Posted: July 17, 2014
The futurist: 44 mind-blowing “situational futuring” scenarios
The first 22Thomas Frey
(Editor's note: This is the first of two parts.)
Last week, I got into a discussion with a friend about the concept of self-contained water. If you think in terms of picking up a bottle of water, only without the bottle, you get the picture.
Rocks are self-contained, baseballs are self-contained, so why can’t we devise some way to make water self-contained? Yes, we have ice, but I’m referring to a more usable form of water.
As an example, if water itself could be used to form a somewhat hardened skin around a small quantity of water, we could create 100 percent consumable water with zero waste.
An industrial design team in London has come the closest with something called “Ooho,” a blob-like water container made out of an edible algae membrane. While it still involves using something other than water, it does give us clues on how to make a container out of what we’re trying to contain, in this case water.
As we imagine our way through this design problem, many more questions come to light. Should it be flexible like a plastic bag or a bit more ridged like a typical water bottle? What is the ideal shape? Should it be a cube for easy stacking, have a handle for easy holding, or spherical just because it looks cool?
Even a container made of water will get dirty, so how do we clean the dirt from the side of a solid water container? More water?
More importantly, what is the optimal size for a self-contained water container? Should it be cup-sized, quart-sized, gallon-sized, or larger? Or maybe marble-sized or pea-sized water pellets would work best.
Should the water be “eaten” like tiny liquid snacks that could be popped into your mouth at any time? Perhaps we would want flavored water like cherry water, tea water, coffee water, or chocolate water.
Maybe we don’t actually eat or drink the container. Once the inside water is gone, it may be possible to just discard the bottle onto a lawn or flowerbed, as a form of enviro-littering, and wait for it to re-liquefy, sending a few drops of moisture to the thirsty plants below.
How would we fabricate the container part of water? Would it somehow be molded, pressed, 3D printed or simply sprayed onto a form?
The process I’ve just described is what I call “situational futuring,” where we begin to explore the implications of some future technology. Here’s how this can be used as an effective futuring tool.
Much like dropping a rock into still water and watching the ripples form in every direction, situational futuring begins with a central idea, which grows into a series of rippling thoughts, issues, and questions expanding in every direction.
Unlike the study of macro or megatrends, situational futuring is a micro-futuring process that begins with a single invention, tiny idea, or what-if condition and expands from there.
The process begins with an initial scenario and asking some of the standard who-what-when-where-how-and-why questions. Probing deeper, questions formulated around things like timing, monetary implications, disruptive effects, symbiotic partners, who-wins-who-loses, wild cards, policy changes, and strange bedfellows will help expand your thinking even further.
This works particularly well in a brainstorming environment where thoughts and ideas can be quickly sketched out, described, or clarified so more can be added.
Inside these moments of micro-futuring is where the real treasures live. Companies wishing to expand their product line, service agencies seeking to streamline their processes, or design engineers wishing to gain a new perspective will all find this to be a valuable tool.
44 Examples of Situational Futuring
It all starts with the initial idea, so here are some examples of starting points designed to begin the conversational thread of situational futuring.
1. 3D Ice Printers A 3D printer designed to work exclusively with ice could be used to make ice sculptures, ice containers, ice cubes with your favorite liquor inside, ice logos for companies, and much more.
2. Water Harvesting Irrigation Spikes – Will it someday be possible to add atmospheric water harvesting ground-spikes next to every plant or tree in our garden? These devices will pull water from the air to irrigate nearby plants.
3. Quantified Self Skills Analysis – As employers lose confidence in traditional transcripts and college degrees as a predictor of success, they will turn towards more sophisticated attribute-matching systems for sorting through the ultra-granular quantifiable-self and finding the closest fit. People who don’t make the shortlist for a job opening will be given an auto-generated overview of their skill deficiencies and ways to improve upon them.
Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker. At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come. His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.