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200801231520The Edge have this year an interesting question as it's Annual Edge question:

What have you changed your mind about? Why?

I happened to stumble upon Kevin Kelly's contribution on Technium, his blog. He changed his mind about the possibilities and powers of mass collaboration and uses Wikipedia as an example. I was a bit surprised about that he so late have changed his mind about that. To me that happened some years ago, but I on the other hand have been raised in the UNIX community where the Open Source model have been working for many years.

Peter Schwartz, the famous futurist tell us he in the shadow of the global climate situation have changed his mind about nuclear power. I'm a bit sceptical to that since it relies heavily on technology rather than the long term necessity of changing culture and behaviour, but it might be a step in the right direction. At least as long it doesn't sends the signal that it fixes the climate issue...

Here I take the chance to answer that question too...

What have I changed my mind about? And why??

I have changed my view about the relevance and value of taking the natural individual perspective in many questions. Is explanations based on one or a small group of individuals actions a reasonable base to explain occurrances and changes in e g societies or consumer groups?? I am not so certain anymore.

Being a firm individualist, living mostly in my brain, it is natural for me to to think that I am in control of my actions and that my thoughts and ideas really matter. I am apparently not alone in thinking this, because in this respect I am probably in good company with hoards of e g philosophers, scientists, thinkers and writers. Not to mention all others, i e probably most of the people on this earth.

In recent years research in many areas seems to step by step contradict this apparently fundamental base for our thinking.

Marketing specialists have together with psychologists and social psychologists the last decade repeatedly shown how we don't have an individual opinion about anything at all. Instead we are much more than we think influenced by externally induced unconscious cues from what we see, hear, smell, taste or feel. The result is that a cunning specialist can create an environment and by that to a high degree be able to predict our behavior. The reason that this isn't done more is mainly due to the high complexity in our environment and the impact of the hidden state of the individual brain.

The area of neurophysiology are exploding with results from research using fMRI which tells us more and more about which parts of the brain are active during our cognitive processes. The results seems to confirm that a lot of what is going on in the brain is more hardwired than we think. Yes, it is dependent on different structures and individual levels of certain substances which creates a certain range of individuality. But no, the existence of the self consciousness (the self) is now increasingly believed by neurologists to be something of an emergent phenomenon which might, just might, have had some evolutionary relevance.

In general this seems to reduce a great part of our behavior to hardwired processes. More specifically the discovery of the so called mirror neurons give us neurophysiological evidence for the ape instinct i e what marketing people and psychologists, social psychologists and sociologists can observe.

Psychologists, like e g Daniel Kahneman have even won a Noble prize for removing the archetype of the economic man. He have since many years shown us how often our thinking is flawed by built in quirks. Quirks that show that regardless of how creative and rational we can be in the classroom, these quirks makes us behave in a predictively irrational way in our daily life.

In the same period of time sociologists, economists and mathematicians have collaborated on theories around why and how herding works among humans. The basis for these theories comes from theoretical biologists who by mathematical modelling shows how a few simple mechanisms at the individual level emerges to a complex herding behavior among e g birds or ants. The conclusion is that extremely complex group behavior like that of the ant societies are not at all dependent in any individual intelligence. Rather the opposite. Seen from the emergent societal level it just a few simple parameters that counts.

In two bullet points:

  • Ok, we are not mechanical and deterministic robots in the sense that we behave predictably. The reason for this is NOT because we are rational and free individuals but because we we live in an extremely complex and situated environment where our complex mechanisms and filters interact with a complex environment. I e we are rather social copycats, who unconsciously always tries to fit in the social environment
  • Even if we have a bright analytical and theoretical brain (which we in some sense have) it doesn't seems to have that much of a real world impact since we apparently don't use it in our everyday life

How could we else understand that we (and Al Gore) have been talking about the global environmental crisis since the 1980:s and nobody did react? Even if the rational part of our brain told us what to do?

How could we else understand why it is so difficult to quit smoking or change lifestyle? Even if we are diagnosed with a lethal form of cancer, but could increase the time here on earth by just changing a bit of our behavior? (Read e g "Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life" (Alan Deutschman)

How could we else repeatedly choose the "wrong" leaders?

I have changed my mind regarding this and I think it is necessary that more people do. Because if we don't, we will continue to sit down and discuss the wrong issues and time after another make serious mistakes in the areas of public policies and management.

Just because we are individual physiological beings separated by air, we must not forget that when we are in a group we are first and foremost part of that larger group. Then it is the intelligence on group level that is the survival factor of that group and on a larger scale maybe the human race as such.

