Ruben Nelson

Innovation and Future of Expert

“Inspirational”, “Brilliant”, “Prophetic”, “Mind stretching”, “Hopeful”, “One of the best addresses I have ever heard.” These are common responses to Ruben Nelson – author, speaker, workshop facilitator, visionary thought-leader, public commentator, consultant, international advisor and Canada’s foremost practitioner and teacher of strategic foresight 2.0.

Ruben is a remarkable big picture visionary and strategic thinker. His strategic insights transform and make sense of the confusion and turmoil of our perilous times. He understands the unique personal-to-civilizational scale transformation we are in. What is more, he has the courage, capacity and character to challenge widely-accepted truths and engage those with whom he works in difficult conversations. In short, Ruben is a reliable guide to our most deeply desirable futures.
His unique mental models integrate economics, politics, technology, governance, religion, psychology, the environment, commerce, recreation, history and science into a coherent whole. He has earned a global reputation as a leader in the fields of futures research and strategic foresight. Just Google his name.

As your Keynote speaker, workshop facilitator/trainer or C Suite briefer Ruben will engage you and your people in an intelligent, passionate and often humorous manner. He will inspire you to make strategic decisions that are wiser, more context-aware and future-focussed.

Ruben has delivered over 750 keynote speeches, workshops and Board Briefings in Canada, the USA and Europe. He works in every sector and setting – from major conference centres and board rooms to church basements.

Ruben was raised in Calgary. He has studied at Queen’s University, Queen’s Theological College, United Theological College (Bangalore, India) and the University of Calgary. He taught at Queen’s, QTC and U of C. Ruben has been honoured by Queen’s University, The Calgary Alumni of Queen’s, the Association of Professional Futurists, the Calgary Rotary Club and the Chinook Region of Scouts Canada. He is the 2018 recipient of the Don Michael Award.

Ruben is the only Canadian who is a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science, the World Business Academy and the Meridian International Institute for Leadership, Governance, Change and the Future. Ruben is a member of the Association of Professional Futurists and the World Futures Studies Federation. He has been President of the Canadian Association for Futures Studies and the International Association of Humanistic Psychology, and Vice-Chair of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science. Ruben is currently Executive Director of Foresight Canada and a member of the community of faith that is Ralph Connor Memorial United Church. He lives in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta with Heather, his wife of 58 years, and their cats.

Ruben tailors each presentation to the specific group to which he is speaking. He will want to talk with you before your event to ensure he understands your situation, aspirations, concerns and participants. If desired, at no extra cost, Ruben will do a follow-up small group Q and A break-out session after a Keynote Address. Ruben also conducts Christian worship services and speaks to service clubs and community groups.

Topic Presentations

Which future are you ready for?

Most of the time we take the wider context of our lives for granted. We accept and live within the “official” future of our culture without giving it much thought. After all, it promises us more prosperity, goods and services and a better life. “Official” promises dominate our culture. They are echoed in our media and by every Chamber of Commerce, government and political party. But bit by bit our “official” future is going out of focus. Other possible futures are crowding onto the stage. Even the elites who govern us no longer agree on which future they should be pursuing. Alternative futures are emerging. In this presentation Ruben will explore and weigh the five possible futures that now live among us and beckon us. He will point out that each of these have personal and organizational champions who are making real investments in their chosen future.

Ruben will ask, “Which of these five futures do you see to be most probable?” “Which most deeply desirable?” He will also ask, “What are you willing to do to make your preferred future our probable future?”

“What if we are profoundly wrong?” “What if our Modern/Industrial world cannot be made to be sustainable?”

A “Black Swan” is an event or phenomenon that we are blind to until it has fundamentally damaged or even destroyed our future. Think WWI. Think 9/11. Think the 2007-’08 global credit crisis. (Add your favorite example here…) There is no reason to think that Black Swans have been abolished; that there will be no more Black Swans in our future. Best we learn to notice and see them before they have done their worst. What Black Swans might we who live in Modern/Industrial cultures be blind to? Ruben will identify and explore the Black Swans we do not yet see.

Ruben’s final thought is that whether the future is a tragedy or a comedy is up to us. To live in a comedy which has a happy ending, all we need to do is have enough courage, capacity and character to, as Northrop Frye put it “survive to the end of the story.”

Is the future beginning to haunt you, your organization and your society?

In our private thoughts and conversations in both backyards and boardrooms we are no longer confident that our children and grandchildren will be alright. We worry about the future we are creating for them. Yes, in public our official cultural optimism steers us away from such dark thoughts. Officially, we whistle past this graveyard. Yet, this fact is worrying: those who are most knowledgeable about the systemic challenges of the 21st Century are also the most worried about the world we are leaving our grandchildren.

Since 1960, Ruben Nelson has been a participant in the now-global research-based conversation about the reality of cultural and even civilizational crises and the need for fundamental personal and societal transformations. (See his The Illusions of Urban Man, 1976.) Ruben has more experience in this field than any other Canadian. This experience enables him to draw a long bow on the complex messes we face today and our uncertain prospects for tomorrow.

Ruben will review the evidence that supports the conclusion that our future is indeed perilous. The evidence even supports the growing cynicism that is moving many beyond a cheerful and superficial optimism towards despair. He will argue that while cynicism is warranted, it is not enough. Ruben will explore the insight that in order to cope we need to be grounded in a post-despair hope – the hope that lies the other side of despair and cynicism. He will also explore the grounds for such hope and the challenges of living by it.

