Wired: short takes on futuring techniques

Yesterday, Wired had a small feature which provided short descriptions of how “visionaries” spot the future.  Nothing groundbreaking, but I think Tim O’Reilly might have one of the more popular right now: he recommends coolhunting.

I don’t really think I spot the future; I spot the things in the present that tell us something about the future. I look for interesting people. I find the cool kids and then say, what are they doing?

VC attorney Chris Sacca agrees, saying people on Twitter do his due diligence on products worthy of investment and watching people shop in Best Buy is a good indicator of the market.  Peter Shwartz also agrees with the idea of watching people, only he looks at what the “smart kids” are doing.

Watch where scientific talent is heading. Science advances in part by attracting talented people. So if an area is attracting great talent and money from governments and companies, you can expect to see important change

On the other side, many of these visionaries ascribe to the idea that innovation has more to do with getting some of those smart people yourself and doing something daring with them.  MIT media lab director  Joi Ito says, “Agility is essential,” mouthing the other mantra of post-Fordist flexibility, but in the end this flexibility is best understood as having the capacity to react – meaning you have to have some good people who are ready for anything. As Vint Cerf puts it, “Some things get invented because it is suddenly possible to invent them.”  The passive voice elides the fact that this invention happens because there are smart people who are able to spend the time inventing them – and institutions to support and deliver that invention on a broader scale.

How many of these assumptions, then, are based on a precarious hangover from the disintegration of the Fordist model?  It could be argued that Post-Fordist capitalism has basically relied on a exploiting the capacities, infrastructures, and institutions of that earlier era, without necessarily replenishing the pond for the next round of innovation.  As we pull back the riens on public support for science, education, and infrastructure, who will be the cool kids and will there be any smart kids in any position to invent those amazing new things?  Or are these material circumstances already built into these assumptions?

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