Dr. Pero Mićić

You have come to the right place if you want to future-proof your business, your job and yourself. Part of my job is to give speeches. At trade conferences, customer meetings and team events. When I talk about new markets and new jobs, every now and then after the keynote someone says: “You know, what you presented on future markets, some of them aren’t the future at all, they already exist. Hm, there’s a thinking error and bias behind that. You’ve probably heard of the S-curve …

The iPhone didn’t have the first touchscreen. Tesla didn’t build the first electric cars. And not the first robots. It wasn’t Amazon, Google or Facebook that used the first artificial intelligence. Amazon was not the first online trader, Google not the first search engine and Facebook not the first social network. Salesforce was not the first Software as a service. AirBnB didn’t invent the platform business. “Times will come when our descendants will be surprised that we did not know the obvious.” Seneca said this 2000 years ago. Seneca is marking a fact that science fiction author William Gibson also means when he writes: “The future is already here, just not yet evenly distributed.”

What does that mean for your business and your profession? Right now, at this moment, somewhere there are ideas and innovations that will revolutionize your business and your job. And you don’t know about them.

Do you remember, if you’re not so young anymore, when you were traveling in train stations and airports in 1990? What percentage of travelers carried their luggage and how many had wheels under their suitcases? The usual answer is that just about all travelers carried their luggage. And that ten fifteen years later, it was the other way around. Hardly anyone still carries a piece of luggage that weighs more than five kilograms. When was the wheel invented? Or the wheelbarrow? Even such a simple and obvious innovations as suitcases with wheels take many decades from the time of their invention to their widespread use. The first mention of suitcases with wheels is in 1850 in the “Manual for Foot Travelers”, in the form of bolt-on wheels. In 1970, Bernard Sadow, manager of a suitcase factory in the United States, filed a patent application for the design of a rolling suitcase called Rolling Luggage. Delsey claims to have launched the first suitcase with built-in wheels in 1972.1 Pilot Robert Plath then made the final breakthrough with his rolling Pilot Suitcase in 1991.

Neomania

Most people believe that the future is only ever made of what is now being newly invented. They always want to see the new, hear about the brand new trends and new visions. Neomania is the term for this, the obsession with the new. That’s not the future, it’s already here, they shout. But no. Our work is not about entertainment through spectacular science fiction. It’s about real companies, professions and future strategies. To believe that only the completely new is really the future is simply naive.

Right now, at this point in time, there are far more new and fascinating things in this world than any one of us knows. An almost inexhaustible universe of ideas and innovations is out there, just beyond our perceptual limits. If you perceive something as new, very often, mostly, it has actually existed for a very long time and has only now come from outside to inside your perceptual boundaries. Assume that in every year only a few percent really new comes into the world, but very much more simply enters our perceptual world.

The S-curve

You’ve probably heard of the S-curve. Ideas and innovations often exist for years, decades and centuries before they are finally adopted by people and spread into the real world. There are thousands of examples of this.

The future is usually already here

  • 400 B.C.: First “robot” in the form of the flying dove of Archytas by Archytas of Taranto.
  • 60 AD: Heron of Alexandria describes the first coin vending machine. For holy water.
  • 1837: Development of the fuel cell by Christian Friedrich Schönbein. The Brits claim it was in 1839 by a Brit.
  • 1839: Discovery of the photoelectric effect as the basis of photovoltaics (solar cells) by Alexandre Edmond Becquerel
  • 1839 ca.: The Scotsman Robert Anderson builds the first electric car.
  • 1860s: First nutritional concepts based on the “low carb” principle
  • 1899: The first electric car called “La Jamais Contente” travels at a speed of 100 kilometers per hour
  • 1896: Anderson. 1902 Construction of the first hybrid drive by Ferdinand Porsche in Vienna
  • 1918: First radio telephones at the Deutsche Reichsbahn in Berlin
  • 1920s: First vegetarian restaurants and fitness clubs
  • 1925: Idea of the Youth Bank as a “Childrens Window” by the Mission Savings Bank in Los Angeles
  • 1936: Operation of the first videophone between Berlin and Leipzig. Just they did not have Skype, Teams or Zoom.
  • 1956: The first conference on artificial intelligence is held. The agenda included “neural networks”.
  • 1970: First weblogs are published (Internet diaries)
  • 1970: First touch screens at CERN and Telefunken
  • 1981: First navigation system in a Honda passenger car
  • 1982: Introduction of the Internet standard TCP/IP and the name Internet

All these innovations took decades or even centuries before they really made a difference in our lives, before they became markets. It can take even longer if only the idea exists, but not already a prototype.

  • 1894: Idea of the Walkman by Octave Uzanne in The End of Books.2
  • 1266: Roger Bacon wrote “Chariots can be made that are not pulled by any animal. And yet they will move forward with unimaginable force. Also flying devices are constructible. And in such a way that a man sits in it, which lets a machine rotate (…). And devices will be created to roam in the sea or in rivers down to the bottom and without danger to life.”
  • 800: „When iron birds fly through the air, Buddhism will migrate westward and come to the farthest lands.“ (a Buddhist monk)

I could go on like this forever. Little of what passes for new every year is really new. So your future is already here. So when you’re looking for ideas and opportunities for your business and for your profession, you should look much more at what’s already out there, but what you haven’t yet noticed. The practically relevant future of the next ten years will be shaped to an estimated 95% by what already exists today. The future is predominantly not total innovation, but diffusion, i.e. the spread of ideas. Most people have no idea of what already exists today, and in some cases has existed for a very long time.

The future is usually already here – but often only at the beginning of the S-curve

So: Don’t fall prey to neomania. The future is usually already here. What ideas, innovations, prototypes, concepts, methods have others already developed that you can take up, think about further, concretize and make practically usable? Which you can use in your specific business and profession to create better, more pleasant and less expensive solutions for your customers’ problems and wishes. And to differentiate yourself from your competitors. After all, that’s why professionals systematically scan the startup world and discover opportunities they simply didn’t think of themselves.

No, I’m not saying you should copy others. I don’t think that’s very honorable or motivating. I am saying that you should be inspired in a very simple and practical way to think it further, to think it through to the end and then so create the new in your business and your profession. Of course, you can also try to invent something completely new that has never been done before. But you don’t have to. It is usually too expensive and takes too long. It is not the best way. Your future is already there, you just haven’t recognized it yet. Expand your perceptual boundaries. Look into other markets, other disciplines, other areas of expertise. The space of your future opportunities and the number of your future opportunities is infinite.

By the way, if you want to find new future opportunities for your company, systematically and solidly, let’s talk about how we can do it together. It’s easy and affordable even for small businesses, it’s fun, and it can take your business into a whole new successful era. That’s been my mission and our mission for 30 years.

I wish you a bright future. Have a bright future!

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Sources

  1. https://www.spiegel.de/geschichte/erfindung-des-rollkoffers-a-947400.html
  2. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_End_of_Books_-_page_228a.jpg