On a sunny Sunday afternoon in late May, University of Sydney Engineering Leadership Scholars engaged in some very fancy time travel. Trip Coordinator was Professor Ron Johnston, from the Australian Centre for Innovation.

A key leadership skill is working out where you want to go, and why – the management consultants call it vision. There are only limited opportunities in our standard engineering curriculum for students to encounter the skills that will be needed to be effective leaders, so a special workshop was organised to introduce our Scholars to the tools of foresight.

When challenged to think about what smart phones would be like in 10 years’ time, they came up with some fascinating ideas: not only wearable devices, but merging of human and computer characteristics, ControlZ works in the real world, devices not only self-powered but providing energy for houses and offices.

A tougher challenge was to design the strategy for Sydney Water up to 2030. Data on population growth and water consumption were extracted from the Internet, and scenarios of water as a private or a public good, with a range of possible climate change impacts, plus the odd event of infrastructure failure, were rapidly constructed.

The hard part was getting off the excitement of time travel to put it to good use, working out what were the best policies and strategies to adopt in the light of knowing what the future might be like.

Key recommendations were:  education and awareness programs at all levels to change attitudes to water, water collection and management restructured to a decentralised model at every house or small community, and research on new biological technologies to manufacture water.

Did it work? Well there were plenty of happy faces. And, as one student said:

“It shook me awake from the ‘standardised’ model of thinking I didn’t really know I was thinking in. I want to change the way people move – to work, for leisure, for exercise- but I’m all jumbled as to how to do that, and how to get started in making it happen. It has at the very least, given me a new set of tools to think through my vision.”