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What is Product-Zeitgeist Fit?

I have witnessed startups launch new products or launch existing products in new markets for the past 15 years. One thing I can say for sure is that success mostly depends on the Product-Market Fit. Or so we’ve been told. 

According to leading VC fund Andreessen Horowitz, “Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.” (Marc Andreessen himself). According to Fred Wilson, success means “getting to the point where the market accepts your product and wants more of it.” Or as Andy Rachleff states it, “First to market seldom matters. Rather, first to product/market fit is almost always the long-term winner.” 

Funny enough “You can always feel when product/market fit isn’t happening. The customers aren’t quite getting value out of the product. Word of mouth isn’t spreading. Usage isn’t growing that fast. Press reviews are kind of ‘blah’. Sales cycle takes too long. Lots of deals never close. And you can always feel product/market fit when it’s happening.  The customers are buying the product just as fast as you can make it. Usage is growing just as fast as you can add more servers. Money from customers is piling up in your company checking account. You’re hiring sales and customer support staff as fast as you can. Reporters are calling because they’ve heard about your hot new thing and they want to talk to you about it. You start getting entrepreneur of the year awards from Harvard Business School. Investment bankers are staking out your house. You could eat free for a year at Buck’s.”

But then as all fads, Product-Market Fit got outdated and a new concept arose: go-to-market fit! More than the fit between a product and a market, success relies on the timeliness and acuteness of the Go-To-Market Fit. Meaning the Market but also the way you market for this market – or how you decline your marketing mix (product/packaging, pricing, distribution channels, promotion/communication) to address this specific market. 

According to Bob Tinker, author of the book Survival to Thrival and founding CEO of MobileIron, “Product-Market Fit isn’t sufficient to unlock growth for enterprise startups. There’s a missing link between finding Product-Market Fit and unlocking growth. That missing link didn’t have a name, but it is an equally important milestone and eureka moment. We call the missing link Go-To-Market Fit.”

In a16z Podcast that since then became famous, Bob Tinker, a16z general partner Peter Levine, and Hanne Tidnam discuss how to find the right go-to-market fit for the enterprise startup, and specifically how founders can avoid that moment of reckoning between product-market fit and actual growth. They mention the “Goldilocks problem” (not too early, not too late!) which consists in picking the right sales team and go-to-market model for a product and its customers. As Bob Tinker sums it up, Go-To-Market Fit relies on three components: a clear sales model, a repeatable Go-To-Market playbook to identify customers and close deals, and a sense of urgency. Only when the three line up, can the company unlock growth!

Now Andreessen-Horowitz investment partner D’Arcy Coolican tells us, we’ve gone one step further and what matters on top of that is the fit with the spirit of the moment, Zeitgeist. Not sure this is really brand-new as investor decks provided by entrepreneurs looking for funding more and more frequently include a “Momentum” part, showing why the opportunity must be seized now, echoing the product-market fit climax. In simple words, if the product you build surfs on the “air du temps”, you get a competitive advantage. 

D’Arcy Coolican has the merit to conceptualize the thing into a brand-new idea: Product-Zeitgeist Fit. And he illustrates it as such: “Whether it’s privacy products, frustration with the attention economy, the Marie Kondo-ification of everything including clothes, or the desire for a new social network (of which there have been many attempts lately) – The founders that are building on top of these ideas today all have a massive advantage today.” And similarly as Marc Andreessen’s Product-Market Fit reality check, D’Arcy Coolican has identified four signals: 

  • “Nerd Heat” (Chris Dixon): the most talented, hardest working, and most in-demand people (product managers, engineers, data scientists) are so intrigued by a product that they’re working on it, excited by it, and trying to make it a thing. 
  • The “Despite Test”: people are using a product despite the fact that it’s not the best thing out there, showing that the product has a line into something emotional, not solely functional.
  • The “T-shirt Test”: people with no connection to the company are wearing their t-shirts or putting their stickers on their laptops or wearing their socks. This desire to associate with the idea indicates as much a movement as a product.
  • The “Eyebrow Test”: in the early days, things that have product zeitgeist fit often feel misunderstood or controversial. “At first blush, the conceit may even raise a few eyebrows. But to the people who have been working on those products, they’re so clearly elegant, if temporarily imperfect, solutions to big and important problems that they seem almost obvious once they recognize it.”

Having designed go-to-market plans for years while being frustrated because of entrepreneurs’ narrow vision and focus on short-term profitability, I can only celebrate that investors now evangelize over product-zeitgeist fit. As D’Arcy Collican encourages, “If you’re just trying to figure out what the future looks like, not just build it, look for the things that are broken and terrible but that people still really care about.” I personally believe that we must reconnect go-to-market fit approaches with futures thinking. I have even changed my focus to dedicate myself to helping entrepreneurs think in the longer run with a strategic foresight focus. I could very well advocate for a Product-Futures Fit! Stay tuned for Andreessen Horowitz next conceptual updates.

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Top Resources for Futures Thinkers

So there it is! I’ve put down on paper my list of favorite resources as a futurist living in Silicon Valley. The list is non-exhaustive and evolving. Please feel free to share your own – I’d be happy to consider additions!

