In my defense, I’m not the only one. The truth is, predicting the future is all too often an absolute lottery. How many of us could have predicted so many recent events that have reverberated across the world we live in today? Trump, Corbyn, Brexit…? Green Book winning the Oscar for best film?! The future has something of a history of throwing curve-balls.
And even more broadly, who could have imagined even 15 years ago that people from almost every part of the globe would have the world’s knowledge in the palm of their hands? We live in a period of unprecedented change where the future feels ever more unpredictable, no matter how hard we try to anticipate it.
So, I made a challenge to the room that day – let’s stop trying to predict the future, let’s create it instead.
Don’t predict the future – create it
This principle underpinned Creating our Future. We challenged the sector to co-create five ideas to transform housing – innovative new solutions that would help tackle some of housing’s big systemic issues and change people’s lives. To support this we designed an 18-month process that would take associations all the way from collectively identifying their shared strategic challenges to coming up with new ideas together, and finally to developing the best of those into credible commercial solutions that would get adopted across the sector.
Creating our Future had the potential to be ground-breaking – it marked the first-time housing innovation had ever been attempted at a sector-wide scale.
The success of the programme relied on the response from housing associations. Their engagement turned out to be incredible, with more than 500 people from over 400 housing associations getting involved. This included committing staff full-time to the most ambitious part of the process, The Greenhouse.
The Greenhouse brought together five teams of five people, all from different associations, who worked full-time for 16 weeks to develop a new product, service or approach to tackle the big issues the sector had collectively identified.
Our teams were based in different UK cities – our Leeds team looked at how homes could adapt as people age, our Liverpool team at poverty, our Birmingham team at homelessness prevention, and our London teams at how to build more high-quality homes, and housing affordability.
The process culminated in each team presenting their final idea to our sector’s chief executives at the National Housing Summit. Exactly one year since I had stood on that stage to launch the programme, this was the moment we would learn, as a sector, if we really could create the future and, in doing so, improve lives.
The Greenhouse participants all did an incredible job and each pitch was met by huge enthusiasm from the industry. More than 200 senior leaders pledged then and there to support the ideas to become a reality, and six months later all five ideas continue to develop. They have collectively secured hundreds of thousands of pounds to take them forward, as well as strong backing from senior leaders across the industry.
There’s still work to do, but it’s clear that we’ve created something special that could have real impact on people’s lives and the future of housing. What is the future of housing? I still don’t know. But what I have learnt over the past 18 months is that, while we might be not so good at predicting the future, by collaborating we are brilliant at creating it.