Episode: 315 |
Trond Undheim:
Pandemic Aftermath:


Trond Undheim

Pandemic Aftermath

Show Notes

Trond Arne Undheim is a futurist, speaker, entrepreneur and former director of MIT Startup Exchange, based outside of Boston. He has accelerated four unicorns and helped launch over 50 startups.

In this episode we discuss his latest book, the 450-page Pandemic Aftermath, which he wrote between February and April of this year.

Visit Trond’s website:   https://trondundheim.com/

Check out his podcast, Futurized: https://trondundheim.com/podcast/

And buy Pandemic Aftermath on Amazon:   https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0894QJWW3/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:


Trond Undheim, Will Bachman


Will Bachman  00:01

Hello and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional Unleashed is produced by Umbrex, which connects you with the world’s top independent management consultants. I’m Will Bachman and I’m here today with drawn to full time who is a futurist, a speaker and entrepreneur. He’s the former director of the MIT startup exchange, he has accelerated for you unicorns, and he’s helped launch over 50 startups. He’s out with a book, pandemic aftermath. 450 pages that came out in May. So we’ll get about out. drawn man’s right that drawn, welcome to the show.


Trond Undheim  00:43

Thank you so much. Well, I’m very excited to be here. Got a wonderful podcast.


Will Bachman  00:47

Thank you. So you were telling me, of course, a recording that you wrote pandemic Aftermath in 17 hour stretches, it sounds like you did not sleep much in March, April, because this book came out in May of Tell me a little bit about the major themes about pandemic after that, how do you see? Sure?


Trond Undheim  01:08

Sure. Well, I mean, my question back to you is who slept in February, March, I don’t know, I just take these things in. And I saw very early that this was going to go down pretty badly. And I just felt like I you know, I’m not a medical professional. And I wasn’t really in a position to volunteer at shelters. And I was, you know, I have kids that I didn’t want to really expose them to all of that kind of stuff. So I felt like I had to do something, contribute something. But I also really saw that some of my skill sets were kind of coming into, into their own, really around this pandemic. And I started to see that some of the things that were visible to me weren’t really visible to everybody else, at least. So I got pretty deep into this book already by the first and second weeks of February. And I really don’t know how it became 40 to 50 pages. The point is, it just got more and more fascinating and scary. And I think what I ended up doing right, I charted the next decade, I just decided this is not about this year. And I saw that right away for a lot of different reasons. The point is, it’s not to try to be depressive about this. But honestly, what is happening now, first of all, people misunderstood it as like this has been foreseen. Well, I took a look at that. I looked at 15 different governments scenario exercises, and you know, they have foreseen nothing. These exercises, you know, done by, like, 1520 people in the room, trying to think about the first few days of like, when a an airplane flies around with some people who are contagious and what might happen, gee, you know, what’s happening now, on a world scale is just very, very different. We have never been even, you know, considering this kind of massive lockdown. And the fact that there is no world power that’s coming to save anyone, is even worse than I think I saw all of those things. Because there were trends, of course, in the US, that indicated very clearly that the US wasn’t going to take a major role in this pandemic, for the first time. It’s the abdication of a superpower, you know, transpiring before eyes. But the consequence of that, you know, are pretty wild. So I five scenarios, we can go into them, but some of them are good, they have some consequences. Others are not so good. And my point is, you know, one, first is borderless world. So there’s this vision that a lot of us, I would say have a global society where there’s really one governing power that runs everything. It’s a fairly likely scenario, if you would agree that science wins out, you know, that we need to listen to science and you know, in this matter, scenario two is nation state renewal. So here, the idea is more, the nations that already exist, are the best governance model for everything. And after all, that’s where the laws are, they will control this on their own. The third is a nation. You know, a two worlds apart scenario where I’m seeing the elite, completely seclude themselves from the rest of the of the world. The idea being, you know, you’ve heard of gated communities, this is the natural post pandemic consequence of that, where you actually have to build entire communities that are sequestered from the rest of the world with all societal functions inside and where you keep a gate, almost like a medieval city gate, except no one ever gets in and out. And that’s where I foresee that the elite is actually already starting to kind of build these kinds of, of distinctions between them and the rest. That the interesting thing and charting that scenario is basically it’s actually not dystopian, because what happens is deleted, can afford to be in such kind of enclaves. Even for them, there’s no incentive to destroy the rest of the world. So, you know, all the rest of us would live. Pretty, okay. It’s just that some people would try to basically buy themselves out of this. And you know, we live in a no virus zone. Lastly, the hopsie and chaos scenario, and then the status quo, which is that scenario five, but number four is kind of the dystopian scenario where I foresee a world where really, that the entire governance structure of the world just starts to break down. And where this just deteriorates into tribal conflicts. And, you know, in the US militias, in Europe, mafia, and in the Middle East, obviously, existing terror groups in Africa, you know, same thing.


Will Bachman  05:57

Yeah. So now, I imagine you you finish writing this book sometime, probably in April, because it’s published in May. So we’re now May, June, July. We’re talking today out here on August 4. So about three months, which one of these scenarios now seems maybe the most likely to you? And then I’d love to hear you kind of dive into that and talk about it. What does a futurist do? Then walk us through the scenario kind of illustrating how Pinterest thinks about how things might play out? So which one is seeming more likely than the others at this point?


