Editor’s note: James Bensen will be the keynote speaker at Fergus Area College Foundation’s Bigwood Lecture at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 14, at Legacy Hall on the Fergus Falls campus of Minnesota State Community and Technical College. The event is free and open to the public.
Jim Bensen’s grandfather, a Norwegian immigrant, spent his life clearing his 160-acre oak-forested homestead in northern Minnesota with an ax and team of oxen.
Bensen’s grandson spends his days designing digital software for videogames. He lives, well, wherever he wants to live.
“Within five generations, we went from using muscle for our livelihood to dreaming up a virtual world, said Bensen, retired president of Bemidji State University and keynote speaker at the 2015 Bigwood Lecture. “It’s an amazing world.”
Technology continues to evolve at an exponential pace, with 25,000 new inventions every day, said Bensen, adding, “Imagine how many more resources we will have in the future.”
The problem is that too many people are not willing to embrace technology.
“The majority of people are not handling the future very well,” he said. “They tend to reflect on past experiences and solve problems with them, rather than using the ideas the future presents to them.”
A long-time college leader, Bensen has been using his approach to the future throughout his career and post-career as a speaker. “I have been speaking this truth for 40 years all over the world,” said Bensen, who lives with his wife, Nancy, in Bemidji.
His approach to those in his audiences, he said, is to provide anecdotal evidence, followed by a set of guidelines to help embrace technology.
He takes much pride in the courses on the future that he developed at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. He has followed the students who complete those courses and found that “they have always thought a little bit differently.”
Bensen said his approach can be applied to any industry, from education to design to manufacturing to transportation. When he speaks, he said, people listen. He provides his audience with the tools that will help them to use new technology to explore new opportunities, just as his grandfather used a tool – an ax – to shape his world.
Whether those in the audience pick up the ax is up to them, Bensen said, but those willing to swing the new ax will see significant rewards.
“The future is presenting ideas and opportunities that are unbelievable,” Bensen said. “We have to make the future our friend.”