Seven Ways to the Future. Webinar with Magnus Lindqvist (Sweden)

«For 20 years now I have been thinking and describing the future. And I write and speak not only about what we think should happen, but also about the process of thinking about the future. In this webinar we will talk about sharks and aliens, Fleetwood Mac and Australian flower, as well as butterflies, abstract art at the turn of the century and some Juicy Fruit gum», - Magnus Lindqvist, futurologist and trendspotter, guest speaker of another webinar of Stockholm School of Economics in Russia starts his unusual presentation.

How all these things relate to future-oriented thinking, you might ask. We talk about living in a world of uncertainty and complexity. Everything here is a part of the VUCA concept of the world. The coronavirus has affected the global economy, shaped the way we feel and behave, and certainly affected the way we see the future. 2021 has taught us above all that we are quite bad at future thinking and making scenarios of what might happen. «If we look back, we see that over the past 50 years we have been systematically experiencing 'ups' and 'downs'. Our lives look more like a wave graph than a straight timeline. This means that humanity fails in planning», Magnus states.

Many people are used to talking about the future as if it were a date or a space on a calendar, something that can be easily imagined and described. Magnus has decided to reconfigure the idea of the future and offer his philosophical approach: that we should think about the future as a verb, a kind of activity: «Let us to 'future', let’s think about the future as a ritual, as something we need to do in our organizations and in our own private lives».

Based on this thought, Magnus described seven different ways how we can and should 'future' more often..

1.   «Look Elsewhere!»

Like food resources, information has gone through a transformation from scarcity to abundance. And today people suffer from Infobesity - information obesity - fake news, gossips, slander, sensation and propaganda. And from these, strong beliefs in the wrong things emerge, as the truth is more often hidden, complex and mysterious, and harder to extract. Magnus encourages: «Remind yourself more often that you have the freedom to choose. Don't look for information where it's easier. Instead of social media, we need to go to anti-social media. The opportunities are there, on the other side, not where everyone else is looking. There are things only YOU can see».

The second part of this advice is to avoid the cognitive error of attractiveness. Good-looking people are perceived as intellectual and professional, saying the right things, and we trust them. «Pay attention to unattractive or ugly people, talk to those who smell badly and sometimes says strange things, absolute rubbish or talks about abstractions. They may all turn out to be wildly intelligent! With them, you will develop new, interesting ideas and points of view», says the speaker.

2.   «X-periment»

Perhaps the most important force in the world that we are witnessing is IKEAfication. That means that what used to be available only to a limited number of people is now becoming common. This means that everyone will soon be able to afford solar panels on their roof, or make a movie and find a global distribution, or start a radio station. Strategically, the implications are as follows: the cost of doing things is going down (manufacturing, communication, etc.) but the cost of waiting is going up. «The more people experiment and try to achieve something, the greater the cost of waiting becomes», Magnus explains.

In the 1990s, Nintendo lost nearly all its market share to Sony (PlayStation) and Microsoft (Xbox), which both used the same computer chip from the same supplier, ARM. Nintendo did not copy its competitors' business model, but decided to X-periment and went to a car company for motion-responsive security components. Thus the Nintendo Wii console was created, which opened up a whole new market for computer games, winning over both young and adult audiences.

«X-perimentation means that you borrow from one area and cross-pollinate another. Innovation happens when ideas have sex. Look at the industries unrelated to your field for ideas, let ideas have intercourse!», speaker adds with a wink.

100-year-old modernist art can inspire modern architects. For example, the design of the central building of the BMW factory in Leipzigby the famous architect Zaha Hadid was inspired by the paintings of Kazimir Malevich, one of the founding fathers of Constructivism.

Here's another example. In the 1990s, the results of a clinical study by an agricultural company on the molecules of the Australian plant Bottlebrush led two doctors in Gothenburg to the idea of using these molecules to treat an autoimmune disease in children. Later, the biomedical firm Sobi was founded, specialising in the treatment of rare diseases, in haematology and immunology and the production of drugs to treat orphan diseases.

3.   «Be a loser»

Why do good organisations end badly? Studying the cases of once-successful companies such as Laura Ashley (a clothing, wallpaper, crockery, furniture and household goods company), Fire Stone (a manufacturer of tyres for cars), Intel, Nokia, researchers concluded that companies roll down the hill the moment they have done the same thing for too long. «In this world, you have to change to survive», explains the speaker.

In fact, Nokia has not gone bankrupt, thanks to the fact that it had diversified, started working in other fields and became successful again. Former Nokia board chairman Risto Siilasmaa, when asked "what did the company learn from its near death experience?" replied that "we learned that success is toxic". «Success makes you lazy, arrogant, bureaucratic, and you start to feel like you’re owed something. That's why the third way forward should look like this - you should wake up every morning, look in the mirror and say to yourself: I'm a loser, I'm unsuccessful, I'm not a winner. But of course you shouldn't be a loser, you should be curious and humble"», Magnus instructs.

Amazon's founder and CEO Jeffrey "Jeff" Bezos always tells everyone: "Remember, we are at the beginning of our journey. We're only scratched the surface of our potential”. Such words cultivate a "loser consciousness" to avoid the toxic effects of success.

