Symposium with the Legatum Institute

The USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study continued its ongoing relationship with the London-based Legatum Institute when it recently co-convened a one day symposium entitled “The Next Big Thing: A Historical Approach to Thinking about the Future” on December 12, 2013 in London, United Kingdom.  This time, the Harvard Business Review joined the partnership, which brought together an international and polymathic cadre of academics, business professionals, economists, futurists, technologists, politicians, and diplomats to discuss a historical approach to thinking about the future.  This workshop was the first in a three part series, the third of which will conclude at USC in fall 2014.

Both the Harman Academy and Legatum Institute see a world in which interdisciplinary thought and collaboration are increasingly necessary for discovery, innovation, and problem-solving; and they seek to promote this approach and ponder these bigger questions through panels, workshops, and symposiums.

The Harman Academy and Legatum Institute previously collaborated on a three-day workshop on“Weimar Exiles in Los Angeles: Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Opportunity in a New Cultural Frontier” held in Los Angeles, CA from August 28 through August 30, 2013, which explored themes of creativity, entrepreneurship, and opportunity through a historical lens, with particular focus on the period between the two world wars. The workshop was an immense success, bringing together a select group of USC students, academics, intellectuals, and professionals for an inspiring and insightful three days of conversation.  Attendees left with a greater understanding of the concept of exilic identity, as well as Weimar exiles’ cultural and innovative contributions to Los Angeles and the world at large. 

After the success of the Weimar workshop, the Academy and Legatum Institute were eager to continue and build upon their relationship, and produced this one-day London-based conference, jointly convened by the Harvard Business ReviewThis symposium brought together an international and quite polymathic cadre of academics, business professionals, economists, technologists, politicians, and diplomats to discuss a historical approach to thinking about the future.  In a world that is increasingly ambiguous, we spend a lot of time pondering what the future might hold and how best to predict what’s coming. This symposium encouraged attendees to consider how we think about the future by looking at the past, and how we might improve those methods -- within specific disciplines and on a more global scale.  Participants were asked to consider the concept from three perspectives -- how different disciplines incorporate forecasting into decision-making; how upcoming technological revolutions will impact society and determine our future; and how an observer from 1913 might have considered the future and whether we have improved our forecasting abilities since that time.

The symposium opened with a panel entitled Forecasting Across Disciplines – Are We Improving?, which examined whether our ability to make interdisciplinary forecasts is improving and how that might affect decision making. Jeffrey Gedmin, President and CEO of the Legatum Institute, moderated the panel, which opened with remarks from Matthew Barzun, the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom and National Finance Chair on President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. Discussants included Ben Page, CEO of Ipsos Mori and frequent writer/speaker on leadership and performance management; Mikkel Rasmussen, one of the founding partners of ReD Associates, which is one of the world’s most progressive and forward-thinking consulting firms and a leading force in bringing human-science-based methodologies to business; and Steve Martin, Director of Influence at Work and columnist for the Harvard Business Review.

The second panel, entitled Revolutions in the Pipeline, focused on the potential societal impact of upcoming technological revolutions and innovations. Stefan Stern, a management writer and Visiting Professor in management practice at the Cass Business School, London, moderated the panel. Discussants included Ben Hammersley, writer, applied futurist, and contributing editor ofWired UK; and Diane Coyle, Vice-Chairman of the BBC Trust and Director of Enlightened Economics, a consultancy specializing in the economic and social effects of new technologies.

The Harman Academy’s very own academic program director, Karin Huebner, moderated the final panel, Case Study 1913: Have we learned anything? . The discussion examined this historical moment of extraordinary technological innovation (not unlike the present) when an unsuspecting world stood at the brink of war that would forever alter the course of the civilization.  What have we learned from history that might enhance our ability to predict?  This query was among several themes explored, as well as whether major trends, hopes, and fears have altered since that time to such a degree to make history an irrelevant guide for forecasting.  Discussants included Charles Emmerson, Associate Director of the World Economic Forum and Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House, as well as author of 1913: The World before the Great War; and Hywel Williams, renowned author and historian, and Senior Adviser at the Legatum Institute.

Other guests in attendance included: Nicola Clase, the Swedish Ambassador to the United Kingdom; Nicholas Dunbar, physicist, author, and financial journalist; Elizabeth Baldwin, International Commercial Director for the Harvard Business Review Group; Philippe Sachs, Global Head of Standard Chartered Bank’s Public Sector Client Coverage group, as well as a member of the advisory board at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and member of the Council on Foreign Relations; Nadia Schadlow, Senior Program Officer in the International Security and Foreign Policy Program of the Smith Richardson Foundation, member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and consultant to the Department of Defense; Dominic Schofield, Senior Client Partner at Korn Ferry; and Maria Eva Vass-Salazar, Deputy Head of Mission of the Embassy of Hungary.

The Academy was also very pleased to welcome one of its recently graduated Harman Academy Fellows and USC Class of 2013 Salutatorian, Alexander Fullman, as a participant. Alexander is currently a Marshall Scholar, pursuing graduate studies in political science at the University of Oxford.

Keep your eye on this space for announcements regarding a Harman Academy/Legatum Institute partnership and upcoming co-convened events.


Jeffrey Gedmin, President and CEO of the Legatum Institute reflected on his observations from the symposium in an article for the Harvard Business Review linked below:

For more on the “Weimar in Los Angeles” workshop:

For more on the “The Next Big Thing” workshop: