I love strategy. So I was chuffed when I found an older episode of James Altucher’s podcast in which he was interviewing Kevin Kelly, the founding editor of Wired magazine and a futurist.
Part of making strategy is trying to “predict” the future. Kevin said something that allows me to explain how you take a whole system approach to designing your future in one sentence: “Predicting the future is really about understanding the present.”
What will unfold in the future is already there today in some essence.
Here are some thinking experiments that you can do to shine light on that, with a hat tip to James and Kevin for laying them out in their conversation:
- Follow the free – often new, large trends start because somebody or something starts playing with something. Just because they can. And then it grows and often a business emerges on the back of it. Or a whole industry. What do you see happening right now, through that lens?
- Waste of time – Where or what are people wasting a lot of time on? There’s probably a business or an industry in there. Closer to a unit of one (you): when Tim Ferriss started out, he looked at what he was spending a lot of money on. In his case, that was food supplements. Guess once what his first successful business was?
- New slang – if you hear new slang emerging, pay attention. When a new tribe, category or world emerges, people start making language. It serves two purposes: it shows they’re “in” and practically, there’s no old language to describe the stuff that’s coming out. Something’s afoot in that space.
- White space – when new areas open up for development and technology starts emerging and then accelerating, there’s white space somewhere else that the market ignores. Where is the white space? A great book (and tool set) to play with that angle more is Blue Ocean Strategy.
- Unthinkables – What if the unthinkable happens? What is the unthinkable? In the good sense? The bad? A thought experiment along those lines yield insights. The fringes of the unthinkable offer raw material you can build something on.
- Scenarios – rather than one future, there are many futures that are possible. A way to get a sense for those is to slow down and think about three possible scenarios. Map them out. Thomas Chermack wrote a good book about that.
- Reverse time machine – if you flatly assume that X will be a reality by 2025, what needs to happen from now on for it to become true? Picture a magazine cover. (It’s actually how many a Wired cover came about). I’ve used these with clients for both this technique and scenario thinking by presenting them alternative mock ups of the front page of the Financial Times.
- Listen to technology – what is it trying to tell you? Kevin gave a great example: in the undercurrent, the Interwebs is really just one big copy machine – as this post proves too. So you can fight a trend (that worked really well for the music industry, didn’t it?) or work with it. What are the opportunities?
- What if this trend 10x’s? – What if X intensifies and it becomes 10 times as big? What will the world look like?
How do you think about the future?