Futurecasting for Product Innovation


Lesson Info

Backcasting: How Did We Get Here

We're gonna do another exercise. So, we've talked about implications, which are about, like we've dropped the stone in the water into some future triggering event, or some future phenomenon. Now we're gonna do back casting. Which we've already alluded to and which you guys have already started thinking about, which are like the antecedents of that. Which we saw with the VR and the hardware of like, does the hardware have to get to a certain place before VR is everywhere? Or does the digital divide have to be closed in some way before VR is everywhere? So, we're thinking about time now, in terms of like making a jump to the future, and then writing the prequel, and then writing a prequel to the prequel. Alright, so this is similar to some sci-fi franchises that you're probably familiar with. Like with say Star Wars, there's the original trilogy and then they wrote the prequel to that, and then there was the in-between movie Rogue One. And so they're written out of sequence, but it's sti...

ll part of the same story world. And we can do the same thing with this back casting, or the prequel and the prequel to the prequel. So, for the sake of continuity and building things out in this world, why don't we use the same two scenarios more or less. So we'll start with the robot COO and then we'll also practice using the VR everywhere. So, it's basically like you see here with the triangles and it's basically writing the story out of order. So we'll do this. So we'll start with the future scenario. And we've already done the big map of implications. So why don't we just decide on maybe two or three bullet-pointed story beats to just bring this robot COO scenario to life a little bit. So just maybe a couple of sentences or phrases of what happens because of this, in terms of the implications. Just some things from the spiral, for the ripple effects and then we'll just bring them here in terms of a couple bullet points. Were there some that were compelling and memorable for you guys that you wanna bring back? When I think the taking human bias out of HR, like recruiting and hiring, performance reviews. Make morale go up. We'll say this is a positive. So it's maybe morale goes up. Cool and then maybe new mentorship models, since the robot can't do that. People in the company get paid more because the improvements that the robot brought gets distributed to the workers. Alright. So we've chosen the rosy scenario. We've chosen the happy pill for the robot COO scenario. But it's totally fine right, for this exercise it doesn't really matter if you're doing the utopian or the dystopian scenario. It's really about thinking about time in a non-linear non-forward facing way, but in a backwards-facing way. Alright, so then from here, let's write the prequel. So what's the prequel to robot COO. And often it's helpful to actually do this where you come up with the story beats and then we can give the prequel like a name. You'd probably start with a lower-level robot. It's like robot secretary. People get used to talking in the box, it's pretty normal. Yeah, so there's some sort of culture shift because of that. Any other thoughts there, maybe it's also like like we're really thinking about hardware too. Like is there some sort of physical manifestation of that rather than some of these email based or text based bots that we're dealing with, that don't feel physical? Yeah. Mike please. It would probably be starting now with things like the Google assistant, except instead of a Google assistant it's the middle manager assistant, or middle manager speaker. It's probably a server somewhere, but your interface would be a speaker that's now sitting on your desk so you're kind of stuck with your middle manager almost looking over your shoulder. So it's like a voice UI kind of thing. So in some ways this is closer to our present reality. This might be in the far future. This is closer to our near future. I think you'd also have to have seen, like develop trust. So you'd want to see, there's probably mistakes at first but you saw improvement enough that you saw the technology moving in the right direction. Totally. Maybe it's like trust, some sort of transparency. A job-share at first. Yeah, like a job-share. Since here this is a positive scenario where some of these HR biases are taken out. What is the transparency here that like deals with gender or ethnic biases in these HR practices. Yeah. How about culturally speaking people in this knit timeframe, they start to see the COO position as not being a very visionary position in companies. It's just something that can be operationalized. Yeah. So COO cultural shift in terms of what the expectations are, what the job title is. We talked about in this scenario too, maybe there's a re-orientation and division of labor. So when we think about COO now we think about a certain human personality and mindset and what they do, but maybe its not. You know today's COO is very different from here. By the time we've got here, we've got a lot of things. Yeah automated, things that are about optimization now that could be done better by a computer. Alright so, if we were to pitch this prequel movie what working title would we give it? It's like your first robot co-worker. Yeah. [Woman With Scarf] Robo-coworker. [Woman In Blue Jeans] Dude, where's my robot? (laughing) I like that, I think that wins. Alright, where's my robot, question mark. These are just meant to be working titles, but when you're dealing with scenarios, treat them like it's a movie or a screenplay or something. Even if it's just a half-baked thing like this, but it's just easier to have a label. Similar to the design-thinking where your concepts should have a name to them so that there's something you can refer to. It makes it feel more real as a story, as a thing that's coming into play. So what's next? Or what comes before actually. The prequel to the prequel. [Woman With Scarf] Is that like current day for us right now? So it doesn't have to be right now, but it could be the near future or something. What would bridge to here? How do we get to dude, where's my robot? The present day is here and then there's still something here. So I start this as three because three is a good place to start. Obviously, you can start, if you're one of these big movie franchises, you can start doing all sorts of inserted, midcoils. But the point here is to start creating a storyline that makes sense, right. So even if we don't know how the hardware is gonna get there we know that this necessitates, this needs to happen before that can happen. So then we can also see like between what we have today and this, what are some things that have to happen? Yeah. Kids become used to talking to Siri and Alexa so it's comfortable as talking to their mom and dads. It becomes cultural. Yeah, people talk about digital natives, which I don't really believe in, but there's like maybe AI natives, where people are just totally comfortable talking to machines. Alexa for business, which is out, is widely adopted across all companies. Or Bing for business, or HR operations start-ups like Gusto is adopted company wide, everywhere. Yeah, so we were thinking about these. Since these things already exist, maybe they're weak signals that just have to get scaled up. Yeah. Performance management algorithm can be calculated. Performance management. So there's some sort of automation here, maybe in the HR functions before we get to the C-suite level. Currently the capturing of massive amount of information from employers, so that you can actually start building those models. That's happening today. Okay, so massive data-capture. And sorry about that. This isn't actually that much of a stretch, but a fully-automated recruiter. Okay. Also I think there would need to be improvements in algorithmic transparency for us to get to the trust one. You know like right now, kind of to you your black box concept, there hasn't been a lot of movement yet on how do you unearth these decisions. And maybe it's like the establishment of norms or certifications or even specific policy things for an even playing