There is a great awakening taking place

The original interview in Finnish has been published by YLE (National Broadcasting Company) at:

Tulevaisuus

4 August 2019, 4.54 pm EET

By Marcus Ziemann/Yle, photos Laura Hyyti / Yle

Futurist Markku Wilenius in his greenhouse. Sustainable development is important to Wilenius, which is why he grows his own food.

Futurist Markku Wilenius in his greenhouse. Sustainable development is important to Wilenius, which is why he grows his own food.

Our lives used to revolve around our basic needs. We used to be satisfied with having something to eat, a roof over our heads, a partner, friends and a chance to do things that matter to us.

Markku Wilenius, Professor of Futures Studies, says that satisfying our basic needs has died a slow death. We buy immense amounts of junk, eat too much and cause unbearable environmental harm.

"The reason for all these problems is that we're stuck in a rut of over-indulging our basic needs

Wilenius believes, however, that we are finally getting out of this rut and that humanity is ready to take a leap forward. He means that instead of being absorbed with what the world can do for them people will want to make a positive contribution to it.

"We are heading towards a world where people want life to be meaningful. Just satisfying our basic needs will no longer be enough. We have grown past it as humans.

Markku Wilenius has worked as a futurist for more than 20 years. He is a professor at the Turku School of Business at the University of Turku in Finland, holds a UNESCO Chair and is a member of the renowned Club of Rome. 

Wilenius earned his Ph.D. in 1997 with a dissertation on climate change. At the time, few people knew what climate change is.

Markku Wilenius likes to spend his time off on an island in the Gulf of Finland. The futurist leaves the city for the simple life as soon as the ice clears.

Markku Wilenius likes to spend his time off on an island in the Gulf of Finland. The futurist leaves the city for the simple life as soon as the ice clears.

"There will always people like Trump, stuck in the old ways"

In recent years, climate change has caused more extreme weather. It has become impossible to avoid hearing about climate change.

Markku Wilenius sees signs that the world is now ripe for a big change.

"A great awakening is clearly taking place. It will have immense impact on everything we do in the future. In ten years, we will have completely rearranged our world."

Wilenius emphasises that the global ecosystem is reaching a point of crisis. We are constantly discovering new phenomena that reveal that something big is happening.

The action needed to fight climate change will only become more demanding and Wilenius expects that there will be more denialists, people who would rather protect their own interests.

"We will always have people like Trump, stuck in the old ways. This will just get worse. It's a defence mechanism that will grow stronger the more it is attacked.

Fighting climate change is a key to solving many other problems as well. Professor Wilenius says that by focusing our resources on combating climate change we can fight poverty, water scarcity and social inequality at the same time.

And Finland, a land of high tech, could take the lead in all this. Wilenius believes that if there is a country that can take a decisive leap forward in fighting climate change, it is the small and agile Finland. We, too, have our antagonists but nevertheless.

"Change must take place. In fact, we should show how legislation, taxation and procedures starting with public procurement can promote the achievement of climate and environmental goals.

Markku Wilenius believes the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra should take the lead. Wilenius is a candidate for the position of Sitra's President. A new president will be chosen in the autumn.

Markku Wilenius harvesting tomatoes in his greenhouse. He says decisive leaps forward are needed to fight climate change and if anyone, Finland, a small and agile country, can do it.

Markku Wilenius harvesting tomatoes in his greenhouse. He says decisive leaps forward are needed to fight climate change and if anyone, Finland, a small and agile country, can do it.

Fewer and fewer people will have a workplace where they go to work

Markku Wilenius says that in the future, people will be interested in environmental issues and also work, learning and training. They also interest him. 

Wilenius took part in an international study on what makes a company successful. The researchers discovered that successful companies have a flat hierarchy. Their staff have a say in how the companies are run. Progressive organisations have confidence in their teams and allow them autonomy.

Successful companies are also good at communicating, which enables learning, and they trust their employees' expertise.

"A higher the level of education has meant that even if we work in routine jobs, we're considered experts. Yet our organisations operate on the principle that only certain people have the right or an obligation to make decisions.

Wilenius expects this to change, however. People will demand a say in how their workplaces are run.

On the other hand, jobs may change even faster than how today's work cultures change. Conventional jobs will account for a much smaller part of future work. And more and more of these jobs will be in the service sector.

Markku Wilenius says that what we now need is active skills. They are about actively offering your input and making your input a necessity. There are increasingly fewer permanent jobs people regularly go to to get paid.

"It will be up to us to create these jobs.

The futurist Markku Wilenius strokes the crumbling paint on his 80-year-old greenhouse. Before the winter sets in, the windows will be stored in a shed to shelter them from the weather.

The futurist Markku Wilenius strokes the crumbling paint on his 80-year-old greenhouse. Before the winter sets in, the windows will be stored in a shed to shelter them from the weather.

First we have to remind ourselves how the world works

Markku Wilenius is himself a testimony to workers creating their own work. The futures studies chair founded at the Turku School of Business in 2004 was the first of its kind in the world.

Having appointed as UNESCO chair, Wilenius is currently ever more involved in spreading futures thinking and building cognitive and motivational capacities to deal with our world. Moreover, future requires also something that can be called active and dynamic skills . Together with her colleague Laura Pouru he is pursuing to make futures literacy available for all young people throughout the world They divide active skills into four classes.

The first key skill Wilenius calls the planetary life skill. It is the skill of understanding how life works.

Industrialisation and urbanisation have distanced us from how trees and flowers grow, for example. Digitalisation has added to this distance. We need to learn again how the physical world works.

Another key skill is the complexity skill. It means that even though there is more and more information in the world, we must keep our thoughts clear.

"We must understand what is important and what is less so, what to invest our time in and what not.

According to Markku Wilenius it is vital to understand how life works. This he calls the planetary life skill.

According to Markku Wilenius it is vital to understand how life works. This he calls the planetary life skill.

The third skill is creativity. Wilenius says that in this century we will need to find new solutions to old problems. Fresh approaches require flexible thinking.

"This can be coached by teaching people to use both halves of their brain. Too much focus on learning that only seeks knowledge will push creativity too far into the margin. When there are no ready jobs, a more creative approach will help us understand what we need to do."

Wilenius' fourth skill is empathy. Its role is especially important because people and knowledge are increasingly mobile. Today, about one half of the global population has on-line access. In ten years the figure could be as high as 90 per cent.

The professor wants to remind us that we must now learn to understand each other. Together with his dutch colleague Peter Paul Gerbrands he is currently working with a book entitled “Connecting the Future”, where it gets explained, what does it take from each of us to be truly connected to the future instead of past.

Finland is the most homogenous country in Western Europe. We have the lowest number of foreign residents, about 4 per cent of the population. The most dynamic places where new ideas and new business are created are generally very multicultural, Markku Wilenius says.