Trond Undheim  06:36

Well, so you’re forcing me into that, which I which I agree, we can talk about that. But first, because you asked the second question, I need to stop an answer. The second question for a futurist these days doesn’t try to forecast the future because that fails, right. And it’s also very easy to disprove and then you’re out of a job. So what a futures does, is that they charge, we charge scenarios, okay? So these scenarios are sort of each of them is a little bit like a forecast. And they build on extrapolating some aspects that you see happening. And then you kind of maximize those aspects. And what I’ve done in each of these scenarios, I build on kind of this four forces framework, which looks at technology, business models, policy and regulation, and then kind of social dynamics. So it’s these these four forces really, and I have charted how they all kind of could pan out differently, depending on what might happen with the virus. So you know, one big aspect, you know, and then the the environment, which really is where the virus came from, is sort of like a fifth fifth kind of force that in this case came in from from left field in many other situations, it’s much more preventable and invisible than that, right? If you look at climate change, and other things, you can already see the environment, you know, acting back and showing itself. But anyway, you look at then, you know, what would happen if all vaccines fail, for instance, right? So one of the scenarios, the borderless world is essentially no matter what we tried with the vaccine, none of them really are very efficient. And and then from that as kind of a leading factor, just that one factor, then spills over into all the other domains, and starts to determine really patterns in how the world could potentially develop. And then likewise, if you look at scenario one, which is this borderless idea, I think here, you’re saying, What if some amount of collective well, meaning, you know, at the UN and other places, the US China, the big actors just got together and said, you know, we cannot really solve this alone, we’re going to upgrade global governance, and we’re going to do it as soon as possible. And then they really start working on that right now. And the end result is, in this scenario, something, you know, fairly drastic, it’s not just what happened after the World War, First World War, right with the League of Nations or after the Second World War with the United Nations. It’s an entirely new global structure, which says, the entire world will be ruled by one power. Now, that’s a little extreme. The point is, each of these scenarios are extreme, because what we’re trying to do as future is this force, societies, organizations, individuals, to think about, where do I fit in this picture? What do I want to happen? There’s an ethicist called john Rawls who wrote this book, you know about theory of justice. And he says, serve us when you imagine a future society, you should think of a society where you don’t know where you’ll end up. Right? It’s a little bit like that. When you’re charting scenarios, you’re charting scenarios that eventually you’re going to have to figure out where would I fit in any of these worlds and do I like where I think I would end up or where anybody would end up? You know, do I like that world? Yeah. So, give us a little The point is you can still control to some extent where we end up. That’s why we have activism, right. That’s why people are in the streets right now that it’s possible to envision, at least to push it to the best of your ability in one or two of these directions, and the end result is going to be in in the middle. So the answer to your question is, we are not heading for any of those five scenarios. While we’re definitely not heading for status quo. That’s out of the question, right, three months have passed, the world will never be the same. So that’s out. So there’s four scenarios left, I would say we are edging towards the two worlds apart. That would be my best guess right now. Okay, but within that there’s a lot of internal internal dynamics that are kind of interesting. And you might have to read the book to, to really appreciate those kind of fine, fine tuned dynamics. But I don’t really see how anyone is agreeing that we are going to go borderless. And I don’t think anyone really thinks that the nation states are the right level to respond to this crisis. So



the conclusion would be, the world’s gonna split up into elites haves and have nots in a very extreme way, actually. So in the scenario, it’s the world’s billionaires that got to get together and chart one of the biggest real estate firms with buying up property and just saying, we’re gonna build some new new world for us, and then they start living there and run the rest of the globe, as absentee kind of landlords. Now, will this happen? I don’t know. But it’s a, it’s pointing to something that I mean, I live in a wealthy town, I have enjoyed that over the last few months, I’m I am one of the relatively privileged, I have seen how much it matters where you live, and how you can protect yourself, you know, in these days, and that’s just getting, it just gets compounded, I guess, if you have more resources.


Will Bachman  12:08

So tell me a bit more about the process. So I understand the point about you’re not trying to predict, you know, the Philip Tetlock prediction, steps and so forth. Most of most people aren’t very good about prediction. But so I can see the value of even not predicting, but saying, look, here’s a number of different scenarios. And if you’re a business person, you say, Alright, well, what we prepare for each one of those scenarios, because I can’t predict which one will happen, but you prepare for them. Tell me a little bit more like walk us through the process of as a futurist, you identify, make some assumptions about here’s one potential scenario, walk us through how you then build out all the implications of that. Maybe you illustrate it with the, with the two worlds apart scenario of Okay, so this idea of leads are going to separate? What are the practical ramifications of that? How did that?


