What do ingestible nanobots, algorithms that predict human behavior, and self-aware drones have in common--and why should you care? They are the next wave of disruptive technologies, which will enhance our daily lives even as they upend hundreds of established businesses. Maybe even one like yours.
If you sell dietary supplements, your customers may soon swallow tiny robots, not pills, to lose weight or build muscle. One day, shipping and courier businesses will likely compete with fleets of autonomous drones that navigate our cities to deliver everything from packages to pizzas. Soon, we may interact with empathetic cameras that can read our emotions--right in our living rooms--to predict which clothing and cosmetics will make us feel confident and happiest.
Sound too fantastical to warrant your serious attention? It isn't. In the late 1970s, while standing at the precipice of the personal electronics age, Ken Olsen, then the president of Digital Equipment Corporation, famously said there was "no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home." Olsen had built a wildly successful company predicated on computers intended for businesses and researchers. But there was a revolution in computing afoot--and missing it is one big reason why there's not a DEC still around today.
People make bad decisions under duress. When surprised by a new, disruptive technology, their fight-or-flight response can kick in and leave them prone to ignoring important trends and imperiling their companies, or acting rashly and making ill-informed investments, like when Pioneer Electronics went all in on the LaserDisc just as VCRs became ubiquitous. Right now, you should be paying close attention to the fringe so that when a new technology begins to impact your business, you can evaluate your options rationally.
To that end, I'd like to issue you a challenge: Think like a futurist and make 2017 a year of no surprises, at least where tech is concerned.
Here's your plan of attack:
First, seek out "unusual suspects"--the people and organizations hatching totally new ideas. To find them, think: Who has been working directly or indirectly with emerging technologies in your sector? Who has funded experimentation? Who is JSTOR, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, theconversation.com, and arxiv.org. Spend 15 minutes a day poring over these sites.incentivized to work against new developments? What do science fiction writers, designers, and artists think? Good online resources include
Then, once a week, map out what you find. What patterns emerge? How can you connect the dots? Categorize the research you're uncovering into possible tech-trend candidates. Look for counterarguments. Attempt to poke holes in every assumption and see which ones still stand up. Next, consider the timing: Which of the apparent trends have the clearest paths and will arrive soonest?
When you think you've surfaced a disruptive trend, calculate your next move. If what you've uncovered is not vitally important to the everyday operations of your company, but you're certain it will stick, it should inform your strategy. If you're still not sure how the trend will unfold, but the technology is fundamental to how you operate, plan to keep a vigilant watch.
If you start thinking like a futurist now, by this time next year you'll not only know how edible nanobots, predictive tech, and self-aware drones will affect your business--you'll also be tracking what's next beyond the horizon. And knowing what's coming will be the best surprise of all.