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I have now and then been involved in discussions about changing consumer behavior during the years. When at Volvo we recognized that Internet provided a price transparency which threatened the margins. The story were that people first went to shopping for a car, but when they had decided which car they wanted they asked their 16 year old kid to find it for the cheapest price on the Internet creating a new price transparency. After thinking about it for a while it also became clear to us that what technology did was change the prerequisites differently for the stages in the process

  • Shopping - an emotional and information heavy process where your identity and the brand identity would match in order to end up in a decision
  • Purchasing - the rational process of finding the goods for the best price - boosting self asteem
  • Owning - an identity building step where the earlier steps isn't that much important any more (nobody else actually know where and how you bought)

This complex mix of identity building and boosting your self esteem through owning expensive looking products and feeling smart was probably why outlets was such a success. There you could buy the right Prada bag very cheap and nobody actually knew that you bought it for less than half the price. The result was that these steps actually became disconnected from each other at least for some products.

This was at least true for emotionally loaded products like cars, jewels and expensive designer products. At this stage (late 1990:s) the Internet was still a information gathering tool. Today with the emergence of social software this is being taken even further. A very good story about this was provided in a post by researcher Danah Boyd on the Marketing & Strategy Innovation blog (found through Richard Gatarski's blog weconverse). In a lecture Danah heard this story from a mother describing her daughters shopping behavior:

Using Google and a variety of online shopping sites, Mary researched dresses online, getting a sense for what styles she liked and reading information about what was considered stylish that year. Next, Mary and her friends went to the local department store as a small group, toting along their digital cameras (even though they're banned). They tried on the dresses, taking pictures of each other in the ones that fit. Upon returning home, Mary uploaded the photos to her Facebook and asked her broader group of friends to comment on which they liked the best. Based on this feedback, she decided which dress to purchase, but didn't tell anyone because she wanted her choice to be a surprise. Rather than returning to the store, Mary purchased the same dress online at a cheaper price based on the information on the tag that she had written down when she initially saw the dress. She went for the cheaper option because her mother had given her a set budget for homecoming shopping; this allowed her to spend the rest on accessories.

It becomes clear that the young and connected generation sees consumption and shopping quite differently than the previous not-yet connected generations (NYCoG).

When technology now matures and everything becomes mobile and online: shops, friends and all other information sources you can think it becomes clear that customer behavior is taking another step. But where is it going?

A couple of months ago HBR Working Knowledge announced a paper called Digital Interactivity: Unanticipated Consequences for Markets, Marketing, and Consumers by John Deighton where he argues that traditional marketing research have missed the real changes in a digital interactive world. Maybe this can be a clue to where it is currently heading?

The conclusion of his article is that marketing research have too much focused on how producers are interact with the customers (in the lower left corner), not understanding that the biggest change is occurring within the ranks of the customers (the move towards the top right). He draws this picture (the red arrow is mine) to explain what is happening when the communication flow increases between individuals.
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Step by step the game isn't anymore about accessibility and information, it is about identity and meaning. The game is on its way to change towards a game of fitting in to a web of cultural communities where the community, and not the producer, accepts or rejects its participants.

This is why the increasing communication in general and social software in particular is so interesting for how business and marketing is going to change from a vertical producer-customer game towards a horizontal game where the customer-to-customer relations are much more interesting.

Maybe this is something to think about before you are designing your next marketing strategy or sending your next batch of direct mail offering.

  • Read Danah Boyds post here
  • HBR Working Knowledge working papers: Digital Interactivity: Unanticipated Consequences for Markets, Marketing, and Consumers by John Deighton - download here

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A couple of weeks ago I noted an increasing pattern on Google Trends when it came to Canada and searches for the word future. This trend seems to continue even this year and peeks more than before... And it seems to be unique to Canada!

I guess it is some kind of cultural phenomenon. Are their any Canadians out there who can explain this??

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Are things starting to go faster when it comes to the economic shift from the western economies towards the new BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) or is it just a temporary dip?

Frances Cairncross, economist and journalist summarized the current situation concerning the BRICs real good when she for one program took over Peter Day's Global Business program on the BBC. (BBC are really crappy at keeping their shows available on the web afterwards, but I think the links below lives until it's your turn).

One indication could be that according to IMF 2007 is the year when China (and according to the BBC program India) have surpassed US as the top contributors of world growth.

Yet another indication could be found in Gwynne Dyers article in Arab News, when he wonders if the dollar have started it's way down as the global currency.

In the BBC show a number of interesting conclusions and opinions are heard. I will try to summarize what I heard.

