October 01, 2008

Looking two times the distance back to forecast the future

Paul_saffo "Hunt for Bin Laden: Experts Agree: Al Quaeda leader is Dead or Alive". Yossi Vardi's photoshopped CNN reportage was certainly amusing but was, above all, a completely accurate forecast. What forecasters mustn't do is try to eliminate the uncertaintly from our futures.

Paul Saffo, formerly of the Institute of the Future, shares some of his secrets and insights from his main job: forecasting the future.

The Information Revolution is over. This is the Media Revolution
Everything in the knowledge and information world is uncertain. The information revolution is done, gone, in the past. We are now gripped by a media revolution - media is information that goes deep down and makes a difference in our life. It's also a shift within this field, from mass media to a very strange new world of personal media. Indeed, it's what my new job is all about - making the convergence of media count and make amplification have a new, almost reversed sense.

Even the information devices of old are now media devices. 1998 saw the first ring tone sold, and 2005 it had become a $2b business, accounting for 10% of the music business. Cell phones are entertainment media devices that happen to be communication devices. They are not information devices.

As Jane McGonigal, still at the Institute of the Future, has repeated: you need to look back twice as far back to see what's ahead. It might not be repeated, but the future will rhyme with it. If we peer back to the 1950s we see huge experimentation in mass media, in ways the television could be used, developed, enhanced. Today's use of the web is probably not even a bump on the landscape compared to what we will use our discoveries today for tomorrow.

Technology_and_time_scalesWhen television emerged in the 1930s, it took some 20 years until it began to take off. Time-sharing (through email) took time from its first developments in the late 70s to become accepted in the 90s. Technology takes time to take hold, but in recent history technology is taking less and less time to make an impact:
This means that email and internet apps are nowhere near the peak of their activity.

S_curve_of_failure Never mistake a clear view as a short distance
The challenge for those trying to predict the future is that, at one stage on the uptake curve you're made to look foolish as no-one joins you in the adoption of the technology. After a while, you give up on that bandwagon and think about what is worth betting your efforts on next. Just as you give up on it everyone else starts to adopt. You therefore look foolish twice over. I've written off many a fashion faux pas on that S curve theory.

SecondLife is one such maligned technology - I've managed to hit the middle part of that S Curve about a dozen times in the past three years, and have kept on it; something's afoot in this space. Paul believes it has a smell of the 20 year S Curve in it. He mentions the Cisco SecondLife meetings that my now-Cisco colleague John has talked about before. Likewise, in the nineties publishers would have scoffed if you said that something like the MacBook Pro Nano would make reading books online or on a computer doable - and enjoyable.

The changing nature of innovation
The next big thing is not the semantic web - it's sensors and robots

1950s TV - Broadcast
1980s Time-sharing - Email
1990s Cient sharing - WWW
2000  P2P - Napster
2010  Sensors - Smartifacts

Sensors will lead to smartifacts, robots that can make life easier, more enjoyable, more connected... Think of the current indicators: Roomba, the first robots to kill a human in the war on terror in Yemen in 2002, Nabaztags, robots that drive cars more safely than us... The indicators are already in place, though I think we're probably missing it for the immediate ideas and opportunity that the web is offering in 2008.

We're moving from TV to the web, from the living room to everywhere, from watching and consuming to participating and creating, from few and large organisations to many and small individuals.

We are moving at a tumbling rate from the Consumer Economy where buying and selling rule, to, markedly in the past two weeks, an economy where there are new actors in a Creator Economy. Google makes the perfect example of the success of the Creator Economy. It costs $0 to subscribe to Google, the usage charges are $0 and every time we use it we make it better. That last part is the cost - our search string contributes to the richness of what, in days past, would have been the Manufacturer. The question is, do we care if the $ cost is zero and the [heart] cost is information?

One forecast is looking a dead cert: the future's looking like one heck of a ride.

Quinn's photo of Paul Saffo.

Paul Saffo speaking at the ebic Thought Leader conference, Berlin, at which I am later speaking on the futures panel.

Comments

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Ewan,

Good post.

I have to say that I find the S curve model much more persuasive than, for instance, Gartner's Hype Cycle - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hype_cycle - which tries too hard to fit everything into a single dynamic framework, and often offers mutually contradictory examples.

When the technology gets boring, then things get interesting socially. I can't remember where I read that but I think we're just getting over the "Oh wow" phase and starting to really see how deeply this technology will change fundamentals.

When the technology gets boring, then things get interesting socially. I can't remember where I read that but I think we're just getting over the "Oh wow" phase and starting to really see how deeply this technology will change fundamentals.

When the technology gets boring, then things get interesting socially. I can't remember where I read that but I think we're just getting over the "Oh wow" phase and starting to really see how deeply this technology will change fundamentals.

You read it in Clay Shirky's latest book, Craig, and you're right to like it :-)

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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