The future’s blue – and yellow?

28 October 2010 at 1:31 pm Leave a comment

Tom Richardson writes:

In the London office we like to shake out the weekend with a ‘Monday Morning Meeting’. It’s a tradition that goes back some twenty years, and it’s a way of finding time to think out loud and be provocative, to explore ideas and have them contested.

These meetings are important because we spend a lot of our time on specific client problems, often dealing with one industry or even one type of product for long periods, but these clients rightly expect us to be well-versed in wider trends.

Finding a balance between these is crucial to being effective. The role of research is to help clients to be able to decide and to act, so we have to see trends in context.

This week we used a balloon debate as a way of thinking about the future. We created a list of 100 services, products, institutions or ideologies, pulled them out of a hat, and stood up to defend our selection’s importance to the world in 2050.

Everyone had ten minutes to prepare and a minute each to make their case.

Round one saw ‘dictatorship’ go up against ‘IKEA’, ‘the National Trust’, and ‘dietary supplements’.

Andy Stubbings, a Senior Consultant, made a persuasive case for IKEA with a sobering vision of a world in 2050 in which energy scarcity, resource conflicts and overcrowded cities made the servicing of needs – not wants – the prevalent retail model.

Lawrence Wykes’ defence of dictatorship focused on the inevitable inefficiency of democracy in a resource-scarce world, while Carol Storey’s case for dietary supplements focused on population growth and malnutrition.

My deeply personal defence of the National Trust as a bulwark against the insidious creep of disposable architecture was not persuasive enough to put me through to the final round alongside Pets, IKEA and Dictatorship. Alas!

In the final round, IKEA came out on top for 2050, despite concerns about deforestation and global warming, because of its consumer focus, logistical precision and sharp eye for the wider external factors influencing its business. (For example, it’s a leader in using rail for its freight distribution).

So – did the exercise serve its purpose? I think so.

It forced us to articulate our opinions. And more than that, it made us think about the future in terms of what will be necessary, rather than what will be possible. Too many predictions – and technology pundits are particularly guilty here – focus on what we are capable of doing because it makes good copy.

But change and innovation lives in a messy space between consumer need, external constraint, and evolving business models. In other words, it needs an understanding of human behaviour, drivers of wider social change, and business opportunity.

By justifying our choices in a competitive setting, we had to anchor our arguments in these unforgiving contexts.

The picture of IKEA’s headquarters is from Wikimedia Commons and is published under a GNU Free Documentation licence.

Entry filed under: consumers, innovation, trends. Tags: .

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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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