‘It’s not very difficult to write a book, but you need to start writing… I put my content on LinkedIn, for example, and this is where you then get feedback and it just gets you into this routine of writing. And you can then very quickly build up a really good volume of content, that you can then turn into books.’
Futurologist Bernard Marr created history at the Business Book Awards this year by having two books published in the year, both of which went on to win in category, and one of which – Business Trends in Practice – went on to win the overall Business Book of the Year award. It was, he says, ‘slightly embarrassing’.
Discover how he did it in this fascinating conversation – and prepare to have your mind blown along the way as he reveals some of the trends he’s been writing about and the impact they are set to have on our businesses and our lives.
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Alison Jones: I’m here today with Bernard Marr, who is a world-renowned futurist, influencer and thought leader in the fields of business and technology, with a passion for using technology for the good of humanity. He’s a best-selling author of 20 books, writes a regular column for Forbes and advises and coaches many of the world’s best known organizations.
He was ranked by LinkedIn as one of the top five business influencers in the world, and the number one influencer in the UK. His books Extended Reality in Practice and Business Trends in Practice both won their categories at the Business Book Awards last month, and Business Trends in Practice went on to win the overall award Business Book of the Year.
So firstly, congratulations on that, Bernard.
Bernard Marr: Thank you so much. And thank you so much for having me.
Alison Jones: It was quite the night, wasn’t it?
Bernard Marr: It was such a crazy night. I really went in there with absolutely zero expectations and I had been nominated three or four times before. So I’ve been there, enjoyed the evening. So this was actually the first time I took my wife. We thought this is a nice opportunity to go to London, dress up. We went out for a nice lunch, had a nice bottle of wine. Just thought it’s nice to dress up, go to the award. And I would’ve put my house on it that I wouldn’t win even a category.
Alison Jones: Just as well you didn’t.
Bernard Marr: Yes, and then when I won my first category, I just couldn’t believe it. And then I won the second and even then it didn’t even occur to me that I could even potentially win the overall award.
So in the end I went home with three and I’m still speechless. I’m humbled. I mean, there are so many amazing authors. It was such a great event. And for me, it would’ve been more than enough just to turn up and mingle and enjoy it.
Alison Jones: And as you say, have a nice meal. Well, it was definitely worth coming to and if you’re going to the one of these things again, you should definitely take your wife, because that seems sort of worked out quite well.
Bernard Marr: Yes, yes, next time I will. If there is ever a next time.
Alison Jones: Well, quite apart from the whole winning thing, I think the elephant in the room here is, wait a minute, you had two books entered within the one year’s awards.
And there are many of us, myself included, who struggle to kind of, you know, churn out one book every three or four years. So please let us into the secret of how you wrote two books and published them in the same year.
Bernard Marr: Yes, that’s slightly embarrassing. Some of the other people in the room must have hated me. I don’t think there was ever anyone having two books nominated at the same time. So that was definitely enough for me. And it was just a cool incident. I try to write one book a year. That’s my goal.
And with this one, they just fell into the two years because Business Trends in Practice got delayed because of COVID. And COVID also freed up my time, so I finished my second book faster than I anticipated. So I ended up having two books published in the same time window.
Alison Jones: Lockdown project.
Bernard Marr: Exactly.
Alison Jones: The one book a year thing even is really interesting because people have been saying for as long as I’ve been in publishing that the book is dead or dying. And here you are a futurist, somebody concerned with the future of technology, the future of business, and you’re writing a book a year as a kind of policy decision. Tell me why that matters.
Bernard Marr: It’s just an opportunity for me to engage with people and I write a lot of content anyway. So I write probably two, sometimes three Forbes columns a week. And for me, books just allow me to put it all together to create a longer narrative around a certain story. So initially I wrote about specific tech trends like artificial intelligence and big data and virtual and augmented reality.
And because I read so much, I write so much. And I thought it’s important to put this into a longer narrative where you can just cover everything instead of just little snippets. So the way I do this is I write lots of content over the year, and then I put all of this content together into a book.
Alison Jones: That’s interesting. So you don’t sit down to write the book, you write as a way of life. And out of that, you pull together a book. So in a sense you are using the content as you create it, rather than banking it all and then publishing in a kind of marvelous explosion at the end.
Bernard Marr: Yes, a bit of both I think. So I’m working on a new book and so I’ve started writing about the topic, I’ve been writing on this topic now for the last three years. But once I’ve decided I will do a book, then I try to cover all the different use cases, the different aspects that I want to then expand on in the book.
