A few weeks ago I attended a fireside chat with professional futurist Amy Webb. A futurist is someone who identifies and connects emerging tech trends in order to predict their impact on society.
Amy shared insights from her recent book "The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is Tomorrow’s Mainstream". The book outlines her futurist methodology and how to systematically think through a trend and it's possible impact.
It's a methodology that has many practical applications such as:
- An entrepreneur evaluating a business idea
- An investor seeking new investment opportunities
- A job seeker considering what industry to work in
For me the application is idea discovery. My goal is to start a startup around a "problem" that I'm interested in solving. My challenge is identifying a real problem I'm interested in pursuing, and how to recognize trends versus what is trendy within that problem.
For example if I want to analyze the future of education in K-12 schools, would computer assisted learning (CAL) and mobile apps fall into the trends or trendy buckets? Will the majority of kids in the US school system have Google accounts and use Google classroom? Is the number of people pursuing teaching degrees trending up or down?
Once you hone in on a trend, Amy presents questions to consider:
- What technology is on the horizon?
- How will it impact our customers or constituents?
- How will our competitors harness the trend?
- Where does the trend create potential new partnerships or collaborators for us?
- How does this trend impact our industry and all of its parts?
- Who are the drivers of change in this trend?
- How will the wants, needs, and expectations of our customers change as a result of this trend?
Your goal is to project a set of possible, probable, and preferred scenarios around six time zones:
- Now (within next 12 months)
- Near-term (1 - 5 years)
- Mid-range (5 - 10 years)
- Long-range (10 - 20 years)
- Far-range (20 - 30 years)
- Distant ( > 30 years)
To make projections, Amy presents a six step methodology. These are covered in much greater detail in her book.
First, find the Fringe.
Cast a wide enough net to harness information from the fringe. This involves creating a map showing nodes and the relationships between them, and rounding up what you will later refer to as “the unusual suspects.”
Who has been working directly and indirectly in this space?
Who has been funding or otherwise encouraging experimentation in this space?
Who might be directly impacted by this development?
Who might be incentivized to work against this kind of change, either because they stand to gain something or because they might lose something?
Who might see this idea as a starting point for something bigger and better?
Second, use CIPHER to find patterns.
Uncover hidden patterns by categorizing data from the fringe. Patterns indicate a trend, so you’ll do an exhaustive search for Contradictions, Inflections, Practices, Hacks, Extremes, and Rarities.
Third, identify the trends.
Ask the Right Questions: Determine whether a pattern really is a trend. You will be tempted to stop looking once you’ve spotted a pattern, but you will soon learn that creating counterarguments is an essential part of the forecasting process, even though most forecasters never force themselves to poke holes into every single assumption and assertion they make.
Fourth, calculate the ETA.
Interpret the trend and ensure that the timing is right. This isn’t just about finding a typical S-curve and the point of inflection. As technology trends move along their trajectory, there are two forces in play—internal developments within tech companies, and external developments within the government, adjacent businesses, and the like—and both must be calculated.
Fifth, create scenarios and strategies.
Build scenarios to create probable, plausible, and possible futures and accompanying strategies. This step requires thinking about both the timeline of a technology’s development and your emotional reactions to all of the outcomes. You’ll give each scenario a score, and based on your analysis, you will create a corresponding strategy for taking action.
Sixth, pressure-test your actions.
But what if the action you choose to take on a trend is the wrong one? In this final step, you must make sure the strategy you take on a trend will deliver the desired outcome, and that requires asking difficult questions about both the present and the future.
After completing the six steps you'll have a picture of what the future of "X" may bring. From an entrepreneurial perspective you can choose to focus in on a particular segment and pursue an idea you are confident will be a relevant trend in the future.
Among his vast collection of work, Kashiwa is best known for his creation of the iconic UNIQLO logo, and branding work for Seven-Eleven.
In his talk he covered numerous projects and his approach and perspective on design. Here are some highlights.
His mission is to use the power of design to visualize new perspectives.
A brand should be: simple, clear and memorable.
Japanese culture drives his design, logo, and brand work. He uses Kanji (characters used in modern Japanese writing) as a basis for creating a logo that captures the essence of a brand. An example of this was the logo he designed for Beauty Experience.