Noticeable companies

  • Google X, the moonshot factory (American semi-secret research and development facility and organization founded by Google): https://x.company/ 
  • SpaceX (company founded by Elon Musk which designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft): https://www.spacex.com/ 

Institutes and consultancies

  • Institute for the Future (Silicon Valley-based not-for-profit research group and think tank focused on Futures Thinking): http://www.iftf.org/home/ 
  • Singularity University (company that offers executive educational programs, a business incubator and innovation consultancy service within the NASA Research Park): https://su.org/
  • Creative Strategies (Silicon Valley based market research firm focused on the global technology market): https://creativestrategies.com/ 
  • Mission 2 Mars Academy (Silicon Valley-based online accelerator that helps global startups and corporations to innovate successfully): https://www.mission2mars.academy/ 
  • Silicon Valley Future Academy (Silicon Valley-based global education and consulting company that helps companies and leaders design/execute innovation, technology and business solutions): http://svfacademy.com/en 
  • The Hive (VC Fund, Co-creation Studio for Startups & Think Tank focused on AI and data): https://hivedata.com/ 
  • Fabernovel (Global innovation agency focused on digital transformation, Paris HQ): http://www.fabernovel.us/

Meetups and conferences

Online resources

Professional groups

Sponsored Food Trucks & Free Food For All!

Every day at noon, Lenna walks down the street to have lunch. She meets with her friends Amelie (Uber freight driver) and Sam (VR game developer) at the closest AdStar food truck. 

They’ve checked on the maps through the AdStar app where today’s food trucks are located – at the corner, there is one Indian fusion food truck sponsored by Samsung. If they walk 5 minutes north, they can enjoy the Thin crust pizza truck sponsored by Virgin. And down the Disney store, there is always the Worldfood truck that Disney makes more attractive each day.

Today, they opt for the closest one (Samsung), as they already had Italian with the Google sponsored truck yesterday and Disney is usually too crowded and they are not able to use the fast pass feature (only in the premium version of the AdStar app). 

At the Samsung sponsored truck, there is almost no line, as most of the people have already ordered from the app. When their Indian burgers are delivered, Lenna, Amelie and Sam tear off the recycling paper package with the Samsung logo and VR code on it. 

Sam loves to scan the VR codes to access fun VR videos and coupons. A month ago she participated in a competition and won first prize – the latest Sony bedset (integrating SuperHD loudspeaker connecting with her whole new Enhanced Reality projection system)! 

Before they go back to their respective activities, they stop for a bubble tea at the Baidu coffee and tea truck. Oh, and did I mention they got all this for free?

Ads Are Losing Their Sense Of Humor

And Our Shopping Assistants Are Responsible For This!

Now that more than 100 million homes are equipped with virtual assistants replacing us in most everyday activities including buying products, we are faced with three levels of evolutions, as Jamais Cascio details in his scenario “Machines as the New Consumer Class“. Let’s dig into this future together…

Smarter shopping agents

First of all, shopping agents are getting smarter and smarter, and consist in way more than a Google search for a product! “Today, shopping agents put out requests for bids, run one-second auctions, and share information along trusted circles about how well the products fit the needs of the humans in real-world use, not just a checklist of features.” Preferred software will include a flexible ranking of needs and special attention to customer price sensitivity. The best assistants also include an “experimental” setting, allowing the shopping agent to purchase something new outside of the “comfort zone”.

A very interesting aspect is that despite these advancements, virtual assistants are not able (yet) to completely reproduce the human behavior which consists into reevaluating one’s needs according to results and to get tired or bored after a while, incorporating irrationality in the decision process. As a matter of fact, machines have much more patience than human beings! “Computerized buyers never get bored or tired, never are distracted by crying children or hunger, and—most importantly—never suffer the same asymmetry of information that has been an inescapable component of human retail.” But we are only at the beginning of the optimization of the assisted shopping experience, so this could very well be changing soon!

Advertising directed towards shopping agents

Another crucial consequence is that advertising is changing its very nature with new areas of development as pitches are addressing machines. Shopping agents represent a whole new buyer persona for advertisers! This translates into two major changes.

First, ads become more about pushing forward detailed list of features as agents can read and decipher large amounts of data and will proceed to flash comparison. In addition, virtual shoppers will be faced with “coupons provided alongside a purchase, and even blip advertisements in media, too fast for human eyes to follow but ideal for communicating with the software in the home-control or wearable systems”.

Secondly, ads are losing creativity and sense of humor, as shopping agents are not sensitive to this very human activity yet! In the future, differentiation will probably be less about brand image than about products’ real value proposition. One can wonder what the future of marketing and advertising is going to be in a world where we sell to bots and no longer to people. Does it signal the end of creative commercials and advertising agencies? And what about the top Superbowl’s commercials that people savor like art house cinema each year?

New forms of spams and scams

A field in which creativity is still flourishing is the reign of spams and scams directed towards machines! Spam filters will need to be fine-tuned to let in legitimate commercial messaging while still blocking out unwanted enticements. High-efficiency spam filters are already been developed. 