Alison Jones: I want to come onto tech trends in a minute, because I can’t let you go without talking about some of the stuff that you’re talking about in the book. It’s absolutely fascinating. But I just want to pursue this writing thing from a minute because I think it’s so interesting. And you talk about being able to tell a fuller story, that kind of the long form allows you to do something that the short form content doesn’t and I’m guessing that is valuable for you as a writer, as much as for us as readers.
Bernard Marr: Absolutely. And sometimes actually committing to a book means that I have to get the narrative straight in my own head, which then helps me with my clients, with my presentations and keynotes. So yes, absolutely. It’s as much of a learning journey for me putting the book together, than it is hopefully people that will read it.
Alison Jones: Yes, that’s really interesting. So coming onto trends for a moment, so obviously you talk, in the sort of overall book you’ve got a whole series of trends that you identify, and then you pick up one particularly in Extended Reality in Practice. And I mean, many people might not have heard that term ‘extended reality’.
You know, we’ve just about come to terms with virtual reality and augmented reality. Tell us about extended reality and why it matters.
Bernard Marr: Yes, so I wish I would’ve published this book slightly later because I basically published this book and about a month or two later, Facebook changed its name to Meta and introduced the term Metaverse. And extended reality is basically the term that people were using before they shifted to the Metaverse.
Alison Jones: This of course is the sort of occupational hazard of writing about future trends, isn’t it?
Bernard Marr: Absolutely. Absolutely. I feel good that I’ve written a book, but I wish I had the name metaverse in the title. So it was obviously a super important trend that is still super hyped up at the moment. And basically what we are talking about here is that we are creating a new version of the internet that is more immersive.
So the first version of the internet was websites. The second one was social media. And what we’re now talking about having something that is more immersive, using technologies like augmented and virtual reality.
So a super simple example is if you go into Google on your phone and you Google for dinosaurs and you Google for a Tyrannosaurus Rex, for example, you now have the option of putting this in front of you as an augmented reality.
So you can simply click on your phone and it will then render it into your room. And then this gives you a much better idea of scale because it will scale it to where you are and then you can walk around it and get an idea. And that this is actually moving. So this is for just becoming more immersive.
And just two weeks ago I was giving a presentation as a hologram, which is super cool. So I was in London, in a studio and I was giving a presentation to a live audience in Sydney and Singapore. And they basically saw me appear on a stage as a hologram. And so this is again, just another example and these are both examples of more augmented reality. So when you overlay something onto the real world that is digital.
What we will see more of is more of a mixed reality and more virtual reality as well and blended reality. Companies like Apple are working on this very hard. Everyone believes that they will soon release virtual reality or mixed reality goggles.
So I believe that in the future, we won’t have our phone as the main entry point to the internet and to enter the digital world, we will have something like glasses or further along, even contact lenses or brain interfaces.
Alison Jones: So it’s a little window into a completely separate world. It’s something that overlays where you are
Bernard Marr: Exactly. And then you have the option of, at the moment we have augmented reality in our phones. We have virtual reality where we have to put goggles on and into the completely digital world. I think in the future, we’ll have more of a blended world where you can choose to still see the real word and have objects in it, or to completely blank it out and enter the virtual word.
And this is when the world’s becoming really intriguing and interesting. A fascinating example, I was learning to play the drums in virtual or in mixed reality. So I was putting goggles on suddenly a drum kit appeared in front of me, I had sticks in my hand, they would have haptic feedback. So when you hit the drum, it actually feels like you’re hitting it, the sound.
And you think this is pretty crazy stuff, but then beyond entertainment, we will see this in healthcare, for example, in surgery where doctors can almost train an operation, so you can have a digital twin of a patient, of you, and that is a digital replica of you.
And then a surgeon can use virtual reality to practice the surgery a few times before he or she then performs it in the real world.
Alison Jones: It’s really interesting. You’ve given so many different examples of different industries and applications there, because I think that it’s tempting for us to go, yes, there’s loads of cool stuff happening that Apple, that Google, that Facebook are doing: it’s not just the big tech giants anymore, is it?
This is feeding its way, or finding its way, into every industry at a sort of multitude of points simultaneously.
Bernard Marr: Yes, absolutely. And I think it’s relevant for any organization. A good example is the living wine labels, for example. So there’s an Australian wine company and they have developed an app that allows you to point your phone cameras onto their label. And then this comes to life and it tells you a story about it or a whisky manufacturer. They work with a London hotel to create a more immersive whisky cocktail experience. So when you sit and order your cocktail, you then get your VR glasses, you put them on, and this then takes you to Scotland. It gives you a little tour of the distillery, and you see where the water comes from. You can fly down a stream, you see how it’s being distilled, the workmanship that goes into it. And then by the time this is finished, the cocktail then ends up in front of you. So you take your glasses off, and this gives you a much more immersive, brand experience that you simply couldn’t have without this sort of technology.