He uses traditional methods to innovate. Japanese culture and traditions are his primary sources of inspiration.
The icon. It can be driven by the logo, product, space, architecture, or city. And most recently, he discovered a 6th category, the method. With his work on the Arita Project, his method of using a traditional Japanese brush in a new way (splash paint) became the basis for the icon.
Design by accident and logic.
When hired by a new client, Kashiwa will go on site to conduct research and ask questions. Before commencing work on Fuji Kindergarten, he spent 6 months visiting and learning about Kindergartens in Japan. His approach to Fuji was to capture the essence of Kindergarten. If you visit a traditional Kindergarten you'll recognize that it's a Kindergarten because of the objects inside. Take away those objects and you have a building. Kashiwa wanted to create an icon so that even if you took away the objects, you would still know it's a Kindergarten.
An attendee asked a great question: we are emotional creatures, as a designer how do you stay grounded? Kashiwa had a wonderful response:
I organize everything. My home, my desk, the files on my computer, the mess my kids made. It makes me feel better. I even wrote a book about organizing ("Ultra-organized art").
And finally, when asked for parting advice:
As a creator, you're a communicator. Think about who you're communicating with. Don't obsess about what you want to do, but what you're communicating.
I recently attended a wonderful talk by Tara Brach. Tara (among many other things) is a teacher of meditation, emotional healing and spiritual awakening. The talk took place at NYU and was hosted by MindfulNYU.
I was introduced to Tara through her book "Radical Acceptance". A collection of stories and practical lessons for introducing mindfulness and acceptance into our lives. It's become one of my favorite books and I strive to implement it's various lessons daily.
In this post I'd like to highlight some of the ideas Tara presented in her talk. These are the ones that resonated with me.
Through her teachings Tara is striving to instill a culture of caring. A culture of empathy. Practicing mindfulness is a way to get there.
Many of us fall into a "thinking trance". A trance of unworthiness. We identify and look for ways where we feel we are not good enough. It's a narrow view of ourselves that allows for fear and separation to set in. The fear and separation hinders us from being our true selves. It's like trying to exercise when you're sick. The sickness prevents you from performing at your full potential.
We are constantly asking ourselves "how am I doing?". How do I look? Should I be doing this? What will they think of me? This fuels fear as you worry of falling short. Feelings that you aren't good enough. That something is wrong with you. And you regret. You can't carry on through life like this. On your last day don't have the regret that you lived your life feeling that you weren't good enough.
Ask yourself, how do you get caught in the story that you are "not ok"?
We separate ourselves from reality. There is "the world" and "me". We separate because we feel there is something wrong with us. And yet the divide does not exist. We live in the world. Say "yes" (internally) in those challenging moments and fuse the separation between "the world" and "me".
Our culture exacerbates the feeling of "not enough". We are addicted to our screens looking for the next like, message, update.
In any moment pause, check-in, and ask yourself two questions. What is happening inside me right now? Can I deal with this?
We are in the midst of a societal evolution. Mindfulness has become global. It's all over the internet. It's value is taught in schools and corporate environments. It's used in medicine. Our global consciousness is waking up as we collectively become more aware.
Wake up from the trance. The Paul Newman ice cream story.
In challenging moments, try the acronym RAIN: Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture. Recognize the feeling. Allow it to happen. Investigate, what does the hurting part most need? Nurture it. Try placing your hand on your heart to connect with yourself.
Ask yourself, who would you be right now if you didn't feel something was wrong with you. Radical acceptance.
Learn to respond, not react.
When you flip your lid, you lose reason, mindfulness, and empathy.
"Prayer is the bridge between longing and belonging" -John O'Donohue
Pause, see the vulnerability in people.
I will not dishonor my soul with hatred.
In the January 1965 issue, Playboy magazine released an in-depth interview with Martin Luther King Jr. He was 36 at the time. He was assassinated 3 years later.
I came across the interview while browsing Amazon's Singles Classics, a collection that "showcases the best journalism, fiction and essays from the top authors and magazines of our time".
There are not many extended interviews with King, and I found the Playboy interview a fascinating read. Prior to reading my knowledge of King could be summed up as civil rights leader and the guy that gave the "I have a dream" speech. The interview delved into all facets of his life and provided many insights as to who King was beneath the public image.