Trond Undheim  13:09

Well, certainly, when you, you know, you don’t pick the dimension that at will, right, so you start with a mental model of how you think society works. And that’s where the, you know, in a typical scenario, exercise is not just one person who charged this out. So that’s very unusual. This is probably one of the few scenarios where, where one individual, because of time, and you know, they’re just, that wasn’t an option for me in this context. So it’s a little unusual, typically a scenario exercise, you spend an enormous amount of energy reaching out to all the actors that could potentially have something to say about this. So the real scenario method is very deep kind of stakeholder engagements, you talk with policymakers, you talk with tech developers, ideally, and then you talk with social movements and activists, and people who might be influencing kind of how that that part would go, and you talk to business leaders. And then what you can try to distill out of that is, you know, where are we as a society, and then you look at what other people have been predicting you. And then you distill it into in my framework, which is a fairly standard framework, and kind of a mental model of how society works. You just try to decide what institutions are running society. And, you know, in in sociology, the classical institutions, you know, would would be, you know, the law enforcement and government, obviously, which has many, many sort of rules. And then there’s business which again, can take on kind of different forms, and then there’s kind of that X factor of science and technology. And each of these, they don’t develop in and of themselves, right. It’s It’s just not the case that technology would come up with the internet, if it if the US hadn’t sponsored it. Right, it wouldn’t have been the internet, it would have been something much smaller. And likewise in many, many other technologies, so the conditions under which innovation flourishes just depends a lot on the societal context. So that’s how you then start to unbundle how these things happen. And if you’re looking particularly at this two worlds apart, I’m charting a decade’s worth of development. And it doesn’t all happen overnight. It’s not like, even if I believed that this scenario is happening right now, I’m not saying you know, six months from now, the whole world will be an internal conflict, it happened gradually. And then suddenly, you’re there, you’re just there were more and more, you will see what we have seen in the US, which is demonstrations, the turn into malicious to turn into armed conflicts in small city territories. And then after a while, okay, the National Guard gets called in National Guard, perhaps gets beaten down, you know, like a David and Goliath type scenario, because that is not very popular to come in with, with guns on people. And then you can just compound how how that would then happen in different parts of the world, where there may be no central power that has the ability to curb that kind of uproar. And you just you kind of chart, previous crisis. And what I did with the, with the two worlds apart, the only way to kind of envision that the whole world would break apart is one thing is the pandemic, the secondary and third effects of the pandemic will however, have the potential becoming so much more severe if other things happen, you know, together with it. So for instance, there’s a hurricane, right? In the US right now, let’s say that was a category five that blasted the war, you know, New Orleans, just like Katrina did, well, that would be very bad, right? Now, that would probably mean that, you know, half of the US would be without power, or whatever number of subscribers would be without power for a long time. And you can compound that with floods in India.



There are many natural catastrophes that if coming right now on top of a pandemic, hunger in Africa, which is actually already kind of pointed out that that could be a major X Factor right now. It’s not that the pandemic itself causes all these things, but it weakens the system that would otherwise have responded to things in a in an adequate way. So it’s all of these factors, and then some of them, obviously, won’t happen. But in this scenario, I’m just forecasting, let’s just say that one severe second order event happened every kind of year, in every major region of the world, in the next five years. That’s how this scenario would happen. There just wouldn’t be enough response capacity to to block the unrest, I would follow from, you know, major catastrophes that weren’t responded to by any government force. At that point. You know, citizens naturally say, we don’t really have a government that helps us because it’s actually empirically true. So I’m not just trying to create some sort of Hollywood scenario, I’m just pointing to rational things that might happen in this in this new world that we’re finding ourselves. So the point is not to scare people, it’s just to say, We are a little bit in an unprecedented territory, where if some extra unfortunate events happened on top of this right now, some of which, by the way, could be planned events and planted by other powers, then we could potentially get into this situation.


Will Bachman  19:08

Yeah, no, you’re right. Boy, if there’s big power outage, or you know, hurricane, that obviously causes a lot of problems and then people are less able to socially distance or trying to escape from the hurricane and public transit. Right. You know, curious to hear your thoughts on how any one or more of these areas might evolve. So travel in the travel industry, number one, number two, education from primary school to college. Three working from home. It seems been a massive shift and a lot of speculation on will that going to continue? Will companies just keep employees remote or will commercial real estate just get home hollowed out, retail, you know, potential changes their culture, theater, restaurants, sports, other kinds of paper concerts. What What do you see as some of the pandemic Aftermath on these are other other just dimensions of daily life?