Ten years ago, Coca Cola was proud because they had 65% market share of cola drinks in the world. Then they decided to measure not the market share of carbonated sweetened beverages, but the market share of all beverages. And when they did the math, the company had less than 0.5% of the market. Thus, Coca Cola spurred its curiosity by trying on the role of the loser.

4.   «Seek creative friction»

The average smartphone has around 55 000 patents on all components and on all elements. It's very popular for politicians today to say we need to have labels "Made in America" or "Made in Sweden", but this would not be correct, because more and more products rely on ideas from around the world.

Until the 1960s, all the most popular songs were written either by one performer or by a group. Nowadays, almost 50% of all famous music pieces are written by a two or more songwritters. The number one hit song on Spotify is, on average, written by four to five people. «If you want to produce something, find a new hit, if you want to make money, get more people involved», the expert recommends.

The success of the rock group Fleetwood Mac is often attributed to them hating each other, as the more they hated each other the better their music got. Their most critically and commercially successful album - Rumors came out 1977. It was created when 2 members of the band were getting a divorce and the rest were at each others’ throats. «There is strength in disagreement. Creativity is born from friction. There's value in turbulence, we can struggle, we can suffer, we can fight, but we still make great products. There is no value in stability. Creative friction, the power of disagreement and tension are transformed into a specific product» – Magnus explains, – «If you want to create something and win a Nobel Prize - fight, struggle, disagree, seek creative friction».

5.   «Survive three sorrows»

Austin's law states that internal resistance to new ideas (r) is a function of the number of employees (n) to the power of the number of management levels (m):r=f(nm). In other words, any idea, even a brilliant one, has to go through all the bureaucratic stages of the organisation before it can be seriously considered. «You have to go through THREE sorrows. All your first proposals, the first three items you put on the agenda, will be struck down and destroyed. A butterfly does not emerge beautiful, it is born first as an ugly caterpillar that surrounds itself with a cocoon and eventually turns into a magnificent butterfly. This is exactly the scenario under which the best success stories happen», the speaker says.

Slack, a service for effective teamwork and the best tool for collaboration began its life as a failed game-writing program called Glitch. The most famous app – Instagram started out as a failed geotagging service, BRBN. Twitter began its life as a failed podcast service called ODEO. Rubio, one of the best selling robotic vacuum cleaners in the world began its life as MIT start-up: 12 years and 13 business ideas passed between the prototype and the success. That's nothing comparing to Nespresso's experience. Their patent was filed in the 1970s. It took 15 years to bring a first product to the market. The company found global success only in 2016.

Juicy Fruit Song was the name of a song by the Norwegian surf-rock band Bridges, because they thought it sounded "Californian". But it hadn't become a hit for a long time. They found a new singer, made a video and changed the musical direction to synth-pop, and failed again. More time passed and they remixed the song, released a new video that they called Take On Me. And a new, short, easy-to-remember and catchy name for the band, A-ha, was created. The song was the team's biggest breakthrough and is still the most played song of the 1980s. «If you want to create something new, you have to be prepared to be misunderstood for a very long time. It's only when people say they don't understand you, call you a fool, that's when you know you've hit on something real. Because really good ideas are strange, weird and misunderstood», Magnus says.

6.   «Follow the aliens»

In May 2017, Google's AlphaGo algorithm beat Chinese world champion Ke Jie in ancient game Go. Ke Jie tried to beat the AlphaGo software but failed in all three games. The commentator said: “AlphaGo doesn't play like a human and it doesn't play like a program - it plays in a third, almost alien way”. «AlphaGo has shown us that much better solutions, that we haven't seen before, do exist. The thing is, we don't have enough IQ points. In the world of computers, we're losers. And that makes me optimistic, because surely there are better ways of doing everything in this world in general, be it sports, manufacturing or technology», the speaker reflects.

7.   «To create more than to compete»

The American economist William Nordhaus, a Nobel laureate in economics, in one of his studies asks: how long do you need to work to earn one hour of reading light? In 1800, the average worker had to work six hours to do so. Eighty years later, with the advent of kerosene lamps, it took fifteen minutes of work to light a room for an hour. In the 1950s, the time was reduced to just eight seconds. Today it only takes half a second. Thus, Nordhaus has showed us that what we value above all is freedom.

«Do we want to compete or create? Competition is about finding and comparing best practices, comparing winners to losers. Creating is when you are looking for something new, unknown, progressive, something we haven't seen or can't do before. Do you want to compete and only look within the same horizon, compare and get a little better than the rest, achieve a slightly larger market share? Or do you want to create, go forward into the unknown, be called a fool and misunderstood?», Magnus Lindqvist asks the audience.

ОWhere will the future source of light come from? For example, a deep-sea sharks from the Australian or South American coasts, are fluorescent and have this feature in their DNA. In 2020, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their groundbreaking work on CRISPR technology. Their discovery was a breakthrough in applied biology and medical genetics. Their research could take fluorescent DNA from sharks and put it into making, for example, wallpaper that glows in the dark, into making any object give out light. That way sources of electric light could be eliminated in the future. «This is what we should strive for: the possibility of being open to the impossible. If something makes us laugh, then there is potential hidden in it», the speaker instructs.

«I hope that my seven ways into the future will be useful to you and let you also thrive in this world of complexity, uncertainty, and yet inspiring and scary», Magnus Lindqvist concludes his presentation.

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Magnus Lindqvist
Magnus Lindqvist