Keynote Speaker

This Website: A Cabinet of Futurist Curiosities

Before museums, private collectors would gather all sorts of things into cabinets. Some of those collections turned into famed museums. This was in an age of curiosity before curiosity became organized and thereby formalized. It was an age of generalized education for affluent young adults, and specialization came via apprenticeship. It was a special sort of age of discovery because most things had yet to be discovered.

Something has been lost along the way of finding all of those things. By separating them into morphologies and specialties, I think there’s less chance for the sort of cross-fertilization that leads to break-throughs. Sure, there are lots of people with broad general interests and even hobbies that encourage leaps of connections, but the average person should be just as curious and just as able to make new connections. Wealth is found in connections. What’s not yet connected?

My cabinet of curiosities is part of my process for crafting my own ideas. I collect quotations, graphics, and books… anything that catches my curiosity, and all within a condo furnished with furniture and art of Art Deco or Asian origin. At any point, there are about thirty books scattered about on any horizontal surface, some actively being read or reread, others perused to recall a line or notion that needs to fill a gap in theme. All of these brought together help the sparks of imagination.

The vintage graphics serve a special aspect of crafting ideas. A central theme in my Futurist work is that new does not necessarily mean good, and old doesn’t always mean outdated. Vintage illustrations are a fun way of connecting the past with the future. The question shouldn’t be are these outdated, but rather: What has enduring value? If it has a sense of timelessness with it, then it still has value. And, as someone wise once told me, the creation of value is the only reason to stay in business. How do we define value? That is one of the most important questions you can ask.

Since junior high, I’ve been collecting quotations, now with over 4000 in the database. Yeah, a database. It’s searchable, so I can throw in just the right or inappropriate notion at just the right time.

This website is my cabinet of curiosities. Unlike my talks, these entries are not presented in any particular order,  but more along the lines of what’s catching my attention right now. Wander around and be curious.

Photo of David Zach Futurist with wall of books

A Futurist?

tl;dr version:

  1. One of the few professionally-trained Futurists on the planet. I can’t predict the future, but knew you might have wondered.
  2. Degree in Futures Research from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. BA, Political Science from University of Wisconsin.
  3. Given over 1500 keynote presentations throughout North America and Europe.
  4. Talks focus on the cultural and social (often humorous) implications of technological and demographic trends.
  5. Design has become a central theme running through my talks.

About David Zach, Futurist:

