How to Backcast
So let's learn how to backcast. Because that was a good, it's a good point, where was the creativity in this? I mean, it's not a lecture on you should do better. It's basically, how can we, again, bounce our brain out of what we know into what we don't know, using this particular lens. Which also happens to be really handy for honing stuff into be better. Let me show you. This is the ideal loop, as envisaged be Cradle to Cradle. The Cradle to Cradle is a philosophy, that is basically it's cradle, something starts, you have all the bits and pieces that make it what it is, at the end of it's useful life heads back into the cradle, so fully closed loop. And cradle to cradle is also an amazing book that also happens to be made of a plastic, that means you can read it in the bath. And at it's basis, it is the idea that in nature, nature is fully in a closed loop. So basically doesn't generate waste. So as humans, in delivering what we do, we've come up with systems that are somehow way more...
wasteful. And in the words of William McDonough himself, who is one half of the original Cradle to Cradle authorship, he says, "Consider this, "all the ants on the planet taken together, "have a biomass greater than that of humans." a fact which in itself I think it quite cool. "Ants have been incredibly industrious "for millions of years. "Yet their productiveness "nourishes plants, animals, and soil. "Human industry has been in full swing "for a little over a century, "but it's brought about a decline "in almost every ecosystem in the planet. "Nature doesn't have a design problem, people do." So, what this is suggesting is that we reconsider everything we do and just really simply try and make it repeat itself over and over again. In a nutshell. So you can use that by looking to nature and making things biodegrade. Or you can look to technical stuff, to materials, and you can look at ways to disassemble. And a huge part of making something useful again is designing something, like say for instance the Bop It, an amazing toy. What if the Bop It, at the end of it's useful life came apart, took off into parts? And each part then had a use? So this is this idea that basically we can look at anything, a system, a telemarketing company, an ad campaign, a product, you, a diet, it doesn't matter. Anything you wanna look at, we look at the timeframe, and then we look at how can we make that thing so all of our inputs, all of our resources match this timeframe. All essentially about balance. So this is how backcasting looks. The idea is that it's not, so forecasting is, oh what do we think the future will be? We try and predict the future and then we try and work to it. Backcasting is we choose our future. We say, our ideal is that this thing, whatever it is, will last for this length of time. We start with how it ends. But so often when you're doing something new, if you're coming up with a new idea, or you've got a new campaign, you got a great idea, a new system at work, you go, I can't wait to get started. It's very rare that you think about how's this thing gonna end. When do I want it to end? When would the most useful time be for it to end? Like, as an architect, when you build a house, you build a house planning for it to last ages, years, really a hundred years, let's call it a hundred. But actually the way people live has changed massively in a hundred years. So really as an architect should you be building this thing with all these rooms in it, that are gonna stay the same for hundreds of years? Or should you be building a shelter or a shell, and then a whole lot of moveable parts inside that people can change. As soon as you start thinking about, how long will that be useful for, give it a timeframe, then you start going, oh I didn't need to make the whole thing out of double brick. I in fact could've made that out of moveable parts that even biodegraded, in fact, probably could've made a heap of it outta cardboard. There is one architect, Shigeru Ban, who does build builds out of cardboard. They're incredible, they're waxed, they last 20 years. You know, it's kind of amazing. When you think of how many office buildings don't need to be around 20 years from now, 'cause facilities management has completely changed. Yet we still build buildings that need to last this crazy amount of time. So backcasting the heart, is about understanding when you want something to end. And as soon as you start thinking about that, of course it brings up a ton of questions. You start thinking, "Oh well hang on, why, hm interesting. "Wouldn't have actually thought, "but I only really need it to run this long." So first we think about how it's gonna end, and then, this is a downloadable worksheet as well, just a handy one to have, photocopy, reuse. What we wanna do then is think about the key resources that are going in. Maybe they're people. And maybe that's the people you need to deliver something, the function would be I need to train them up. So we have two separate bits here. We have the resources, which can be materials, which can be people, it's whatever you need, the top five things to get this system, this job, this product made or done. And then we have the functions. What are the key functions? That either they're gonna have to do to deliver, or that this product needs to do in it's lifespan? So the functions are what needs to happen over this life. And because we don't usually know what the lifespan should be, I give you a couple of options. You know, you can change up these times. But what I do just start off with, 'cause normally we don't have an idea of end, is we go, "Okay, where will those key resources "and functions be in five years? "Where are they in 10 years? "Where are they in 15?" If we're talking about people, you've got attrition. If you're going to 15 years, you might go, "There's no way those people "will still be here in 15 years." So are they the people I want, or do I wanna make this campaign a five year, and know that I'll have my people? So it's super super useful in terms of then giving yourself a timeframe. And to give you an example so it makes sense, I find backcasting is kinda hard to understand at first, but it's super super useful. Particularly in product and system delivery. System delivery and campaigns are where it really has been sticky for me, but it's good for everything. So, I'm gonna give you an example, using again a smartphone. Smartphones, anyone got a smartphone on them? Oh yeah, right on, I'm gonna use this one. Goody, thank you, keep it off, is it off? Yes?
