Utopia, what is it about? A positive vision of the future. What is it about human beings working together, living together being together without conflict that annoys people? Why is it that dystopia is so compelling to people? I mean, I could give you thousands of examples of this, but it’s something Gene Roddenberry wanted to…
Why do people run from change, even when that change is for the better?
We always seem to fall back on the familiar, even if it causes pain. We stick with what we have, whether it works or not – even in some cases it’s worse for us. Most people fear change – they fear the future – they fear doing something different.
It’s time to retire the word. For everything.
Read an article the other day in one of my favorite magazines – the New Philosopher (yes, as an innovator, you should read broadly too – just reading HBR and innovation tomes doesn’t open your mind like philosophy and great, far future sci-fi do) where a father was urging on this son to excel at chess. To keep from hurting his feelings, he never used the word “lose”, as in “Did you win or lose?” when he came back from his matches – but the phrase “Did you win, or did you learn?” Of course, there is learning in winning as well, but who can argue that we learn more than we lose. In fact, isn’t it true that we learn more when we lose because we hate feeling pain worse than love feeling pleasure?
Either way, note that the dad specifically did not say “lose” but “learn”. In the same say, can we not constantly attribute failing startups or losing market share to a solid lesson learned? If we slam our innovation initiatives every time they fail, do you think you’ll see your people continuing to take risks?
No, you’ll never get the kind of disruptive innovation that you need, you’ll get the same incremental stuff that might help a little – but won’t lead you to those unicorns you love so much.
We need to recast the concept of failure, eliminate the word as much as we can. Didn’t Thomas Edison say that he never failed, just came up with hundreds of ways that didn’t work? We need to look at risk-taking anew and realize that without risk of “finding ways things don’t work” then we rarely get to the way that does work.
If startups and projects don’t gain traction, they pivot or shut down. The lessons learned from these moves into the founders next startup or the project teams next project or company. Instead of saying “a string of failed startups” you should be thinking “a string of educational experiences”
We had a very long string of inventions, from the Renaissance to the jet engine, truly disruptive concepts which dented the human universe and changed humanity for the better. Even those concepts which were tried and didn’t fly taught us what not to do or educated us that this was the wrong time and place for this concept (so many businesses start too far ahead of the world and are unable to pivot to product/market fit).
But should we slow down, should we stop trying, just because it might cost us to learn? If you ask me it costs us more when we don’t take the risk, when we are afraid to fail.
When you are afraid to fail, then you never do, and without doers, where would we be?
Like the digital twin in that “Greta cookie” episode of Black Mirror (great series although a bit pessimistic about the future), you know the one, where they use a technology called a “cookie”, which is implanted in your head and creates a digital copy of you over time, learning about the way you act based on observing your actions over time. Of course, the episode gets dark after that, but I see no ethical downside to creating a digital version of yourself, designed to act in a similar way to you, and setting it to task performing all the dull stuff you’d rather not do, or aren’t very good at.
I’ve said before that we all spend a lot of our days doing mundane things that barely tax our amazing human brains. Would it not be great that something like a digital twin – which acts like our own personal virtual assistant – could take care of all of the boring stuff we have to do in our days, thus freeing us up to think the big thoughts?
Sure, maybe a full-on replica of ourselves might be too much to ask for right now, but what about creating a sub-set of ourselves? We could spin off various sub-selves to do all manner of things to save us time – creating these intelligent virtual versions of ourselves focused on a single task or two.
For example, let’s say that I’m terrible at remembering birthdays and anniversaries. would it be so terrible to create a sub-set personality bot of myself which remembers dates, and selects and sends proper greetings and gifts when required? Maybe you create the bot online and like the cookie or Nest – it self-learns my communication patterns – when and how I connect and communicate with people, how I remember things and send gifts etc. After a few days or weeks, it’s become a version of me, but only in regard to dates, messages, and gifts.
Once its more or less defined my actions, I then go in and “revise” it to be better than me. I tell it what dates to remember (and it never forgets as it’s not a fallible human) and what kind of messages to send, and what price range of gifts to get depending on the social strength of the connection. It then goes off and remembers dates, and after researching awesome messages and gifts that the recipient would appreciate, sends them or has them delivered. All under my name, of course.
My bot makes me a better human, friend, relative and spouse, and it frees me up to spend time with other things. Sure, maybe this example is a little creepy, (and probably better suited for pure introverts) but think of the 100s of mundane things you’d prefer to have someone else do for you.
Wouldn’t you prefer that a part of you – as a sub-set digital twin – be doing it? It’s not so different than delegating an autonomous vehicle to drive for you, or a human virtual assistant to book your meetings and do your internet research for you.
I, for one, welcome our new digital underlings. ?
Whatever Happened To Ambition?
I’m going to start this post off with two completely opposing views – both of which I’m pretty familiar with. Let’s start with Star Trek.