  1. I’m one of the few professionally-trained Futurists on this planet, having earned an M.S. in Futures Research from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Then again, I got that degree way back in 1981 so it’s pretty much history at this point. (B.A. was in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin, though I had more credits in Philosophy and almost as many in Communications.) My introduction to futurists was from a course called The Future, taught by Alan Stauffacher at Monroe High School. But, even before that I first fell in love with the future by watching Star Trek. I was only allowed one hour of TV a week on school nights, but my smarty-pants brother Jim had all As, so he didn’t have any restrictions. He got to legally watch Star Trek. I had to sneak down to the rec room, hide behind the sofa and lay on the floor. My introduction to the future was sideways, and it pretty much has remained at off angles ever since.
  2. To finish the futures degree, I got an internship at Johnson Controls in downtown Milwaukee, WI. This was rather lucky as not only did I not have to write a thesis, but they paid me too. Because HR didn’t know quite how to classify or rank a “futurist,” they figured my skill set was equivalent to that of an accountant. When I asked my dad what I was going to do with all of that extra money from a real full time job, he just laughed. One of the first adult-level unlocked lessons is that earning money can be quite expensive.
  3. Three days after moving to Milwaukee, I got invited to attend the inaugural meeting of Goals for Milwaukee 2000. Then they invited me on some sub-committees and because I spoke up a few times, I was named chair of the subcommittee on the future of education. This was a mistake. I was 23. Fortunately there was stronger leadership throughout and with lots of guidance, our report turned out just fine. Along the way, I met a lot of other civic-minded people, who upon meeting someone fresh out of college, would typically ask: So what did you major in? The answer of “Futures Research!” either got a blank look or questions like “Could you talk to my Rotary Club about that?” I did probably about ten talks to such clubs when someone unexpectedly gave me a $40 honorarium. My career is the result of a hobby that got out of control.
  4. Since 1981, I’ve given over 1500 talks throughout North America and Europe. My largest audience was over 7000 with the The Critical Care Nurses Association, who gave me a rare standing ovation. You cannot buy drugs that feel that good. At the same event, I also learned about one of the lows of speaking. My talk ended just before lunch. Quite a few people came up to chat and say thanks, but by the time I had put all my slides and materials away – I was standing alone in a empty auditorium. I remembered thinking, “Not one of you wondered if I was free for lunch?” Speaking professionals have sometimes described it as one of the loneliest jobs on the planet, especially when you do a great job. People are often intimidated or assume that of course you already have plans. I soon learned to book a second night and always try to have dinner with the client before or after the event. Before the event you get better insights on the audience and create allies in that audience. The evening after we share stories and great wine. The dinners after were often the most memorable parts of the gigs because I had already had my say and now it was my turn to listen.
  5. The smallest audience was just three people, for Farmer’s Insurance. I was told to expect one hundred, but they might have exaggerated. Still, I got paid a lot more for that talk than for the nursing talk – and I got invited to lunch after the talk.
  6. My talks were often described by my agents as “light, but thought-provoking.”  I had thought that was a cool description but soon realized that a lot of speakers also described their talks as “thought-provoking,” but what they really meant was that they didn’t quite know how to describe their talks. Mine really were thought-provoking because I would hide philosophy inside the trends, often in the form of humor. My reasoning was that the future felt threatening to too many people, but anything they can laugh at isn’t quite as threatening. It’s a bit like the child pointing at the pompous future and saying, “But he doesn’t have any clothes on!” Helping people to see what the future for what it really was, not just fascinating forecasts of change, but also enough timeless traditions and ideas that people still had hope for some continuity and connection. That’s deep, so being able to laugh does indeed make it seem lighter and more approachable.
  7. The talks would always start with technology because that’s the obvious, heavily marketed driver in terms of future change. This would evolve into a fun discussion about the social and cultural implications of the technology. And, as the talk curved around toward the finish line, it got more personal. What would begin with such ideas as nanotechnology or how that tech could lead to factories returning closer to the points of consumption, would connect into the world of children, protecting their sense of wonder and even to the importance of grandparents. I have this photo showing my niece Rachel as an infant being held by her great-grandmother Myrtle, showing not only the vast distance in age, but also that there really was no distance, no separation. Rather than falling into the clutches of technology as the future, we also need to see the future as something we can hold in our arms. When holding an infant, we see that children really are the message we send to the future. What are we trying to say? What will be heard?
  8. In the last ten years of my speaking, the dominant theme became design. Design determines value and the better design, the more value. Learning to think a bit like designers and having some process by which we look at the ways the future is made but also that we consider the longer-term implications of what choices today might be down the line. This focus created a bit of a niche for me, and I’ve probably keynoted over 100 design conferences. For some reason, architecture always fascinated me, though never as a possible occupation as I don’t have those sorts of technical skills. But I do have an aesthetic sensibility to recognize good design and a bit of how it works. This eventually led to my being on the AIA-WI board of directors and from 2010-13 as a public director on the American Institute of Architects national board. While on the board, I had the particular honor to be a keynote speaker for AIAS (American Institute of Architecture Students) four years in a row, twice almost by accident as I filled in twice for speakers who missed their planes. (The last of those speeches from 2013 can be viewed elsewhere on this website.) My favorite story from those talks was in 2010, freshly on the AIA board and in the midst of a very enthusiastic and slightly rowdy audience, I got towards the end in which I extol the virtues of smoking and drinking– as metaphors for talking with strangers and breaking bread with them– but I set them up in the joke and of course, they’re very young adults and they’re roaring with laughter. And then I see that in an earlier skit that evening, someone had left a Smirnoff Ice on stage. I stopped, looked at the audience, looked over at the bottle, walked across the stage, popped the top and took a drink. This caused a screaming, laughing, cheering standing ovation. This eventually got back to the board of the AIA. In a series of emails between members of the board, I was told by one of the more serious members that despite the fun, I had to understand that I was represented the board and should comport myself thusly. Harumph! Thankfully, the AIAS executive director was in on the email stream and replied that it was perhaps not quite one would expect professionally…, but for the first time, the students of the AIAS actually think that the AIA might be cool. Over the years, I was a keynote speakers five times and was given a rare Presidential Citation by AIAS. That was cool. (You can see one of those talks here.)
  9. My interest in architecture has two origin stories. The first is that the house I grew up in was designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright (Edmund Howe) and my dad used to take me to the meetings with the architect. This did not result in my wanting to be an architect, it resulted in me being fascinated with architecture and how ideas can be made into real buildings.
  10. The second origin has to do with the design style of Art Deco and my fascination for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. In many ways, the future as we know it started at this fair. It was slowly dawning on the world that the future could be different from the past. From suburbs and freeways to home refrigerators and other time-saving appliances, many of the ideas we now take for granted began there on display. Running through it all was a sense of streamlined design and speed. We were going to make the future better than before. And, along the way, we realized that innovation brings its own problems. We didn’t realize that our philosophy mattered more than our plans, but failing at philosophy we just continue to plan. Sometimes we even come up with college degrees that are all about planning out the future.
  11. Since leaving the AIA board in 2013, I have lost a bit of my optimism about the future. Some of that came from getting older and being less enamored of constant change and part came from observing what got attention and praise from the AIA. While I was on the Golden Awards committee, they settled on an architect who does these concrete office monstrosities. The committee also considered another modernist architect and although I praised this person’s cleverness, I wondered out loud at its lack of beauty and if its facade which was already fading after only a couple of decades, would endure. This cause another rather prestigious committee member to bluntly explain how much I didn’t know about architects, architecture and probably even life itself. If you haven’t been lectured by an actual Lord of the Realm, your bucket list is not as cool as mine. I was struck by the elitism backed up by technology. As Churchill has said, “First we shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us.” Too often, the elites have spoiled the future for the rest of us.
Vintage Illustration of Newspaper in Paper Slot