The risks are even bigger with scams and the uprising of “Advertising Engine Optimization”. The principle is the following: these bots routinely ping shopping agents with a set of product offers, each with a slight variation in features (A/B-testing like), to identify which characteristics are more likely to trigger an inquiry. We also notice that “Pop-up sellers advertise and sell products that fit a shopping agent’s requirements, but deliver something entirely different—and disappear from the network immediately after a sale.”

For shopping agent providers and advertisers, this means an investment into fighting illegitimate practices that disturb the overall buying experience. And as products and services are increasingly designed to display data that appeal to shopping agent software, brands will be faced with a decisive dilemma: Optimize for humans vs. optimize for machines!

The Transformation of Pharmacy

“I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant: I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.”

– Hypocratic Oath

It has become a leitmotiv: “Pharmacy needs to transform from product to service.” But how so? As part of the healthcare ecosystem, pharmacies share common objectives such as improving and maintaining the health of patients at the lowest possible cost to the system. Retail pharmacies are now thinking about the Pharmacy of the Future with a stronger integration of the pharmacist as a personal care point of contact who can guide patients along their healthcare lifecycle. Pharmacies are changing from a transactional model to a relational model, where pharmacists are at the center of the experience. 

One important thing to notice is that pharmacies present intervention for multiple buyer personae and at different stages of the health cycle. Pharmacies can be a “destination for the healthy” and a “solution center for the sick” at the same time. When people are healthy, the pharmacy is the logical choice for products and services to remain healthy. When people have chronic illness, pharmacists can help them manage their condition. When they have an injury or illness, pharmacy is the top of mind choice to guide them on their journey back to health.

A first set of actions consists in expanding immunization programs. Today pharmacies mostly offer seasonal flu shots. What if, in the future, they could offer year-round immunizations allowing patients to access all types of vaccines against pneumonia, shingles or even travel vaccines. 

Another set of actions to become a first-hand center for the sick would be to convert into a point-of-care testing. Patients could proceed to basic testing at the pharmacy for blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood sugar. Early detection and diagnosis would enable immediate treatment and avoid costly complications later. As Chris Dimos, President of retail solutions at McKesson anticipates, retail pharmacies could even offer things like “pharmacogenomic testing to help patients understand how their genes affect their body’s response to the medication and which medication may be right for them.” In other words, multiply the number of point-of-care technology for screening and testing.

In addition, pharmacies could become an omnichannel platform for health resources. An app could connect patients to online health information. Specialists could offer face-to-face counseling with patients on wellness topics such as smoking cessation, planned parenthood, or nutrition. Videos could run in-store, and flyers could be provided at the counter.  Patients could enjoy two-way digital communication with their pharmacist via an app or video conferencing. The customer journey would be more integrated as well, with patients ordering refills online and getting their drugs delivered to their home, as the digital pharmacy Alto is already enabling: it streamlines the prescription procurement process and offers digital tools to further improve the experience of every party involved. Patients can consult with Alto’s support team seven days a week and get prescriptions delivered to their door for free through Alto’s mobile app; doctors gain time thanks to the AltoMD solution that automates time-consuming prescription management tasks.

Finally, wearables, sensors and remote monitoring could provide additional data for the pharmacist to alert patients with asthma that they’re at risk because of their ambient air quality and provide recommendations such as using a rescue inhaler or staying away from high-allergen areas. Smart bathrooms equipped with connected toilets will help gather further patient information (Read our article Are we ready for Smart Toilets?). Collected patient data could also help build predictive analysis models and improve diagnosis and recommendations. 

Consequently, the Pharmacy of the Future will continue to sell medicine and wellness products, but in addition it will provide patients with clinical services (immunization, testing, first-aid), as well as health and wellness information. A correlated questions is: how are pharmacists be prepared for this change of job, which will not only include further knowledge of drugs, but also communication skills? And always the recurring yet crucial question: who will pay for these extended services?

The New Timescape

“Remember that time is money”

– Benjamin Franklin

During the First Wave (agricultural societies) and still recently in some civilizations, people were not paid hourly, but usually received a fraction of their production. This resulted in a different relationship to time from ours. As Marina Gorbis details in her paper “Back to the Future: From time-based to task-based work”, “Not long ago in parts of Madagascar people measured time in units of rice cooking – how long it took to cook a pot of rice (about half an hour) or how long it took to fry a locust (a moment). Native people in Southern Nigeria used the saying: A man died in less than the time in which maize is not yet completely roasted (less than 15 minutes). (…) The clock was sometimes referred to as the devil’s mill. In such places, there were no precise meal times, the notion of an exact appointment time was unknown and people agreed to meet at the next market. This kind of un-timed, imprecise way of living may seem alien and quaint to us today but, in fact, throughout most of our history, before we invented clocks and highly efficient industrialized production, we did not view time as a measurable commodity to be sold for money, traded or organized. Instead, our conception of time was tightly linked to tasks that needed to be done.”