Alison Jones: That’s really fascinating. You are very optimistic as a person, I think, but also in terms of the way that you, the opportunities you see for this technology. I’m imagining that along with that optimism, for the people that you work with, there is a sense of: how do we keep up with this? How do we know what to invest in? You know, what’s going to happen next? How do you balance that sense of overwhelm, with the sense of the opportunities that are there?
Bernard Marr: Yes, I think I’m a natural optimist. At the same time, like everyone else probably, I have mixed feelings about it because what we are now experiencing is a shift that is most likely greater than any shift in business that we’ve ever experienced before. We are now talking about the fourth industrial revolution that we are experiencing and like the previous industrial revolutions that have really shaken up the word of business and our society is more in general, if you think about, and they were driven by one technology.
So we had steam, we had electricity, we had computers. Now we have multiple technologies that individually would probably warrant their own industrial revolution, but they’re all coming together.
So we have extended reality and the metaverse, we have machine learning and artificial intelligence, which I believe is probably the most powerful technology humans have ever had access to. We have blockchain technology and Web 3. So there are so many completely transformative technologies that are uprooting most industries and turning entire industries upside down.
And what we will see over the coming years is that we will see this pace of change only accelerating. So it’s super important for us to keep an eye on what is happening, but also realize that what this actually means is that this will hopefully make our word a better place and make our word a more human place, because what we will be able to do is outsource the parts of our jobs and the parts of our lives that we, that humans really shouldn’t really be spending their time on. If you think about this there are lots of jobs that I completely acknowledge people need to earn money, but they’re not really using the full potential that humans have.
And I hope that in the future, we will be able to give some of the more mundane things to machines and actually concentrate on the interpersonal, the really, truly human things. And I have actually just finished writing a new book that’s coming out in the summer that is called Future Skills in which I look at the 20 skills we will need in the future.
And this came about because every presentation I give, people are probably slightly mind blown by some of the things that are already happening. But then the next thing is they question, okay, what does that mean for humans? What does it mean for businesses? How do we prepare for this? What skills will we actually need?
How can we compete with machines if they’re becoming increasingly capable and intelligent and… yes, so out of my 20, 16 are really human soft skills like creativity. We will never have a machine that can imagine the word we want to live in, in the future and come up with new, innovative product and services. They can do bits of it, but they can never do it in the way humans can.
And machines are very good at using data in quite stable, predictive environments. The human world is not predictive, it’s not stable, we do crazy stuff. We do some things that’s counterintuitive and this is why machines can’t predict the bigger issues that really matter for us, machines can’t find us love.
They can’t find other things. So we can’t even do this sometimes.
Alison Jones: I find that really interesting, that whole kind of… machines allow us to double down on being human. There’s a sort of pleasing paradox in there, isn’t there?
Bernard Marr: Exactly. And it would be a very difficult transition because it would augment all our jobs and businesses need to be very clear that, it’s one of the chapters I talk about in Business Trends and Practice, is that businesses need to find this balance between the work that machines are good at and can do, and the work that humans can do.
And at the moment, lots of companies are not getting this right. And even if they’re trying to get it right, there’s a huge challenge in terms of transitioning skills, upskilling people, reskilling people to make sure they actually have those skills that humans will need in the future to succeed.
Alison Jones: But it’s interesting that the skills you’re talking about there are less the kind of workplace skills that we are used to talking about, where it’s specific to a system or a process or a way of doing things, they’re actually more perennial. They are relational, they are more enduring skills, which is really interesting.
And I guess that the ability to learn becomes massively more important than a specific skill in any one process because of the pace of change.
Bernard Marr: Yes, and this is where I am getting really frustrated with the education system at the moment, with the university system, and even how businesses operate and how much emphasis they put on developing talent. Because you are absolutely right in my book, Future Skills, one of the most important skills is actually being able to learn.
So having this growth mindset, understanding that the half life of my existing skills will reduce continuously. So the past, our education system is still one that we used for the first industrial revolution where we basically, so people go to school, they learn all the skills they need, and then they enter the workplace and then off they go or they can work until they retire without learning anything new.