  • Many companies find the business situation difficult in US and Europe so they increase their sales in the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China). At the same time trade between the BRICs are beginning to soar. Chinas global export increase rate is about 20% a year, but the export increase rate to e g Russia and Brazil are between 40 and 50% a year.
  • The industrializing economies with their enormous amount of cheap labour keeps the economic engines of the world at full steam but keep at the same time wages for semi-skilled workers down. This results in a economic polarization with radically increased wealth at the top.
  • What is going on because of the BRICs development and huge numbers of people is that we are in for a restructuring of the global economy - the price clothes and economics goes down while the prices of energy and food goes up

Effects on the rest of the developing world

  • BRICs growth (together with the new agenda for fight the global warming) cause a really complex situation for the rest of the developing world. The resulting prices increase of food and fuel is undoubtably having a negative effect on many countries in the developing world. At the same time, the increasing prices of commodities give commodity producing countries short term benefits. In the longer run they are in fact in for a rough period since the traditional industrialization path going over a textile industry is basically blocked by the huge textile industries in India and China
  • More and more developing countries are, because of this strategically complex situation, importing ideas and strategies from successful industrialized and emerging nations and apply different strategies in order to find their own ways. This will probably have a wide range of effects. A few of them will hopefully strike gold, while others will continue struggle to establish stability with inherited tools of the wrong size and shape. A situation which in many places probably will turn out to be a fertile ground for both fanaticism, terrorism as well as strong dictators promising to solve the problems of the situation.

China is playing the game alone

  • The Chinese are all over the developing world making mutually beneficial deals. But unlike the western approach they don't ask questions or add conditionals in their business deals concerning e g democracy, human rights and environmental impact. This signals an exclusive view which is against what the industrialized world have strived for since the WWII.
  • G7 have members like Italy and Canada, but not e g China who already is a major player on the global scene and whose exclusive world view threatens to create a huge imbalance. At least from the perspective of the western world.
  • An increasingly globalized and uncertain world requires more cooperation between all nations if we are going to withstand the shocks and other difficulties which lies ahead in the future. One of the major uncertainties then seems to to be if there will be a global cooperation or not, where Chinas exclusive world view seems to be the biggest obstacle.

The discussion about the BRICs isn't new but maybe this is the time to start to recognize this development in a broader and more serious perspective.

World Economic Forum have also created a number of scenarios about the future of among others Russia, India and China which could be good complementary read.

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Hmmm... A joke, a failure to spell it out right or just an urge to stay out of huge web traffic?!?

David Sibbet, founder of Grove Consultants, shares his own notes of and a link to a video of a Jamais Cascio's lectures on the Metaverse simultaneously at Stanford and Second Life November 27th. Since I know both have been collaborating with Institute For The Future I presume it is a joke...

As usual Sibbet's style of taking visual notes is brilliant (and he spelled Jamais name right in his notes). I met him at a conference arranged by IFTF some years ago when he was taking notes and it was really fascinating to behold.

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I have never been impressed by Gartner but I must admit they are changing. A couple of years ago I realized they started to use scenario planning as a tool for understanding and communicating the analysis. Then a couple of weeks ago I came across a decent discussion about Digital Natives. And now through Future Scanner I found a post on the blog singularityu.org reviewing Gartner Analyst Adam Sander when he talks on a Gartner Conference among other things about the metaverse in connection to Maslow's hierarchy of needs (which I played with and turned upside down some time ago in this blog).

The idea seems to be that virtual worlds is the way to achieve self-actualization which is so much harder in the real world. A really interesting thought!

 Wp-Content Uploads 2007 10 Gartnermaslow

singularityu.org » How Gartner Learned to Love the Virtual World

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I got a mail yesterday promoting a new site called Future Scanner. It happens now and then that people finding my blog also want to use it to promote new things. As reader of this blog notice I am a bit skeptical to go somebody else's errands. This time it took me some minutes testing and subscribing to some of the RSS-feeds before I got convinced. Future Scanner is really a tool in the right direction.

Now I have a new place to go when researching a scenario project and want some input for thinking through the dynamics of the scenarios for a certain year in the future

If you are interested in the future click around a while on Future Scanner

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For the last year or so most of my involvements in foresight activities in organizations seems to have different results than before. More often than not they are putting the focus back to fundamental issues about internal organizational issues. In some sense the results tell me:

"Don't fiddle around asking questions about the future! Focus on fixing the basic organizational issues first, because otherwise the issues about the future are irrelevant."

These kinds of result wasn't unheard of some years ago, but is much more common now. Almost a standard result from both commercial and public sector scenario planning exercises.