It is only with the Second Wave (industrial age), that the pricing of labor became based on time: factory workers were paid by the hour and we started measuring labor productivity (amount produced over time). Later on, norms were established, with U.S. employees working 9 to 5 including a 30- to 60-minute break for lunch. Time started being standardized, with masses of people eating, commuting, working, shopping, and entertaining themselves following a similar schedule. The same time discipline applied to schools. As Alvin and Heidi Toffler state it in their book Revolution Wealth, “In yesterday’s work world, time was packaged in standard lengths. Labor contracts and federal laws made overtime expensive for employers and discouraged deviance from standard time packages.” For years, we somehow considered that this time-based work and life system was mostly unchallenged, until we recently started experiencing a shift…

So what about this Third Wave? “By contrast, today’s emergent economy, for which those schoolchildren are being misprepared, runs on radically different temporal principles. In it, we are fragmenting yesterday’standard time packages as we shift from collective time to customized time.” (Alvin and Heidi Toffler).  Yes, work in fundamentally changing and as Daniel H. Pink describes in his book Free Agent Nation, U.S. labor force is increasingly composed of “free agents” (33 million) setting their own hours and many of which work from home, coworking spaces, libraries, or coffee houses – self-employed professionals, freelancers, independent contractors, consultants, digital nomads, etc. As work schedules are being fragmented, so are social life, family routine and leisure time. Think how cable TV and national television reunion (Good Morning America, Saturday Night Live, Late shows, etc.) are being replaced by on-demand streaming services. Schedules are so individualized, fragmented and unpredictable that family and friends cannot assume they can gather face-to-face anymore. They have to arrange meeting ahead of time and often share calendars to show availability. Last minute cancellation has become commonplace. In addition, individuals can choose when to buy and when to be delivered. Thanks to e-commerce, they are not limited by store opening hours anymore. The change is also happening in the physical commerce which is more and more 24/7, even if in some countries (France), we witness resistance from workers, unions, and lobbyists against store opening on Sundays. According to Alvin and Heidi Toffler, “Continuous-flow services permit consumption schedules to be designed by each individual, thus further promoting the shift to irregular time. In both production and consumption, then, times and tempos are becoming more complex and de-massified, This, in turn, has consequences for every business, in every sector, and for economies at every level of development.”

For futurists, looking back is a vital component of preparing for looking forward. What this thought-exercise tells us in the case of time conception, is that what we tend to think of as a given (time-based work) being shattered by latest technology and trends such as uberisation (task-based work) is not exactly the case. It seems much more that we are slowly leaving a short-life (200-300 years) time-based work system to adopt a new time/work paradigm which reminds us in some ways in the ancient task-based system! Of course, even if we come back to task-based work, it is likely to differ greatly from the task-based living of our ancestors. But even so, we need to slowly detach ourselves from this time-based work vision to fully embrace the new fragmented timescape and its correlated activity-based system. And to end on a positive note, there is a hope that instead of increasing commodification of our time, intensified automation will enable us to “decommodify our notions of time and re-capture that which is unproductive, unplanned, unpredictable, and yet uniquely human?” (Marina Gorbis). On this re-capture of our human self, I truly believe in a No-tech-land: Remains of our human nature.

Senior Villages to brighten the Future of Aging

“It takes a village to support our seniors”

– Proverb

More and more older people will be able to live independently and comfortably at home while aging, thanks to the development of senior villages. These community-based villages offer a set of services based on volunteering, tech equipment and reciprocal support. The first named Village in the U.S. opened in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston in 2002. Growing interest in the model has led to a surge in new Villages in recent years, with over 200 Villages operating in 2017 and more than 150 in development. The national nonprofit Village to Village Network (VtV Network) was formed in 2010 to share best practices and offer guidance to both existing and developing Villages.

As people are aging with an expanded health span, it represents a change from institution-based care often linked with physical dependency and exclusion from family and social life, to a better quality end of life based on self-sufficiency. 80% of older adults desire to remain in their homes and communities as long as possible, rather than move to age-segregated facilities (source: AARP). “Aging-in-Place” describes the ability to live independently and comfortably at home while aging, regardless of income, race, or general ability level. Villages offer an aging-in-place option for seniors to stay in their home environment while still being cared for.

Aging people want to be able to choose the place where they will end their life and not be forced into institutionalization. Villages represent a solution to go beyond the dilemma between care/support (facilities) and independency (home alone). This also provides families with peace of mind, as they feel their parents are getting frail but they don’t want to isolate them in care facilities. In addition, this represents a means for the society as a whole to offer a more humane solution to the “aging issue”. Insurances and government might be interested as well as medical expenses linked to residential care facilities will be reduced.

There would be an extended continuum of solutions for seniors, from the home to residential facilities to fully-medicalized senior care institutions. Villages will be more and more frequent and host several generations of seniors. Their interactions will rely on mutual support and exchange of services, from daily life routine (groceries, cleaning, mail), to medical followup, from home maintenance (home improvement, IT equipment) to social and leisure activities (sports, games, movies). Freshly retired individuals will remain active as they support older ones in their everyday tasks and organize social activities to mix different generations of seniors. Healthcare providers will be more mobile and care will be decentralized from the hospital and medical facilities to move to the home. Technology and services companies will develop solutions to equip villages, giving seniors even more autonomy, while making sure they receive the monitoring, diagnostics abilities, support and adapted treatment. Entertainment companies will adapt to provide seniors with on-site activities. Costs will be reduced for individuals, families and society as less staff will be needed,

No doubt, there’s work to do to plan the Senior Village of the Future, in terms of health care decentralization, urban architecture, optimization of daily routine processes and creation of entertainment services. So… who’s in to join the effort?