Speaking: Media Hits

It’s Hard to Imagine But What Will Life After CoronaVirus Look Like, BizTimes Milwaukee, March 25, 2020

Becoming a Brain Belt Starts with Smart Collaboration: Working Together Could Power Milwaukee’s Future Economy, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Winter 2018

Thinking into Other Boxes by David Zach. Introductory article for Dialogues from the Edge of Practice: AIA-NYC Oculus Magazine, Spring 2015

The Future’s Just Not That Into You by David Zach. Article for Design Intelligence Journal, October 2012

Introductory article for AIA Atlanta’s 2014 guidebook for elementary school students: Discover Architecture

The Future of Architects: short article in Lee Waldrep’s 2014 book: Becoming an Architect (Guide to Careers in Design)

What’s Beneath the Future? Article for AIA-NYC Emerging New York Architects’ 2012 event: The Future Now!

Speakers tell Community Leaders Breakfast that city, state are in need of some changes Decatur Herald & Review, 6 May 2011

Pioneer Growing Point Magazine has an interesting interview with me and two other futurists, Lowell Catlett and Christophe Pelletier, on the future of agriculture and food. Nov/Dec 2011

Learning to Fight the Dragons by David Zach. [Entire issue is available via Flash Player, article starts on page 17.] Lead IT, Paragon Development Systems, Spring 2009

Future Gazing: What is the Future of Cinema? – Screen International, 27 March 2009

Innovations of the Future by Damian Joseph – Business Week, 25 February 2009

20 Most Important Inventions of the Next 10 Years by Damian Joseph – Business Week, 25 February 2009

Time Travel: Change is Coming at Warp Speed These Days. These Badgers Help Us Make the Leap by Nikki Denison (For a PDF of the article.) – On Wisconsin Badger Alumni Magazine, Winter 2007

There Goes the Future, David Zach interview by Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society. Gilbert Magazine, April/May 2008

Think about the Things that are Permanent – GEO Principle blog, 11 August 2009

The Benefits of Smoking and Drinking  – GEO Principle blog, 11 August 2009

A Day with Futurist David Zach by Donna Karlin – Fast Company, 11 April 2008

Pennsylvania Inside Out: interview [Note to self: if you’re told it’s public radio, wear a sport coat anyway because it might just be public TV.] – Penn State Public TV, December 2007

Des Moines Business Record Online, Sustainability, green becoming key words in architectural design, by Sarah Bzdega, 31 March 2007.

What Does the Future Hold? article on 2007 Willett Lectureship at UW-SP by Carlos Gieseken, Stevens Point Journal, 6 February 2007.

Madison 1670AM, On Air with In Business, radio interview by Joan Gilman.

Voice of America, Talk to America, Current Trends and the Future, interview broadcast worldwide on 1 January 2007.

Journal Gazette Times-Courier, Our View: People, not technology, will dictate future, by the JG/T-C Editorial Board, 13 October 2006 (They do a follow-up to the smoking confusion… )

Journal Gazette Times-Courier, Futurist warns: Keep ties, don’t lose touch, by Kate Henderson, 6 October 2006 (Note the reader responses of perplexed outrage at a misinterpretation of something I said in my talk in Mattoon, IL!)

Business Today NC, What truths does Kannapolis hold self-evident?, 16 July 2006.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, History Lost with Fireboat Station, by Whitney Gould, 9 July 2006., Relógio e celular substituem dinheiro em Hong Kong, by Marina Wentzel, 26 May 2006. (It’s in Portuguese – I wonder what I said!)

Atlanta Journal Constitution, Boomers hit twilight years healthier, wealthier, wiser, by Bob Dart, 11 March 2006

Wausau Daily Herald, Treat your mind like a parachute, futurist advises, by Jocelyn Berkhahn, 19 January 2006.

The Daily Reporter, Milwaukee Futurist David Zach sees people growing apart, by Sean Ryan, 16 January 2006.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, A School Dr. Dolittle could Love, by Whitney Gould, 15 January 2006. For a slide show of this amazing (and threatened) school building click this link. To read an article I wrote about the loss of this building as a school, click here for the pdf.

