Six Conversations About the Future

Photo: Lizzy Tregear

Photo: Lizzy Tregear

Globalisation. Work. Experience. Retail and consumption. Technology. Communication.

Not small topics to debate the future of, to be sure. As guests at the recent ASOS Assembles event inside London’s iconic Alexandra Palace, Madeline Ashby and I managed to scratch the surface of these topics in front of hundreds of ASOSers—employees of the global online fashion retailer—in the form of six Future Face-off debates.

Along with our great ASOS hosts Cliff Cohen, James Saxton and George Mudie, Madeline and I faced a room that filled up six times (thanks, guys!) for rapid fire 20-minute discussions painting the edges of these meta-topics, talking about tensions and uncertainties, and what to expect over the next decade. We took it in turns offering opening statements, then stretching the frame of these issues, offering counterpoints and provocations in fast fashion (pun mildly intended). 

From the unfolding impacts of climate change, the ways technology will shape attitudes towards the body, to the unbundling of work as we know it, and the competition of what I called “chaos retail,” run by just-in-time bots and unmanned supply chains, we described a landscape of challenges and opportunities facing a young, but tech-native, team. Companies-as-countries (what would an Amazon passport look like?), full sensory immersion (not just the look of, but the smell, or feel of new jeans), and the rise of modest fashion driven by demographic shifts were just some of the issues we bounced between over the two-hour stretch. Less tech-centered critical issues such as sustainable sourcing and the future of body images also played a part in the narratives.

Over to my debate partner Madeline:

MA: It’s rare that we get to have conversations about the future. I mean actual conversations, with actual banter, not a series of lectures or slides or what have you. But what struck me after digging deep with Scott and our interlocutors was their desire to keep talking. After the event, guests came up and thanked us and asked questions. They wanted to keep the conversation going. And that is one of the best parts of this job—the fact that once you start a conversation about the future, it keeps going long after you leave the room. All you need to do is give people the permission to start.
Beyond the opportunity to have this conversation, I also enjoyed the opportunity to model it, as it were. As revelations about social media platforms continue to unfold, it’s important to demonstrate the power of human contact and playful-but-respectful in-person dialogue about the driving forces that will change human life over time. We can have these conversations. We can continue them. Even if they’re difficult, or tricky, or daunting. 

Our thanks to ASOS for inviting us to join an epic day of keynotes, catwalks, customer experiences, DJs and delectable food trucks. Thanks also to the collective teams that put the event together, designed and produced a fantastic space of our own, to have these strategic conversations, and to our hosts on stage. Most of all, thanks to the (possibly thousand-plus) ASOSers who joined, answered our questions to them, and faced us with a welcoming, energetic, open and curious attitude throughout the sessions.

If you're interested in having us work with you to design a similar discussion for your organisation, get in contact, we're happy to discuss.