Tuesday, May 17, 2016

What's an important trend? What's clickbait junk? 3 tips to help analyze emerging technology

Part II of "The future? I've got this."


Business and technology are now partners; the future of each has a profound influence on the other.  In the enterprise, that means that futurism's importance is magnified.  It's no longer some abstraction that can be casually passed over because it's too nebulous.  Thinking realistically about the future should be in your arsenal for both strategy and tactics.

You can do it, and do it well, but like any business function, you need tools and methods to give structure to the effort.  That's what this series is about.  In part one, I tackled one of the most difficult concepts, cultivating the ability to imagine the future.  Close behind imagination in difficulty is the skill to pick out important information, to analyze information and figure out what is really important.

Humans have always been a technological race, but rarely have we been faced with so much technological change, such a rapid pace, and such a downpour of news and opinions.  The challenge? Seek out the right information streams, analyze them to figure out what is important, and imagine what that knowledge means for the future of your enterprise.  The result: actionable insight.

I'm writing these articles as thought pieces, and as planning chapters for a workshop on enterprise futurism.  As the ideas take shape on the screen, one thing I've quickly seen is that the structured exercise of futurism extends beyond just a few blog articles.  So let's stay within the bigger Venn diagram of the futurist's toolset, and lay out the first series of ideas about information importance triage: analysis.

  1. Get away from your professional peer group and ask them to think about the same ideas.  Oftentimes, someone who is totally uninformed about the realities of say, supply chain, will not have preconceived ideas about the possible, and will be more free to think without limits.  Try asking yourself, "am I far enough away from this to see it clearly?"  Oftentimes, this 3rd party approach adds a degree of clarity: the forest, rather than the trees.

    Action item: don't just think about this concept horizontally, from your own position as an IT executive or manager.  Go vertical, and seek ideas from your front line in retail, sales, and manufacturing. Go to other internal horizontal constituencies.
  2. Look for patterns that are in play.  Will they continue at the same pace, or will they accelerate or decline?

    --In the 50s and right up about until the first moon landing, a lot of "the future" was about getting places faster: interstate highways, jet planes, rocket ships.  But all of a sudden, the laws of physics and economics caught up with the tech advances, so we've been almost stagnant in transport speed since 1970.  

    --The real tech revolution since then has been about communication and social connection.  Did either show up in the era in which everyone was preoccupied with "faster, faster?" Not very often, because they were asking questions about the status quo future.  What big change pattern are we missing now, and what of the "now" will continue to change rapidly?

    Action item:
    It's easy to get trapped in the idea that current rapid changes will keep up that pace, but emerging changes in other areas that can be meaningful--a major opportunity source.  Does the tech news you're seeing really reflect a change in an area that is still accelerating, or something that is nearing the end of its fast rate-of-change cycle?
  3. Related, but separate, is the idea of democratization.  We may not be flying or driving faster, but aspects of transportation that were once the reserve of the wealthy are now cheap and widespread: "jet set" doesn't mean much when families in sweats are boarding on cheap flights, packed like sardines, and paying for bad prepackaged sandwiches.  "Long distance phone calls," which once were something an executive used for big business deals due to the cost, have become an irrelevant concept when global voice communication is essentially free for everyone.  Those are not technological changes, but technology was an important trigger.

    Action item: what does it mean to be wealthy today? What does money buy you that has not yet been impacted by technology democratization?  What is now the province of the rich that may be democratized as artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated and widespread?  
These analysis tools are not themselves about technology at all, one more reason that your examination of the future of technology will be more successful if the participants are from all lines (and all levels) of your business.  Think of each as a lens through which to evaluate technology news; discussion of the emergence of clickbait and the never ending news cycle is the subject for another post in our "The future? I've got this" series.