I'd like to highlight some passages and encourage you to read the full interview.
Explaining to his daughter why he is doing what he is doing:
“Daddy, why do you have to go to jail so much?” I told her that I was involved in a struggle to make conditions better for the colored people, and thus for all people. I explained that because things are as they are, someone has to take a stand, that it is necessary for someone to go to jail, because many Southern officials seek to maintain the barriers that have historically been erected to exclude the colored people. I tried to make her understand that someone had to do this to make the world better—for all children.
On witnessing the power of nonviolence:
Another moment which I shall never forget: when I saw with my own eyes over 3000 young Negro boys and girls, totally unarmed, leave Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church to march to a prayer meeting—ready to pit nothing but the power of their bodies and souls against Bull Connor’s police dogs, clubs and fire hoses. When they refused Connor’s bellowed order to turn back, he whirled and shouted to his men to turn on the hoses. It was one of the most fantastic events of the Birmingham story that these Negroes, many of them on their knees, stared, unafraid and unmoving, at Connor’s men with the hose nozzles in their hands. Then, slowly the Negroes stood up and advanced, and Connor’s men fell back as though hypnotized, as the Negroes marched on past to hold their prayer meeting. I saw there, I felt there, for the first time, the pride and the power of nonviolence.
On nonviolence as a weapon:
Our white brothers must be made to understand that nonviolence is a weapon fabricated of love. It is a sword that heals. Our nonviolent direct-action program has as its objective not the creation of tensions, but the surfacing of tensions already present.
A rhetorical question to white people who view African Americans as ungrateful for the Civil Rights Act:
Why do white people seem to find it so difficult to understand that the Negro is sick and tired of having reluctantly parceled out to him those rights and privileges which all others receive upon birth or entry in America?
On the goal of the Civil Rights movement:
What the Negro wants—and will not stop until he gets—is absolute and unqualified freedom and equality here in this land of his birth, and not in Africa or in some imaginary state. The Negro no longer will be tolerant of anything less than his due right and heritage. He is pursuing only that which he knows is honorably his. He knows that he is right.
On certain whites telling African Americans to be patient, change will come eventually:
I feel that the time is always right to do what is right.
On assassination plots:
After a while, if your life is more or less constantly in peril, you come to a point where you accept the possibility philosophically. I must face the fact, as all others in positions of leadership must do, that America today is an extremely sick nation, and that something could well happen to me at any time. I feel, though, that my cause is so right, so moral, that if I should lose my life, in some way it would aid the cause.
Segregation, as even the segregationists know in their hearts, is morally wrong and sinful. If it weren’t, the white South would not be haunted as it is by a deep sense of guilt for what it has done to the Negro—guilt for patronizing him, degrading him, brutalizing him, depersonalizing him, thingifying him; guilt for lying to itself. This is the source of the schizophrenia that the South will suffer until it goes through its crisis of conscience
On "the establishment":
The white leadership—which I hold as responsible as anyone for the riots, for not removing the conditions that cause them. The deep frustration, the seething desperation of the Negro today is a product of slum housing, chronic poverty, woefully inadequate education and substandard schools. The Negro is trapped in a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign, caught in a vicious socioeconomic vise.
Regarding not condoning outbreaks of looting and lawlessness:
The use of immoral means will not achieve the moral end of racial justice.
Will there be a violent revolution?
Many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations are boiling inside the Negro, and he must release them. It is not a threat but a fact of history that if an oppressed people’s pent-up emotions are not nonviolently released, they will be violently released. So let the Negro march. Let him make pilgrimages to city hall. Let him go on freedom rides. And above all, make an effort to understand why he must do this.
On Malcolm X:
I have often wished that he would talk less of violence, because violence is not going to solve our problem. And in his litany of articulating the despair of the Negro without offering any positive, creative alternative, I feel that Malcolm has done himself and our people a great disservice. Fiery, demagogic oratory in the black ghettos, urging Negroes to arm themselves and prepare to engage in violence, as he has done, can reap nothing but grief.
Historical impact of violence as a tactic for social change:
I’d be the first to say that some historical victories have been won by violence; the U.S. Revolution is certainly one of the foremost. But the Negro revolution is seeking integration, not independence. Those fighting for independence have the purpose to drive out the oppressors. But here in America, we’ve got to live together. We’ve got to find a way to reconcile ourselves to living in community, one group with the other.
