Timing Is Everything. Get That Right and You Win.
Everything that we’ve come up with will happen. We just don’t know when.
I’ve said before many times that the biggest issue with being a futurist is that you are a lot like a weatherperson – usually right, but at the wrong time. Another corollary to that is that everything that has been imagined happening, within reason, will happen, and the only question is when.
Basically, if it is physically possible to do something, then it will probably happen at some point. It may be soon, it may be 5-10 years, or it may be even further out. The trick is trying to figure out when.
In our futurist programs, we ask our clients to imagine what the world will be like 10 years out. We ask them to imagine what they will be like, what their customers will be like, what their products and services will be like, as well. We get them to project into this, for some people, far future (remember that many people can hardly think even a quarter or two out, concerned that there are massive technological and cultural shifts just around the corner.
In these exercises, we usually get many excellent ideas which are natural extensions or combinations of current thinking. We get many incremental ideas. Sometimes, we really get some groundbreaking ideas, and for those, depending on if they can be currently implemented, we take them to a proof-of-concept (which is much more easily done these days due to the frameworks, systems, and tools available), then present them directly to small subsets of users. If they like the idea, we then move it to the next step.
Some of these ideas are interesting but not radical, and still, others are so radical and out-of-the-box, they are a tough sell to move forward on. Think of it this way – if it’s a good idea, then it will eventually be built by someone. Even if there is no current business model or infrastructure to support building the concept, that will change in the future, when new business models and technologies make it possible.
For example, imagine someone, several years ago, seeing their car sitting on the driveway and thinking “why am I paying a monthly fee for my car to just sit there 80% of the time”, and then thinking, “what if I could give people rides for a fee to help cover my costs, in my spare time”. Without smartphones, Google Maps, inexpensive data plans and GPS, Uber, Lyft, and its counterparts would never have been invented. I would not be surprised if there were several people who came up with the exact same concept, just lacking the technology, the drive, or the funding to make it happen.
It’s much the same with other ideas. If they are physically possible, they will happen. They just need the right timing: for both the technology, the business model, and the culture to line up at the same time, and boom – you have a billion-dollar business.
How do you determine what will strike? That’s beside the point – because we don’t. The output of a typical ideation session could generate 20-1000’s of concepts, and you may have no idea which will become the big ideas. Or if there even is one in there. Once the idea is created and captured, however, this will trigger “implementation thinking” – now that it’s out there and formed, then someone, most likely the inventor, will drive to see that idea become reality. In this way, all ideas, unless they are fantasy, will happen, the trick is to guess when.
To guess when we need to be highly cognizant of the world. To actively seek signals which match up as precursors to this idea. Things that, when taken to a next logical (or even illogical step) will show us an embryonic version of the idea. Once we see that, it is the best time to start looking at building the capability to deliver that idea, or if that capability is available, then the ability to build those combinations and get to that idea.