Janesville Gazette, Futurist: Hang onto the old, by Anna Marie Lux, 1 January 2006. (pdf file)

Capital Region Business Journal (Madison, WI), What to expect in 2006, by Jenny Price, January 2006.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Crystal balls lack one thing: Clarity, by Rick Romell, 31 December 2005.

Wisconsin Technology Network, The RFID crystal ball: Will the chips eventually talk to us, too?, by David Niles, 2 November 2005.

Osmi dan, RTV Slovenia, a weekly TV show specialized in culture.Interview on the future of design, 20 October 2005

WMCS-AM 1290, The Cassandra McShepard Show: “That’s what I’m talking about,” two-hour interview on future trends, 2 August 2005.

WFHR-AM 1320, Wisconsin Rapids talk radio interview on the topic of small town economic development, 21 July 2005.

EMA Communicator, Back to the Future: Automation, Immigration, Consternation, Grant McGinnis, Winter 2005.

Milwaukee Home Magazine, Art Deco Cool, January/February 2005. The Wolf Files, Happy ‘Leave the Office Earlier Day’, by Buck Wolf, 31 May 2005.

MHCA Executive Report, Explain the universe. Give Examples, Fourth Quarter 2004.

Small Business Times, The Future of Elderly Living, Eric Decker, 26 November 2004.

The Site Selection Online Insider, Zach: The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be, Spring 2005. The Wolf Files, Modern Solutions for Very Busy People, Buck Wolf, 2004.

NACEweb, National Assoc of Colleges & Employers, What Does the Future Hold for Job Seekers?

Infection Control Today, “We’re Becoming Experts at “HyperLiving.”

The Tennessean, Unlikely alliances can bring wealth, minority seminar told, by Candace Brooks, 21 August 2003.

Qualified Remodeler Magazine, Future Think by Roger Stanley.

Health Data Management, Triumphs and Pitfalls of New Technology, 22 September 2002.

Small Business Times, The future is overrated, but it’s coming, by Rob Greede, 21 June 2002.

OnMilwaukee.Com, Milwaukee Talks with David Zach interviewed by Jeff Sherman, 13 March 2002.

WUWM-FM 89.7 (NPR), At 10 Show, interview on trends since Sept 11, 26 February 2002.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Re-examining ways we view, handle talkby Mary Louise Schumacher 10 February 2002.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Miscommunicating. With so many ways to talk, why is it harder to reach one another? by Mary Louise Schumacher 10 February 2002.

WI Builder, What’s the future hold? Forecast 2002, By Ellen Hickok-Wall.

CNN, Interview on what’s ahead, Dec 2001.

IAAM, Holographic Visions of Public Assembly Facilities by David Zach Nov-Dec 2001.

GMToday, Cap’n Zach of the 21st Century, by Karen Rasmussen, August 2001, Is dot-com stress worth it? by Brad Shewmake 15 June 2000.

InfoWorld, Start-up stress hinders entrants by Brad Shewmake 9 June 2000., Be Your Own Boss.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Disappearing jobs a harbinger of a new economy,” by Avrum D. Lank, 23 January 2000.

KKYY-TV 22, Little Rock, Arkansas, 4 Jan 2000.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “000 my goodness! Can it really be 2000?”; 1 January 2000.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Fears fizzle as celebrations sizzle,” by Rick Romell, 1 January 2000.

Milwaukee Magazine, “Future Tense,” by Mary Van de Kamp Nohl, January, 2000.

Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine, The Scoop on Poops,
January 2000.

The Rotarian, “Rotarian of the Future” December, 1999.

The Washington Times, “What Millennium holds may be all in one’s mind,” by Stephen Dinan, 29 December 1999.

The Yuma Daily Sun, “Teachers hold the future in their arms,” by Lindsay Cessna, August 11, 1999.

Los Angeles Daily News, “It’s a ZACH attack,” by Phil Davis, May 22, 1999.

USA Today, “The Wide World of Future Sports,” by Gary Mihoces, 19 May 1999. (Of all the places I might be quoted, the USA Today Sports Page is the least likely one.)

The Reader, “Past is the Key: and a little humor will turn the key,” by A.R. Goldyn, Omaha, NE, 8 April 1999.

Naples Daily News, “David Zach, futurist: Know the past to look ahead,” by Clay W. Cone, 8 March 1999.

Credit Union Times, “Futurist describes disappearing boundaries, new challenges, 3 March 1999.
The Oregonian, Uncle Edgester’s Top 7 List, “7 New Acronyms,” February 1999.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Bubbler, Andy Warhol was wrong: In the future, you’ll have 15 minutes of privacy!, 24 August 1998, “How to spot a DINKWAD” by Buck Wolf, 8 April 1998.

Marketer, An Owner’s Guide to the Future, by Patti Keating Kahn,
February 1997.

Joan Lloyd at Work, 5 trends to help you catch up to the future, 21 August 1994.

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