• Nadine Rinderknecht

Steps towards a vision (part 1 – master the basics)

Updated: May 4

A vision can be a useful guide to navigate the confusion (aka: world) and develop more innovative and far-sighted solutions. But how can you arrive at a vision of society and law?


Level: Advanced



Table of contents


Introduction

Opportunities and risks of visions


Part 1 - Master the basics:

Step 1: Learn from the past

Step 2: Know the megatrends

Step 3: Know the smaller trends

Step 4: Do (not) foresee the future


Part 2 - Develop your own vision (coming soon!)


Part 3 - Apply your vision (coming soon!)



Introduction


We live in a world that is moving faster and faster, constantly gaining in diversity and complexity. More and more objects are becoming "smart", communicating frenetically with each other and exchanging data. New technologies are coming onto the market along with innovative business models and – ultimately – great opportunities but also challenges for society. In such a world, it's easy to get lost, to lose sight of your goal – or to set your sights on a goal at all. But if you wish to develop effective and far-sighted solutions, an overarching goal is essential. At the center of these considerations stands a vision. Around it orbit solutions that, in the best case, are consistent with each other as well as effective and far-sighted. But how do we get to this center?


Before this part 1 goes into the basics on which your vision can later be built, some of the advantages and disadvantages of visions are mentioned. After that, the article shows why and how to learn from the history and the past "visions" (step 1). Then, a sound knowledge of larger (step 2) and smaller (step 3) trends can serve as a basis and inspiration for your own vision. Finally, you should not delude yourself into thinking that you can foresee the future (to a great extent) (step 4). Part 2 and Part 3 will then deal with the development and application of your vision...



Opportunities and risks of visions


Having a vision brings some opportunities:

  • Immersion in the future: If you deal with future developments, you observe the world from a different (more futuristic) perspective. This can result in a different approach to solve problems. For example, you can recognize a certain tendency going in a new direction. Resources should then be directed to the resulting potential problems, rather than current problems that may no longer be problems as a result of future developments (e.g., because the market is becoming a more intense regulator, reducing the need for legal regulation).

  • Seeing the big picture: A vision allows you to see the big picture and to not get lost in minutiae. This is especially valuable in a diverse and complex world.

  • "Intellectual compass": an idea crystallizes of where the journey should go. This leads to not putting any, or at least less, energy and resources into ineffectual and not-future-ready solutions.

  • More coherent and far-sighted solutions: This is especially necessary in a society with rapid (technological) development. Since laws cannot be totally revised every few years, stable solutions are needed that will be useful not only today but also in the near future.

  • More innovative solutions: Those who look to the future will recognize new developments, new opportunities and risks. This in turn means that the intellectual basis of one's own solutions differs considerably from that of today's mainstream, which lives largely in the present – thus opening the door to innovative solutions.


However, some risks may also arise:

  • Distance from reality: Having a vision always means moving mentally away from reality. This can lead to solutions that do not fit today's society and its current problems. In addition, things may turn out differently than one thinks, so that the developed solution will not even fit the future.

  • Excessively abstract explanations: Once the big picture has been recognized, there is a certain risk that the solutions will be kept on an excessively abstract level. Such solutions are not at all or only slightly operable and should therefore be made concrete.

  • Static "intellectual compass": A compass should point the way. However, if it is an intellectual compass, there is a risk that current social developments will be lost sight of and the "north" will no longer be adapted to them. This can lead to the compass becoming static and increasingly unrealistic, having also also a negative impact on the solutions that are derived from it.

  • Utopian or dystopian "intellectual compass": If you go one step further away from reality, you can easily fall into a utopia or dystopia. However, a good solution must be realistic and executable.

  • Restrained solutions: A vision and the solutions derived from it can be a very effective means of shaping society. However, this does not apply to a vision if it only lives in the mind of the visionary. On the one hand, solutions should not be too extreme (utopian or dystopian). On the other hand, they should not be overly restrained either. This would only diminish the innovative value of the idea, bringing it closer to the mainstream and hardly advancing the discussion. However, if you wish to position yourself close to the mainstream from the outset, you do not need to take the detour via a vision.

Now that some of the pros and cons have been clarified, the first four steps on the path to a vision are outlined below.



Step 1: Learn from the past


Before you dive into the future, it can be useful to learn from the mistakes and errors of the past. Often, visions expressed in the past have not occurred for a variety of reasons. If, however, we are aware of these reasons, we may be able to anticipate the course of history more accurately, use it as inspiration, and build our visions on it.