field of different actors. And so that maybe requires social movement or lobbying for specific things so that these tech companies working in this space have a degree of transparency that builds public trust. And guarantees fairness for example. I'm gonna use my editorial prerogative here and we'll call this Robo-recruiter, cause that sounds like a movie. It's like one point O right. You can see now that we have the present day, we have right here, right now. And then we can jump now, even though we wrote this out of order, we've back-casted in a way where we know this future scenario and now there's more of a plausible progression. So from today to Robo-recruiter 1.0 to Dude, where's my robot, to Robot COO and you can kind of see this as a trilogy. Does that make sense? Alright, so why don't we practice this one more time then with the VR Everywhere scenario. So while I erase, just have a think about this VR Everywhere. So we mapped out the implications of that. So well think about that in terms of some story beats and some implications as well. Where this story, we'll leave today here. Alright, so we've got VR Everywhere. I think I might have seen this movie in the 90s before. But maybe this is a reboot. Alright so, we mapped out a lot of implications but what are some choices we can make for this canonical version of our future scenario. Think like the democratizing idea would probably be a good one to explore there. The idea that it opens up possibilities for people that couldn't travel or don't have the funds to travel to experience more. It democratizes travel experiences for people to really experience what it's like to go to these different places. Maybe the less optimistic part of that is that real travel becomes more expensive. Or maybe that's a prequel to it, that real travel becomes more expensive because of fossil-fuel costs going sky high. There's something positive about this as well in terms of more people being able to explore far off places without physically going there. What else happens in VR Everywhere. Maybe physical spaces are designed to support VR experiences, or are like a stage for VR. Yeah, so how does our built environment adapt to this. We already see this more and more now with public spaces like cafes and restaurants and airport lounges that now have USB chargers, or power outlets just because people are expecting to be able to charge their devices everywhere, so what's the equivalent for VR? I think it opens up the opportunity for VR education, VR healthcare. People will be able to access that a lot easier right from home. Yeah, so education, healthcare. Maybe a couple more. You're at home more, you don't have as much motivation to leave your house anymore. Yeah, so maybe we're more home bound and there's actually some health issues, but we have VR based healthcare, so maybe it balances out. Kind of along the lines of VR based healthcare is significantly enhanced telepresence could potentially allow, you could drop a robot in South Africa and now you basically have a remote-controlled surgeon via VR. Yeah. Yeah and it's sort of like how Edward Snowden shows up to events with his little ipad robot thing. Yeah that's a weak signal so what happens when we scale that weak signal to multiple industries. Alright, so that's our version of VR Everywhere. Let's figure out the prequel now. I think the hardware, there would need to be hardware improvements. Right now, you have to really set up a space for optimal VR. So we have to get to a place in the hardware. It has to be attractive and popular. There has to be tipping point where people don't think of it as a nerdy activity, they think it's a mainstream activity. So there's some tipping point. Maybe there are different ways for it to get there. Maybe it's a celebrity influence or it gets into it, or there's some major investment from a legacy media company that really kind of tips it over. Or it's like the very first VR presidential debate. Or something like that, where it's some big event that brings it into the mainstream. Yeah. Basically a citizen network that overturns the extremely constrained current network backbones and makes modern technology actually available to everybody. So it's maybe a hardware and infrastructure thing. But I think that part of the prequel to that is some social movement or network of people who are actually building that and making that happen. The art creation process becomes more accessible. Yeah, so something about the authoring of this that's democratized. I guess before we get to the physical space, a kind of VR cafe, like the early internet cafes being the precursor, like first there's VR cafes that become more popular. Yeah. And maybe it's even a hybrid thing like, VR and cats. Maybe common modes of transportation are no longer appealing, or the consequences of transportation are bubbling up. Alright, so there's some sort of transport backlash or pendulum swing in terms of people just don't want to travel as much anymore. Maybe they can't travel as much anymore. Financial accessibility. A VR maybe is cheaper than whatever else is popular at the time. So it looks like we have few interesting implications or data points from this world. What would we call this prequel? VR and Cats. (laughing) Right so there's VR and cats which is kind of funny but it also points to this idea of getting to some level of internet meme or pop-cultural tipping point. Alright. Our final prequel in this trilogy of the future. How did we get to VR and cats, what happened before VR and cats? VR got more baked into Facebook or some other social network that made it a gateway for people to try VR. Yeah, so VR plus social. Building on some sort of platform. Yeah. The repeal of net neutrality will actually hinder VR but potentially trigger the revolution that causes citizens to start building their own networks. And telling ET and T mobile what they can do with themselves. Right, so maybe in this scenario there's actually a network, it's not the internet, it's something else that's powering this diffusion of VR. Maybe it's actually an AR to VR kind of either hybrid or transition. Or maybe the AR has to get better first too. Or maybe there's even a spectrum between AR and VR because people don't necessarily want to be strapped-in all the time. Whereas there's probably more life situations where you're using AR than VR. Maybe VR just looks like super fashionable and sexy and so people want it. And we could think about these as indicators or story beats. So you're talking about it in the abstract of it's fashionable, it's sexy, it's cool. And then you can think about an indicator for this could be the very first fashion week that's featuring VR fashions, VR couture. And they walk down the runways, I don't know how the models are going to see, maybe it's the AR thing. But they walk down the runway in Paris Fashion Week or New York Fashion Week. That's an indicator, if there's some high-profile VR and fashion thing, this may indicate that this prequel is starting to unfold. The researchers at say technicolor, perfect haptic feedback for virtual reality. So haptic feedback or some other technological advancement is necessary to help us get to that point. To make the VR more immersive before it gets to the VR and Cats. Alright so, this is a pretty good set of bullet points to help us paint this prequel to the prequel. Do you guys have a name for this prequel? I guess VR and Prada, to go with your Fashion Week. Or VR Runway, how about that. (laughing) Runway or catwalk. (laughing) Alright there we go, then we have the cats too. It's helpful to really think about these storytelling tropes and themes and to draw the line. Because it makes the story more engaging and the more engaging you can make the story. You can see that the easier it is to build out the story world and get people involved. So it's awesome having you guys up here and you guys here too, getting involved in building out this story. You can see how this could be really hard to do as an individual, and it's not meant to be a group activity but the more minds you throw at this, and the more yes, and, and building upon, each other's ideas, the easier this gets.

