Futurecasting for Product Innovation

Lesson 2/9 - Sci-FI References And Inspiration


Futurecasting for Product Innovation


Lesson Info

Sci-FI References And Inspiration

We've talked a little bit about science fiction already, and the importance of, just looking at science fiction and studying science fiction for Futurecasting. Another way of thinking about Futurecasting is applied science fiction, to help your innovation process of design, and to help your strategic planning. So, even if you're creating these scenarios that are fictions, because they haven't happened yet. You're doing it in a way that's meant to inspire, and incite, and provoke conversations to think through the ethical implications, the strategic implications of the choices you make. And, science fiction helps us rehearse possible futures, in our pop-culture, but also, discuss these implications of new technologies. So, one show that I really like, that I watched a lot of growing up, was the Jetsons. And, if you watched the original Jetsons, from the 1960's, they have flying cars, they have the talking robot, they have all sorts of things. And, the thing is, if you watch it now, if y...

ou re-watch it now, just watching the intro-sequence, that you can search, and find online, it's kind of interesting to see what is futuristic about that, and what is totally retro, right? This idea of yesterday's tomorrows, and you might've noticed this if you had ever visited a world's fair site, from like, the 60's. In New York, we have the site in Queens of the World's Fair, and previous world's fairs, where they tried to project different future scenarios of how we'll be living, how we will be working, how we will be getting around. So, in the Jetsons, they have flying cars, but, it's interesting in the opening sequence, when George Jetson hands his wife a wad of cash, and then she goes in her self-driving/flying car, to the mall, right? So, they figured out the flying car bit, but they didn't think about, like, electronic money, or credit cards. And, the gender norms are totally those of a middle-class, white, American family, from the 1960's. So, you know, I'm not picking on the Jetsons, it's entertainment, it's science fiction. But, the point is, that it's not just about predicting gadgets, and technology, it's thinking about how technology will change culture, and will change society, right? So, they used the sort-of science fiction world to tell a story, that reflected the times in which the Jetsons was created, but, there is also an opportunity here when you're creating your future scenarios, doing your Futurecasting, to think about how technologies change behaviors, right? So, as a Futurecaster, as a Futurist, yes you get credit for predicting flying cars, or predicting self-driving cars, but what's more interesting about that, going deeper into that, is predicting what happens if there's a self-driving car accident? You know, who's liable? What's the culture of that, right? And, here in the US, there's, we have such a car culture in so many places, it's tied in, like, with identity, as well, right, and this feeling of freedom, and all of that. So, how does that change when we're no longer driving our own cars? How does that change our culture, and identity? So, these are the kind of ripple effects, that we'll talk about, think through, that are helping you get more advanced with your Futurecasting, and not just about predicting gadgets, and what will happen with tech. There's also different values embedded into different worlds. Right, so, I'm a fan of both Star Trek, and Star Wars, but I use this example to illustrate the different values in the story worlds of these science fiction franchises. So, in both of these story worlds, they have faster than light, intergalactic space travel, they have artificial intelligence, talking robots, and they also all have weapons of mass destruction. But, in these franchises, they have different political systems, different economic systems, different social systems, that are really meant to forward the plot, right? So, in Star Trek, it's a little bit more utopian, at least on the federation side of a post-capitalist society among humans, and this friendly coalition of different planets within the federation. Where as Star Wars, it's a more dystopian world of you know, a political system that's more oppressive, and these rebels fighting this empire. So, these are for the story, but you'll see that the point here, that it's not about technological determinism, right? So, these story worlds have, more or less, the same kinds of technologies, but very different outcomes. And, so we also have to think about these values of what we embed into technology, and there's not just one right answer to these worlds that we're modeling. Alright, and we can also think about science fiction, and these scenarios as a way to rehearse, and prepare ourselves for possibilities that may not have been in the Overton Window before, right? So, if we think about the effects of pop culture, in both inspiring innovation, in terms of science fiction inspiring designers and engineers, we've talked about that already; but, then there's this broader, science fiction inspiring society. So, if you think about the original Star Trek series, the Uhura character was one of the first black women on mainstream American television, that was not in a maid, or servant role. And, Mae Jemison was the first African-American woman astronaut, and she credited Uhura, on Star Trek for inspiring her, to make her career choice in becoming, to become, an astronaut. We've seen, media scholars have written about the David Palmer effect, so this is, if you've watched 24 in the early aughts, David Palmer was the black president character, there. And, media scholars have talked about, that was a way to rehearse, that prepared Americans for electing Barack Obama, in 2008, so there is a fact of, just putting it out there, even if it's fictional, that gets people ready for things. And so, if you're a product designer, you're innovating, you're thinking about this long-term five-year, ten-year horizon, you know, you wanna think about when society will be ready for something, right? Because, sometimes you might've innovated something that works, but you go to market too early. My friend, Jeff Lightner, who's a social innovation consultant, has worked in a lot of industries before, and he actually works at one of these very early companies, that did grocery deliveries. But, this was in the early aughts, web 1.0 era, and, it didn't work, right? Because, society wasn't ready yet, and when they did their user testing, and asked the customers about stuff, there were still these hang-ups about like, oh well, if my neighbors see me get these deliveries, does it mean like, they think I'm too lazy to just buy groceries at the grocery store? Or, there was still, like, a stigma to that, that like nobody has anymore, right? And, it's similar, if you think about these ride-share services, or like, Airbnb, and things like that, where the social norms used to be, like, you didn't get into strangers' cars, or you didn't sleep over in strangers' apartments, but now, people do it all the time, right? And so, there were probably antecedents to those, but, the ones that are dominant today, are the ones that, kind of entered at the right time, in terms of cultural change. And so, these are also systems to think about, when you're doing your Futurecasting, and how you relate that to your work, designing products, and designing services.

Class Description

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.


Cindy Wong

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.