man with a jet pack
You may not get a jet pack, but the future holds opportunities for those who can identify them. PHOTO: Steve Jurvetson
Growing up in England in the '60s, I was fascinated by a series of action-adventure TV shows produced by Century 21 Productions. The shows featured machines that travelled in space, underwater, underground and performed fantastic feats or flew at tremendous speeds. 

Then in the late '60s I came across a show called "Star Trek" — and I’ve been thinking about the future ever since. 

My first job out of college was working on the Concorde supersonic passenger jet, and I also was tangentially involved with a project to design a hyper-sonic space plane.

Now here we are in the 21st century and none of that happened! 

Who Can Predict the Future?

I love living in the future, although it’s not the one I was expecting. 

We may not have flying cars and jet packs, but look at what we do have. 

We all walk around with a pocket sized device that connects us to the greatest repository of human knowledge in history. We can have instantaneous conversations across continents, and use that same device to take photos, watch TV and movies, store and read a library of books, access the world’s news organizations, socialize with millions of people around the world — and maybe even make the occasional phone call. 

It’s a technology that no one saw coming, yet in the space of less than a decade the smart phone has changed the way we live, the way we communicate and the way we do business.

The Times They Are a Changin'

As a Chief Marketing Officer, how can you possibly predict and prepare for a change like that? The answer is that you probably can’t. 

In the words of America’s newest Nobel Prize winner, Bob Dylan (and who would have predicted that?),Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?” 

But you can look at where today’s trends and activities are heading and extrapolate. 

One of the greatest moments of realization for me around how people interacted with content was watching my then 15-year old daughter doing a homework assignment on Pearl Harbor. When I passed her a book on World War II from my history bookcase she ignored the table of contents and index and instead flicked through the pages until she found a photo she knew related to the subject she was studying. Only then did she start to read around it. 

She was doing a visual search and then browsing the book like it was the web. At that point I realized that the traditional book paradigm no longer produced the user experience her generation needed.

Find the Opportunities in Developing Trends

So what’s happening now that will impact the near future? For the last decade I’ve been a big proponent of Augmented Reality (AR) as a way to communicate, engage and inform. I believe it has great potential to deliver as yet unexplored customer experiences. I think AR will win over Virtual Reality as the latter is too immersive and isolating (but I could be wrong — the future will decide).

Look at what technologies are developing and how new generations are using them. Extrapolate, and think how that will impact your business. 

Don’t look for potential threats, but look for potential opportunities. It’s not about chasing the current hot gadget, the future is about recognizing change. Look outside your industry, outside your area of expertise. Get comfortable about being uncomfortable about new technology and trends. Study across many fields: technology, psychology, sociology, story-telling, movie-making and more.

So how do we address the challenge of mapping the future? First, learn to recognize the future, and then be prepared to adjust when the jet pack turns out to be an iPhone instead.