Will robots still burn marshmallows on an open fire?

Reflections on a strategic leadership retreat

Key Points

Managing today’s strategic challenges consumes most of our time and resources — finding time to think about the future is hard

Industry plays an outsized role in driving innovation today — a role that’s sure to grow exponentially moving forward

We’re so reliant on technology that we haven’t thought through the second or third-order effects

The Future Strategic Leaders Program of the Institute for Regional Security has been supported by the Noetic Group since 2007. It forms part of Noetic’s sponsorship of the Institute for Regional Security, which is currently chaired by our CEO, Andrew Balmaks.

The Future Strategic Leaders’ Congress is a weekend retreat, and provides an opportunity for people like me to meet and talk directly with senior national security leaders, industry heads, and leading thinkers around a strategic theme. This year’s theme was ‘Innovation and Transformation in National Security’.

We split our time between seminars, skills development, hypotheticals, workshops, and talking with speakers and other attendees over meals and drinks. Drinks and marshmallows around the fire pit provided a great opportunity to exchange ideas, make new friends, and discuss the days topics and what they mean for our future.

The ‘Innovation and Transformation’ theme challenged participants to think to the future, including topics on space, cyber, and innovation in Defence, policing, and industry. On the final day, participants formed small groups and were tasked with crafting a department-specific policy response to a scenario set in 2035. Throughout the various workshops, we all grappled with the tendency to think in terms of the current strategic environment. Each presentation drove home the need for forward-looking thinking to respond to tomorrow’s challenges, and our final activity brought out some novel approaches to automation, artificial intelligence, and the use of big data.

Noetic’s General Manager Strategy, Matt Graham, delivered a presentation as part of the industry session. Matt urged participants to think critically about the future, drawing upon his experience in the Australian Army, Australian Federal Police, and across Noetic’s extensive work in defence experimentation and future capability. Matt’s contribution to Congress this year forms part of Noetic’s new mentoring program for the FSLP.

This is one of the few opportunities for people my age to hear senior leaders discussing critical strategic issues in an off-the-record fashion, and was a brilliant professional development experience. It undoubtedly helped develop all participants’ analytical, leadership, and networking skills.

The Future Strategic Leaders’ Congress is held twice a year at the ANU Kioloa Campus, on the south coast of New South Wales. For more details of the FSLP and upcoming events, please click here

Ed Boettcher is a Research Assistant in the Canberra office of Noetic Group and a member of the Future Strategic Leaders Program sub-committee.