Are we ready for Smart Toilets?

“The flush toilet, more than any single invention, has ‘civilized’ us in a way that religion and law could never accomplish.” – Thomas Lynch

In the realm of the smart home business, Google is now looking at the bathroom as demonstrated by some recently filed patents by the company. In the future, toilet seats, bath mats, bathroom mirrors, bath tubs might embed sensors and cameras to help us track our health – heart rate, skin color variations, blood pressure, echo test, electrical patterns, you name it! The collected data could then very well be sent to health professionals…

Have I mentioned that this could very well include analysis of your toilet’s contents? What caught my interest here, is that this signal represents a change in the way we comprehend bodily waste, from a private issue to a health concern. Nowadays bathrooms are mostly private and there is disgust and social shame around our excretion in most civilizations. At the same time, it does represent a very rich source of data on our health and condition. Changing the way we think about bodily waste to use it as information to receive better diagnostic and better treatment is revolutionary.

No doubt, we can foresee many advantages. First of all, for the individuals concerned, they would be diagnosed in the earliest stages. Many people don’t particularly enjoy getting lab work done, or they don’t have easy access to a lab, and some are not even aware that they might be sick. This would gain a lot of time regarding diagnostic and treatment. For society as a whole, it could represent a gain in medical expenses, as we could detect problems earlier and prevent the condition from deteriorating. Some institutions such as hospitals, senior homes, colleges could equip at large and use such feature for their residents to detect high level of blood sugar, bacteria proliferation, presence of drugs, pregnancy hormones, etc.

As soon, as lab work will be part of the smart bathroom and connected home, patients won’t need to wait for symptoms, then visit a doctor to get a prescription, then go to the lab, then wait for the results, then go back to the doctors, then go to the pharmacy, then receive treatment, then do go back to doctor-lab-pharmacy for followup. The cycle would be much shorter and integrated. For example as soon as they detect a vitamin deficiency or blood sugar highs, individuals could proceed to the adapted treatment. Pharmacy could be connected to smart toilets, doctors could be aware and validate the prescription, and patients could receive vitamin complements or insulin refills in less than no time. 

It does look like an exciting future, even if slightly scary. First of all, you’d probably feel that your bodily fluids could tell more about yourself to others than you know yourself if that data escapes you and is communicated to healthcare providers. There might be some false alerts as well, which could create additional stress, whereas the body is often able to regulate over time before treatment is needed. It would also make the very private place that the bathroom place is, a place invaded by technology accompanied by the feeling that “someone is watching you” – but I’m wondering if this latest threat is not becoming less significant as more and more people are actually already using their phones on the toilets…!

No-tech-land: Remains of the human nature

“Man is by nature a social animal”

– Aristotle, Politics.

I have been a pessimist for quite a while, running countless catastrophic scenarios in my head about the end of our species in a not-so-distant future. I might have been a little too much influenced by Matrix or Terminator-like prophecies. Or maybe just by our children’s school parking lot filled with Teslas ignoring right-of-ways and by holiday choir spoiled by overly present technology – as soon as the kids appear on stage, 50 phone screens pop out and block the view. Do we still know how to enjoy a show without recording it? I am wondering how often other parents actually re-watch the video and how much they remember of what actually happened in front of them.

Yet these past weeks, I’ve put my cynical hat in the closet to read extensively about signals of the future and I have had a good lot of positive surprises about the use of technology in the future of humankind. I have collected a few signals that I’d like to share with you:

