Future Perfect

Dubai Airport

Dubai Airport

What will the world look like in 2050? This is the question at the heart of Drivers of Change, a terrific planning and brainstorming device created by the Foresight and Innovation team of the London-based engineering firm Arup.

Packaged in a sturdy, bright box, Drivers of Change is 175 cards posing pointed, forward-looking questions and delivering quick hits of data on energy, waste, climate change, water, demographics, urbanization and poverty. Each topic is broken down into five areas of inquiry, with five cards each exploring social, technological, economic, environmental and political issues specific to the subject at hand. If this sounds like it has the potential to be overwhelming or depressing--or simplistic, it's anything but.

The cards' smart design and crisp writing manage at once to spotlight the nature of the substantial challenges facing a world with rapidly growing population and finite resources--and to spark imagination and highlight meaningful positive possibility for addressing these challenges. From a firm that is involved in the construction of thousands of building and infrastructure projects around the world, this is both comforting and inspiring.

I discovered Drivers of Change in 2009 not long after it was produced, and I have drawn on it since then in both personal and professional contexts. It is a powerful tool, applicable for individuals setting long-term goals; startups brainstorming business models; large corporations in the process of business planning and product design; public and policy sector groups considering program development; teachers and professors looking to stimulate creative classroom dialogue; and non-profits and foundations thinking about long-term strategic priorities.

Arup's founder, Ove Arup, gave a speech in 1970 outlining his core values and vision for his company. It's an extraordinary articulation of the interplay between humanitarian and profit-making principles that many businesses are just coming to explore and embrace today, forty years later. Known as the Key Speech, you can download a copy of it here. You can follow Arup on Twitter here, the firm's Chairman of Global Planning, Peter Head, here, and the Foresight and Innovation group here.

In December Chris Luebkeman, head of Arup's Foresight and Innovation Group, appeared on the episode of CNBC's Executive Vision devoted to infrastructure issues. You can watch the show below or visit its web page here.

Photo: Arup