[L/M NET] Tim Kastelle > Our Job is to Invent the Future, revisited

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If we’re trying to innovate, our job is to invent the future. That’s why I was struck by this quote from Ray Kurzweil from a few years ago:

I’m an inventor, and I started looking at long-term trends because an invention has to make sense in the world in which it was finished, not the world in which it started.

This short quote hits on several important points:

  • We have to be thinking about the future because innovation always takes much longer than we expect it to: innovation is a three part process – idea generation, idea selection and execution, and idea diffusion. In particular, idea execution can often take a (very!) long time, as can idea diffusion.
  • Innovation requires vision: the first part of the process, idea generation, requires vision. While there is often an overemphasis on ideation, innovation does always start with a great idea.

  • We need a methodology for thinking about the future: one way or another, we need to think about where the world is heading. There are many ways to do this. We can make sure that in addition to tending to our core business, we also spend some time finding out what is going on out on the edges. We can use collaborative methods, as outlined in The Open Foresighting project (that link is to Venessa Miemis’ blog – go there and scroll down to the Futures Thinking links in the right column for more great resources in this area). We can use scenario planning – here is a recent version discussed on The Long Now Blog, another good resource. We can extrapolate based on what’s going on today.

In reality, we probably need to undertake a combination of all of these techniques. And just as importantly, we have to combine thinking about the future with a culture of experimentation. It’s experimenting that ensures that we are finding ideas that will actually work.

Our job is to invent the future, and to do that, first we have to formulate a good idea of what the future should be.

(ralf says:
It often also makes sense to look at 3 groups of people: 01 kids, and what they love to do – 02 most admired companies – like Apple, Google, Twitter – of the world, and where they are heading – 03 politicians, and what they are prohibiting. This will give you a multi-dimensional picture of the future.

You just have to be better than that.)

Tim is a lecturer at The University of Queensland Business School. He researches, writes, teaches and consults on topics relating to effective innovation management, with an emphasis on studying innovation networks. He blogs at The Innovation Leadership Network. Twitter: @timkastelle