  • After the disturbing paradox between hyper narcissism on social media and collective hysteria around data breach, Europe has led the way to reinforce data privacy and data protection under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Since 2018, entities collecting personal data must clearly disclose and explain the purpose for data processing. Individuals have the right to request a copy of the data collected and the right to have it erased. The job of data protection officer (DPO) has been created within public authorities and data businesses. Companies must report data breaches within 72 hours.
  • After years during which bots have been suspected of misleading users by artificially inflating counts of followers and likes, and manufacturing consensus on divisive issues, California passed the Bolstering Online Transparency (BOT) bill. The bill requires all bots that attempt to influence California residents’ voting or purchasing behaviors to declare themselves. The owner or creator of the bot is responsible for prominently designating the account as automated.
  • After scaring us as “stealing our jobs”, artificial intelligence becomes more human-like. As an example, the computer vision research team at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence recently released a collaborative game where a human and an AI take turns drawing scenes that the other can understand and identify correctly. The goal of the game is to improve human-AI communication. 
  • On the one hand, there has been a lot of talking and demonstrating with XR (AR/VR/MR) as driving the future of gaming. But on the other hand, board games have exploded these past twenty years, going beyond the traditional Monopoly and Scrabble to offering games like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride (which sold many millions of copies), diversifying designs and scenarios, spreading out with extensions and derivatives. Game stores and game cafes are proliferating. In 2018, tabletop games raised $165 million on Kickstarter and the global board games market size is expected to reach values of over $12 billion by 2023. The future of gaming is not only virtual! Actually it may be the opposite: we now have so much screen time in our lives, that board games provide a refreshing refuge from them!
  • As cell phones have proven to be disrupting and occulting real-life bonding among individuals (researchers found evidence they can have negative effects on closeness, connection, and conversation quality), people are now throwing device-free parties. Cell phone is banished from the date at the restaurant. Guests must leave their device in a basket as they arrive at their host. Couples arrange for phone-free weekends and enjoy vacations in places where cell phones are absent, such as Club Med villages, which resemble ancient times communities where signals were transmitted through word-of-mouth. Schools now provide Macbooks or iPads, but they also do favor cultivating a garden or a small farm. Field trips to the local senior center for singing Christmas songs are still a school favorite. For Thanksgiving, families organize potlucks. On the table you will find a mix of family-owned traditional meals and best online-voted recipes. And most of all, people still enjoy doing sports together and talk about sports together – they can actually do that for hours at a Thanksgiving or Big Bowl dinner!
  • Our most-advanced technologists love to rearrange their schedule around no-tech features. So-called Chief Happiness Officers in big corporations encourage their staff to take time off, give back some of their time to charities, and enjoy on-campus activities such as metabolic fitness, comics book club or cooking lessons. Employees participate in product testing and gain massage points. VPs conduct their meetings on conference bikes. Mindfulness teachers, chess grandmasters et world-explorers come share their wisdom at conferences and books signings during lunch time. And CXOs lead the way: Google cofounder Sergey Brin loves high-adrenaline exercises such as skydiving. Senior execs leave for disconnected vacation or sabbatical: their staff are unable to tell where they are, when they come back and how to contact them. After holding positions at Instagram, Google, Facebook and as current director of data science at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Dan Zigmond wrote a book titled Buddha’s Office on how to wake up at our day jobs. If even in the most technology-advanced companies, we are invited to treasure our wellness, there is still hope for humankind!

For all these reasons, I feel optimistic these days. Human beings are social animals by nature, dixit Aristotle. In other words, don’t dramatize, we are not ready to be completely androized yet! Our nature is coming back at us and we still need our moments without technology. We need relief from the overload of information and constant solicitation technology can bring. The future will not be over-technologized or less technologized. I believe we will reach a balance where most of our life is technology-supported, but where we will still cherish disconnected time capsules. So let’s pursue and cultivate our no-tech-lands!

Futures Thinking, Family Therapy

“A robust forecast is a collective endeavor; it’s very much a product of collective intelligence.” 

– Marina Gorbis

There is no doubt, Futures thinking can help on many levels with immense outputs:

  • A tech company anticipating the consequences of more consumers using its new products 
  • A city government incorporating climate change and social impact in its development
  • A university planning its curriculum to prepare students with work skills that will be needed for jobs of the future
  • A food manufacturer basing new meals on new trends in diet and food technology
  • A VC investing in companies aligned with a positive impact vision
  • An entrepreneur willing to have an impact and change the world
  • A CEO trying to survive shifts and disruptions in a competitive market
  • An artist or science-fiction writer willing to inspire and convey hope
  • A scientist figuring out how to prevent the next deadly pandemic
  • An activist or an NGO acting for a better quality of life or preserved planet
  • Individuals and families looking for the best place to live in

Mainly, with Futures thinking skills, you can help anyone think more creatively, strategically and imaginatively, and prepare, innovate or make a difference.

However there is one thing I would like to add, like my first little stone to the immense Futures Thinking edifice. Thinking about a Future can actually be a family therapy! 

My father and I had these intense family dinner debates about politics and economics since I was a child. I remember having suggested to create a party of philosophers, for politicians to act with long-term wisdom. My father laughed at me: politicians need actual action-based skills to govern, they think about their next election, they want actions that can be completed within the time frame of their mandate. Plus philosophers are too much in their ivory towers, meaning by which he meant think too abstractly, instead of being on the field living the real life of real people. Ecology parties were emerging in Germany or France, but they seemed apolitical, as a new dimension to politics. By then (end of the 1990’s) politics were mostly bilateral, being social-oriented or being business-oriented. A lot has happened since then and many political figures are now sensible to social impact, climate change, sustainability. There has been more awareness around the risks for future generations and the importance to protect our children. 

On a more individual level, my father and I are closer in views today – well, I think, perhaps Christmas Eve will tell us otherwise. On the one end, after a productive life within a powerplant company, working on selling IT services, he has retired and has become a sort of philosopher and poet, reading a lot about the future of our society and trying to transcript his perception into poetry. On my end, after idealistic views as a philosophy and sociology student, I’ve turned to business and moved to Silicon Valley to help tech companies make money and investors make even more money. I feel that now coming back to long-term vision and ethics as I am launching my Futurist activity, we are finally meeting over the big questions. Some days he’s optimistic and some days he’s disoriented. I hope to bring a certain serenity that a Futures Thinking methodology can bring. But I am mostly happy that we overcome our disagreement and are able to talk about what we now both feel is important.