Oh it's, no I don't need it on. Okay. I don't know how to turn that off. Alright, just gonna risk this phone right now. Okay, so consider a phone, okay? So we're gonna say, what are the key materials? And the functions? And I'm gonna have, five years, 10 years. 20? Let's say 20. Alright, hit me with some materials of this phone. What have we got?
Glass on the screen, right. Okay, how long is that class gonna last? I just smashed mine the other day, it's less than a year. What do we think? Till we can't use it, super smashed. What do we give it, two years?
I'd say yeah.
Okay, right, glass. Now what else, what about the back of it? We got some plastic going on here?
It's stuck on the glass.
And plastic bits and pieces, yes. Plastic. Okay, how long's the plastic gonna go? All the plastic bits in this things?
Yeah, way out there somewhere, it's gonna keep in going. Woohoo. Okay, what about the electronics? Do we just call it circuitry?
What do we call it, is that work for the techy people?
The metal, the metal.
Stuff, oh yeah, metal, we got, is it aluminum? I feel like it is.
It is? Thank you. Okay so it's aluminum, so that's gonna go, we know forever, ages. And then we got the circuitry inside. Let's call it the electronics, 'cause I'm a Luddite, elect. How long are the bits and pieces themselves gonna last inside, do you think, the materials? (audience member speaking faintly) Some could be recycled, yeah. So I think they're gonna go for a while, should we give it a while? 10, 20, 20? Alright, let's do 20. Okay, now functions.
Oh yeah, we got a lithium battery in there. That thing. Oh, well, it's good while it lasts. I dunno know how long that lasts, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't last 20 years. Anyone know anything on lithium? 10? Lee? Thanks man. Okay, right, so functions, how long is this thing gonna work before the battery dies? What do we think?
20 minutes. (laughs)
Two and a half years? Okay, so we got the battery, which actually powers the whole thing, we got about two and a half years, right? Alright, how long is this thing gonna be able to make phone calls? Well I guess it stops at the battery.
Can it still take photos without a battery? Can't do anything without a battery. We'll let's just stop at that. So all the other functions, we got photos, we got memory, we got all sorts of stuff, can we still use it, no we can't even use it's memory, so it just becomes a block. Interesting. Well let's even extend that to five. Do we see what's happened here? We have this thing, that we tend to get rid of pretty quickly. We have elements in it that last forever. And we have other bits that kill it pretty quickly. So let's say we said we only want a smartphone that's gonna last four years. What would we change? What would happen to this?
The plastic could become like cardboard or something.
Right, we could used waxed cardboard on this thing, and it will be amazing, and it will probably be cheaper. Well no, plastic's cheap, so we could go cardboard. What else could we do to like make this end and cycle back?
Solar power, solar.
Solar power, we could. We could totally change the way it charges, so to make it intrinsically a solar thing. So we could change the charging. Also we could perhaps make this thing so it completely disassembles. What if you could take it apart and hand the bits back? And go, here are the bits, can you give me my new phone, they snap it all back together, and give you your new phone. Yes?
Well, would you want to, would it be another thing to do, if instead of, getting shorter living materials, maybe do a longer living battery, or a long living glass?
That's right. So the other thing would be to say, actually you know, no, I don't want something that dies that fast. So know I know that I have to extend this key thing, 'cause that's how we see everything, and that key thing, 'cause without that it's just a lump. This is how backcasting works. Does this make sense?
It's the most obvious thing. But it's something we don't often do, is break down anything into the top five materials, or inputs, it can be people, and the top five functions, and check that everything balances. And if it doesn't balance, this is where the creativity comes in. It's in, hey, how can we make that balance? Start trying to fire, it's clearly not something we know, maybe it is something we know. But we're gonna use it in an unexpected way, we're gonna make a connection and go, "I never thought of using that material that way, "but actually this makes so much sense." Yes?
Isn't that though why companies like Apple kinda use, they have their warranty and that? So pretty much if it only lasts three years, you bring it in right before your two year warranty ends and then you actually extend the life by like double, 'cause you get a new phone and they fix it for you.
