes it’s market data or demographics, sometimes it’s cultural research, sociology, and ethnography.
What challenges are brands facing in this space?
Most organisations are terrible at planning. They are locked into old processes that centre around the annual budgeting and report cycle. They occasionally drag the leadership out for an away day to think ‘outside the box’. But the total amount of time and resource devoted to structured thought about what’s next is shockingly small because everyone is so busy dealing with today. As a result, one of the first things I often have to do is help clients to carve out the time to focus on the future. Just 1% of your time – one day every six months – is a really good start, as long as that time is used well.
What do you think the future holds in this space?
The future of the future? 🙂
I’m seeing client companies make three clear shifts. First, they’re trying to build more agility into their businesses by changing the structure. Companies are shrinking and shifting to look more like networks than giant monoliths. Second, they’re trying to speed up their decision-making processes by accelerating the flow of information and distributing power to the edges of the business. And third, they’re investing more in foresight, trying to see what’s next.
More broadly, we’re at a very challenging period between disease, climate change and war. At the same time we have lost a lot of trust in government and even in material reality – see the rise of conspiracy theories. I think we have some difficult years ahead. But there are things to be excited about as well: clean energy, rapid advances in medicine, advances in equality – though much slower than we might like.
What brands are leading the way in this space?
If a brand wanted to work with you, which activities would you be most interested in collaborating on?
I tend to work with clients in three ways. One is as an advisor and trainer on foresight, strategy and innovation, behind the scenes. The second is as a speaker, at corporate events or conferences. The third is as the ‘content engine’ behind campaigns. I help them to develop credible reports on the future of their domain and wrap that in a range of activities: videos, events, media briefings, blogs, social media activity etc.
What are your passions outside of work?
I love to make things. In lockdown, my eldest daughter and I built an electric car that is now road legal and I’m now building a second one with my youngest. You can see them in my main YouTube channel that is devoted to these projects rather than my ‘real’ work – though these projects have helped me win a lot of work with clients in the automotive sector since they can see that I understand the challenges of the transition to electric.
My passion for making things also stretches into food, where it is balanced by my passion for eating! I handle most of the cooking duties at home but really enjoy entertaining when I get the chance. I’ll have a go at anything, though tend to focus on the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern style food.
What would be the best way for a brand to contact you?
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