“I didn’t set out to be ‘a futurist’ – I don’t think anyone does!” – a profile of #BASMonth speaker Christopher Barnatt.
Christopher Barnatt is an academic, author and futurist. He divides his time between Nottingham University Business School, and his own independent work as writer, speaker, consultant.
His latest book The 3D Printing Revolution was published only this month. The one before that, Seven Ways to Fix The World, appeared last year.
He uses the analogy of an architect. ‘When I go into a business’, he says, ‘I come up with plans of things they could do to address the challenges of the future. There’s so much going on. Coming up with practical thoughts about how they go forward can really help.’
Good news for owner-run businesses and SMEs
He’s positive about the role of SMEs today, and on into the future. ‘Only 5 years ago,’ he says, ‘people would apologise for being only a small business. Not so today. Our obsession with growth and profitability is giving way to an understanding that it’s about growing a business to the right size and then running a stable business well.’
Good news indeed for SMEs. ‘By and large the world is shifting towards smaller businesses’, he adds. ‘There is a move from globalisation, which has cost us so much, to localisation.’ All this, he says, is good for small business. And ‘quite a comforting thought’ at a time when the rate of future change, and the challenges we face, can seem daunting, even overwhelming.
‘People are generally receptive to what I have to say,’ says Christopher. ‘The financial crisis, which was perfectly well predicted, came as a big wake-up call to many. We’ve been very good at running blindfolded into a brick wall and saying ugh, that hurt! Now people are just beginning to realise, we really can anticipate a lot of what happens, and we can then take action to shape ourselves a better future.’
Christopher Barnatt is, perhaps, above all else a communicator. He says ‘making links’ is his gift. ‘I often describe myself as a collage artist’, he says. And he started out, as a boy, with a passion for filmmaking.
After studying Industrial Economics at Nottingham University, he spent 5 years working as a freelance animator with Tony Hart, among others, at the BBC.
His mind is scientific, he agrees, as well as creative and imaginative. But his overall intention is clearly social. ‘Society needs to look at the debates before Science has done it all’, he says. And that’s down to each of us sitting up and taking an interest.
For Christopher, that means writing books, doing talks, helping companies. He understands how the scientists think, he says, and can provide a bridge between them and the rest of us – explaining implications simply and clearly. ‘I set out options’, he says. ‘Then it’s down to all of us how we shape our future.’
Christopher Barnatt was born in London, and moved around a lot as a child. He went to school in Manchester, then Worcester.
‘I didn’t set out to be ‘a futurist’,’ he says. ‘I don’t think anyone does!’
The second book he wrote – Cyber Business – back in 1995, proved groundbreaking. ‘I got something right’, he says – predicting the impact of the internet (‘Each of us, walking around clutching our own smartphone’ – No way! people said.)
‘Suddenly I went from being wacky, after-dinner to key-note speaker.’
And perhaps another of his gifts is this ability to make subjects safe for people. People are curious but they’re also cautious – ‘That line is there all the time’, Christopher says. “I want to know – but not that.”
Take 3D printing – the current lead technology, and subject of his latest book. People are wowed that you can produce real products from 3D printing, he says, like magic. ‘But when we say you can produce a human heart, they say No! Not that!’.
There are things we don’t want to know. ‘Human kind/ Cannot bear very much reality’, as the poet TS Eliot put it.
‘I make links, connections,’ says Christopher Barnatt. ‘That’s what I do. I communicate with people clearly about what the scientists are up to – and then I jolt them into realising the world can be different, but that’s up to them – you – each of us.’
Christopher Barnatt was a guest speaker at the What is the future of business growth? event in Leicester as part of BAS Month.
Join the discussion with other SME owners and business professionals over in our Business Advice Service Linked In Group. We’ll see you there!
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