Trond Undheim  20:23

Sure, I’ll hit on each of them very quickly, you didn’t give an easy task. But I guess that’s not why you are in a podcast. But so so I’ll hit on them real quick. Travel, you know, I think travel is going to take a real good time to recover meaning. It’s a really scary prospect to travel intensely right now, I think it’s the last resort for most people. But But there is a course the corollary to that, which is, we all love to travel. So So in all of these areas that you have charted out, I am a little bit of a contrarian, which which means I actually think that the there are very strong reasons why we will try to the best of our ability to really go back to where we were, and people call this the new normal or something which I hate that term, I don’t think we are going back to anything normal even remotely. But I do think we will try our absolute best. So of course, if there is a even remotely working vaccine that a good amount of people get access to in the next 18 months. And I think there’s a fair chance of that. And by that, I would say 30% chance, that would be good, right? So that means I think travel will will eventually over three to five years, work itself back, it’ll look different, the airlines will still the airplanes will still be flying in the air, they will have different owners, right? restaurants, and you know, anything related to the travel industry will still be there was probably co owned by smart new, sort of like barons who are picking up the pieces right now, and probably co investing with restaurant owners to try to get these things up and running again, as they are trying to open education is an interesting one. I think what happens now is that we all realize that online learning wasn’t where we thought it was. So whether you are in the space or not in the space, it’s clear that sitting in front of a screen tethered to this one, technology is not the answer to any of our problems in learning. You don’t learn that way kids don’t learn that way. And the best online learning, by the way, was never like that. So I think education will accelerate its move into hybrid and blended learning forms, definitely. It’s going to be a major, major shakeout of higher education, for sure. I think it’ll have really good impacts eventually on the K through 12 system in the US and many other countries, because you’re getting challenged on what learning really is. And you realize what schools are, they’re not just about learning their social institutions, their schedule, their place, you can send your kids and you don’t have to worry about them. They’re serving so many functions. Yeah. And that function will have to be taken care of, again, in the interim, I think these learning pods are going to be important, we are recreating that least a social element of learning, as we’re bracing for the impact of potentially not going back to school at all, for the next three to five years.


Will Bachman  23:42

Say what you mean by learning costs.


Trond Undheim  23:44

So learning paths is this idea that you just find people in your neighborhood or friends of your kids and then just basically, in wealthier communities fortunately for for those who can afford that you’ll be hiring, mentors, the wazoo and just getting complimentary help and mentorship for your, for your your kids in various forms. But it’s clear that you know, the path forward for for elementary education is not online learning, right and and the schools are not going to be able to respond. So in private schools, they’ll find solutions, there’s few enough students, but it doesn’t scale for the rest of the system. So that the entire system for for the majority will essentially implode. And but but you can compensate for that by by creating these physical parts where you have your kids meet with with others and recreate some sort of social context for learning, which is fundamental for kids.


Will Bachman  24:46

reality for for online. I mean for slightly older kids, I mean, middle grades in high school. One thing that’s kind of occurred to me is that if can are going to school online and no longer physically going to their local building, then a lot of parents might be thinking, Wait a minute, why don’t why is it my kid necessarily have to be tied to just going to the local school district school? Right? As long as they’re online? Then you should say, Well, why don’t I have choice to go to, you know, some other option, either a charter school or some other public schools, classroom that would be better suited to my kid like anywhere in the United States or the world? You’re


Trond Undheim  25:34

absolutely right. I think that if this has not played right, it, I would predict a massive exodus from the public school system, unfortunately, from the most resourceful people who realized, they’re either going to take advantage of homeschooling, or they’re going to self organize in some creative way that maximizes their kids, obviously, opportunities not just to learn but to get ahead. So So this now has to be played really well by by the public school system in every country, because it also it exposes really the flaws of the system, which, which is mass education, no, indeed, individual attention to the students, you know, all of those things becomes so visible, you know, when you don’t have the physical classroom to basically kind of hide what’s going on. But But you know, it’s a massive challenge. And it’s not nothing to blame, either teachers and teachers, nor nor sort of superintendents around this is this is a very massive challenge. And the infrastructure of most schools in America and worldwide, just was never designed for social distancing, or, indeed, for online learning, or blended learning, right. So we’re having to rethink education. It’s a little bit like, you know, rebuilding a plane while it’s in the air, that’s essentially what’s happening.


Will Bachman  27:00

I think a lot of parents, I mean, maybe I’m just projecting, but you are, you know, coming to the belief that the school, a large part of the school is really daycare. And that, you know, I’ve observed, and I’ve heard from other parents, they, my kids are able to basically do all the schoolwork, if the school is not requiring a ton of zooms for classrooms, but you’re saying like, here’s the assignment, get it done, kids can get it done in like two hours, six hours, then they have all that other time to invest in reading books, or doing hobbies, or whatever


Trond Undheim  27:38

it can be the positive side will is that this is a very sort of emancipatory moment, right? This is the time this is the breakout time where kids that have resources, and are able to look outside of what’s happening right now they are already spending this time learning independently, whatever they feel like learning. So there are a lot of good aspects to this change. And by no means am I saying this is all negative. It’s just that the systems around us are responding inadequately to 99% of what’s happening right now. So but all of that means that the individual initiative will make all the much more difference. And not Luckily, you can be creative on on very few resources, and you can be creative. You know, with a little bit more resources, it’s just easier on that. I want to hit at least a tiny bit on the sports thing you asked me about. So sports, I am very skeptical, while the virus has basically attacked us where we are the most vulnerable because human beings, right? church, sports, public transport, those are the three things that are impossible during a pandemic. You can’t be around a lot of people, right. And we love social events, sports culture concerts, it’s all about gathering a lot of people and having these mass collective experiences. Well, the virus basically dictates you cannot have those. They are catalysts for Super spreader events, which is kind of how I see them. It’s a choice, though, how are you going to respond to that? So far, it seems like in the beginning, we locked down and then we’re accepting more and more that there will be some spread. And in the US, there’s a de facto acceptance that community spread, you know, has no happen and is there at that point, you could say, well, you know, it’s it is spreading, there’s no way to contain it, and we will have our sports events. I i however, don’t know under any scenario that large, large events over 1000 people I cannot see under any scenario that those will come back in the next five years. I have a really hard time thinking that you’ll see stadiums open with With a good amount of people in them, concerts, stadiums, mega churches, if those are remain open, if they remain open, it will destroy society. Now, that’s very sad, right? And it attacks, individual freedoms, religious freedom, a lot of lot of things. However, there’s no politician and attacking this. It’s the virus. So I think we need to keep those things separate. There’s no individual force stopping you from doing these things. If we prohibit them, it would just be because rationally, this doesn’t make any sense as a society to keep doing, keep keep having those gatherings when, when we know what will happen. Yeah.


