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Future of the future

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Future of the future

  1. 1. The futureof the future
  2. 2. We see things not asthey are, but as we are “The Talmud”The older and more experiencedwe become, the more weembroider our inner world withwhat behavioural psychologistscall ‘theory of mind’ – the sensethat the world is as we see it andthat other people’s perspectivesare often less accurate or evenwilfully perverse.A couple of years ago, a primary school teacher The answer was startling.in the Midlands took a typewriter into class.He let the seven year olds look at it, play with it ‘Cool...a laptop that prints as you write, that youand generally kick it around. don’t have to plug in’, was the consensus.At the end of the day, he asked them what theythought of it. Amusing though this story is, it actuallyConfidential. © Seymour Powell Limited, 2010. All rights reserved.
  3. 3. illustrates beautifully how the future works. Renaissance thing is great, isn’t it?’ No, theyAs The Talmud (and a host of others) has had to wait a few years before they could turn toobserved, we have a habit of making sense of ask themselves ‘What the f**k was that?’the world through our own experiences. In fact,it’s very difficult not to. If your only experience Virtually everyone in the developed world hasof a portable writing device is a laptop, then direct access to multiple streams of informationa typewriter is a mechanical version of that. and collective understanding that took decadesIf virtually everything you use or play with is to form 500 years ago. Now that can take placepowered by batteries, then a ‘self powered’ in months or even weeks.device is fascinating… possibly even futuristic. The Renaissance gained traction becauseThe older and more experienced we become, it had broad-bandwidth thinkers who couldthe more we embroider our inner world with integrate the technical possibilities of the timewhat behavioural psychologists call ‘theory of into new ideas. They were supported by highlymind’ – the sense that the world is as we see competent craftsmen – the Guildsmen – whoit and that other people’s perspectives are could make this big picture thinking real.often less accurate or even wilfully perverse.Although most of us function reasonably wellwithin society, we each carry a unique bundleof mores and agendas that are constantlychallenged by our own insecurity when dealingwith others. We’re constantly recalibrating.And we’re extremely suggestible, whileremaining mildly suspicious. As The Talmud (and a host of others) has observed,weThis makes coming up with new products and have a habit of making senseservices an extremely complex problem. Butwhen we hit on common ground, by crackey, of the world through our ownwe go for it. And if that common ground is new experiences.common ground, then we go for it big time.Awareness of any such common groundcomes around much faster than it used to too.People living in Italy at the beginning of the 16thCentury scarcely went around saying ‘Wow, thisConfidential. © Seymour Powell Limited, 2010. All rights reserved.
  4. 4. This was all funded by merchants and emergent behaviour – us, basically. We tend tobusinesses with very deep pockets (just as the react to the new by finding ways to work withvisionary whiz kids behind Google, Facebook, or against it. Restrict people’s movements andYouTube, Apple or Microsoft have been funded ease of use with a new application, such as textby older, richer investors). messaging 15 years ago, and what appears?And this is happening all over again, under our A new, foreshortened syntax and vocabulary tovery noses. The polymaths and the guilds. cope with it. Provide a product with a keyboard that makes text easier and what happens? TheBut for the first time since the Renaissance (or syntax modifies again, elongating itself back tocertainly since the Industrial Revolution) the something approaching good grammar, whilefuture is mediated not by technology (because, some of the more novel components remain:as we’re about to see, we are on the cusp Lol, WTF! etc.of being able to do just about anything), butby our ability to imagine what to do with thattechnology.With this come new moral choices andphilosophies. It’s no longer about what we cando, but what we should do. The early part of the21st Century ain’t like any other run-of-the-mill But for the first time sinceepoch. This is Renaissance 2. And this time, it’s the Renaissance (or certainlypersonal. since the Industrial Revolution) the future is mediated not bySo where are we in all this? What is the future? technology (because, as we’reBasically, the future is being formed by a about to see, we are on thenumber of broad-bandwidth thinkers who are cusp of being able to do justlassoing the present from their vantage point inthe future and dragging the rest of us towards about anything), but by our abilitythem. It isn’t born from extrapolating trends or to imagine what to do with thatconsumer research, but is largely a self-fulfilling technology.prophecy being fought here and now, by peoplewho have started earlier than their competitors.Interacting closely with these thinkers isConfidential. © Seymour Powell Limited, 2010. All rights reserved.
  5. 5. Who invents this stuff? become even more important. So how do we interpret what’s going toWe do. happen? By looking around us more and sniffing out the potential, unexpectedAction, as Newton observed, is met by equal coincidences that cause markets andand opposite reaction. One of my favourite behaviours to ‘flip’ (or ‘tip’ as Malcolm Gladwellexamples of this is the Mosquito, a device would have it). That’s where the Art of the Futurecreated to annoy and disperse undesirable really lies.teenagers lurking around public spaces byissuing a tone too high to be heard by most So let’s look at some stuff you may not haveadults, but within the frequency range of the taken into account yet in your NPD network oryounger ear. innovation ‘thingy’; background stuff that may well have a profound impact on your business.Brilliant. As cyberpunk novelist William Gibson remarked recently, ‘The future’s already here, it just isn’tSo what’s the reaction? very well distributed.’Some smartarse records this ultrasonic humonto a mobile phone and uses it as a ring-tone But buckle-up, Dorothy, because some of thisthat can be heard only by young people. In may scare the crap out of you.the classroom, the teacher is oblivious to thesound. First, genetics. This one is going to hit every single one of us very hard. Some of it you’ll like,Emergent behaviour. Corporate action, user some of it you won’t.reaction. The wheel goes round. In front of me, as I write this, is a sliver of glassSo creating the future is a nerve-wracking about 30mm square. On it, you can barelyprocess. People can’t tell you what they’re make out a series of tiny dots and ridges. Butgoing to want, really, because they usually don’t if I dropped it under an electron microscopeknow. So companies have to get stuff out there something utterly extraordinary would appear:and wait to see what the world makes of it. No genes.wonder many businesses look desperately for‘metrics’ that can raise their hit rate. Genes in serried ranks. Millions of them.But as the world wags on, and the Your genes. All of them.communication revolution continues unabated, The entire human genome on a sheet of glass.the role of emergent behaviour is going to The entire set of instructions for making aConfidential. © Seymour Powell Limited, 2010. All rights reserved.
  6. 6. person. So what happens if we actually stop dying?And these are real genes, not pictures or digital The population goes screaming though theequivalents. The first one of these cost $26 roof, of course. But who could resist the idea ofmillion to make two years ago. This one cost immortality, forever young...?$340. And if everyone looks young, what happens to beauty? What if everyone assigns themselvesWhat’s it for?Well, if you’re in the business of making genes,or just messing with them, then one of thesepuppies comes in real handy. Genes like tostick to their identical counterparts, like twohalves of a zipper. Tag your new genes with adye and expose them to the glass sheet and So creating the future is a nerve-where the congregate, where they get on withour genes, they fluoresce. Bingo. wracking process. People can’t tell you what they’re going toWhether you’re in the shampoo business, want, really, because they usuallythe beauty business, the food industry or thegovernment, gene expression is a fundamental don’t know. So companies havepart of the near future. to get stuff out there and wait toWhile we’re on biology, what do the jellyfish see what the world makes of it.turritopsis nutricula, several lobster species No wonder many businessesand the Joshua tree have in common? They’re look desperately for ‘metrics’all potentially immortal. Not just long-lived:immortal, thanks to unique cell behaviour. that can raise their hit rate. ButAnd specialists in cell mortality are already as the world wags on, andsuggesting that the first person to live for athousand years may already be alive. the communication revolution continues unabated, the role ofThere’s a real possibility that those of us now emergent behaviour is going toin our 50s may live to be 150 years old, if thepresent rate of genetic development continues. become even more important.And it will.Confidential. © Seymour Powell Limited, 2010. All rights reserved.
  7. 7. to their ‘perfect age’? In women, on average, machine that worked on ‘neuro fuzzy logic’this is apparently 22, but maybe we’ll all want to principles. The neural network allowed thelook 17? And after that 13? How about 6? machine to learn; fuzzy logic allowing it to make decisions based on non-specific data. TheyThis may sound foolish but, as of early 2010, were anxious because it only needed oneDNA-based cosmeceuticals are only months button. We were delighted. But what caughtaway, and with them a vast array of gene- my imagination most was the idea of a washingspecific diagnostics delivering customised machine that learned. Imagine the small ads oftherapies for your genotype in the future. People the Future: Washing Machine for sale / 4 yearsare already happy to shoot up on botulism in experience / 30% premium.the name of youthfulness, or to cut themselvesup for the same reason. Genetically reassigning The washing machine with one button hasn’tyour age will be surely irresistible. happened yet, but it will.Next up, robotics. But how does all this help you? Unless your business is run by a visionary autocrat who isA few years ago, Honda announced that by the one of the elite who make the future, what cansecond decade of the 21st Century its primary you do other than hang around until it happensactivity would be in the production of robotic and then catch up as fast as you can?systems. Not robots in the mould of Marvinthe Paranoid Android, or Robby the Robotfrom Forbidden Planet, but ‘technological co- Well, here’s some practical self-helphabitants’ – machines with specific capabilities to tide you over:that can undertake their jobs autonomously. 1. Plan for DiscontinuityPhilips has demonstrated a working concept of Stand where you are and look a short way intoa Fukitorimushi (or ‘wiping up creature’), which the future. Is your product or service likely to bedetects dirt on your work surfaces and then imposed upon by something else? If you’re ingoes about mopping them up. It looks like an the engine lubrication business, what happensanimated pan scourer. Oh, how we laugh. But if electric vehicles become the norm? If you’reit’s exactly these sorts of menial, singular tasks in the airline business, what happens to yourthat we may see being handed over to our business class product if High Definition Video‘technological co-habitants’ very soon. conferencing becomes easily affordable?Fifteen years ago, Seymourpowell was asked Gather intelligence on these parallel universes,by a Japanese company to design a washing so at least you have some idea of what couldConfidential. © Seymour Powell Limited, 2010. All rights reserved.
  8. 8. take you out in the near future. futures.2. Understand the Young As Woody Allen observed, the world is run byWhen you observe emergent behaviour those who turn up.amongst young people you are using one ofthe only available telescopes that accurately And that could be you.observes the future. Watch carefully. The futureis actually behind you, if you think about it.3. Sustainability is the DeckIf you’re planning on continuing to use non-renewables, like certain plastics and oil-basedproducts, think again. Sustainability isn’t amarketing ploy; it’s the basic deck for everything But how does all this help you?you make and sell in the future. This includes Unless your business is run bypremium and luxury products. Organisationsthat don’t meet the standards of the crowd a visionary autocrat who is onewill be strung-up through social networks and of the elite who make the future,word-of-mouth. It really is a Revolution. what can you do other than hang around until it happens and then4. Get out more catch up as fast as you can?Social networking doesn’t replace physicalcontact. In fact, it’s generating new forms ofsocial groups that didn’t exist before. And asmore of what we do in our offices and homes isavailable in the mobile domain, this will increase.5. Talk to someone who works in the futureThe future is not written in the opinions of thefocus group. If you’re serious about leading thefuture, spend time with people who are workingon long-term product, service and social To find out more please contact design@seymourpowell.comConfidential. © Seymour Powell Limited, 2010. All rights reserved.

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