When Paul Krugman and Charlie Stross had a chat at WorldCon a couple of years ago, the first question out of Krugman’s mouth was “Where are the flying cars?”
Krugman asked this because he knows that science fiction authors like Stross have been imagining the future for quite a while, and that currently impossible technologies like flying cars have long played a role in their speculations.
Like sci-fi authors, if we’re trying to innovate, our job is to invent the future.
But what does that mean?
Bruce Sterling has some interesting things to say about the future – starting with a paraphrase of William Gibson:
“You see, the future is already here, it’s just not well distributed yet.
The future does feature some brand-new stuff that was technically impossible before, but, more importantly, the future has a different take on matters that are already here. There’s a change of emphasis. The future is like another culture, another country. We have to come to terms with the future’s language.”
The Sterling piece has a lot of interesting ideas about design and inventing the future, and it’s worth a read.
His distinction between brand-new stuff that was technically impossible before, and figuring out the language of the future is a critical one.
It means that inventing the future isn’t simply about making flying cars and other cool stuff you find in sci-fi novels.
We can actually invent the future by figuring out new meanings for the things that are already here.
There’s a great example of what this means in Greg Satell’s recent post:
“As I explained in an earlier post, disruptive innovation is crappy innovation. Crappy, that is, because it tends to do old jobs poorly. A truly disruptive technology changes paradigms by doing a new job entirely. (That’s what makes it so disruptive).
It’s also why so much of what we hear about digital marketing is wrong. The discourse all too often focuses on how digital stacks up against traditional media performing traditional tasks. It shouldn’t be surprising that, in this context, digital often comes up short.
The fact that so many people keep trying to square this circle shows an appalling lack of imagination and good sense. The true impact of digital technology in the marketing arena lies years in the future, possibly more than a decade. What will that impact be? To be honest, I don’t really know and I’m deeply suspicious of anyone who thinks they do.”
People are trying to define the future of digital marketing exclusively in terms of what marketing looks like today. This is wrong. The innovation here isn’t coming up with shiny new web technologies. The innovation opportunity lies in taking the concepts that are already here, and figuring out a new language that will determine how they will work and what they will mean.
We can’t do this by simply extrapolating existing trends. Nor by taking new technologies and new ideas and hammering them so they fit into existing concepts and frameworks.
We won’t invent the future by inventing flying cars. Which in some ways is too bad, because I’d like one. We will invent the future by taking things that are already here, but which are maybe unevenly distributed, and giving them new meanings.
Innovating language by making new novel connections between ideas is the best way to invent the future.
Tim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.