Do CEOs dream of electric sheep? No, they dream about the hundreds of ways their companies could be put out of business by the radical idea they didn’t see coming. A new business model, a gadget, even a pandemic.
Rather than turn to the latest industry white papers or management books, which have a narrow view of the future based on what’s right in front of us, pick up a paperback in the Sci-Fi section. It will help you probe your dystopian nightmares to dream up solutions.
From George Orwell to Margaret Atwood and Arthur C Clarke to Neal Stephenson, science fiction writers have imagined new worlds. About how technology will develop, and the context in which human beings and society will use or abuse it.
It’s useful not because it’s predictive. It’s useful because it reframes our perspective on the world. It challenges us to wonder whether we are even asking the right questions. And creates a space for us to imagine, examine and adapt to what might come next.
Oftentimes this is scary. Our work culture is geared towards an incremental and iterative way of thinking. Yet forward thinking companies see merit in this approach to remain competitive.
So how might we go about this?
- Frame the broader question relevant to your business.
For instance, what would asset-light lifestyles mean for the future of ownership? Will telemedicine become commonplace? What does the future of work look like? And what does that mean for company culture?
- Imagine possible futures.
What might the world be like in ten or fifteen years? Imagine how society, the environment, the economy, culture and politics will be impacted by technological advancements. Imagine the stories of characters who would live in that future. What challenges would they face?
- Work from the “future-back” to where you are now.
Trace these narratives back to their real world applications. What information can you feed into new business models, products, services, systems or user journeys? It’s not about being right. It’s about creating a space for ourselves to adapt to what might come next.
Ultimately what’s worth paying for? Production-heavy, skippable ads that feed the internet black hole or smart thinking that can take your brand and business in new directions with better results?
Or as Alan Kay famously said, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”.