Innovators: Our Job is to Invent the Future

arthur c. clarke prophecy

Yogi Berra once said “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

I thought of that quote today when Barry Ritholtz linked to this graphic from Visually:

future that never happened

(the graphic is huge – click to see it full size)

I was fascinated when I saw it, but I wasn’t quite sure what the lesson was.  And then, the very next post in my RSS feed had the lesson!  Martin Weigel posted this quote from Arthur C. Clarke:

arthur c. clarke prophecy


Keep in mind that Clarke is using the old-school definition of fantastic: based on fantasy, not real or conceived or seemingly conceived by unrestrained fancy.

When I saw that quote, I realised that this is another version of the problem that I discussed last week – the fact that to invent the future, we need to amplify weak signals.

All of the people with the foolish-sounding quotes in the first graphic were facing new ideas and looking for proof that they will work.  The problem is that when an idea is genuinely new, the proof isn’t there yet.

So it’s easy to make dismissive statements.  Mocking these ideas is a pretty safe play, since most new ideas won’t actually go anywhere.  That makes it easy to say that they were based on fancy – an illusion of an overactive imagination.

And yet….

As Clarke points out, it is only those illusions of overactive imaginations that ever move us forward.

We live in a time of abundant ideas, and the ones that are obviously good right now have almost certainly already been tried.  The only ones that are left are the ones that seem nuts.

“Prove it” kills innovation.

“That idea is fantastic” fuels innovation.

Of course, not every fantastic idea will work, but they’re the only ideas that will help us to invent the future.  We need to find those weak signals, and amplify them.  If we want to innovate, our job is to invent the future.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

12 thoughts on “Innovators: Our Job is to Invent the Future

  1. Ahh but nobody remembers when the disbelief was correct. We have 2 selection biases at play here – we remember when people got it wrong AND we look for people who got it wrong. Clearly some of these are big names but some others, well… So the eminent on the list are exactly that because they are experts in the existing regime. Therefore, they seem to me that they are easy targets. They have expertise, skills and knowledge invested in the the now. I have long suspected that these statements don’t necessarily come from any actual belief in the technology itself but in the fear that it will come on their watch and they will have to adjust to change. Few of us create genuine change, so the question for strategy becomes – what changes do I MOST fear and then what could I do to develop signposts of that change and contingency strategies.

    • I agree with all of those points Brian. The disbelief is the easy play because on average, it will be right! I think there’s some research that shows that predicting the future is fairly risk-free anyway, because most of the time no one follows up or notices when you’re wrong, and you can promote the times that you’re right…

Comments are closed.