Will Bachman  30:45

On on public transit, I did just want to mention something that I read the other day. I’m not sure if this is scientifically true. But I think the story in the times was that if people are wearing masks in countries that have gone back and you know, are using the public transit in Japan and Europe appear, apparently, there haven’t been major super square events that have been traced the public transit, that people are wearing masks, apparently, if people aren’t in close contact for too long, and there’s good enough ventilation. So I just wanted to mention that that may not that may actually be possible to keep using public transit. Other than the densest, the densest hours. But that raises another question around kind of hygiene theater. Have you ever seen cases where businesses will go to all this sort of public show of, you know, oh, we clean our restaurant every day, we use antiseptic on surfaces, which is great, but it doesn’t actually address the fact that it’s an airborne virus. It’s like, the metaphor was you if they’re sharks attacking the beach, they say, well, don’t worry, we reinforced the boardwalk with concrete. It’s like, it’s great. But


Trond Undheim  32:09

you’re pointing out that there’s a little bit of disagreement on the science of this virus. And I think, the one good thing I would say, I need to take a contrarian position on that, too. I think there’s been all this outcry, because people who are not scientists are, you know, have opinions about this. And I think, thank you for that. Because the science is inconclusive that the science on the basics of this disease, you know, is kind of aligning, and it’s visible to everybody things like masks are important, tracing will help. There will be a vaccine, and you know, there will be many vaccines, and you should try to take them, you know, those kinds of basic messages, wash your hands, you know, all these things were really invented hundreds of years ago, and they’re not controversial, and they shouldn’t be. The details, however, of these things are still emerging. So, yes, it seems to be an airborne disease. To some extent, it also doesn’t seem that washing surfaces is as useful as everybody thought early on, it seems that masks are more useful than most people thought, apart from an Asia early on. So all of these things are starting the picture is slowly starting to emerge. I don’t know, the public transport studies, I’ve looked at those as well. I mean, I just don’t think we know enough yet about that. So if you want to be really confident you’re running a public transport system, you want to tell people, you know, just go back, just do it. I think it’s it’s a risk to take, it’s very possible that, you know, ventilation certainly helps. That’s just, you know, common sense. Now, exactly how much ventilation and how that varies in different transportation systems. That’s for the engineers to look at. Right. And you have to basically prove that what what’s been happening in one study, you know, is equally true in New York as it is in Jakarta, and, you know, and in Tokyo, so I think it’s hard to believe it’s hard right now, I think the individual sense there is you just gotta, you know, how much of a risk taker Are you you want? You want to trust that one study in a different city than yours? Or do you want to wait for some true data where someone says, Well, here’s what we’re doing. And and, you know, so far, no, no proof of contagious? I think it’s all up to your risk profile. So far, there’s no conclusive evidence on public transportation. It would be fantastic if it’s true.


Will Bachman  34:35

Yeah. You’ve been polite enough to bring it up. I think that you are Norwegian by birth. And you’ve been why not bring it up. But I wonder if one potential outcome in the aftermath is that the US loses some global credibility. I mean, it seems like a lot of countries in the world are doing it. Much better than the United States. In fact, among developed countries, it seems like we’re doing the worse. You know, a lot of Europe has it mostly under control. South Korea, Japan, a lot of countries have it, you’re relatively under control. You have periodic outbreaks. But teams are somehow they got their testing, he either didn’t have the major politicians telling people not to wear masks, except maybe Brazil. But what’s your thought around that around how the potential impact of just us influence and credibility around the world given how incompetent our government has been responding?


Trond Undheim  35:39

Well, let me still keep it a little diplomatic, I would say, I’m not the only one to point out that the US has lost significant soft power over this crisis. I would also say, I would be one that has, you know, I would say, I have seen that over the last decade, not just here. So I wouldn’t connected so much to one kind of political decision or a particular leadership right now, as I would say, it’s, you know, it is a power in decline. The, the scale and speed of that decline has been staggering over the past three months. And I think it accentuates this move from a unipolar to a multipolar world order where there’s no one superpower that runs the show. And there are many reasons why those other superpowers one, which has was weak and has gotten stronger. One was, which was always emerging, you know, China, and has now come very strong on the world stage with has other problems, you know, in terms of credibility, which slows it down, and it’s kind of world dominance, but there’s no questioning the fact that if you were sort of looking from a strategic angle, and your your agenda was protect the US dominance, I would say, bad job.


