In December, Google announced the hiring of Ray Kurzweil a well known futurist and author of “The Singularity is Near”. Kurzweil will be working on new projects that focus on machine learning and language processing. I am not surprised by Google’s decision to hire Kurzweil and will be watching to see what develops from this relationship.
For the past couple of months, tech journalists have been buzzing about futurists and their importance. Tech companies like Intel and large consulting firms (IBM and McKinsey) have always employed long term strategists or futurists to assist with planning and product development. Technology has yet to make long term planning obsolete.
In our microwave society, we are all caught up in the nanosecond mentality where planning for the future seems laborious and painful. The thought of thinking about the future is foreign to Gen Y as they prefer to wait till the last moment in case something better come along.
Last summer, I started reading books by futurist and was curious to learn more about their thought process and tech predictions for the future.
Futurists look towards the future with curiosity and intrigue while most of us worry about the “what ifs” and fear what may be around the corner. Technology can be a double edge sword. There will be great potential for startup companies and new development; however, I believe we will encounter major obstacles that society will have to overcome while adjusting to the new norm.
How to Think Like a Futurist – learn to adapt to uncertainty, be willing to challenge assumptions and develop multiple plans for the future.
Learning to Live with Uncertainty and Chaos:
Society has always adapted to new technologies. The printing press was a new technology that enabled the mass printing of books. Electricity changed our lifestyles and the telephone changed how we communicate. The tech revolution is similar and different at the same time. Technology increases exponentially at a greater speed with each new advancement. (Moore’s Law) leaving us less time to adapt to these new technologies.
I’m learning about algorithms. I want to learn more about these mathematical models that are now a part of our daily lives. One tiny algorithm glitch can take out my entire stock portfolio or cause crazy ads to appear on my Facebook page. The more I understand how algorithms can impact my life gives me the knowledge to develop a better plan for future.
So, how do we find a balance in our chaos?
Stay Informed – Curate Tech Information To Match Your Needs
I read about four hours every day to stay current on new technology and trends. Digging through the Internet clutter burns precious time I do not have. I create defined Google+ Circles, Twitter list and book marks for specific topics. These lists and circles are purged and updated quarterly and I delete unreliable publications and unfollow individuals who generate useless information. My goal is to build list of individuals and news sources that I can trust.
My favorite tech and news sites include Tech Crunch, Mashable, CNET and Business Insider. Another great resource is TED; which is a platform for sharing ideas. The speeches posted on TED are informative and insightful.
Education is Free – Expand Your Cross Subject Learning
We can learn any subject online without having to physically attend school or spend money. Talent specialists are what employers are seeking while generalists are becoming obsolete. Every company wills tech specialists and creative designers that understand the complexities of the Web and the importance of design. Products with crappy design go nowhere.
Why is Cross Learning so Important?
Shelly Palmer, Intel’s Futurist, asks two important questions “How do we prepare ourselves and our children for a future where we are surrounded by ever-increasing intelligent machines? What skills will we need in a future where computers do tasks originally performed by people?
Palmer questions can also be posed to companies. How do we prepare our employees for the future?
Can your job or profession be automated? What could you do differently that would prevent a robot from doing your job?
Humans have the ability to syntheses different inputs from multiple places and then create something new. Our lateral thinking is what separates us from computers. Steve Jobs talked about being at the intersection of technology and humanities. Businesses will be tested by their ability to innovate and will seek professionals who can create new ideas that incorporate design and technology. Crossing learning will be a requirement in the future. Art and math have a purpose and we need to be teaching how to combine both subjects to create something new.
Daniel Pink wrote “A Whole New Mind” which discusses the future role of the lateral thinking in society.
Creativity generates ideas that lead to innovation. Learning outside your industry is a must as we must connect dots from many sources to generate new products and services.
Coursera offers free classes from the top universities around the world from Stanford to Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne. This semester, I am taking Introduction to Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh and an Intro to Algorithms at Stanford.
Individuals that complete the class work receive a certificate. In the future, earning a degree will become obsolete and individuals will earn knowledge badges or certificates for specific classes and training. Nonessential college classes will be eliminated allowing students to focus on their core studies.
Cross learning includes learning new technologies like WordPress website development and social media. Staying relevant is crucial for both businesses and professionals.
Stay Proficient in Technologies That Directly Impact Your Business
Look around and see what your competitors and co-workers are learning. Understand the role of digital communication (social media) and observe how your customers are using the different methods to communicate.
What are the tech job requirements for new hires at your company? Do you have these skills?
If not, find a way to learn some if not all these new job requirements. We are all time starved and everyone is in a hurry; however, carving out 10 minutes a day to read or set up a social media profile pays dividends over time.
Word of caution – understand the difference between the marketing band wagon and snake oil of social media and how your industry, company and customers are using digital real time communication. There is a difference.
Challenge Basic Assumptions:
Disruptive products and services challenge long held basic assumptions. Joshua Berlinger interviewed Dr. Peter Bishop for his Business Insider article “Why Every 8Corporation Should Employ A Futurist”.
Dr. Bishop[www.tech.uh.edu/directory/bishop/peter/] is an Associate Professor of Strategic Foresight at the University of Houston and specializes in helping companies plan for the future.
I agree with Dr. Bishop about the importance of challenging basic assumptions. I watched companies and individuals tie their businesses and careers to assumptions that are based on dated and/or incorrect information. Technology has a way of punching holes in business models and ideas that are unsustainable.
In the article, he mentioned a study conducted about the levees around New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina. The study stated that the levees would hold. We all know that this assumption was faulty and many individuals lost their homes and belongings when the levees failed during the aftermath of Katrina.
There are many government agencies and companies that suffer from group think. NASA failure to address the faulty o-ring problem was a key factor in the Challenger explosion. Society has adapted to technology advancement for hundreds’ of years; however, today we must work faster and be more flexible to stay relevant.
We cannot assume our industry or profession will always prevail and that we are immune to the changes happening around us.
Write down three or four key assumptions in your industry. Now draft a brief argument that challenges these assumptions. Nothing is far fetch; include any and all thoughts or ideas that could challenge assumptions and long held beliefs in your industry and company. Take the process one step further and write down a couple of personal assumptions that you can challenged.
For fun, keep the document and in six months or a year from now read what you have written. My guess is that you will be surprised and enlighten by your assessment.
What Could the Future Hold for My Business or Career?
Dr. Bishop recommends thinking of multiple possibilities for the future instead of focusing on one path. Many of us think of the road in front of us. We become stuck in ruts that we dug for years traveling along the same road. As these ruts become deeper, it seems impossible to change and take alternative path. We must expand our thinking into viewing the future in multiple pathways.
Write down three realistic paths that you and your company could take in the future. Be sure to include changes in technology, the economy and consumer behavior. Envision yourself in the future traveling down three different roads. Path number one will lead this way…path number two will lead another way and the third path will take a very radical journey unrelated to anything you know now.
How will your industry and profession be different?
What changes do you anticipate, what changes sound radical yet possible?
What new opportunities will come from these changes? Consider how you can capitalize on these changes by planning for the future.