In our latest radical Briefing (which you should subscribe to if you are interested in our insights and perspectives on the future and innovation/disruption), I mentioned Charles Stross’ model for predicting the future:
Hugo award-winning Science Fiction author Charles Stross offers an interesting, and insightful, rule-of-thumb to predict the future: Looking 10 years ahead, about 55-60% of the people, building, infrastructure, and culture is already here today. Another 20-25% is not present yet but is predictable — under construction, software and hardware and drugs in development, children today who will be adults in a decade. And finally, there’s about a 20% element that comes from the “who ordered that” dimension: COVID-19, sharply rising populism around the world, etc. We find it a very helpful frame to figure out where to look and what to look for when thinking about the future.
It is worth digging a little deeper into this — as it is a good reminder that the future is a paradox: Both unwritten and yet (somewhat) predictable. Many of you will operate their businesses on (or close to) the edge of what the state of the art is. And as such, we can have both a unique and sometimes skewed view of what the future might hold. It is enormously helpful to remind yourself that many, many things (and behaviors) don’t change all that much over reasonable amounts of time. We still move from A to B in what largely looks no different from the horse-drawn carriages of yesteryear — that’s Charles’ 60% of everything around you.
That being said, you can see “the thin wisps of tomorrow” (as the historian Fernand Braudel liked to say) when you look carefully. I remember working for GRAVIS, the German Apple retailer, while being in college, when GRAVIS’ founder Archibald Horlitz and I had a long conversation about the emerging mobile messaging technology called “SMS”. If you looked beyond the awkward way of typing messages on a dumb-phone and the, then, insanely high price of sending (and receiving) a message, you could see a future of mobile communication emerging. That’s your next 20%.
And then there is crazy. 20% of things which come left- and right-field. Things you couldn’t anticipate, or are impossible to determine: Numerous folks told us that we will see a global pandemic sweep across the world — but nobody could tell us exactly when and how. Your last 20%.
As leaders, we need to have our feet solidly anchored in the first 60%, work in the middle 20%, and have the agility to react to anything the last 20% might throw our way.