Will Bachman  37:06

He said one power is likely to increase their credibility, which powers do you think are doing really well and are gaining credibility?


Trond Undheim  37:15

Well, of the of the big superpowers, I actually think that China has played this, you know, immensely well. And then maybe, maybe that’s fair. I mean, they have made massive progress in many domains. There’s a slight little, you know, glitch right now, because they have managed to get into some sort of one to one conflict with, with the current leadership in the US, which I think was silly. But, but there’s no doubt that, you know, over the last decade, what they have done, and their influence, really, on many continents is, is astounding. But But I think over and beyond that, you know, COVID has sort of created new heroes as well, you know, created heroes out of New Zealand and very small countries. One of the things when you look at history in very long waves, like like I do, and you’re looking for 30 year, increments, the events that happen, such as is happening right now, can really, they don’t, in and of themselves, change everything. But, you know, even small countries, or even large countries were insignificant once. And I think this kind of crisis has the elements to elevate new, even new countries into global leadership. We, you know, that’s not so visible now. But five years from now, seven years from now, in this kind of new reckoning, that’s coming after this crisis, which will take a long time because policy and regulation is very slow moving fields. I wouldn’t hold it past a couple of the smaller nations, and I’m not speaking about Norway, I think, but, you know, some of the mid sized nations to really come out on top, it could be some European countries that really make some smart moves here. I think some of the bigger countries will make or break around this India, notably, right? I mean, this could be India’s decade, depending what they do with this crisis.


Will Bachman  39:27

How should a or can a business person, use your book? So each of your chapters has takeaways and exercises? So someone is thinking, who knows running a business doing strategy leading the business? how, you know, you’re not making predictions about any of these but you’re laying out a number of different scenarios and the implications of those. What sort of takeaways should a business person have on how to prepare for it? different potential outcomes.



So Well, I think I’ve been pretty nice to people because there are exercises in there. And it is a little bit of a self help book, both if you are a government, I mean, I really kind of intended this as you can literally take this book in, you can save yourself the money of creating all of these scenarios. And you can run a country wide scenario study at the Prime Minister level with this book, as is right now and learn an enormous amount. And I would say go far deeper than any of these 15 studies that have been carried out so far. Likewise, if you’re a large company, you can do the same. On the other hand, I would love to help them with that. So. So I mean, there’s there’s both. But I mean, joking aside, I think, you know, whether you’re an individual just wanting to get some food for thought and think about what might, you know, be your place in the future, or you want to make a bet on the market? There’s food for thought in all of my scenarios. I mean, friends of mine, who are, you know, really, big investors have been coming back to me and asking me questions. I don’t think this book comes with all the answers. I certainly haven’t really sat down and started trading myself based on these findings. Maybe I should, I know for a fact that if you had finished this book, when it was still a draft, and not published just even the first draft in mid February and invested based on some of the things I’m saying in the final chapter, you would be a billionaire right now. Now, did I invest? No, because I was writing this book. So you know, this is hindsight is 2020. But


Will Bachman  41:40

you alluded to your practice beyond writing books, and you have more more than than this one out. But tell us a little bit about your practice. So you have disruption games, published, future tech is coming out next year, tell us a little about your consulting practice.


Trond Undheim  41:56

So what I am involved in right now is, uh, you know, I’m in the middle of a very creative period, where I’m really putting together a lot of the thoughts that I have had, I spent seven, eight years at MIT. Before that, I spent time in the European Commission, I was a policymaker, I worked at Oracle, a big IT company. But during the last decade of, you know, had three kids and I’ve had family to think about, I haven’t really had the energy to sit down and really think so in my both in my consulting practice, and also in kind of my writing, I’m in a very fruitful period where I’ve been lucky enough to have the time to sit down and really do some thinking and become hopefully useful. I’ve also been commercializing, you know, as a startup, which, you know, is still a little bit in the making, because I think the thing we tried to bite over is, is a very big problem. So to be honest, I am involved with a lot of different things, while I’m still trying to grapple with this major challenge that I set myself about 10 years ago, really, and only in earnest started working on kind of five, five to seven years ago, which is how can we create a technological innovation that will simplify the way that we can stay up to date on kind of the emerging future as its unfolding. So in other words, polymaths are the only people that really change the world. What I envision and hope for, for this planet is that all of us, or at least, a big percentage of us aspires to be polymath. I think that with the complexity of the world we’re moving into, it’s just essential to both learn very fast. And and that’s why I love your podcast, because you have all these heroes on here, who are independent thinkers, and they are they have consulting businesses, and they have charted their own path. Well, I want to try to create a platform that lets those individual professionals have kind of the same platform that you would have if you were in the Prime Minister’s cabinet. And I’ve been, I have written briefs for, you know, eu commissioners and people high up and I know the kind of information they have access to. And so it’s been my passion to try to rebuild a system where you relatively quickly can become an expert. So you can at least be conversant with the top in any field over a weekend. So that’s the question I set myself now. It wasn’t easy. Well, I will tell you that because it’s not as easy as just building a search engine now like Google, because what you have to do is you have to get rid of all the noise and the noise is the problem. You can’t outsource that to every individual and hoping that they will just pick the right search term. It’s a much more complicated challenge. And I’ve lately come to believe that there’s a hardware component to it as well. And your thinking is much more of a bodily function, you have to use many more senses. So we’re not trying to think about how to integrate sensors and, and some sort of communication tool between people into the solution. And it’s a very fruitful endeavor, but it’s extremely difficult. And I have failed, with more prototypes than I would wish to think about in trying to do so.