On the episode, This Side Of Paradise, the crew encounter a planet where Earth colonists have been for a few years. These alien spores keep everyone healthy and happy. Everyone is in a blissful state all of the time, and your injuries are automatically healed. It’s an awesome place, some people call it paradise. Even Spock gets all emotional. As a result, no one feels like they have to do anything – they just loll around day after day, doing pretty much nothing. Of course, a lot of the crew gets sucked in, and it’s up to Kirk to save the day. After he’s been able to get back his crew, Bones makes a comment about this being the second time humanity has been kicked out of paradise. To which Kirk responds:
This time we walked out on our own. Maybe we weren’t meant for paradise. Maybe we were meant to fight our way through. Struggle, claw our way up, scratch for every inch of the way. Maybe we can’t stroll to the music of the lute. We must march to the sound of drums
To Innovate, You Must Learn To Be Fearless
Did you know that the fear of public speaking is even worse than the fear of death for most people? Yes, some people prefer almost anything to standing in front of a crowd and talking. Innovation is almost as bad at some companies – I’ve heard it said a number of different ways, but it all boils down to one thing, a fear to innovate:
Star Trek is Probably the Most Influential Cultural Artifact of Any Currently Living Generation
I wasn’t old enough to remember when, 50 years ago last week, Star Trek took to the airwaves for the very first time. Gene Roddenberry’s “Wagon Train to the Stars”, his “western, but in space”, showed his amazing knack for envisioning a really cool, optimistic future.
The show was a very different animal from most science fiction at the time, either written, televised or in theaters. Written sci-fi was full of dystopian futures (I blame that on socialist leaning science fiction authors who thought that capitalism was going to be the end of us), televised sci-fi was full of kooky things like Lost in Space (a family comedy with a kooky robot set in space), Land of the Giants (fun but not too cerebral), The Jetsons (The Flintstones, but in the future – although I’d argue that the Jetsons was actually pretty accurate and interesting in some of the predictions that they made – although had they had a futurist on staff, it might have been even more interesting), My Favorite Martian (please!) or the takes-itself-too-seriously Thunderbirds.
The only other show in that space which challenged us during that time was the Twilight Zone, which if you ask me, was absolutely brilliant, but not really science fiction. It did not depict all of its tales in a future time, with a fully fleshed out world view. Plus the episodic nature, with completely different stories, told every week, held no possibility for character development.
No, Star Trek was something very different. A pretty well-defined world view, originally framed out by Roddenberry, and then fleshed out by him and the other writers on the show, like David Gerrold and DC Fontana. It came at a very dark time in US history and showed us what a post-racial America and post-racial, universe would be like. Apparently, he even wanted it to be post-gender, originally casting a female in the role of second in command (“Number One”) of the Enterprise, which would put in her charge a lot, as the captain was wont to galavant around on landing parties all the time, or vice-versa, but the network wouldn’t hear of it (the new series debuting in January 2017 will star, AFAIK, a female character named “Number One”). Even politically, he couldn’t skewer both governments and corporations in his writing – whenever a story about an evil corporation was submitted, the network shut it down. Plus, I love the libertarian themes peppered throughout. Who didn’t love when the war between the Federation and the Borg “Collective” ended with individuality prevailing?
But I digress. I’ve watched and absorbed all the flavors of Star Trek in all media all of my life, so I could literally write an entire book on the topic, but that’s for another time.
While the show didn’t do all that well in normal production, it did phenomenally well in syndication, where I and many, many others, were completely drawn to this incredible future vision where things were so much better than they were now. Both those of us who were into technology, marveling at the advanced technology like the transporters, communicators, conversational computers, tricorders, phasers, hyposprays and universal translators and those who were into the vision of all flavors or humanity (and aliens) working together without a racist or sexist angle, were mesmerized. It even gave us television’s first interracial kiss. Not only was the world vision compelling, like all good science fiction and storytelling, the stories told were metaphors for things that were happening in the world at the time it was written, but like all good stories were timeless.
Generations watched this vision and these stories, and generations thought, “I’d like to live in a world like that”, and we took steps to build that world. I don’t think anyone can say that there has been any other cultural artifact which affected people’s lives as directly as Star Trek did. Star Wars may be more popular, but it didn’t drive people into engineering, hoping to be like Scotty one day. It didn’t drive young black women into technology like Uhura did. It didn’t drive people into becoming activists, working to eliminate racism and sexism.
Generations saw that future, liked that future, and decided, either explicitly, or implicitly, to build that future.
Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise helped to continue to build out the future, expanding the framework Gene and the original series writers put in place, giving us a blind black engineer, a Klingon security officer, a counselor on the bridge, a black station manager, a female captain, replicators, holodecks and much more. Star Trek has been more about inclusiveness than diversity, and people survive, drive and thrive on their merits, not on the color or their skins or their sex. I can only assume that this will continue.
Since there were so many of us caught up in that vision, wanting to make that vision real, we’ve seen many of what was envisioned on the various series, books, and other media, become real, way before the 23rd century the original series was set in.
We have communicators (smartphones), universal translators (Skype and other translation services), computers which are conversational (Amazon Echo, Google Home, Google Now, Siri) and PADDs (tablet computers). we are on our way to replicators (3d printers) and the holodeck (virtual reality). In some areas, we’ve gone way past the original vision, and in others, we are still working on it. In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, maybe going back and mining Star Trek might be great for your own corporate ideation process. If you see something cool on there, just work backward to the great-grandaddy of that idea, then build it now.