The following video (in German) is a useful introduction to learning from the mistakes of the past:



The video shows that our idea of the future is often a "mere" extremized present: A present development goes faster, higher, further. But in essence it is still the same (incremental development). What humans can hardly foresee, however, is a qualitative leap into the new (radical or even disruptive development). For example, the video shows mechanical technologies such as cleaning machines or harvest workers that still have to be controlled and monitored by humans. However, today's technologies turned out to be autonomous, "smart" and digitalized. Accordingly, this qualitative leap could not have been foreseen. Or as it is accurately described in the video:

Translation: "It seems like people couldn't think outside the box back then. All the ideas were futuristic, but they were also just futuristic versions of things that already existed. You could think ahead, but you couldn't really think up anything new." (4:20)

As a result, the future is linear only for a certain period of time until a disruptive development emerges that – from today's perspective – could hardly have been expected. Quantitative developments are therefore by and large predictable, but they should not be overestimated. On the other hand, the occurrence of qualitative developments (whatever they may be...) is often underestimated. "I think there's a world market for maybe five computers", predicted Thomas Watson in 1943 as Chairman of IBM. In the end, things turned out slightly differently... As a result, the theoretical possibility that an idea that is "crazy" and "absurd" from today's perspective could one day become mainstream in society should never be ruled out. "Never say never", because it is precisely these disruptive innovations that will have a fundamental impact on the future.



Step 2: Know the megatrends


An unclouded view that reaches far into the future is not possible. And yet there are certain trends that:

  • last for several decades,

  • affect all areas of society (e.g., politics, economics, ethics, everyday life),

  • as global phenomena, sooner or later encompass the entire world, and

  • are multilayered and multidimensional.

These so-called megatrends at least give an idea of the contours of the future of the next years and decades. The zukunftsInstitut, for example, from which the definition of megatrends used here originates (see more here), has drawn up a megatrend map that shows and links the 12 most important megatrends and their respective individual phenomena:

Source: https://www.zukunftsinstitut.de/artikel/die-megatrend-map/

So, what are the 12 most important megatrends? Here you can find a list of them. If you would like to learn more about a megatrend, simply click on the link and you can read the corresponding article on the website of the zukunftsInstitut (in German):

According to the zukunftsInstitut, this map is a "powerful tool for planning the future" – or for a general forecast of the future. However, it must be noted that even megatrends can develop differently than expected. Nevertheless, this can be a useful tool to get a rough idea of the future and to be inspired by it.



Step 3: Know the smaller trends


If you intend to create a vision, it can also be useful to know smaller trends. It is important to note that, unlike megatrends, these are more volatile and therefore less reliable. However, they have the advantage that they can better concretize our idea of the future.


Smaller trends can be found, for example, in the Hype Cycle of August 23, 2021 (or in the Hype Cycles of the last few years). Here you can see the current Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies:


Source: https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/3-themes-surface-in-the-2021-hype-cycle-for-emerging-technologies

In short: on the Hype Cycle of the research and consulting company Gartner Inc. you can see which technologies are likely to be on the way to a hype, which are currently hyped ("Peak of Inflated Expectations") and which have already left a hype behind and are becoming mainstream (however, as you can also see, Gartner is cautious and places most technologies before or at the hype. After that, it looks pretty empty...). If you would like to learn more about the Hype Cycle, feel free to check out my other post.


In addition, note this quote from futurologist Roy Amara: "We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run [see Hype or Peak of Inflated Expectations] and underestimate the effect in the long run [see Plateau of Productivity]." (Amara's Law).


Other developments that could occur in the next 10 years can be found in this video (in German):


Brief overview of potential developments over the next 10 years:

  • Self-driving cars,

  • ITER (nuclear fusion reactor),

  • In vitro meat,

  • CRISPR/Cas9 and designer babies,

  • Implanted technology and cyborgs,

  • Advancement of AI.

AI and its various positive and negative future scenarios are also the subject of the next video (yes, I'm a fan of this channel…). It is highly recommended to watch this video (sorry, again only in German) as it offers a versatile and visually well presented insight into six possible scenarios:



Brief overview of the six scenarios:

  • Scenario 1: The world leader,

  • Scenario 2: The manipulator,

  • Scenario 3: The land without worry,

  • Scenario 4: The loss of control,

  • Scenario 5: The robo sapiens,

  • Scenario 6: The emancipation.

However, as the video adds, the future could also consist of a combination of some or all scenarios. Additionally, it should be noted that the negatives often predominate in the scenarios, and that the major opportunities are also offset by significant risks. It will therefore depend to a large extent on whether we can exploit the opportunities and at the same time reduce the risks in the coming years.



Step 4: Do (not) foresee the future


Even if you have a sound knowledge of minor and major trends, you should not be under the illusion that the future can be (accurately) predicted. Only the uncertain is certain – unless you are a clairvoyant or a disruptive entrepreneur. The former, however, does not exist and the latter does not foresee the future, he creates it.

The best way to predict the future is to create it. - Abraham Lincoln

Accordingly, if you're neither a clairvoyant nor a disruptive entrepreneur, move on to the next step.


Wait! Consider... Whenever a new (disruptive) technology comes to market, it may have major and "insurmountable" drawbacks. Even if you personally can't imagine that the advantages could ever outweigh the disadvantages, don't believe in the failure of the technology. In other words, don't overstate the risks and understate the opportunities. If the technology has some potential, you can be sure that at least one entrepreneur will find a way to bring about mostly opportunities. Then, this could lead to a greater diffusion of the technology and ultimately integration into the daily lives of so many people (as happened, for example, with the PC or the Internet). Technology pessimism does not help, it only blocks the view of the opportunities.



The second part of this post is coming soon....


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