We live in a rapidly changing world, and that includes the world of business. To be successful, companies have to develop products and services that not only address the needs of today, but anticipate the needs of tomorrow. That’s why futurecasting is so important.

While no one can see the future, we can model and rehearse potential futures, which is what futurecasting is all about. This essential tool for design innovation and business strategy helps us imagine what the future might be so we can create a long-term vision and make it a reality.

Using techniques adapted from the military, global corporations and top design schools, this course will help you map out the best- and worst-case scenarios of the future and prepare for them.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Craft and model different future scenarios to “rehearse” for the future.
  • Engage your team in the futurecasting process.
  • Stop thinking only in the short term (e.g., annual planning, quarterly earnings) and find the space and time to think about the longer term.
  • Develop your vision and imagination about best- and worst-case future scenarios.
  • Inspire your organization to better understand and utilize futurecasting.



  • I thought Lee-Sean was a great, eloquent speaker. He took what could be a high-minded, abstract concept "future forecasting", and made it relatable, down-to-earth, and easy to understand to his audience. If you're interested in learning how to plan, manage, and build future scenarios (5-10+ yrs out) to have influence in your organization, this class was invaluable. He walks you through practical brainstorming techniques to come up with scenarios and shows case-studies for how you can create a narrative to show how future scenarios can become realities from present day. I enjoyed all of it.