1 Way We Innovate: Hit Up The Science Fiction Bookshelf
Did you ever do really difficult maze puzzles by just going in the opposite direction? I mean its effortless to start at the end and then just make your way back to the beginning, isn’t it? Sure, you tell me, that’s cheating – but you get through the maze, don’t ya?
Someone high up at an organization I used to work for used to say that thinking about the future is really hard. Of course its hard – if you start at the beginning – AKA now.
Luckily, there’s plenty of people out there who’ve given us a clue to where the end is – and those are science fiction authors – they get paid to envision compelling – and sometimes realistic – portraits of the future.
For example, one of the most interesting products I developed – and when we launched this it was definitely before its time, was a retrovisioning of something I read in Samuel R. Delany’s Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. The product envisioned there was called General Information – sort of an just-in-time learning service – when you born you were implanted with a device which instantly answered any question which popped into your head – it was all controlled by orbiting AIs which gave you the answer as soon as you thought it up. Kinda like that scene in the Matrix where Trinity needs to learn how to fly a helicopter in seconds in order to escape and Tank downloads that knowledge into her avatar. Work backwards from that end point and you have things like Quora and Aardvark (since shuttered by a Google aqui-hire) and one of my own patent applications.
So – if you are looking for new product and service ideas – try the future, then work backwards to today and see if it flies.
One caveat – of course the future that the author imagined may never some to light – or it was totally wrong – or the market might not be ready for that product (which is what happened to me) – the tough part IMHO is not coming up with the ideas – its figuring out if the time too soon.
Researchers, inventors engineers and entrepreneurs are increasingly looking to the arts for the next big thing.If history has taught us anything, its that tomorrows technologies already exist on movie screens and in the pages of science fiction.Martin Cooper, chief engineer at Motorola in the 1970s, described the tricorder communications device in Star Trek by saying “that was not fantasy to us, that was an objective”. The result of such motivation? Cooper is widely credit as the inventor as the handheld mobile phone.