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2007 and beyond: Understanding the velocity of change

It’s that time of year when everyone is taking stock of the future — what’s going to happen in 2007? What trends will we see? What big changes will occur?

I’m not thinking much of 2007 — I’m thinking about 2010, and 2015, and beyond. And one thing I do know is that things will be very, very different that far out.
The best way to understand the future is to understand the velocity of the future — that is, the rate of change that is occuring. The key point is that we’re now in an extremely high velocity world, as the rate of change is speeding up to an unprecedented degree.

One of the best ways to get a sense of this velocity is by doing a “10 Things Test.” Sit in a room, whether you are at work, home, in a factory, retail store or wherever you might be, and take a look around. Compile a list of ten items that you see, and then sit back and ask yourself: “how might these change in the next decade?”

By doing so, you can spot opportunities for innovation: areas where you can apply your creative thinking to do new things; opportunities where you might invest; career paths that you might choose to follow.

I sat this morning in my home office, and here is what I saw:

  • Paint. We painted the home office wall this year. My wife did a great job! How will paint change? Actually, it turns out that ‘white could be the new green’ when it comes to the world of paint. Dulux, one of the world’s premiere paint manufacturers, is actively involved in learning how to use starch based plants such as potatoes and wheat to replace upwards of 25% of the petroleum based products used in a typical paint.
  • Window shades. Think “smart-glass.” Our need for window shades will soon be eclipsed by intelligent glass that will automatically adjust its opacity and transparency for various conditions. Whether it’s bright sunlight, a need to better manage heating and cooling costs, or to provide for greater privacy, it’s likely that we’ll see rapid changes with this basic component of the home and office.
  • A Kleenex box. It’s not the Kleenex itself which will have changed, but the retail technology which interacts with the box as you worked your way through the store in 2010. The box itself will have developed intelligence; it was busy updating the stores inventory system and revenue sales figures as you walked with it out the door. (You didn’t have to go to a check out ; they’re so yesterday!)
  • Eyeglasses. Sure, they’ll still be there. But maybe they will have the ability to link directly to an implant next to the neurons in your retina, providing a direct visual link through the bifocal part of the lens for close up objects. If that’s too farfetched, then a more realistic scenario would be genetic alteration of the macular tissue in your eye that would prevent any inflammatory genes from killing your vision cells – thus leading to a reduction in the leading cause of blindness in seniors — AMD (age-related macular degeneration).
  • Ceiling lights. They’ll be drawing upon the solar panels on the top of your roof and that of your neighbors. You’ll have established a small community energy grid, which bypasses a need to tap into the local electrical network during the days when the sun is ready to rock and the wind is ready to roll. Solar panels are decreasing in cost at a steady pace, just as their efficiency is increasing; the same holds true for wind power. Given the likely increased volatility with traditional energy supplies, we’ll see an increasing focus on alternate, micro-grid energy innovations.
  • A laptop. What laptop? Your desk is now monitored by a 3D virtual sensor that traces the action of your fingers. You aren’t really typing onto a keyboard anymore, since there isn’t one. Instead, the ceiling light has directed holographic keyboard onto your desktop; simply simulate typing anywhere with the holographic keys that you see, and your words will appear on screen.
  • Orange juice. It will still come from Florida, but it will be packaged in such a way that the shelf life has been dramatically extended. There are huge new innovations within the world of agricultural packaging; for example, some bananas are now shipped with a special membrane that doubles the shelf-life of the product, by regulating the flow of gases through the packaging.
  • A telephone. It’s likely to be “so yesterday.” The next generation of kids is fully immersed in interactive tools; for them, an office with virtual 3D long distance video chat will be as normal as apple pie. Not to forget the technology behind the telephone as well; there’s a good chance that you’ll be sourcing your communications service from an offshore supplier, perhaps in China, Russia or South Africa. The entire industry will have defragmented and disappeared, as technological change drives many of the current business models into absolute obsolescence.
  • Eyedrops. The trend towards hyperconnectivity will impact medical products in a big way. The packaging in which the eyedrops are purchased will “connect” to the global data grid that surrounds us, automatically pulling up a short interactive video on whatever screen that happens to be handy, with instructions on use and precautions. In effect, the role of product packaging will have been transformed from being that of a “container of product” to an intelligent tool that will help us with use of the product.
  • The view outside. For more of us, it won’t be of office towers and concrete jungles, but rather, our yards, the lake we cottage at, or the beach we play on. Ten years out, the concept of “what do you do for a living” will have changed completely to the idea of “what do you like to do?” as the itinerant career begins to dominate. (It’s estimated that in just a few years, some 60% of engineering professionals will be self-employed, providing their skills on a part time basis to the global economy.) You’ll be increasingly engaged in active life-design, carving out a series of activities that blend your personal interests with the need to go out and earn some funds. You’ll work at a regular series of short term, highly stimulating, frequently changing project assignments. You might not have a job, but you’ll certainly have some demand for your time.

Is all of this science fiction? It might seem like it, but most, if not all of the scenarios above are entirely plausible, based on science, technology and trends that exist today.
The challenge in thinking about the future is that it can be difficult to comprehend the sheer velocity by which trends are occurring. That’s why the “10 Things Test” can be such a valuable method of putting into perspective the velocity of change.

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