Last year I was invited to talk to a delegation of the Russian scientists/entrepreneurs from the Skolkovo Foundation near Moscow (to my knowledge, it was their Nuclear cluster). Earlier in 2010 we tried to organize a somewhat similar study tour/game for the team from Skolkovo, but perhaps it was too early: the foundation was just established, and a trip to Eindhoven wasn’t perhaps among the top priorities. To my regret, my later efforts to organize such a trip faced an unexpected resistance from the possible local hosts: neither Philips people nor the guys from Brainport or the local city hall.
But fortunately, someone managed to finally arrange such a trip, and to convince – at least some people from – the local organizations to attend such a meeting. (For the record, this someone was Ger van Zantvoort, from MeduProf-S, former Fontys International Projects. The event went quite well, with people coming from the TNO, the High Tech Campus, and even Summ()n.
I made a presentation about strategic innovation practices at Philips Design, and a bit about Summ()n’s projects; it was a bit weird to speak in Russian in the very middle of HTC, former Philips Research, one of the Philips’ most closed and secretive places of just ten years ago. Perestroika came even to the Netherlands. However, and because of the peculiar audience (i.e., Russian, not ‘future research’ professionals, and not even ‘innovation’ professionals yet), I had to adapt the story, and to start from some very basic things. At the same time, I couldn’t just present the cases either, and had to make a certain sense-making framework. This double pressure, to both simplify and condense eventually resulted in a very nice and useful scheme, or indeed a framework, that could be very useful for Summ()n and our partners/clients in general. This scheme reflects the changing nature of Summ()n itself, and at the same presents a new range of services we have been offering for some while already.
To explain it, I will have to also start from the basic things, basic components of thinking . As I was talking many times, the very concept of ‘future’, how it is understood and dealt with (at least, in the Western way of thinking), could be illustrated by a foggy road (we have many of such images here in the Netherlands lately).
The process of (business) development is seen as driving over a high-speed road, while sometimes having a foggy cloud ahead. Such a fog is obviously an annoyance, often a danger (imagine a sharp turn, or a car suddenly jumping from the mist); that’s why the business is ready to spend significant efforts (and money) to ‘clear the fog’, to hopefully gain more certainty about the ‘future’.
Interestingly, all these activities somehow doesn’t question a set of basic assumptions about the situation: about the ‘road’, the ‘driving’, the very ‘you’. It’s believed that the ‘future’ will basically be a very similar version of the ‘now’ (may be a bit brighter).
What you seek is a lens of some sort, a magnifying glass, a beamer that would highlight you this ‘bright future’, preferably before your competitors will see the same. The future is already there, just laying and waiting when you will come and pick it up. The world around won’t change; you won’t change either.
Needless to say, these are exactly the presumption we try to work (and overcome) at Summ()n, helping people to discover not only ‘unlikely futures’, but also develop the new ‘them’, new ideas and ways of thinking, and of doing things. We betted on ‘playing’ with the futures, and succeeded to run a few interesting projects in this directions. But the truth is, the play is only one component of the total set, and we had to incorporate few other to make the whole system work.
Referring to the earlier projects of Philips Design, I constructed this new diagram of ‘exploring the futures’ (aka developing the future I-s):
Notice that the ‘I’ here is placed in the very center of the ‘thing’. And the purpose now is not to ‘highlight’ the road in search of the ‘future’ laying there, but instead to develop a more complex, multi-dimensional I (=selves). This new complex, future-shaped (and thus future-proof) systems of selves emerges after looking into (and through) each of the useful ‘mirrors’, and then by integrating all these projections into on a new level of I.
PS: I am playing with this ‘mirror’ metaphor because of my long-term research into the mirrors (both their history, and the futures), but this specific insights came from the famous Chamber of Mirrors by Leonardo da Vinci. He believed that mirrors can help to a man not only physically see himself in such a chamber, but eventually gain a deeper understanding of himself, thus power to self-transform.