I like to think that our initial intellectual differences and our common questioning about tomorrow is an illustration of more common intergenerational conflict and solutioning. I hear his complaints and hopes based on facts, experience, and extensive readings, and I moderate with structure, framework, methodology. 

We come from different backgrounds, we are at different milestones of our lives, but we seem to have a common goal. A hopeful future.

Becoming a Futurist

“In dealing with the future, it is far more important to be imaginative than to be right.”

– Alvin Toffler, Future Shock. 

So will you believe it? I’ve turned the corner and put my job on hold as a co-founder of a cool startup (great team and fun business, but definitely a feeling of déjà-vu) to dedicate myself to a new project. I want to become a Futurist. A what? Yes, a futurist. Are you kidding me? What the…? My husband is patient and supportive of my every passion, but let’s say that this time his jaws dropped to the floor. 

Not only do I think it’s the coolest job in the world, I am actually also wondering why not everybody is willing to become a futures themself! Or even, isn’t everybody supposed to be one? Preparing for our future is the most important and most exciting thing in the world. Okay, I tend to become overly excited when I find myself a new passion. But somehow I feel that this time, it is will be a lasting one. It is a revelation: Futures thinking is at the crossroad of all my interests and hobbies!

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SOCIOLOGY / First of all as part of my background, I studied philosophy, sociology and anthropology. In college I loved to think about the future of our society, the organization and evolution of work patterns and human behaviors at work, and I dreamt of becoming a Sociologist for Private companies. Somehow I never ever really found a job offer designed for Sociologists in the business world. But a little tiny part of brain never totally gave up on this and as the concept of Future of Work arose, my dream started having a second life.

TECHNOLOGY / Then I spent my past 15 years working closely with Corporate innovation leaders and Consulting with technology startups. I’ve witnessed the emergence of more technologies and products aimed at changing the face of our earth than I can count, some in minor range, some at a bigger scale. 

STRATEGY / As a consultant I also got to mix both quantitative analysis tools and creativity to develop framework to answer the main questions of my clients: how to sign deals, how to gain traction, how to increase our customer basis, how to make more money, etc. But whereas my colleagues would be all about finding customers (a nice smart goal I admit), I took my pleasure in this aha moment, when entrepreneurs start thinking differently about their business. When I knew that I had brought them the facts to make up or even change their mind. When I knew that something had just clicked. And most of the time, this aha moment was linked to meaningful (and often visual) representations of the future and a strategic roadmap to seize the opportunity that this future opens to them. Afterwards we would be able to design an action plan to address these new challenges. Going from a short-term vision based on opportunism to a strong strategy-oriented state-of-mind has been my motto my whole consulting career. 

So now what? I discover that a job description combining all these skills actually exists. According to the Institute of the Future, futures thinking is said to rely on 7 key strengths:

Creativity, Imagination

Mental Flexibility

Foresight

Practical skepticism

Empathy

Strategy

Hope

Note that in Futures thinking, there is a plural at Futures, as we do not envision just one Future, we draw scenarios out of possibilities. Being mentally flexible, and able to imagine what could be(-come), instead of being fixed on a single most accurate future, also gives us agency to develop the right tools, technologies, forms of organizations, and lead individual and collective actions, in order to create together the future we want for humankind. That’s why hope is also a core element of Futures Thinking. 

Now my husband starts to understand it better, right this sounds like it’s meant for you. So what should you do? Is there a training? What should I do to support you? (Ah I love him!) Very well, for starters I need to read and learn a lot about the methodology. In no time I am enrolling in all possible Coursera classes from the Institute of the Future, determined that I am done for the job.

But yes of course, I still need to convince others, like for example… employers! So second step, I have decided to start this blog to share with you my path to become a futurist and my amazing discoveries along the way!

Through the Looking Glass

“So many choices, you end up not knowing which one you want.”

Hang the DJ, Black Mirror

Did I already tell you that I’m going through a Netflix binge-watching fad? Well, I probably haven’t told you yet how I am actually going through a deeper existential crisis, as lately I have been falling asleep after absorbing an alarming number of Black Mirror predictive scenarios, inhabiting my nightmares with harrowing visions of the future.

My husband is more of the American Horror Story type, with pure horror thrill, while I am engaging more intensely with realistic futurist fright. You take one idea, one innovation, one technology, and you push it to develop to its furthest, unanticipated and worst consequences. You take a good mind willing to advance humanity and you also investigate what will become if their findings are misused, or even worse… if these findings get their own autonomy and escape our control, as in the scary Metalhead episode. There it is, you have the existential vertigo… What will humankind look like in 10 years, 20 years, 50 years? (What will have become of this stupid Futures Thinking blog?).

My Top 10 “Black Mirror” Episodes

“Be Right Back” (Season 2, Episode 1) > The Future of Grief
“Metalhead” (Season 4, Episode 5) > The Future of Law Enforcement
“The Entire History of You” (Season 1, Episode 3) > The Future of Relationships (…)

Black Mirror’s creator Charlie Brooker revealed the meaning of its title in The Guardian (2014): “Any TV, any LCD, any iPhone, any iPad – something like that – if you just stare at it, it looks like a black mirror, and there’s something cold and horrifying about that, and it was such a fitting title for the show.” The show relies on the idea that our screens – and by extent modern technology – not only offer a reflection but also magnify the darkest aspects of our human nature. 

