Creating the Future
I am a student of history, particularly economic history. Lately, I have been immersed in reading about technological innovation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Transportation was transformed from stagecoaches and steamboats to railroads, automobiles and airplanes. Electricity transformed communications from mail, telegraph and telephone to radio, television and now Internet.
In the process, there was much creative destruction. Industries morphed or disappeared, and jobs changed or disappeared. The stewards of the status quo did their best to stymie these changes, but they inevitably failed and change happened. We are now seeing fundamental change in healthcare delivery, and will sooner or later see fundamental change in higher education — the former being the incumbent poster child for runaway costs, and the latter soon to become the reigning poster child for costs that far exceed the value provided.
While the stewards of the status quo work to thwart change via endless team meetings and glossy strategies and plans, what should the rest of us do? We could go to these meetings, check our emails or search the web during the interminable discussions, and help wordsmith the slides and brochures. We could embrace business as usual, hoping the rules of the game are not changed during our watch.
On the other hand, we could embrace the ambiguous, uncertain future. How? Well, I am not a fan of crystal balls or dice. There is another choice. We could focus on creating the future. We could imagine a different future and work to make it happen. We could create products and services that might transform people’s lives. How about teleportation or mind reading? Too much? How about cars that cannot run into things, due to sensing and control technologies, and hence can weigh 70-80% less than current cars? How about natural chemical agents that can track down cancer cells and convince them to die?
Much of what we take for granted — for example, this iPad on which I am typing — would be seen as pure magic by people of 50 to 100 years ago. We have created a future most could not have imagined. Now, we should imagine a future that no one believes is possible — and then go make it happen. Creating the future is much more productive and satisfying than waiting for the future. It is much more fun than being a steward of the status quo.