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Second Session Overview

Zach urges standing on first principles, re-engaging for the future

Have you ever been asked to "think forward"? Well that is exactly the approach to take, one expert says, when thinking about the future. It simply means thinking about the implications of your choices.

School board members and administrators were asked to think forward by David Zach, keynote speaker for Saturday's second general session at the 76th IASB/IASA/IASBO Joint Annual Conference.

Zach is one of the few professionally trained futurists around, having earned a master's degree in Studies of the Future from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. As a futurist, he has worked with over 1,300 associations, corporations and colleges offering insights on the personal and professional impact of strategic trends.

In other words, he gives humorous and intriguing talks about the future of technology, economics, business, education, demographics and society. He did all of that and more, as he touched on automation, customization, virtual creation, wealth creation, and design trends in his address to Saturday's packed house.

Zach previously worked at Johnson Controls and Northwestern Mutual Life in the roles of environmental scanning and strategic planning. He also taught Future Studies in the school of education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Today he gives talks about 50 times a year, he says, and wishes he would write more.

He talked about, among other things, how design is at the center of economy, how Rumba-style vacuum cleaners will be surpassing the intelligence of human beings within 30 to 40 years (the automated vacuums are at the intelligence level of spiders currently), and how the late British author G.K. Chesterton was right when he said "anything worth doing is worth doing badly."

The latter quote, he explained, means that in a democracy people must not surrender all of the important tasks to the so-called experts.

This discussion led to talk about technology versus privacy concerns. Zach said it is possible electronic sensors will soon be developed to gather real-time data for decision making.

"This will rapidly increase the state of innovation," he said.

With information gathered directly, new ideas will be implemented at a more rapid pace, he said. He used an example of a machine that is attached to the body to send vital-sign readings to a doctor at another location. He said this could eventually become the norm, which might raise significant questions about privacy.

Zach said he does not so much predict the future, as he simply looks at the present and the past to investigate where to go from there.

"Looking back is one of the keys to moving forward," he said. In fact his second book, newly published, called Worth Remembering: The Future Value of Old Ideas, covers that general topic in depth.

"Look for things that stand out," he said. "To move forward you must first look back and see the price we paid to get here."

He challenged those in the audience to keep an eye on the past in their task as school leaders, and he urged them to "stand on first principles." That is, he explained, recognize that only some change is good: "When change gets institutionalized, the really radical thing is to not change," he observed. The motto should never be "change is good."

As such, Zach spoke out against the current "great myth: the belief that we can multitask." Indeed, he quoted an anonymous woman speaker at a conference he recently attended, who said "multitasking makes you stupid."

The futurist also warned that "at the end of modern times … we are delusional because we believe that because we are busy, we are important." In this atmosphere, he said, "Nothing can wait, can last, can satisfy." Ours "is not a society that is enthused or has hope; it is a society that is tired," he said.

Zach's prescription is simple: we all must re-engage with community, family and friends. We must bring people together, including the loved ones from our own past. He recalled the wisdom of his own late grandfather, and argued that such people and their ideas must not be forgotten. Rather, their wisdom should inform our actions.

Prior to Zach's remarks, Christopher Koch, state superintendent of schools, warned Illinois school leaders that "it is going to be a challenging year," with an extremely tight state budget, and money troubles everywhere. But he said the real challenge for schools will be to ease some of the stress kids feel, which will derive from the stress falling on families in these hard times.

Moshin Dada, Illinois ASBO president, presided over the second session. He asked current IASB President Mark C. Metzger to introduce from the audience several IASB past presidents, including: Marie Slater, of Wheaton, 2006-2007; Raymond Zimmerman, of Flanagan, 2004-2005; Christy Coleman, of Geneseo, 2002-2003; Dennis McConville, of Peru, 2001-2002; E. Jerald Eiffert, of Mt. Zion, 1999-2000; Jay Tovian, of Villa Park, 1996-1998; Stanton E. Morgan, of Bismarck, 1994-1995; Robert Reich, of Bourbonnais, 1992-1993; Barbara M. Wheeler, of Downers Grove, 1988-1989; Wayne Sampson, of Morton, 1986-1987; Johathan T. Howe, of Northbrook, 1978-1979; G. Howard Thompson, of Prophetstown, 1976-1977; and George H. Wirth, of New Athens, 1970-1971.

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