This has long changed. So, and also what we are teaching is completely wrong. At the moment we are teaching our kids to remember facts and we train them to pass exams, which is hugely frustrating. I have a daughter that’s doing her GCSEs at the moment. I’m also a school governor in my kids’ school and I find this really worrying and I wish we’d get rid of exams and actually focus on the skills that we will need. And this is the reason why I wrote that book actually saying, it’s all well and good, but we now have computers that can find facts for us. We need to have skills like complex decision making.
We need to be able to distill information and understand whether this is trustworthy or not. We need to have the creativity, the interpersonal communication, as well as other soft skills like this continuous learning, and even looking after ourselves and building your own brand online, all of these are really important skills that we’ll need in the future.
Alison Jones: And much harder to measure for governments, of course.
Bernard Marr: Absolutely. yes, and…
Alison Jones: …hence the problem…
Bernard Marr: …don’t even get me started on that.
Alison Jones: Okay. Let’s not, that’s a whole other podcast, isn’t it? But yes, I couldn’t agree more. And interestingly, my son who’s about to start his GCSEs has very much the same opinion. Really, really interesting.
Bernard Marr: Yes, I had a conversation with my daughter just a few days ago. She said it’s so crazy that I literally put all of this knowledge into my head and literally the day after her exam, this would just dissolve out of her brain.
Alison Jones: It’s irrelevant.
Bernard Marr: Yes.
Alison Jones: Yes, exactly. And you are learning to pass exams as you say. yes. Interestingly, my son always says that the first lockdown was the best time he ever had at school because he was able to just work on his own and pursue his own interest and do his own research and work at his own pace, and he absolutely loved it. And I thought, actually, the skills that you learned there are more valuable than the facts that you absorbed at the same time.
Bernard Marr: Absolutely. And some of the technologies we talked about are so relevant to the future of education. We now have online, if you think about this, if you wanted to learn about ancient Rome, how about sticking VR goggles on and actually walking around ancient Rome. And what is interesting is that when we read something, we retain something like 5 or 10% at the very, very most. If we experience something in VR, for example, this knowledge retention goes up to over 80%. So this is a much better way of learning. Also sitting in a classroom, watching a teacher, teaching something, this teacher might not be the best world expert in this topic, not the best teacher on this topic.
How about actually watching someone, or even entering the metaverse being with this person as a hologram or in the virtual world: the learning experience would be so much better. And then we can actually use the school as a place to interact for learning those other skills, these interpersonal skills, team working skills, creative thinking and so on.
Alison Jones: Yes, really interesting. And that experience economy piece that you talk about in the book, publishers are really grappling with this as well, because as you say, you know, a book is, actually in a sense, a book is almost more valuable today, I think, because it gives you an escape. It gives you a space in which you can be completely on your own, unmonitored, unplugged, and that’s very good for your wellbeing. But actually, could you complement that with an experiential piece online? So yes, something we’re all looking at the moment.
But I want to talk to you about writing because I’m very conscious of the time. And we’ve talked about the pace at which you write and the reasons why you write, tell me a little bit more about the way in which you write.
I’d love to know the tools you use, the processes you go through, because you’ve done 20 odd books now, you know what works. Just kind of lift the lid and talk us through how you go about putting a book together at the pace of one a year.
Bernard Marr: Yes. Because I write all the time, a lot of the content hopefully is already there. And then I almost use a PowerPoint to say, these are the key, almost as if I was giving a TED talk, saying these are the key things I would want to cover. And then I basically, from this initial structure, I then build this up and say, okay, these are the best examples to talk about. These are the key points I want to make. And then I use some existing content I have. Lots of my content that I write about is much more than the article I’ve written. So quite often, let’s say I talk to a Formula One team about how they’re using technology. I then visit them, I do a number of interviews with them, so there’s a lot more content already there. I then distill this into an article, but I can go back to some of this content and expand this for the book.
And then I will do obviously some new research, bring in some new case studies, an example that I’ve not published. So this is basically how I write and I’ve experimented with lots of different tools you can use, but for me actually just good old Word works extremely well.
Alison Jones: It’s such a workmanlike way of going about it. I love that. I love the way that it integrates with the work that you’re doing out in the world, the conversations you’re having, the consulting that you’re doing and the content that you’re creating on a daily basis, because that’s the idea economy. And then all of that goes into the book and you’re not being too precious about it, which is brilliant.
Bernard Marr: No, absolutely. Yes, and for me, the conversations I have… so when I do consulting work with organizations, the questions they are asking me, the questions I get asked in my own live streams on social media, they are all going into my writing, because I think this is what people want to know. This is what they’re interested in.
