How to predict the future

Predicting the future seems like an impossible task, but there is a trick to it. It’s less about guessing what’s next, and more about piecing together what’s already here. A veritable mash up of tools, behaviour and incentives.  Sure, there will always be unexpected turns in events – economic externalities, social backlash and political events which we’ll never predict. But, the vast majority of the time, what is about to occur in business or an industry is there to be seen, and acted upon a long time before it happens at scale. The way I do it is by observing three things in particular.

Anthropology: This is what doesn’t change. Or that which changes very slowly – human behaviour. We are running a very old piece of software as humans – a 400,000 year old code, otherwise known as our DNA. By studying our human proclivities we can observe patterns which demonstrate what we value and how we’re likely to behave in a given set of circumstances. We need to study behaviour, everywhere we go. Paying attention pays dividends.

Technology: This is what does change. The tools we use to get things done, and they are in a constant state of flux. If the barriers to entry are lower enough to switch to a better, more efficient and enjoyable method of getting anything done – we will. The trick, is that very often the tool is available a long time before it is widely distributed. It first must be affordable and available geographically before we can embrace it. When we study what’s next in technology it’s easy to see where shifts are likely to occur because most emerging technologies follow price/ performance ratios which are very predictable. This happens both at the industrial and consumer level. Importantly, the eventual adoption of a new technology can’t be based on utility alone, it must also be socially acceptable to our species. Google Glass comes to mind as an example of something we simply didn’t like. Likewise, large corporations often find it difficult to embrace new technology for weirdly social reasons. Because new technology ignores both the financial and emotional investment a company may have made in now outdated infrastructure. Legacy firms often get disrupted because they fall in love with their tools and systems, instead of the problem they are meant to be solving for people. Read here – successful humans don’t like change.

Economics: This is what ties to the above two elements together. A simple way to define economics is the study of incentives. Wider incentives are what shapes our behaviour, and in turn influences the way money flows around people and the systems we live inside. The question we need to ask here, is will this technology facilitate the way people behave and provide a big enough incentive for them (Corporations and Consumers) to move to this new way of getting things done. If so, how will it change the way money, things and people move around.

So, when it comes to thinking about tomorrow, start by thinking about what’s already here today.

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Back to anthropology

Things are changing so rapidly that we are again suffering from future shock. It’s hard to comprehend the pace of change, not just to business or pop culture, but to the way we live our lives. We’ve had for the best part of 100 years, certainly the last 50, a very stable business infrastructure and lifestyle. This makes us feel as though the changes we see are new to the human experience, when in fact they are only new to the experience of our generation. To understand it, we need to take an anthropological view of business and relearn the lessons we forgot, that other generations already learned. We need to lose our immediacy bias and review how our species has coped with radical change before.

None of this is new in the human sense, just the industrial sense. As the industrial era transitions into the technology era it’s worth worth taking a look at what happened when had epoch shifts in the past.

New Book – The Great Fragmentation – order here!

Escaping the Corporate Vortex

I recently did a talk at Depo8 a Melbourne co-working space for an event which was aptly titled: Leap and the neat will appear.

I thought the general theme of the talk was worth sharing as it really summarises the entrepreneurial spirit and can also assist in removing irrational fear associated with taking the leap to pursue an enterprise. The way I see it, the truth about entrepreneurship can be broken into 4 parts.

1. Savings: I really believe that any human who wants to succeed financially and in business needs to be able to save money. It is the most basic of financial requirements to prove to ourselves we have the capacity to think ahead and delay gratification. If we can’t exercise enough self control to save, then it would be a waste of our own time to even try and start a business. And savings, or the ability to save has nothing to with what we earn. It’s really just an attitude, and even a small percentage of a modest income is enough to provide direction and momentum – some bootstrapping practice. In fact, American billionaire W Clement Stone once said this about savings: If you cannot save, then the seeds of greatness are not within you. I remember I was once told a simple life hack which is so obvious I’d never thought to do it. If we can live on half our income, we can take every second year off work, and pursue something else. A nice example of the power of savings.

While it sounds a little vulgar, the world is awash with cash in developed markets. It should be noted that once momentum is obtained, it is not that difficult to get financial support.

2. Worst Case Scenario: Ironically, we are actually at our greatest financial risk when we are an employee. The first reason for this is that we only have one customer – the employer. A big and important customer, but it’s one customer none the less. This means that all our income depends on a single source, which, if that relationship turns bad, we could quickly find ourselves in a zero income situation. This also excludes job obsolescence risk, which occurs through being a factor of production, rather than organising them.

If we do fail in market as an entrepreneur, we are very unlikely to go hungry or become homeless. The mere fact that we are both on the internet right now, can serve as a reminder that we are well resourced, and that we have people around us and infrastructure to support us in times of need. In fact, the safety net in places like Australia are significant. Social security payments for the unemployed in this country amounts to $306 a week, or $1326 a month. Yes, it would be a struggle to live on it in Australia – but it is more than the average wage in every Asian Country excluding Japan, every African country excluding South Africa, and every Eastern European nation.

But most of all, entrepreneurs returning to the fold as an employee (post startup) often come back in a higher paid gig and more senior positions. Given they know how to sell a story of learning. This happens because they arrive with new skills most employees simply can’t get while working for someone else. I know, because I have been this person.