Will Bachman  45:32

Well, each failure brings you one one step closer to the different, that’s gonna work. I love this idea of coming up to speed quickly on topics, you know, one sort of dream that I have, is that there’s people out there that, like, just understand certain things, and the knowledge is not really public. And an example that I think about is people that are running for president, right? Somehow they get surrounded by these advisors who can have briefing books where they fill them in, on all sorts of stuff that these people have no clue about. Maybe they’re, you know, Mayor of a city, their governor of some state, and they’ve been their whole life focus on that state. And then they get these briefing people and brief them on Okay, here is basically the deal on the Israel Palestinian conflict, or here’s what you need to know about India, right? Or taxes or something? Or about, you know, what to say about abortion, or how, oh, here’s how, like the Cubans in Florida, think about Castro, just all this stuff. I would love to get those briefings. You know, I mean, someone who puts a briefing books together, should you publish it as a book, because it feels like people in Congress or in the Senate, they just sort of know what, though, this stuff, it feels like someone briefs them?


Trond Undheim  47:00

Well, well, isn’t that what we’re trying to do with our podcasts. I mean, I recently as recent as a month ago, started my podcast, future rise. And the idea there, and I cannot believe I didn’t do this earlier. I mean, I was told my wife, other people, and I love to do this, right. I love to interview and be interviewed and learn. And similarly, I listened to your podcast and listen to Shane’s knowledge project, podcast, they’re just rich resources, where you learn everyday, and I hope to build this resource. I mean, I must have done 1000 interviews in my days, and had I recorded all of them, but also with the explicit notion that it was going to be made public. I mean, what a what an archive of insight. So what I started to do so yaghi is this company that I have where we’re trying to productize, you know, this, this knowledge machine, this kind of memex version of the pre internet, which, you know, basically is this knowledge machine that does all that for you. But until that point, and as I’m working on various prototypes, I hope that future eyes will be an archive that is the beginning of that. And in fact, you know, I use some of the same people that I try to put into my machine, I interview those same people, and we release it as podcasts. And I always ask people, at the end, I say, you know, how do you stay up to date? So, you know, whether I’m talking about nuclear waste, or I was talking about diversity, I was talking about quantum technology the other day, or, you know, whatever the topic is, if it’s technology or politics, I always ask people who are experts? How do you stay up to date? How do you recommend my readers and my listeners stay up to date?


Will Bachman  48:42

Because I know, so many people are just not deliberate about it. Like be on Twitter, they’ll sort of follow the news. But what if people were really deliberate about saying today? What are the topics?


Trond Undheim  48:55

So I want to be careful here, because I love my I love the people that have on my podcast, and they, for the most part, give good answers. But I think if I look at the last 10 years when I’ve been asking this question to people, because I’ve tried to put that into my system, right? So I asked this question of everybody. I mean, it’s remarkable to me that people are not more reflective about what they put into their head. So even really, experts in their field, they have to scratch their head a little bit at this question. It’s not something that comes easy to them. I usually have to probe two or three times to get to the real question I’m asking many times what they surface is like, you know, I, I prefer this over CNN. And then I say, Well, you know, I was more talking about like, newsletters or unique sources that you go to, and even this idea of kind of prioritizing, and I say, Well, you’ve mentioned 10 different things. But if you were on a on an island and you only had three, which ones would you pick, you actually have to probe a little bit to get to this. So it’s clear to me that this is, again, it’s not something you can just ask people and then right away get the answer. And then you could summarize, you know, you ask 1000 people the answer, and you have your database of, of what you should look at. It’s much more complicated than that some people use this source, others use another. And it goes back to this question of polymaths. It’s that combinatory skills, it’s how you combine these sources that matter. If you are I get told, here are the 20 things you should read, this is the five newsletters you could get in your inbox, we would not become, you know, a Leonardo da Vinci, just because we had access to those, we would not go and become hedge fund winners and invest in the right things. There’s so much contextual knowledge. And that’s what my tool, you know, I think that’s what we’re struggling to recreate. That is essentially the big ticket item in AI as well. By the way, no one really understands how the brain works. What we’re trying to do is uncover these contextual layers that go on top of any algorithm that you might just think of, based on kind of data that’s apparently right out there. So even if you said, these are the 1000 best sources, and that’s kind of what you were, yeah, he is right now, I know what the 1000 best, probably 10,000 best sources of information are in most fields. And it’s just a it’s about 10,000 sources. However, how should you consume those? When should you consume them? How should you combine them? And how do you explain that we all actually have access to this because it’s a tiny microcosm of the internet? We are not all as smart as that.


