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San Francisco: Inventing the future

In June 2012, BSR CEO Aron Cramer opened the San Francisco debate by asking futurist Peter Schwartz (senior vice president of global relations and strategic planning at Salesforce and the cofounder of the Global Business Network) to reflect on lessons he has learned in the past 20 years. Schwartz said that when faced with scenarios for the future, companies succeed or fail based on their ability to act. He argued that companies fail not by correctly predicting what will happen, but rather in accepting what will happen and acting accordingly.

Other topics covered include the following. 

The importance of embedded values: Schwartz suggested that management must integrate values into corporate culture and strategy, as well as moving beyond compliance to achieve sustainability goals. In an argument that aligned with the New York discussion about bottom-up solutions, he added that companies and cities should act when national governments cannot or will not.

A beautiful vision for the future: Schwartz believes we shouldn’t try to turn back the clock. Conservation and environmentalism seek to re-create a state of nature before it was changed by humans, but human-made environmental degradation has been occurring for centuries. Instead, he proposed that we think differently about the future, imagining not a pristine pre-human state but a beautiful, well-tended garden. How will we get there?

Innovation and empowered individuals: Advances in globalization and information technology have allowed companies to tap into diverse viewpoints, helped emerging economies develop economically, and empowered people. As we become increasingly connected, Schwartz predicted, power will shift from centralized systems to individuals with vast information at their fingertips who will make breakthroughs from the bottom up.

Slideshow written content by Eva Dienel and Julia Robinson, BSR
Photo of San Francisco skyline provided by Bruce L Crandall via Shutterstock