On the belief that he has amassed a vast fortune from the Civil Rights movement:
I have rejected our board’s insistent recommendation that I accept some salary beyond the one dollar a year which I receive, which entitles me to participate in our employees’ group insurance plan. I have rejected also our board’s offer of financial gifts as a measure and expression of appreciation. My only salary is from my church, $4000 a year, plus $2000 more a year for what is known as “pastoral care.” To earn a grand total of about $10,000 a year, I keep about $4000 to $5000 a year for myself from the honorariums that I receive from various speaking engagements. About 90 percent of my speaking is for S.C.L.C., and it brings into our treasury something around $200,000 a year, Additionally, I get a fairly sizable but fluctuating income in the form of royalties from my writings. But all of this, too, I give to my church, or to my alma mater, Morehouse College, here in Atlanta.
On free time:
Tuesdays when I’m not out of town, I don’t go to the office. I keep this for my quiet day of reading and silence and meditation, and an entire evening with Mrs. King and the children.
On a week of uninterrupted rest:
It’s difficult to imagine such a thing, but if I had the luxury of an entire week, I would spend it meditating and reading, refreshing myself spiritually and intellectually.
Aside from the Bible, which book would he take on a desert island?
Plato’s Republic. I feel that it brings together more of the insights of history than any other book.
On Alabama's Governor Wallace:
He represents the misuse, the corruption, the destruction of leadership. I am not sure that he believes all the poison that he preaches, but he is artful enough to convince others that he does. Instead of guiding people to new peaks of reasonableness, he intensifies misunderstanding, deepens suspicion and prejudice. He is perhaps the most dangerous racist in America today.
On what he would do if he left the Civil Rights movement:
One time I dreamed of pastoring for a few years, and then of going to a university to teach theology. But I gave that up when I became deeply involved in the civil rights struggle. Perhaps, in five years or so, if the demands on me have lightened, I will have the chance to make that dream come true.
I recently read this excellent essay by Ben Casnocha: 10,000 Hours with Reid Hoffman: What I Learned.
It's long, but well worth the read. Here are the insights I took away from the essay:
- Appreciate the spectrum of strengths and weaknesses of a particular person.
- We tend to hone in on the bad traits. Find a middle ground where you can appreciate both the positive and negative traits.
- When soliciting a powerful person, help them by offering information they may not have prior to asking them for something.
- Make decisions quickly.
- When faced with several options, pick one based on known information. Note what information you need to collect to disprove your selection, and go find it.
- Keep things simple.
- When faced with several options, group them by level of intensity: easy, medium, and hard. Decide on the level of intensity you want to pursue and execute.
- Simplicity translate into focus. Focus on getting phase 1 right before you start thinking years out.
- If you are trying to come up with a list of reasons to justify doing something, don't do it. Aim to have one clear reason.
- If you are immersed in executing the strategy, you should be thinking of ways to improve it.
- Don't wait for your manager/CEO to tell you how to modify the strategy.
- Be aware, be proactive.
- Most strengths have a corresponding weakness.
- If you try to mitigate a certain weakness, you may impact it's corresponding strength.
- Use your weakness and transform it into a strength.
- PayPal cultural trait: let the best idea win.
- Extend praise without expecting anything in return.
- Planning a project, breakdown what happens to your product/team/company if your project is:
- Very successful
- Moderately successful
- Not successful
- Be aware of areas of misalignment when working with a co-worker/partner/etc.
- What are their incentives? How do they conflict with yours?
- Be the opposite of impulsive during moments of conflict.
- To quote Ben, "show restraint in the face of volatility"
- Trust trumps competence (assuming the competence isn't too far down)
- In early days of startup, need to move fast, trust allows you to do so.
- Fast-learners can compensate for lower competence.
- Have the courage to deliver honest feedback to a powerful person.
- Notice those in a powerful person's "entourage"
- If you meet a powerful person, acknowledge the individuals around them, don't hone all your energy on the powerful person.
- Ben calls this showing respect to the "shadow power" (spouse, agent, assistant, etc.).
- Give people due to credit, because when they are publically invested in a project, they will work harder and feel more committed.