Is it time to re-conceive Multiculturalism and re-think Immigration and Refugees?

Ruben will begin by explaining the official understanding of Multiculturalism as it was developed in the early 1970s. He will then consider the signs that today’s Multiculturalism is showing its age and may no longer serve us well in the 21st Century. Ruben will conclude that it follows that we in Canada need a clear and updated rationale for our decisions about who we allow into Canada, what we expect of them and ourselves once they are here and what all of this will require of us. Ruben will then lay out an updated understanding of Multiculturalism and the policy changes it will require in the areas of Multiculturalism, Immigration and Refugees. Ruben Nelson is well positioned to explore the significant issues of multiculturalism in Canada. He was raised on the Western prairies where it first arose. He is widely-travelled in and beyond Canada. Most important, in 1971, he was among only a handful of people who crafted Canada’s first Multicultural policy. He has paid close attention to the issues since then. His expertise has been recognized as he has advised European senior public servants on multiculturalism.

Is Strategic Foresight 2.0 the new cognitive work of leaders who are responsible for governance?

Ruben will explore the most current generation of strategic foresight – Strategic Foresight 2.0. He will show how this new work will enable you to make reliable sense of a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) – the new normal of the 21st Century. Exploring and understanding the adjacent futures that lie beyond our now normal understandings is the key to avoiding the surprise and tragedy of overshoot – being run over by the trends and events which we have not yet learned to see, much less to pay attention to. In economic terms alone, Strategic Foresight 2.0 makes sense. Typically, strategic foresight errors cost billions, while strategic planning errors cost only hundreds of millions and operational planning errors cost only millions. Yet we tend to invest our attention and money in the reverse order of these costs. For example, both 9/11 and the Global Credit Crisis cost several trillion. The aftershocks are still being felt. Although we watched over two years as BSE developed into a crisis in the UK, we learned nothing. It caught us unprepared. Our inattentive blindness cost us well over $2b. Over the last decade TransCanada missed virtually all of the potential opposition to its XL pipeline. They are claiming costs of over $8b. Until it was forced to pay attention, Trans Alta missed the abandonment of coal. Costs yet to be determined. Today, we are blind to the threats of chronic wasting disease and the declining levels of trust in our major institutions. (Add your own favorite examples here…)

In every case, leaders said that they were blindsided; that no one could have imagined the way the world would change. While this claim is comforting for the executives involved, it is nonsense. In each of these cases and hundreds of others there were people who foresaw what was coming, but such persons were neither seen nor listened to in the C suites of those in charge. Put simply, Strategic Foresight 2.0 can help us avoid being blindsided and run over by history.
Ruben will explain what strategic foresight is, what it isn’t, why it is now necessary, how to buy it and not to buy it, how to use and practise it. He will explore what it will cost if you commit to strategic foresight 2.0 and what it may well cost you if you don’t.

Advice you need to both heed and learn to ignore: “Don’t get too far ahead of the market!”. Panasonic used to say that it was, “Just slightly ahead of our time.” Yes, we cheer innovation and creativity. But the results have to make sense to the market. The unspoken message is: Don’t get too far ahead of your culture. In stable times this is all well and good: a better version of yesterday will still serve as a model for us tomorrow. But it is increasingly obvious that ours are not stable times. UVCA rules – uncertainty, volatility, complexity and ambiguity. Today, paradigm-bursting insights, thoughts and actions are required. And, yet, to have any traction we must be accepted enough to be seen as a trusted member of our society. Walking this thin line is like walking a knife-edge.

As a ground-breaking organizational designer/leader, future-oriented Social Policy wonk, boy bureaucrat and social activist Ruben knows this challenge all too well. As a pioneer of serious futures work in Canada he has often been more than slightly ahead of his time. Think about this: he organized what may well have been Canada’s first formal futures conference in 1960 when General Dwight Eisenhower was still President of the USA. He was the first Canadian to write an article on paradigm change. In 1975, he was the first to apply the concept of paradigm change to whole cultures. In 1976, Ruben was also one of the founders of the Canadian Association for Futures Studies. Accordingly, he is well-suited to share stories of his life – both successes and failures – that illuminate the tension between being one of the gang and being an authentic future-creating leader.

“Behold, I make all things new.”

One does not have to be a “none” or an atheist to feel dissatisfied with much that is offered to us in the name of the Hebrew/Christian tradition. (Or any other religious tradition for that matter.) Much established religion feels like a call to live in the past, rather than a proclamation of the challenge to consciously co-create a deeply humane future as citizens of the newly recognized geological epoch – the Anthropocene. In this presentation Ruben will offer stories, insights and personal reflections on his own journey from his formation as a Modern mid-20th Century prairie Protestant towards a faith that is fit for the 21st Century. Ruben will also note that this is not merely “a personal” matter. Ruben has come to the view that as things get tougher the superficial optimism of our Modern cultures will collapse even further. The profound challenges of the 21st Century will require the resilience of a 21st Century faith – one that is deep, heartfelt, mindful and embodied daily. Ruben’s hope is that his experiences may be of some use to those who are struggling to become faithful 21st Century persons and institutions in the midst of the confusion that marks our time.

Ruben is willing to focus on a subject of your choice.  Strategic Foresight 2.0 is a powerful perspective that can be used to see and explore afresh virtually any question, topic, sector or organization.  If you wish Ruben to turn his mind and heart onto your chosen topic, organization or sector, just ask him to do so.  He will tell you whether or not the scope of his competence includes your chosen topic.

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The Illusions of Urban Man

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