Based on my view of the future it isn't strange and also seems to resonate pretty well with the conclusions in e g the book "Navigating the Badlands: Thriving in the Decade of Radical Transformation" (Mary OHaraDevereaux) (Amazon US) where the message is:

  • We are in a decades long transition period
  • Hunt down your obsolete (and sometimes even dangerous) ideas and methods
  • Start from scratch from where you are and innovate and build new structures from the new prerequisites that slowly and unpredictably emerge

If this is true, what does it say about the role of scenario planning and foresight? Does this render long range foresight useless?

One interpretation of this could be yes, looking into the future isn't helpful at all when it comes to survival. Being pragmatic, down to earth and focus on the result is. This is without question a valid interpretation but I believe it is flawed and too quick conclusion. Ignoring the big picture is always dangerous and even more so in volatile times. The reason is simply that everything that can help you interpret and make some order in all the small seemingly contradictory signs will in the long term help you take the right decision.

But what seems to have changed is that foresight is not directly helping companies to take any mid- to long term decisions any more - i e strategic decisions. At least if we by strategic decisions mean long term decisions about investments and choice of options which reaches 5-10 years into the future. The reason is that in turbulent times nothing can help us taking what we used to call long term decision.

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But that doesn't mean that we shall ignore the big picture. Understanding the big picture of current change is mandatory, but it is not anymore a tool for identifying the next big decisions. Long range foresight is rather a meta-strategic activity which creates a higher level of understanding of the situation which is invaluable for taking the small and important steps towards the future.

This means also that the role of strategic and top level management have changed. They cannot anymore think about the big picture and then take the big and important decisions at the same level. Their role is more and more to provide the big picture and then let the required decisions being taken at the right level. Or maybe more correctly their role is to provide the structures and resources so the organization can achieve really good big pictures to help them take all those small decisions that takes the organizations forward. This means that the major long term decisions top management must take is to open up the structures so that tomorrows new structures can emerge.

I heard Gary Hamel used a interesting phrase that connects to this: The CEO and the board should increasingly be editors of strategy, not creators of strategy.

So, yes! Focus on fixing the basic organizational issues because the way the world works is changing dramatically from the ground up. But remember that understanding the big picture is essential to take the right decisions even if you don't recognize it in the line of fire.

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Inspired by this post in Google Blogoscoped (found via 43 Folders) and the statements that people are predictable I got reminded of the power of Google Trends. A service that let anyone look into the gathered statistics from probably the single largest information hub in the world. When the service was announced I sat for hours and draw graphs for different words and pondered the underlying reasons for strange correlations.

Today I tried the word "future" and inspired by the post mentioned above, the word "depression".

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Interestingly enough there is definitely a correlation between the curves. It becomes most evident at the end of the year when searches for "future" goes up and search for "depression" goes down. But look at the use of the word future in the lower graph counting the occurrence of the words in the News flow. It seems to be a gradually and steady increase in use of the word "future" while the use of the word depression stays stable and much lower.

It suddenly struck me that maybe there could be a difference in the results for different nations when it comes to these words as well. When searching an English speaking country close to Sweden where I live (UK) the result was slightly different.

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What struck me here was that the search for both the word "future" and the word "depression" actually dipped close to the end of the year. The difference in volume between the use of the words seemed to be slightly closer than the graph above, and both graphs seems to slowly point downwards.
Searching other English speaking countries lead me to Canada.

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In Canada there seems to be a an even more different pattern. The searches for the word "future" peaks dramatically just before the end of the year and searches for the word "future" seems to be increasing over time.

What about the US?

Future-Depression-Us-1

Whoops, what a difference! The searches almost doesn't differ in volume at all! Can we draw the conclusion that US is in a more volatile psychological state than both UK and Canada or what?

To me this seems to be significant results, but what does it really show about the state of the world or the state of the nations? Comments anyone?? Are there any elaborate sociological research around the Google Trends anywhere??

This was a brief search without any more elaborate analysis, but I think I will use Google Trends more as a thermometer when it has been more established.

And what about connecting GapMinder with Google Trends? That would be explosive!!

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Interesting tone in a news program discussing something that used to be completely weird (to other than philosophers). Nick Bostrom, even if I don't always agree with your position, I admit that you have succeeded in putting important and interesting things and thought pattern up in the air.

PS. I'm still fighting with my internal filter that kills all the ideas before they turn up here. I must remind myself that I don't have to write whole essays every time.

(From Ole Peter Galaasens blog Plausible Futures Newsletter)