Nature Meets Future: Adaptation and Agency

10th February 2023
Imperial Tech Foresight 2042: Nature Meets Future will explore two forces of change from the living natural world - Adaptation and Agency - to bring new views on the business challenge of biodiversity and insights into leadership.

Adaptation and Agency

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” – Albert Einstein

Immutable forces

Adaptation and Agency are immutable forces of the social world of humans.

Adaptation for humans is different to that of other animal species.  We have layers.

Not only do we have the unconscious adaptions we make as individuals and groups, but there is our conscious adaptation through perception, shared knowledge, and goal-setting.   Our ability to adapt and achieve our goals is through our agency, our ability to make change happen.

Take the energy industry for example.

Energy as a story of adaptation

The history of human-directed energy generation and distribution is one of waves of energy sources developing from wood to fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas), to nuclear (fission), to renewables (solar, wind, hydro and wave) with nuclear fusion on the horizon.  Each one has a lower carbon footprint than the previous material, but it also has a greater demand on their availability and application.  We keep adapting.

Energy as a story of agency

These waves of changes of energy sources have required agency:

  • Agency to discover new and more effective forms of energy.
  • Agency to source the raw inputs for generation.
  • Agency to organise generation and distribution through private or public arrangements.
  • Agency to apply the new wealth of energy available for example enabling the industrial age.
  • Agency to reason and make decisions about transition triggers e.g., market driven, social needs and environmental challenges.

Adaptation for business

Single flower growing within a rock face. AdaptationThe ability to adapt to a changing environment is key to an organisation, whether it’s in the present or a possible future one.

An overarching concern for the planet, including businesses, is the impact of climate change. Businesses are thinking about the direct actions they can take, the regulations that may affect their operation, suppliers, and route to their markets.

There is a more indirect or abstract concern that they are being asked to act upon, the problem of reducing biodiversity i.e., reducing variety in our flora and fauna.

We know this is topic of interest for many large businesses and organisations as it is one on the agendas of many nations. It stands as topic in the World Economic Forum. It stands as a topic for the United Nations with COPs (Conference of Parties) being held on it.  We also have our Imperial Business Partners members and many other stakeholders talking to us about it.

Biodiversity is a problem which calls for indirect action which is more challenging for a business to make adaptation.  For example, indirect efforts may require voluntary industry level practices in contributions to biodiversity projects run by others make sure the competitive space is level.

 Look out for a specially-produced paper with our biodiversity experts as part of Nature Meets Future this year, drawing on the opportunities for businesses to learn from the natural world over the next 20 years.

Agency for business

Agency comes in many forms.  We are constantly innovating, and not just technologies, but also social structures and ways of organising and executing.   We have new solutions emerging for energy paucity such as fusion energy, for food such as precision farming, for data insight representation through metaverse lenses, and for our flora and fauna biodiversity initiatives. We are also creating new ways of organising our agency, to align with our new tools and ways of seeing the world.

In recent years, for example, design thinking, agile software development methods, user-friendly creative collaboration facilities and on the horizon DAOs (Decentralised Autonomous Organisations), as Dr Ying-Ying Hsieh at Imperial Business School notes,  have been added to our toolset.

Nature Meets Future will explore the role of agency by looking for inspiration from Imperial expertise on how leading for business tomorrow may differ from today, and the role that individuals will play in a world dominated by data, insights, digital twinning and fool-proof AI.

Are you intrigued?

At a higher level, adaptation, and agency, are seen as symbiotic.  We need to adapt, but in ways which are counterintuitive to our past.  Adaptation is making changes for perceived problems and agency is our willingness to make those changes.

About Imperial Tech Foresight 2042

 Adaptation and Agency is a theme within Imperial Tech Foresight 2042 (ITF 2042) Nature meets future. ITF 2042 is produced as part of the Imperial Business Partners 20+ plausible futures programme.  You can learn more about Imperial Business Partners here and more about the 20+ futures programme at Imperial Tech Foresight here.

Before you go…

While Imperial Tech Foresight produce content about the far future the Imperial Business Partners team connect their clients to Imperial experts from areas like..