Wired Magazine executive editor Thomas Goetz wrote an article in April 2012 about how his magazine recognizes trends in technology and culture that have transformative potential. Following is an abridged version of Goetz’s article.
How do we spot the future—and how might you? The seven rules that follow are not a bad place to start. They have played a major part in creating the world we see today. And they’ll be the forces behind the world we’ll be living in tomorrow.
1. Look for cross-pollinators.
The ideas with the most impact and longevity are transferable; an innovation in one industry can be exported to transform another. But even more resonant are those ideas that are cross-disciplinary not just in their application but in their origin. By drawing on threads from several areas, interdisciplinary pioneers can weave together a stronger, more robust notion that exceeds the bounds of any one field.
2. Surf the exponentials.
An example of an exponential is Moore’s law: that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles every two years (in other words, growth of computer power is exponential.) Other examples from recent years are the falling cost of broadband and the falling cost of digital storage space. Exponentials are everywhere; choose one and look where it leads.
3. Favor the liberators.
Liberation comes in two flavors. One flavor is recognizing an artificial scarcity and eliminating it by creating access – for example, digital distribution of MP3s untethered music from physical media. The other flavor is using powerful software to put fallow infrastructure to work. An example is Airbnb recognizing our homes as a massive stock of underutilized beds.
4. Give points for audacity.
Too much of the tech world is trying to build clever solutions to picayune problems, like better parking apps or restaurant finders. Take a lesson from Tesla Motors, which spent $42 million to buy a factory roughly the size of the Pentagon, stock it with state-of-the-art robots, and begin making viable electric cars. Or Square, which has given every smart phone the capabilities of a cash register.
5. Bank on openness.
Organizations that “let go at the top” – forsaking proprietary claims and avoiding hierarchy – will be agile and poised to leap from opportunity to opportunity, sacrificing short-term payoffs for long-term prosperity. Think open-source software, Twitter, Zipcar, WordPress. The world is moving toward transparency, collaboration, and bottom-up innovation.
6. Demand deep design.
Too often in technology, design is applied like a veneer after the hard work is done. What’s needed is deeper design that filters complexity into accessible units of comprehension and utility. Apple’s greatest contribution to industrial design was to recognize that nobody reads user manuals – so they pretty much eliminated manuals by making products so intuitive to use that manuals were unnecessary. Services like Facebook and Pinterest have offered us tools to better manage our information, making it easier to access, organize, and share the stuff of our lives. This is deep design commoditized.
7. Spend time with time wasters.
Look at where people are being consciously, deliberately, enthusiastically inefficient. Where are they spending their precious time doing something they don’t have to do: fiddling with tools, coining new lingo, swapping new techniques? That’s where culture is created. The “maker” movement is an example; the DIY bio movement is another; the Quantified Self movement still another as millions of people turn their daily lives into measurable experiments. Hackathons turn free time into a development platform.
These rules don’t create the future, and they don’t guarantee success, but they do give us a glimpse around the corner, a way to recognize that in this idea or that person, there might be something big.