Find the Future First

Do you recognize this boat?

This is the Nautilus, as imagined by Walt Disney in 1954, based on the description by Jules Verne in perhaps his most famous novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Published in 1870, Verne’s Captain Nemo travels the world in an enormous electric submarine, passing beneath the Arctic ice cap.

Aside from its organ, formal dining room, and other luxuries, the Nautilus isn’t all that different from contemporary submarines. The USS Nautilus entered New York harbor in 1956, by way of the Arctic, the first vessel to navigate submerged under the ice cap, using electricity generated by its nuclear plant. And this was hardly his only prescient view into the marvels to arrive in the century following Verne’s death.


Today, the technology has a name: solar sails, NASA’s orbiting NanoSail-D.

How did novelist Jules Verne foresee so many of the next century’s technological marvels with astounding acuity? As described by MIT Historian Rosalind Williams in February 2011, Jules Verne “predicted a lot of things that have happened, but that’s because he was reading a lot and talking with people and he knew what was going on in the world around him, so why should we be surprised?

It wasn’t magic. He was just paying attention to things.”

How can we harness the tools of big data analytics to anticipate social, scientific, and economic phenomena to find the future first, and show up best? Contemporary science fiction novelist William Ford Gibson offers an avenue. Gibson famously foresaw the advent of the internet, the connection of multiple nodes consuming society’s attention. His work Neuromancer inspired the film The Matrix. When asked by the Economist how he managed to anticipate so many concepts that within decades would arrive to surprise the world? He responded dryly that “the future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.”

Gibson simply refers to the fact that all the indications of the emerging future are already showing up around us – you just have to look in unfamiliar places. For example you’re curious how artificial intelligence will affect your business, study how Amazon’s embedded home automation or Googles autonomous vehicles harness algorithms for predictive decision-making. Once you deconstruct the underlying application, you can project the impact on the decisions you and your customers confront in your work. This workshop provides a simple framework for trend forecasting on the four universal quadrants.

Participants investigate the changes already emerging in each domain and apply them to predict the impact on your business. A series of exercises promote qualitative creativity with quantitative analysis to create future scenarios. Implications for your business become tangible. This program can continue into a second module in which teams design staged innovations to march toward the future at the pace of the market. Finally, they will identify the leading indicators to track along the way. This allows you to time your investments to ensure you’re never so far ahead of the market that you’re preceding demand and telegraphing your strategy to competitors.