Until I get around to recording my own observations, here’s Michael Roger’s review of the recent World Future Society conference in Toronto.
I really like the idea behind the IDEA Conference: recognize that big D design is inherently a cross-disciplinary affair, so invite the smartest (not necessarily the most famous) speakers to illuminate the connections among us through their practical experience. Peter Merholz is instigating, so it’s sure to be bound up with tons of enthusiasm and intellectual goodness.
If you’re interested, you should know the discounted reg is ending soon.
The fools at Fast Company lent me the keys to their blog last week. Here’s what I scrawled in lipstick on their bathroom mirror…
Once in while I hear someone talk about innovation as leapfrogging the competition. I love this phrase because it’s so bold. It not only says we are going to innovate on the level of products or processes or management, but also that we’re going to do it in a way that jumps forward to a generation beyond the competition. A leapfrog is the most ambitious an organization can be, and few organizations are actually equipped to make such a massive change. But leapfrogging as a creative exercise to expand our thinking can be a powerful tool.
Let’s say you’re a supermarket getting your lunch eaten by Whole Foods and you want to find an innovative new positioning. You could start by reverse engineering Whole Foods to figure out what makes them so successful and then imagine what it would take to ‘leapfrog’ that success. One way Whole Foods succeeded was by combining the progressive-but-ugly health food store with the attractive interior design and high quality merchandise of newer supermarkets. Lately they’ve also combined their stores with a vitamin store called Whole Foods Body. To leapfrog them you could brainstorm around the question, “What haven’t they combined yet?” One answer is exercise, as in diet and exercise — the keys to a healthy lifestyle. We see this combination happening as gyms open health food cafes, but this is on a smaller scale. The opportunity space for you is a modern, attractive gym and food market that combines the two in a way customers love.
How will your organization leapfrog the competition?
I’ll be giving a presentation on Tangible Futures in Denver next Wednesday, August 16th. Since giving the talk in Philadelphia I’ve refined the how-to part of the talk quite a bit with more perspective of the people on the receiving end of this work. If you’re in the neighborhood and interested I’d love to meet you…
Tangible Futures: Creating Designs of the Future to Influence the Present
Edward de Bono has said, “You can analyse the past, but the future has to be designed.” As designers, we have influence not only over the products and services people will use in the future but also in how companies plan for the future. We can improve the quality of our influence by using our design skills to more actively anticipate and shape the future. Examples of this vary from auto designers’ concept cars to Bruce Mau’s Massive Change. These “tangible futures” act as a clear, compelling vision that helps organizations make progress.
Now here’s some advice I can follow…
What does work [to remedy jet lag]? “Napping and caffeine, among various solutions,” said Dr. Rosekind. “When I was at NASA, we did a study involving 26-minute naps and we found they boosted performance by 34 percent and alertness by 54 percent. Naps of less than a half-hour work.
“Using a combination of nap and caffeine is better than using them separately, if you can believe it. It takes 15 to 30 minutes for caffeine to kick in. So you do the two together. All it takes is a cup of coffee — not even a pill. By the time the caffeine is working, your nap is over.”
I attended the World Futures conference in Toronto recently, and hope to find a spare minute to write up my thoughts on the conference. But one thing that struck me was how markedly different the tone of discussion was between people who relied on forecasting techniques vs. those that relied on trends. The former produced valuable and fascinating forecasts, but had to back them up with authority based on their personal ability, the validity of the technique, or sheer confidence.
The trend people (e.g. SRI, Ray Kurzweil), meanwhile, were remarkably calm and even humble. They looked — as Paul Saffo would have us do — at least twice as far back into the past as they looked into the future. Granted, the trend watchers tended to watch technology, particularly information technology, and this is quite a bit less chaotic then, say, terrorism or epidemics. Nevertheless when looking at 20 or 30 years of data it felt significantly easier to make plausible suppositions about what the next few years will hold. Ray Kurzweil attributes his impressive performance as an inventor to his ability to track trends: “Invention is a matter of timing.”
Subsequently, I’ve noticed that what is often referred to as a trend actually falls — perhaps because of our apophenia or simply marketing cahones — into one of three categories:
- Isolated — though remarkable — events
- Several similar events happening at the same time
- Predictions based on hunches
Harnessing weak signals, wild cards, and Blink-style instinct can be valuable, but they’re not trends. One thing futures studies has to offer those of us working in innovation and design is, somewhat surprisingly, a more sophisticated use of historical information.