Not just technology either – we’ve seen great strides being made in the inclusiveness space as well. While in some cases we’ve tended to go a little far in the opposite direction, I have faith that we will eventually settle down and understand that “all humans are created equal.”
Star Trek has been around for 50 years, and we’ve done a pretty good job of bringing the vision to life so far.
Let’s keep that vision going, keep pushing the frontiers, keep exploring, innovating, disrupting.
Let’s keep moving forward.
Innovation From Necessity
I’ve heard it said a few times that its necessity that drives innovation – that if you aren’t trying to solve a hairy problem or your back is against the wall – that is the only space that innovation comes from. The companies will only innovate if they are forced to.
If you ask me, by the time you are forced to innovate in order to stay alive, then it’s probably already too late. You need to get ahead of the curve – to innovate before you need to – in order to map out the future direction of your company and the world that your company will exist in.
One of the things that I did during my time at Yahoo! we called “Targeted IP Generation” – which is a fancy term for “inventing things we can’t build yet” – we would pick a specific area, say social networks, or even a combination of areas, and invent products in that space that we purposely knew couldn’t be built right now. The reason that they couldn’t be built was usually that the systems were currently incapable of building them right now, or the market wasn’t quite ready for it right now, or that there was no clear business model to the invention, but there was something about it that felt right – that you could see that product exist in a near future world. One of the most interesting things we found that most of the things are came up with actually did come to pass, just at the wrong times. I like to say that inventing products is a bit like being a weatherman: sometimes you are right, sometimes you are wrong, but most of the time you’re right, just at the wrong time.
For example, one of the inventions had to do with augmented reality glasses using a transparent overlay, and about 5 years after we filed for a patent on it, products with that similar capability started coming into the marketplace. The technology had finally caught up to the idea. Since we had filed for a patent on the idea, when the technology catches up, that could have become a whole new line of revenue for the company.
Did we need to innovate? No, there was no pressing need (although if you ask me there is always a pressing need to innovate!) at the time, however, we knew that there would be a pressing need for new products and business models in the future, so we preemptively invented for that time. Not many companies are that forward thinking. In doing so, however, you can ensure your continued existence. You don’t have to be worried about disruption shutting you down like those firms did in the Innovator’s Dilemma – you’ll be prepared for the disruption. You will be birthing new businesses and business models to replace the old ones.
So I’d argue, if you wait for necessity to push you to innovate – you’ve already been out disrupted. The time to get ahead of the curve is now. Tomorrow may already be too late.
— image Thomas Hawk
The Future Can Be Awesome
What’s the deal with all of the scary, dystopian futures that we are seeing in popular culture? Why are people thinking that the future is going to be so horrible? Of course, if you look in some directions, you see the power of the state increasing, but in other cases, you see the power of the individual increasing via the use of technology. Is not just a balance, it’s in our favor. As humans.
Is there a chance of a world like the Hunger Games or Tomorrowland’s failed cities actually happening? Is it really possible that we will see worlds where people are pitted against each other to fight to the death like in the old Roman gladiator days, or is it more likely that we’ll see robots and other automatons battling it out to the cheers of the crowd?
Whatever happened to all of the positive visions of the future? Where were things going to continuously get better, instead of worse? Where the big hairy problems of the world start being solved, as opposed to taking over the world? Where we move to be a more enlightened species?
One of the most interesting questions I’ve come across as a futurist is “Do you really think, as a futurist, that you can change the future?” To that, I have to answer – absolutely. Why would anyone want to map out possible futures, some good and some bad, and not try to redirect things towards that positive future? Personally, I don’t believe that we should “Prime Directive” like, stand outside the stream of events and simply report that future, so that others may implement it. We need to be in there, be involved, to change things that are going wrong. To help steer and guide ourselves into the future we have always wanted.
In my vision, the future isn’t only better, it’s probably not even very “futuristic” in the sense that most people think of the future. A good example is the “positive future” commercial in the movie Tomorrowland – the city is all modern, full of tall spires, ultra modern and sleek cars and transportation methods, super high tech flying backpacks, and all sorts of things one would typically see as “futuristic”. In these futures, the technology is front and center, sometimes even burying the humanity and the natural into the background.
If you ask me, its technology which is going to sink into the background. As we move forward into a more and more seamless world, the technology which we use to communicate with the online world and other people will get smaller and smaller, and eventually disappear. Instead of sitting in the square watching all of these people interacting with their smartphone, they will interact with each other. Devices will disappear, the technology will disappear. Things will simply happen when we need them to, in the exact right time and place that they need to happen, mostly without our intervention.
In this future, our brains are as big as the world. We can work and play from anywhere, at any time, with any one, no matter where we, or they, are. All reality will be augmented, improving our lives immeasurably. Big data, predictive analytics and the internet of things will allow us the freedom to be fully human, while the machines take care of the mundane, we can be free to be creative, interact, and allow serendipity to happen.
Between humans, for humans.
The future will actually be more human that you think.
— image: yumikrum