Will Bachman  51:50

You talk about polymaths? What, in your experience thinking about this deeply? Are the types of different areas of expertise that combine well together? Does it matter? Can you is it you sort of take any two or three or four areas of expertise? And being, you know, expert, multiple ones helps? Or are there some kind of patterns? Like, you know, having one science expertise and one visual communication expertise or something could be good? Or, you know,


Trond Undheim  52:25

yeah, well, that’s not a bad angle right there. I mean, you know, t shaped expertise is a big is a big trend. And I write about this in my forthcoming book, future tech. But But the point is, I don’t think it was very misunderstood this idea that you had like, horizontal expertise, you can you go wide, and then you go deep in one, I am more an advocate. And if you look at historical polymaths, they, they go widen it, in many, many domains, they are very widely read. And, and by the way, when you go wide, that’s not just in soft subjects. And by the way, I don’t believe in soft subjects. So a lot of the misunderstanding of this is that if you are a polymath you, you have a little bit of a communication skill, which is easy to get, and you have a little bit of empathy, which is easy to do. And then you go deep in math, and then maybe you are an artist. So typically, it’s like one soft area you go deep in and then one, you know, one art area and then one science area. I think that’s a complete misunderstanding of how being a polymath works, or at least how it works today, in reality, there definitely needs to be a depth in minimum two areas. But like you pointed out, it doesn’t really matter which area areas are. And the point is you just have to be deep enough. And then you have to it’s it’s then what happens. It’s how do you combine them, because you could go as deep as you want, in even in more than two areas. And there are very smart people who are very smart in individual domains who are never able to combine that in any meaningful way, and make it kind of a lasting impact in society. And I think so the secret is in how you go about combining those two things. And that’s where the secret lies. And that’s where I’m spending most of my time trying to figure out from studying individuals who have tried this from trying myself to be smarter. And by the way, not in two domains. I mean, I try to track at least 15 domains.


Will Bachman  54:24

So one of my personal heroes is Tyler Cowen, who writes the top economics was Marginal Revolution. Many people would consider him a polymath. What are some of the polymaths working today who you really respect?


Trond Undheim  54:44

I mean, the obvious one that’s alive today is Ilan Musk, where he exemplifies it and it’s an easy example because he’s around and he’s very visible. The way that he combines not just many theoretical domains like you know, his starting point, I guess. Physics, but he has so many application areas where he is just operating, you know, businesses and continues to kind of innovate, you know, across automotive and space and so many other areas with consequences, you know, across the globe. So that is a very visible example. But, you know, there are there are many, many more, there’s, I believe her name is Mei Jamison, the former astronaut, is also you know, combining being an artist with a with a debt and being a dancer with being an astronaut, you know, being a multi, multi scientist. Many authors actually, are polymaths, because what they do is they externalize something onto the page. But in order to do that, in kind of memorable books, they have to have deep insights in other domains. So even very popular authors, like, you know, in the fiction genre, I would classify many of them as as polymaths. Because the way that they are able to deeply understand both people and the context of their book and are able to kind of craft stories around it. So that’s perhaps the easiest place to go when you kind of read biographies and try to understand people’s methods. I would say that the method of an author is maybe the easiest to imitate because you’re it’s also easy to see the results of it because you see it in the in the narrative because the challenges even with Elan Musk, I mean, I’ve read all the biographies about him, and I read everything. He says that it’s it’s really hard to copy.


Will Bachman  56:45

Yeah, I think I saw one quote that said, Steve Jobs and Ilan musk are not really useful examples, because they’re sort of seven deviations from the norm. I don’t know if that was, I forget the source of that quote, but they’re sort of such outliers. And normally, I have a rule on this podcast that we don’t bring up Apple examples, which are banned. It’s so common. Tron. Oh, where can people find you online? I’ll include these links in the show notes. So your website, your books, your podcast, tell us where’s the best place for people to learn more about what you’re doing?


Trond Undheim  57:27

Well, I’m blessed with a name that’s impossible to to write. Remember, or Remember, a lot of people remember it, but you can’t, you know, no one can spell it. But you know, my I have a website, which if you can spell half of my name, you might get to my website, the What do you call it, the podcast future arised is is easy future rise, ice Ed. co. And then on Amazon, you know, again, if you can remember either my, the titles of my books are easier to remember, disruption games is out this year, and then pandemic aftermath. leadership from below I wrote 10 years ago, I’m coming out with an updated version in a month or so. And then future tech will be out in March of next year. But Toronto and time.com is my website. Future I start CO is the podcast. But I’m afraid your listeners will have to look it up on the on the thread here because you know if my name was Joe, my Starbucks name is Shawn. Well kiss I want my coffee.


Will Bachman  58:32

It gives you the chance to have that unique URL. So we will include those links in the show notes. This has been such an enjoyable conversation for me. JOHN, thank you so much for coming on the show today. It was a pleasure. Well, thank you so much.

Related Episodes


Author of Imposter No More

Jill Stoddard


Author of For Profit: A History of Corporations

William Magnuson


Commercial Leadership Roles in Professional Services Firms

Scott Ratliff


How Expert Networks Can Add Value to Primary Research

Ammad Ahmad