From your point of view they extend the life. It's not really extending the life, it's getting a new phone, right?
Or they fix it sometimes--
Or they fix it, it's true.
Or they switch out the battery or things like that.
It's true, in fact it's interesting because right now there's are a bunch of farmers that are in litigation with Apple, with a right to repair legislation. Because there's this other thing, that a lot of vehicles, a lot of farming equipment now relies on the electronic transmission of their repair information, straight to the repair people. So if you're an authorized repairer, you plug the machine in, you know it with all the cars right? You plug the machine in, it does diagnostics, and then you have to pay that authorized person to repair your farm equipment. Say, for the farmers, or your car if you're us. And there's a lawsuit right now, where the farmers are saying, "Well, we didn't wanna have to take it to these people. "We didn't wanna have to return it to Apple. "We'd really like to be able to do what we used to do, "and repair it ourselves." So part of, it's really interesting right now, there's a huge sort of surge up of, well hang on, can we take back the ability to repair our own stuff? Particularly if you think about it, with the decentralization of 3D printing. Like, 3D printing means somebody could send you the plans for a part, and you could go to a 3D printing person, like my man up the road, and you could literally print the part you need. They're actually finding this massive market for vintage cars, in being I would send the scans, send the detailed drawings for parts that no longer exist, and you can either form them, you can have the machine to metal, or print them, and suddenly repair stuff that's been missing. It's not authentic, but it actually extends the life of all the stuff. So now we have the companies that you want you to return it. For whatever reason. 'Cause they wanna keep ownership, they wanna keep customer loyalty, the customer loyalty is sort of in the balance, because at some point people are like, "Well no, we love what you do, "we actually would like the ability "to fiddle with it ourselves, to hack it." You know, it's interesting, because when we talk in our lesson on frugal innovation, frugal innovation is all about prosumers. About, instead of a consumer, you have active interaction with the people that use your product, and you embrace the fact that they hack at it. It's a whole different type of thinking. It's sort of a weird version of idea sharing. But it is really a key part of what happens here. Can you balance it, or does the company say, "You know, don't worry about that, bring it back to us." Somewhere along the line we're gonna be transparent about how we are taking that and doing our bits with it. Because yeah, you can pay them to recycle your computer. I dunno. (laughs) They make money off it too. Right, so this essentially, is how we use backcasting tool. Does it makes sense? Any questions?
I just actually wanted to comment and say that Apple had a big, at least a big PR push about three or four years ago. They had created a machine that actually disassembled iPhones, to bring them back, so they can put the parts to be recycled. So that was a big push a couple years ago, and they did a lot around that from a marketing perspective. I don't know how much it actually hit the road and really worked but it was--
Well it's interesting, I mean, it will stop making much more economic sense. I mean, right now people would argue that if you take stuff apart, particularly in developed, not all developed countries actually, the cost of labor to pick through the pieces and things, until you've come up with processes that do it automatically, can be greater than the value of the retrieved materials. But I think that's changing, 'cause we have scarcity of certain precious metals that people want more and more of. And I think if you look at some of the studies are looking at how scarce some of the essential materials for batteries and electronics are going to become, as more and more people around the world demand electronics, I think the remining of all that stuff at the end of life is gonna be massive business. You know, and also what's interesting is, there's a whole lot of development in the dumping laws. So a bunch of countries that used to take waste are now going, not gonna happen. And there's this whole other concept of ships that take waste, and process it on board in these areas of no domain. You know, and then maybe as they're processing then take that material to the next country that wants to use it. So I think this whole concept of closing the loop is really active right now and it's really interesting. But from an adventurous thinking perspective, it's simply giving you another way to think. So what it's trying to do is prompt you to think about stuff you don't normally think about. 'Cause anything you use every day, could be subjected to a backcasting. And once you do, again, it's a matter of just prompting you into that area of thought where you go, "Oh, I actually never thought of that. "I never thought about those materials. "I don't even know how long, maybe, "plastic or glass is gonna last." And once you find out, you're like, "Ah, I'm gonna change what I do." So again, backcasting learns it's sort of a tricky one because it does require you to do a little bit or research and have a little bit of knowledge, but what it does is throws you into this, A, really interesting dinner party conversation, where you know, whatever you're using, or eating, or looking at, you can go, "Did you know, that that in fact is a running down resource "and it could in fact be made of this, this, or this." Which people are always interested in, I find. But it also just throws your thinking and has you asking questions. And activates you, which is the key.