Alison Jones: And I think sometimes people say to me, oh, I’m going to, you know, take three months out and write the book and so it’s a sort of separate endeavour. And I think that actually that the interplay between the two is… because when you’re writing the book you’re thinking at a different level and you are interested in how other people are responding to that, and that interplay between your own ideas and the kind of the world out there and people’s real concerns, is what makes a really good book at the end of the day.
Bernard Marr: Yes, I agree. And if I took three months out of my work, I would fall behind because the pace of change is so fast.
Alison Jones: Yes. There’s also that, yes.
So I always ask my guests, Bernard, for their one best tip. So if somebody is at the early stages of their first ever business book, what’s the one thing that you would tell them to focus on?
Bernard Marr: For me, it’s actually start writing and testing it out. I fell into book writing because I ended up in academia and this is what people were doing there. They were writing books. And if someone ever told my 16-year-old self, you’re going to write a book, I would’ve thought this is a crazy idea.
And actually it’s not very difficult to write a book, but you need to start writing. And for me when you write and publishing them as short articles. So I put my content on LinkedIn, for example, and this is where you then get feedback. You see what people are, do they like it, you get some comments and it just gets you into this routine of writing.
And then by doing this, you can then very quickly build up a really good volume of content, that you can then turn into books.
Alison Jones: And you also, and you don’t address this explicitly, but one of the things that that allowed you to do is overcome the fear of putting stuff out, it kind of inoculates you step by step, doesn’t it? Against that awful crushing kind of fear of visibility when you do put a book out because….
Bernard Marr: Yes. And I think you……
Alison Jones: …can think about it for ages…
Bernard Marr: …that, and the other thing it helps you to do is to build your online presence and your audience. Because nowadays, unfortunately, if you want to get published by a big publishing company, they will not publish your book if you haven’t got a big platform where they can guarantee sales, unfortunately, this is the world we are living in.
And so the sooner you start writing and you’re building an audience, then you can demonstrate that people are interested in what you have to say. And then you can get a publishing deal too.
Alison Jones: Brilliant, great tip. Thank you.
And do you have a book, I mean, apart from one of your 20, do you have a book that you would recommend that people listening should read? It doesn’t have to be a business book, it often is, but it doesn’t have to be.
Bernard Marr: Yes, this’s a very interesting question, and I get this asked quite a lot, so I probably read about two books a week, and there are so many books. This is why I was so humbled to win the Business Book Award, because there were just so many amazing books on that night. For me, if I had to pick one, I would probably pick Bill Gates’s book How To Avoid a Climate Disaster.
This I believe is the number one challenge we are facing as the world. If we don’t put sustainability left right and centre of all of our lives and our businesses, then we will experience awful, what we’ve experienced throughout the coronavirus pandemic. And what I love about Bill Gates’s book is that he talks about the solutions we have, it’s a very honest conversation, but also some of the breakthrough technologies we will still need to develop. So any business leader should pick this up, read this very carefully and see it as a book that gives you the things that you, a roadmap of what you can do in your own business to become more sustainable, but also highlights huge potential opportunities for businesses.
And I believe the businesses that will become the mega businesses and the super successful businesses of the future are those that will tackle sustainability.
Alison Jones: Yes, it’s a great recommendation. Thank you. And I think a great complement to what we’ve been talking about so far in terms of trends, because that actually underpins everything, doesn’t it?
Bernard Marr: Absolutely.
Alison Jones: Yes, thank you. And Bernard, if people want to find out more about you, more about all your books, more about what you do, where should they go?
Bernard Marr: I’m pretty much on every platform. So they can connect with me on LinkedIn, that’s where I put all my content out. I share stuff on Twitter. I have a YouTube channel. I have my own podcast, the Bernard Marr Future Tech and Business podcast. So there are plenty of ways to connect and, or you can just go to my website. I literally have thousands of articles on my website, videos. You can listen to them, watch them.
You can follow me on TikTok. On TikTok is actually quite cool, I’m currently using an AI generated avatar of myself on TikTok. So. Yes. So this is I’ve been working with an AI company that basically created a 3D avatar of myself.
I then worked with another company that created a synthetic voice of my own voice. And I can put this together so I can now create video by simply typing something into a Word document, pressing a button, and it will then turn into a video of me talking in my own voice, which is pretty epic.
Alison Jones: Mind blown. That’s brilliant. Step back, Abba. That’s absolutely brilliant.
It’s been eyeopening and fascinating talking to you. So thank you so much for your time today, Bernard. Congratulations again on the awards, which I can see behind you on the shelf.
Bernard Marr: Yes, very proud spot behind me. Thank you so much, Alison, for having me.
Alison Jones: Thank you.