Back to the future: CHRO and CFO Fearless Future Summit goes wild

Executives gathered to future-gaze, and then hopped on a virtual game drive to conclude the evening.

The annual joint get-together of the CHRO and CFO communities took excited attendees on a phenomenal ride into the future with flying cars, graphene, CRISPR and mind-reading machines – ending with a real time experience of a tail-less elephant freshly out of a Kruger National Park mud bath.

Covid-19 does not even make the top five in the list of disruptors that will the way people live, work and play in the next decade. This was revealed by CHRO South Africa MD Joël Roerig at the start of the highly anticipated Fearless Future Summit, which brought together industry leaders from the CFO and CHRO communities.

This year, the summit took place virtually, which gave enthralled attendees unique access to legendary futurist thinking from the 1970s, a deep understanding of technology currently available and a real time experience of the wonders of the African bush – no doubt a first for corporate South Africa.

All of this was made possible by executive partner Workday, and associate partners TalentSmith, Sanlam, Wamly, Kyriba and Momentum Corporate.

The summit kicked off by taking HR and Finance professionals back – way back into the future.

Professor Ian Glenn, research associate in communications sciences at the University of the Free State and emeritus professor of media studies at the University of Cape Town, revealed the accuracy of the predictions made by futurist Arthur C. Clarke fifty years ago.

Clarke was a weird and wonderful figure and science fiction writer, who started a diving and underwater school in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Ian said, “Clarke could foresee that all knowledge was going to work very differently. It was fascinating. He had the concept of an online community as ‘a few dozen unknown friends scattered all over the world’. He could foresee the digital telephone, how it would turn some of us into info-maniacs, the psychological issues, the digital telephone…

“We see him predicting the latest development of personalised TV safaris. Have you wondered why South African wildlife documentaries do so well? It’s because we have small-country sophistication. Clarke could see technology from the point of view of the third world,” he added.

Ridiculous and useful ideas

After these stimulating insights from Ian, attendees moved into breakaway sessions to discuss their predictions for the future – freshly armed with the current reality of changes Covid has brought to both their internal and external working environments.

Technological advancements, energy and transport were the main themes that emerged from the intimate peer discussions that took place among industry leaders.

This set the scene for the keynote address by futurist and strategy guru Graeme Codrington, who gave attendees a fearless peak into the future now of ridiculous – and useful – ideas.

He said, “Listening to Clarke’s predictions now, it sounds almost quaint. What he does show us though is that if we take what we are already doing and stretch it a little bit, it doesn’t invite innovation. Innovation happens when you tell everybody to get rid of the rules in their head, get rid of boundaries and barriers.”

He then went on to reveal the technology that will drastically change the way humans interact with the world and each other, from transportation, energy and infrastructure to food, genetics and mind-reading machines.

“We already have the technology to get from Johannesburg to Sydney in 32 minutes. You can get anywhere in the world in under an hour.

“What if I told you that driverless cars will become compulsory because that’s when you get the real benefit of the system? Every car can speak with every other car and come up with the traffic pattern that makes the most sense. This is the best example to get your head around the future,” he said.

Revolutionary

Graeme revealed that there are 72 green energy projects under way South Africa at the moment.

“SA is the last country in the world with an energy monopoly. If government allows it right now, we have the wind and solar power technology to plug into the energy grid.

“In France, they have basically built a star for nuclear fusion energy. It doesn’t produce nuclear waste and uses electro-magnetic fields and variety of fuels, like sea water. Electricity will be clean, abundant and cheap. That would be a ridiculous thought in SA right now,” he said.

Graeme also revealed a new smart material called graphene, that is 200 times stronger than steel and 20 times more conductive than copper. It has the ability to replace concrete, steel and glass.

“This will revolutionise how we build buildings, planes and cars. We are also going to be able to advance the integration of robotic and machine parts into our bodies. One of the reasons people die of old age is because they can’t stand up straight as their muscles and organs atrophy. If you could strap on an exo skeleton, it will help with mobility and quality of life. For younger people, this can provide superhuman strength.,” he predicted.

That’s when summit attendees heard that half of the people who have every turned 80 are still alive.

“Living to 100 years is easy. We already have the existing science to solve the ways in which cells die and reproduce – to stop ageing. Advancements in gene editing and DNA sequencing, through CRISPR and mRNA, is remarkable,” he said.

Mind-readers and Matabele ants

With this mind-boggling information, Graeme then demonstrated his very own real-time MRI scanner, which he is currently training to read his thoughts, emotions and instructions. No more need voice-recognition software!

He said, “Fifty years from now, we will think it was ridiculous that we killed animals and ate them. We will not necessarily stop eating meat, we’ll do it without killing animals.”

“With all of this, we didn’t go into the future, I am show you the world we are already living in. Be open to the potential of the possible, and then say what’s preferable and what’s probable.”

After receiving such insight, the large group of CFOs and CHROs virtually hopped on to a sunset game drive around the Kruger National Park, with bushveld expert Brent Leo-Smith from Painted Dog TV.

As the sun set on an unpredictable and fearless summit, industry leaders continued to explore the thoughts of a future now – all while listening to Brent explain why the elephant being followed didn’t have a tail, the rhino spotted grazing didn’t have a horn and the why carbon dioxide makes Matabele ants go into fight mode.