Need to sell the future? Let people feel it today

People love the future, yet it is too abstract, distant and often strange.

FUTUREINNOVATIONMANAGEMENT

Daniel Egger

11/23/20216 min read

To make things worse, selling assumptions is one of the most difficult tasks. Easily logics can be challenged, broken and destroyed by others and especially power structures.

Yet there is a solution to ease this process. Make the future interactive, allow people to experiment with what value the solutions add to people. Let your people talk with the people in the future by creating a dialog or deep dive into a sound reality where the solution makes sense and drives business.

The future and the present is about empathy. If we contextualize let stakeholders feel, see or interact with the future and by the way with the solutions they connect with new emerging logic. The first step of making the strange more familiar.

Design Fiction

Design Fiction offers an interesting contribution, as its goal has been to go beyond the already known, and explore more extensively the possible — with fewer restrictions. It delivers prototypes from the future, called “Future Props.”

As objects that present logics and ideas of the present in a material form, Future Props go beyond telling a story, toward active conversations with the future.[v] Props represent intermediate and powerful “objects” to enrich a story of the future in the same way as good science fiction does — immersive, imaginative, and imminent.[vi] They’re objects that enrich our setting, transcending complex and abstract perspectives of the future.

Digital or physical, “Future Props” offer interactivity, allowing the user to experience validating the future in new ways, logically as well as intuitively. As the future is unknown, and functionality is difficult to reproduce, Future Props represent static but immersive mock-ups. They are not truly “functional,” per se, but their simulated functions and characteristics illustrate how they are objects that “function properly and which people actually use.”[vii]

This illusionary, but still-perceived fidelity has high value for future work, as it makes the abstract “reliable.”

Also, Future Props are not exact representations of a viable scientific theory or the technological possibility of the present, but instead, offer a proof of possibility with which we can connect as a visitor to the future. When we add those prototypes of the future to our stories, we increase their richness and intuitive understanding of relationship and interaction and guide the executive to explore what new value the organization can generate in the future.

Working with a home appliance corporation, we identified several driving needs of People of the Future. The project team had a challenging task — to make the future tangible. Not for experts, but for the overall organization, so that employees could interact and comment, starting a collaborative conversation on future possibilities. The team went for a solution embracing three concepts.

First, we used visual storytelling, with its connected logic of how we got there. These charts — creating a tunnel from the present reality to the explored future — gave us the idea to develop a story, telling how we got to the future, using step-by-step storytelling of the changes.

The second solution was a simulation using physical and digital objects. The participants interacted with an immersive space, with projections of “objects from the future.” Where the projections created a part of the setting that adapted to the objects, the Future Props aim was to create engagement. Though not technologically functional, they generated insights into how people would use such objects. They showed the researched “urgent need.”

Finally, we hired actors to engage in simulation-based interactions. Each assumed a researched Persona of the Future, and while briefed on general characteristics, they had the liberty to react and improvise based on the alignment. Visitors were encouraged to interact freely with the actors, ask questions and give/receive feedback, creating a new, empathic understanding. They were able to live in both the present and the future. It was a beautiful, inspiring, immersive way of communicating and connecting with the future.

This interactive experience allayed many doubts and turned critics of insights and foresight into believers. But most importantly, it created a setting to live the future, and to identify and validate ideas for new Value Offerings.

Prototyping

Where storytelling is a narrative and simulation equals experimentation, both benefit from prototypes.

Objects enrich context, transforming words into something tangible. They allow us to experience the context in new ways, and make present solutions understandable through interaction, triggering emotions from sending a chill down your spine to making you feel warm and welcome.

We live in a world of objects, and it makes more than sense to use the same form of representation to transform a seemingly blank setting of a story into a rich possibility of interaction.

Many different types of prototypes exist, in form and function relative to the resources available, the audience, the logic and which emotions are to be triggered. They might help us to clarify scope and requirements of a certain challenge, or represent a solution for valid feasibility, interaction and experiences. Prototypes can be created in so many ways, from designing experiences, digital representations, clay, paper and office supplies, 3D printouts… there are also uses so sophisticated that I couldn’t possibly explain them all here, nor is that the intent of this chapter. Instead, I aim to illustrate their importance to creating an affinity with concepts and ideas.

They enrich the setting and provoke experiences, allowing us to better communicate the desired and the expected. They ease experimentation, collaboration and validation of present logics. When we create prototypes, we transform ideas into experiences, making any context far more understandable — and alive.

Simulation

When we immerse ourselves in a simulation, we experiment with a new reality. The concept isn’t new. Intuitively, we used this logic for many years, during our childhood.

We grew up by interacting with a strange new world, the reality our parents lived in. Playing with our toys, we adapted objects to interact with an imaginary world we created, one that made sense for us. We learned about the world and beyond by touch, imagination, and interaction.This interaction is what defines simulations, and what makes the concept different from a predefined narrative. Storytelling explains something but doesn’t allow us to create our own understanding of the content.In innovation, design, as in foresight, simulation is a powerful way to enable experimentation with future realities, explore experiences and possibilities, and understand what is plausible. It generates experiences by allowing us to manipulate objects as we would do in the future. We can engage with a prototype to understand its function, explore the logic of a system, or gauge our way of reacting in alternative situations. Describing angst or love is completely different from experiencing it.

Simulation allows the behavior of the interactor to merge with the researched reality. The concept allows us to feel something new, experiment and create using our own interpretation. It must be noted that without such interaction, no simulation can exist. Absent manipulation and interaction, the content generates no value. The merger of the real-life challenge with the simulated reality is what defines the output of sense-making. Users learn to understand and make their own judgment of the experience. The future is complex, and simulation allows us to understand new rules and the larger picture. It confronts our biases, increases our understanding, and changes our mental models.

We can watch a soccer game, but to play soccer is a completely different experience.[iii] Simulation started out to simply explain things, but it embraces through the creation of offline and digital settings a new immersive way of experimentation, going beyond the typical binary ending of a story. Storytelling and simulation share common elements (characters, settings, and events). Their mechanics, however, are essentially different.[iv]

Storytelling

We all enjoy hearing a story, picturing it, and sometimes even wanting to be part of it. We listen to the narrative and relate to a character that allows us to experience a reality through different eyes. Introduced to a new possibility by a structured representation of the possible, we create an emotional and logical response.

Robert McKee, an award-winning writer and director, says that the emotional perspective is key to establishing a positive link. He argues, a story has to “fulfill a profound need to grasp the pattern of living — not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a personal, emotional experience.”[i] If we cannot engage people in the present with our story, the ideas are likely to be rejected.[ii]

Emotions are about sense-making. When we discussed the “heart” of the Focal Question, we explored what drives people in the present, what inspires them.

Affective storytelling is therefore key when we explore the “People of the Future,” and how they interact with society. We have to understand the “profound need” of their lives, why it changes, and how we as an organization can serve it. Transforming the foresights into a narrative, we describe options for the people, what they can do, and what their day might look like. Those stories allow us to understand what really drives people in the future, and what they value.

Yet we create an even deeper understanding when we connect the story with an immersive experience. Ways of achieving this more emphatic connection are through simulations and interactions with objects in the future.

The future starts when you can sell it today. Start now!

[i] Alan, McKee. 2003

[ii] Adapted from Michel, Godet. 1996

[iii] Perron, Frasca. 2003. p.223

[iv] Perron, Frasca. 2003. p.221–226

[v] Adapted from Julian, Bleecker. 2010. pp.58

[vi] Julian, Bleecker. 2010. p.64

[vii] David A., Kirby. 2009