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Anyone designing new products, strategy or change will need to consider the future world in which their creations will exist. A little more than ten years ago I was asked this question:
“What will the world look like in 10 years and how might this affect the organisation?”
To answer this I needed to learn how to be a Futurist. It wouldn't be that hard right? I could just make a few wild predictions about a utopian future with robots and sprinkle with buzzwords? No, I'd have to take another route and learn more about the world in the process.
In this talk I will break from the future-gazing and do two things rare for a Futurist; I will look back into the past and I will focus on the predictions I got wrong. What can ten years of perspective teach us and how can we use that for looking again towards the future.
“If some prophet could predict the future,
they would sound so absurd and far-fetched
that everyone would laugh”
Arthur C Clarke
So, can you make some predictions?
In 2006 I was given a challenge:
What will the world look like in 10 years and how this might
affect the organisation?
• I had no reference or guide
• There was a team of experts researching the capabilities of emerging technologies
• But was there a part of the picture missing?
Becoming a futuristJetpacks and Robot Butlers for everyone!
“The difficult job is never to find the right
answer, it is to find the right question”
I set out to find better questions...
It revealed some key skills
Understanding how the world is changing is key for anyone
creating new value propositions
What we design will live in a future context
Carriers had all the power
Our phones looked like this
Netflix looked like this
“Hastings has created an
amazing system shuffling
around plastic discs, but
online rivals such as iTunes
and MovieLink seem to have
momentum as we head into
- CNN 2006
Facebook still limited to US students
“MySpace is now the Web’s
second most popular website…it’s
hard to imagine who would pay
billions for an also-ran”
- CNN 2006
Myspace was king
What I forecast
from the 2006 report
• Move from hierarchical to networked based markets
• The Globalisation Paradox
• Polarisation of the markets (Vanishing normal distribution)
New economic structures and markets
• Mega-cities – strains and opportunities
• Extreme environments begin to bite
• Tipping point in climate consciousness
• Green bonanza – vast opportunities for businesses
Effect of environmental pressures
What I forecast
from the 2006 report
• Multiple dimensions of data
• Physical world becomes aware with connected devices, swarms of sensors
• Human interaction with the new landscape – new norms, behaviours and fears
End of discreet ‘cyberspace’ – Everything is somewhere
• Organisations compelled to innovate and collaborate
• Avalanche of user-made content
• Markets become conversations. A shift is happening from competition to
customisation and co-creation
Creativity, customisation, collaboration and content
Let’s look at
what I got wrong?
Risky for a Futurist!
1.Tipping points are
Assumed a global, engineered transition
i.e. “Goal directed” problem solving
Existing trends Future trends
A problem of systems
and system of problems
Change happens within complex systems with problems that interact
with each other
Almost all of the trends I highlighted are sources of complexity
Complicated, but not complex
Plan, Optimise, Replicate results
These are complex
Emergence, Non-equilibrium, Non-linear, Networked, Adaptive...
Cities, Economies Society, MarketsClimate, Ecology
2. The iPhone
That’s a glaring miss…?
But what if I had forecast it?
Would you have believed me?
In a few years time virtually everyone you know will be walking around
with a supercomputer in their pocket. It will help trigger revolutions
and remake whole every industry
It will make a fringe maker of music players into the most successful
company of all time. They will sell more than a Billion of them
generating a Trillion in revenue...
And the carriers who invested billions in the infrastructure will get
virtually none of the spoils.
Would you understand its meaning?
Focussing on the artefacts can lead to a flawed vision that misses a
We overplay the ‘hardware’ (artefacts) and underplay the ‘software’
We tend to fit these artefacts into existing conditions
The world doesn’t just
change in one way
The future is a different country, they do things and think differently
there - Adapted from a quote about the past by LP Hartley
“...realise that the future will not only change technologically, but also
in the myths and worldviews we hold” – Roey Tzezana
Ask better questions
More interesting what people DO with technology
What people talk about
“…these ages were not initiated by the
genesis of some new activity
but always by the industrialisation of
pre-existing activity that enabled
higher order systems to develop”
Technology driven change
See: Alex Danco, Ben Evans, Clayton Christiansen.
Abstraction Abundant, scalable
New scarce resource Higher order ‘job’, orthogonal
Constraints, friction, profit
Core process of Tech Industry is replacing the scarce resource of other
Abstraction Wires, Grid
New scarce resource Maintenance, equilibrium, capacity, choice
Energy used at time, location of generation
via Alex Danco
Renewables, batteries, IOT = Energy Network
Information, trust, participation
Abstraction Ridesharing, smartphone
New scarce resource Network, mapping, driving (utilisation, efficiency)
Ownership, access, trust
Vehicles / Transport
Traffic optimisation, experience, ???
Tech industry is a machine for
‘Zero’ marginal cost of production
‘Zero’ friction of distribution
‘Zero’ latency of updating
= Radically increased access to scarce resources
= Law of accelerating returns
Recent technologies have supercharged this
Call to action
Some needed skills and behaviors
Sense and adapt
Hone your skills for dealing with ambiguity
Listen to the system
• Look for signals and emergence
• Observe patterns of change, contradiction, intersection and leverage
Understand that the nature of technology favours pragmatists over
• Optimise for uncertainty
• Complexity rejects rigid ideologies
• Have a matrix of mental models
Which means losing some control, and predictability
The most effective forecasters are allergic to certainty
• Limit your reliance on accurate predictions
• Avoid premature optimisation
• Seek diversity in people, ideas, innovations, endeavours...
• Challenge your logic and biases
Diversify your view
Don’t just look for the average behaviour
• E.g. Don’t engineer a building for the average earthquake
“Instead of being really good at doing some
particular thing, companies must be really
good at learning how to do new things”
Harvard Business Review
We can see a lot of wicked problems in my forecasts
• Characterised by ambiguity, complex and tangled roots
• The problem and solution depend on perspective. There is no definitive
formulation or established technique to follow.
• Can turn advantages into disadvantages
• Constraints and resources available will change over time
• Problems bleed into other problems. Each problem is a symptom of another
problem – therefore difficult to measure success in traditional ways.
• Problem is never solved definitively. The goal should be to improve your ability to
• They are socially complex and often marked by discord and disagreement among
Changing at different rates
Not covered here specifically
Things I had to leave out…
• Aggregation theory, Attractive profits
• Networked society (Effect of technology on culture)
• Law of accellerating returns
• Identifying Overserved, Underserved customers
• Disruption theory
• Psychological factors
• Why some progress is hard to see
• Other reasons the iPhone was different
• Other reasons Climate Change was different