3. The 2nd Best Time: We’ll always be able refer to when it was, or when will be a better time to take the leap into startup land. So maybe we should just embrace the fact that the second best time is now. That now is as good a time as any. This can help us jump the psychological hurdle, but in reality there actually has never been a better time than right now. Never in before in history has it been this cheap and easy to build something, and connect with an audience. The weird wired world allows us to connect with like minds as never before. To build stuff people could never get before and use free commercial platforms the world has never had. The long tail of the internet is demanding our ideas, content and products. Add to this the ability to outsource and brand build and I really can’t see why anyone with the intention to start a business would delay it.

4. The Human Code: To be an entrepreneur is an essential part of the human experience. The evidence is in the real definition of the word itself. The actual translation is not about business, but literally, one who undertakes (some task), equivalent to entrepren ( dre ) to undertake (< Latin inter + prendere  to take, variant of prender). It’s about starting, to trying and doing. It doesn’t say, make money, or get rich, and it certainly doesn’t say ‘don’t fail’. It says start. And this is what humans are all about. About trying new things, travelling across oceans to new unfound lands across the globe. It’s the reason why we humans live on every corner of the globe. Everyone of our forefathers left the human birth place of Africa (unless you’re reading this in Northern Africa) to find a better life. Entrepreneurship is in our DNA.

Let’s go beyond how we got here, and look around the room your are sitting in right now. Everything around us is the work of entrepreneurship. The technology, the chairs, the floor, the roof, the building you’re in, the clothes you’re wearing, the paint – whatever is where you are right now excluding dirt, air, sky and trees. All this is the result of entrepreneurial action. And we should be both thankful and proud.

It’s time to escape the corporate vortex. Our fore fathers are calling us.


Spears, Seeds & Spanners

Tomorrow I’m pumped to be doing a lightening talk at co-working in the lane way. Which is an uber terrific event being organised by the Hub Melbourne co-working space.

I couldn’t think of a better time to go on an anthropological journey through living and working spaces. The story is surprising and interesting. If you’re in Melbourne tomorrow come along and have a listen – I’ll be on at 12.30pm. No power point, no data, just idea exchange and human knowledge. This is the outline of my talk to whet your appetite:

– Spears

– Seeds

– Spanners

– Cars

– Cables

– Chips

– Challenge

I’m really excited about this one.


Mobile living

There has been a lot of talk lately about the mobile revolution. A shift which is here to stay which will forever change communications, commerce and culture. But most people are wrong about this revolution. Yes, mobile living is here, but it’s not about that piece of technology which lives in our pockets. No, the mobile phone is a symptom, not the cause.

The mobile phone is really an inevitable invention. In both the agrarian and industrial era we became less itinerant as a species. We instead invested our time on farms, then institutions and factories. We built suburbs and shopping centers and structured the largest parts of our working and social lives in tiny geographic clusters. We shifted our living structure from itinerant opportunists (think hunter gatherer) to become sedentary factors of production. Widget living within, and upon the industrial machine. Mind you, the machine was a better option than life before it arrived. It made us richer, smarter, taller, warmer, cooler, healthier and less hungry. But the machine (the industrialized world) has now began to set us free to explore again. Which was the wayit always was prior to this 200 year human anomaly. Industrial systems became so profitable and improved living standards so much, that technology has conspired to bring back mobility. Mobility will be a defining life pattern for humans as we move into the next era of our species. Certainly this is the case with developed economies. The exponential deflationary effect of technological developments has created a new form of mobility in many corners of life. Most of which occurred well before the symptom of the mobile or cell phone emerged.

Let’s consider of these examples:

How much more mobile is your working life? How many offices, workplaces, co-working hubs, conferences do you attend? How often do you change jobs and commence work in a new suburb, city, state or country?

How often do you eat out? Our parents went out on special occasions. We now eat out a number of times a week and even go our for breakfast or cross town for the best coffee.

How often do you catch an Airplane? Something that was once the domain of the rich, is now something we do at the last minute to go see a music festival a thousand miles away. Since 1990 the amount of passenger miles in travel has increased 4 fold, while the average price of a 1 hour flight has more than halved.

Even Space travel is back! Every billionaire worth his salt has started a private space travel venture as the final frontier is even being democratized.

Compare the above examples to how our parents and grand parents lived.

Our lives are becoming more mobile in every way, because we are no longer tied to the factory or the farm. We are now entering the 2nd phase of human hunting and gathering, but this time we are hunting for information, creativity and culture. All the stuff we lost during the standardization that came with the industrial era.

So when we think about the mobile revolution, we owe it to ourselves as entrepreneurs to consider human movement, and not just a single piece of technology we take with us in our pocket.


The truth about technology

I happened upon this TED talk just yesterday from the ever clever Kevin Kelly. It is approximately 3 years old but it really blew me away. In fact, the thing that it does best is demystify technology. It reminds us that we are all technologist, that we all create different forms of technology as humans and that we all benefit from it.

A great little piece I took from it was my favourite invention from the last 50,000 years – Grand Parents. You’ll see what I mean once you watch it. Enjoy!



Digital Dialects

While it has been reported that many languages are dying via globalisation and nationalised education, language is fighting back. But this time it isn’t geographic. It’s jumping boundaries and hardware devices to find like minds who want to invent their own lexicon. Language likes to be unique. Language likes to treat insiders differently. Language likes to evolve, change and even judge.The connected world is developing an entire cadre of digital dialects in. Most of which are geographically dispersed and happen virtually.

For me it’s another proof point of the world we are all now living in. As soon as we think we understand what’s happening, it evolves. But more important than the change is the fact that it never asks for permission.