A man in a cave of steel, by Futurist Barbara and Dalle-2

Asimov's 'Caves of Steel': Sci-Fi for Strategic Foresight

futures thinking resources scenario planning May 09, 2023

When I was about 10 years old, I got "Caves of Steel" from a friend of my father's. They knew each other from the resistance (second world war), so whenever he came to visit, they talked about difficult stuff not suited for my young ears. That's probably one of the reasons why he brought sci-fi books and a bag of fruit gums: to keep me immersed in sugary new worlds :)

I'd like to share with you one of his books that I often think about, as it described developments that you can see emerging right now.


The Plot:

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

"The Caves of Steel" by Isaac Asimov is a voyage into the future that vibrantly illustrates the potential societal shifts brought about by technological advancement. Earth's population has been corralled into mammoth city complexes, their lives increasingly intertwined with automation and robotics. In this world, detective Elijah Baley is forced to evolve, to confront and conquer his tech aversion as he teams up with a humanoid robot, R. Daneel Olivaw, to crack a high-stakes murder case.


Today's Relevance

Published in 1954, this sci-fi masterpiece still resonates powerfully today, making it an essential read for all managers eager to explore the frontier of strategic foresight. 

The book brilliantly captures the deep-seated unease that can accompany digitization, which we are experiencing today as a consequence of the disruptive power of AI and robotics. 

Detective Baley's transformative journey—his ability to partner effectively with Olivaw despite initial prejudices—is a powerful reminder of the adaptability that's demanded of modern leaders. In an ever-changing business world, the ability to embrace new technologies, processes, and perspectives is not just an asset—it's a necessity.

In short: this book is a fun read AND can help us in our leadership roles.

Let's dive into the heart of "The Caves of Steel" to see the angles we can explore strategically.



Grappling with Technological Disruptions

"The Caves of Steel" plunges us into a future where robots not only coexist with humanity but are rapidly replacing traditional human occupations. This seismic shift provokes an undercurrent of resentment and fear on Earth, but on the other planet people see robots in a different light. Asimov has provided us with two possible future scenarios, in which we can place our organization. Just by wondering: "How would my organization thrive in this future?" will immediately show you its strengths and weaknesses for the tackling the digital changes in our time. 


Navigating Future Societal Shifts

Asimov masterfully crafts a society encapsulated within colossal city complexes, the inhabitants developing a crippling agoraphobia. Interestingly, 1in 2018, the UN published a study projecting that by 2050, the majority of the people on earth will live in a megacity (68%). Caves of Steel can help you imagine how the current shift towards remote working, paired with the UN's prediction of urbanization—could reconfigure your team dynamics and operations.


Embracing Change

Elijah Baley, our intrepid detective, must conquer his biases and collaborate with R. Daneel Olivaw, a humanoid robot, to unravel a murder mystery. Baley's journey underscores the necessity of embracing change and navigating unfamiliar waters with grace and resilience—a poignant lesson for managers facing the winds of new business environments, technologies, or team diversity.


Wrestling with Ethics and Values

The moral conundrum of widespread robot use is a recurring motif in the book. As Baley grapples with these ethical dilemmas in his partnership with Olivaw, you are invited to reflect on the ethical dimensions of both their roles. From data privacy to fair treatment of employees and their societal impact, this angle provokes a valuable conversation on the moral compass guiding our technological and strategic decisions.


Appreciating Diverse Perspectives

"The Caves of Steel" paints a striking dichotomy between Earth's perspective on robots and that of the Spacers on the other planet. This contrast serves as a powerful testament to the importance of understanding and honoring diverse perspectives within our teams, particularly in our interconnected, globalized world.


Caves of Steel at Work

"The Caves of Steel" is not just a novel; it's a launchpad for imagination and strategic foresight. Use it to develop your view of your organization's  strengths, weakness and possible futures.

For instance, use the book or a detailed summary when:

  • Yearly Strategic Review: use it as a discussion starter.  
  • Strategy Testing/Scenario Planning: as two possible future scenarios. The book's scenarios can encourage out-of-the-box thinking about where your industry might be headed and how to innovate within that space.
  • Technological Change: If your organization is about to adopt a new technology or facing changes due to automation or AI, use it to facilitate conversations about the anxieties and opportunities such transitions might bring.

  • Ethical Discussions: If your organization is reckoning with important ethical issues, such as data privacy or the societal impact of your work, the book's exploration of ethical dilemmas can be a valuable discussion starter.


Where to Get Caves of Steel


More Like This


The two worlds of Caves of Steel are part of my Foresight Essentials Repository to help executives with scenario planning, digital transformation, and futures thinking.

Foresight Essentials includes bite-sized insights from 14 of the world's best books on foresight. Together, they deliver insights into foresight methods, possible futures, and decision-making when the future is uncertain. 

The repository came into being due to frequent requests from executives who tasted the benefits of foresight in my masterclasses and projects. It's the go-to place if you seek ways to develop your leadership with strategic thinking skills.

Find out more about Foresight Essentials here.

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