Envisioning a drastically different future

Friday, April 20, 2018

President Fulcrum ConsultingWorks Inc.

Most of you are trying to create a drastically different future. You’re doing that by using lean thinking, advanced technology, or new strategy. But you can’t create something you can’t envision. Any change without a specific purpose to move closer to a vision is no better than chaos or inertia.

What would your grandmother say about life today? Cell phones with more power than computers of 20 years ago. “What’s a computer?” she might ask. We’ve moved from hitchhiking with strangers, to avoiding strangers, to using Uber for “approved” strangers to take us somewhere or bring us dinner.

Bottled water? Surely you jest! My grandmother lived “farm to table.” That’s what farmers did. Now it’s modern restaurant fare. My mother attended a one-room schoolhouse. I referenced encyclopedias. My nephew took Japanese via distance learning. Since then Google and Wikipedia have become primary sources of information. We learn languages and track our health through apps.

Some change is significant; other is history repeating itself; yet more merely matters of taste. We can all agree that the pace of life-altering change is accelerating. Your manufacturing company must do the same.

Life in 2030 will be different from today. Even more so by 2050. If our view of those decades is limited by our current reality, how can we envision the drastically improved future that we should be working to create?  

Will automobiles have moved from gas to electric to the Jetson’s personal jet we’ve all wanted? The reality is that getting any physical thing from point A to point B may become instantaneous.  Movement both generates and requires energy. How do we make mobility a net positive? Or make it unnecessary?

Cancer may be cured but superseded by something worse.  Scientists say that about 25 percent of manmade global warming is caused by methane gas released to the atmosphere before use, most coming from the oil and gas industries. We may be willing to give up beef before we give up coal, oil and gas. Or all of those industries may be eliminated in favor of other foods and energy sources. Water shortages may have us using chemically treated body fluids to meet basic needs. South Africa recently declared a national disaster because of water shortages in its largest cities. Regulations worldwide could require significant plant coverage over both ground and buildings.

None of us knows what the future holds. What we do know, is that the future will be very different from what we experience now. Each example I provided could happen, as could thousands of others. Reflecting facts and educated guesses, you can establish an array of probabilities of conditions and contemplate how to create them or adapt to them. I’m not talking about matters of taste but matters of life.

What happens if the marginal cost of producing something has reached zero? That’s nearly the case now in much of our computerized world. It can bring amazing abundance, or not. That’s a social choice.

Each of those examples has a probability, most higher than we’d like to believe. You can’t create what you can’t envision. Nor can you prepare for or prevent it. As we are wrapped up in this year’s profits or our new product scheduled for introduction next year, it’s easy to ignore the next decade. While futurists are frequently wrong, they are often right. Bill Gates, more visionary than futurist, predicted a computer in every home to the sound of public ridicule. We simply couldn’t see why we would want or need them. He could.

Technology can provide the means but is not the end. Malaria can be eradicated through netting, which is centuries old technology. Preventing or curing cancer may require high tech or the equivalent of netting, once we fully understand the gene mutation.

Focus on hitting today’s targets is purely tactical and does little to assure a vibrant organization in ten years. Of course, some of you may be unable to look past the next supplier who refuses to deliver product you desperately need because of lack of payment. Some of you may fear shutting down if that next order doesn’t come in this week. This message is too late for you.

Leaders who intend to lead a thriving organization 5 or 10 years from now must invest time envisioning a drastically different future. Don’t concentrate on the use of technology; endeavor instead to solve important problems that needn’t exist. Then it will be time to determine if technology is the limiting factor.

Never constrain your vision by what you currently know how to do; it is already limited by what you can envision.

The future is coming.