Find your future

 

Magnus LindkvistIs your business ready for what’s to come? Trendspotter and futurologist Magnus Lindkvist explores how we can all be better prepared for what the future may hold – and even play a part in shaping it.

Magnus Lindkvist is a disruptor. An acclaimed trendspotter and futurologist and author of Everything We Know Is Wrong, The Attack of The Unexpected and When the Future Begins, he is committed to shaking up the way we perceive the future. For him, forward-planning by fiscal quarter simply doesn’t cut it.

Here he shares his views on how we can all get a fresh perspective, and seek out the trends that could prove to be the shape of things to come.

How do you help businesses to explore the way they identify and respond to trends?

The philosopher Hegel once said that “to be aware of limitations is already to be beyond them”. Knowledge is empowering – but it’s not about prophecy.

Because all prophets are false prophets, I don’t intend to give people answers and specific solutions but instead work by obliquity – I reframe questions, bring in unexpected ideas and challenge conventional wisdom. This is often in unexpected settings. One day-long session I ran last winter with a global FMCG company was held in a Swedish sauna, for example.

I call this approach ‘intellectual acupuncture’ – the needles I use prevent inertia and induce a rush of blood to the head. The effects are sometimes gradual, but they can be startling.

When we think of the future are we looking far enough ahead?

Most companies are not good at thinking ahead, preferring instead to react to opportunities and threats as they appear. For too many the future is a fun concept exercise at an annual company retreat.

Just as innovation can be the enemy of quality, future-thinking is the enemy of being in the present. Most managers are rewarded for boosting results here and now, not for losing money for 35 years – but then launching some world-changing innovation. The quick fix to remedy this is simple time management. I urge the executives I coach to block two hours off in their calendar every morning for reflection time. Simple to grasp, difficult to master.

What’s the most inspiring example of future-thinking you’ve seen in the business world?

I always find examples of adaptation – using an idea or technology for a purpose it wasn’t invented for – to be incredibly inspiring. The way Swarovski realised photographic lens glass could be used for decorative crystals, or when Dietrich Mateschitz took a Thai tonic, carbonated it and made a fortune selling it as a drink that ‘gives you wings’.

This highlights that trendspotting and future-thinking are intuitive tools, not scientific methods. Ross Lovegrove’s TED Talk1 in 2005 illustrated how he created the iconic Ty Nant water bottle by a ‘feeling in his bones’ that it was possible to ‘put a skin on water’.

Steven Johnson’s new book How We Got to Now2 is full of brilliant adaptation examples and how they co-conspire to take society to new highs.

How important is it to balance optimism and realism?

Pessimism is a great way to seem smart. If you can’t say anything about the future, say something negative and people will automatically assume you are wise. It’s a trick, of course.

Optimism, similarly, is a narrative – a fable we tell to instil certain feelings. I believe we should be ‘possibilists’ – differentiate between expectations and reality and believe in what’s truly possible, as weird and wonderful as it may prove to be.

Finally, what’s your top tip for those keen to improve their ability to spot trends that will affect their business?

Quite simple. Visit libraries, not newsagents.

Top three trends to track

Magnus Lindkvist identifies the three emerging trends he finds most exciting – and challenging – for businesses:

1. The entrepreneurship boom brings fresh thinking into dusty old industries. It is deeply challenging to incumbents, but it will make all of us happier, better off and more inspired.

2. Biology as the new IT. The fact that we can now programme DNA almost like it’s computer code means that in 50 years the coolest new computer could be a living, breathing organism.

3. Population increase means ever more problem-solving, dreaming brains on Earth. This enables us to hear new stories, find new solutions and trigger new thoughts.

Footnotes

1. http://www.ted.com/talks/ross_lovegrove_shares_organic_designs?language=en

2. Published by Riverhead Books, September 2014.

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