I like to believe that it also refers to the Magic Mirror in Snow White’s tale whom the Evil Queen is asking for repeated reassurance that she is the fairest… Until she isn’t pleased with the mirror’s answer which unleashes her rage and Snow White’s death hunt.

Another wink is probably Alice’s looking glass and what she finds behind the mirror and the appeal of parallel worlds, as in the San Junipero or USS Callister episodes.

The core questions are actually not only what you see in the mirror, but also what do people see from the other side of the mirror and you can think of Black Museum’s mindtrapping technologies.

I’ve tried to compile my own list of episodes, rating them according to the intensity of existential vertigo they created in me:

#1 – “Be Right Back” (Season 2, Episode 1) > The Future of Grief 

#2 – “Metalhead” (Season 4, Episode 5) > The Future of Law Enforcement

#3 – “The Entire History of You” (Season 1, Episode 3) > The Future of Relationships

#4 – “Nosedive” (Season 3, Episode 1) > The Future of Social Reputation

#5 – “San Junipero” (Season 3, Episode 4) > The Future of Sickness

#6 – “Arkangel” (Season 4, Episode 2) > The Future of Parenthood

#7 – “Hang the DJ” (Season 4, Episode 4) > The Future of Dating

#8 – “USS Callister” (Season 4, Episode 1) > The Future of Gaming

#9 – “Black Museum” (Season 4, Episode 6) > The Future of Death Penalty

#10 – “The National Anthem” (Season 1, Episode 1) > The Future of Politics

By the way, have you noticed the irony of it? Black Mirror is itself bound to be played on a black mirror. And there I have it again the Black Mirror vertigo feeling…

Fit for the Future

“The future is dark, which on the whole, is the best thing the future can be, I think.”

– Virginia Wolf, writer

Once a year, my husband and I subscribe to a free 30-day Netflix trial. We love discovering the latest shows and keeping up-to-date with our favorites, as latest seasons are rarely available in city libraries, our primary source of entertainment – yes, we are dinosaurs on some aspects. However, with three kids at home, two full-time jobs, no family living nearby, the Netflix mania cannot last longer than those 30 days every year, given how sleep-deprived we already all are just a week into the trial. And I am also including our three-year old who sneaks into our bed to watch Dark with us. Who knows? He might have a little something for German prosody…

So here we are, it’s that time of the year again, when our friends don’t get to see us anymore, as we are stuck to the screen in an intense binging marathon. Suddenly an avalanche of gloomy TV series and morbid movies and depressing thrillers with serial killer-antiheroes and drug-dealing novices open up. At first, we want to watch them all. After 7 ranking review and some IMDB rating checking, our playlist shrinks to 50. I see my husband eyeing at an expected part of the screen advertising a show about his first musical love, the diva Dolly Parton. But he’s not in a lucky day, I have the remote in hand for once and I hear myself say Look, what do you think of this one? as I launch Inside Bill’s Brain. Out of an (almost) infinite catalog of series and films, I choose what…? a documentary about the life, thoughts and humanitarian projects of Bill Gates, whom I know so much and so little about at the same time. Sure he was my father’s greatest inspiration to become an IT guy, then the super villain during the “Microsoft will eat us all alive” era, finally a clever retired philanthropist as other giant villains take over the newly vacated role. But, how come we are now watching this guy reading books as he nervously chews on his glasses? And how come that the more I watch and the more I want to continue watching? 

I turn to my husband, still in need to go check the Dolly Parton thing, and tell him: I think I’ve found myself a hero of my own. And now I am dreaming of installing revolutionary sanitation systems in Africa, and I want to leave my job and start all over again and I fall in my eternal identity crisis doubled by a devastating imposter syndrom: What I do is so inconsistent – helping startuppers raise funding to develop a new CRM, analytics platform or dating app? What pain points are they addressing? You know I love entrepreneurs, I’ve been helping startups flourish for years now, but hey how useful are they to our Earth, and – more hurtful question – how useful am I? How useful am I… 

The cool thing is, I am now in Bill’s brain and I feel that I should refocus my mission on earth to just one thing: act for a better future. After all, I am a millennial. 

Suddenly everything makes sense – I always had this feeling that I don’t belong, that I will never find my dream job, that I don’t like to commute hours and come back too late to enjoy life with my kids, that I am strictly unable to work in an organization with a superior anymore, that I will always remain a consultant, freelance, entrepreneur, whatever, I am hitting the dreaded glass ceiling in my area of expertise, but that I am unable to go sell myself for a real job in a real company with a real boss and real colleagues, that I am an unfit individual, not adapted to this world. 

But now I see it. This is the other way around. I am not unfit. I am fit for a changing world, I am just riding on a second curve, not the one of our old past, but the one of the future of work. My own unfitness is one of the signals that the future is made of a more fragmented and fluid work. And now my role is to make us all, collectively, fit for the future! Are you ready for the challenge?