Lessons Learned From Being Wrong About The Future

be radical Briefing | August 12th, 2022

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Dear Friend,

In case you were wondering why you didn’t receive your radical Briefing last week — on the rare occasion that the whole team had no scheduled engagements, we decided to take the week off and spend time in the mountains (Mafe), herd goats (Jeffrey — yes, it is quite the story!), and watch the World Equestrian Games (Jane and Pascal). And as the Great Internet Machine never stops, we had quite a bit of our content go live during our absence: A podcast with Michael Bungay Stanier (super fun – Pascal reads two pages from a book about German band Kraftwerk and discusses our obligation to create a better future), another podcast with The Capital Club, a summary of Pascal’s closing keynote at NRF Nexus on “Learning the Principles of Disruption”, and a write-up of an interview we did with the Journal of Accountancy about the core/edge dilemma. It has been a busy, odd week!

And now, this…


Practical Futurism // Decode. Disrupt. Transform.

Two weeks ago, we discussed “Alexa & Co: What We Got Wrong — And Why” here in the radical Briefing. Admittedly, the topic kept me thinking, as well as going back through my old presentations to see which things I got wrong, why, and how they turned out in the end. Anders Sandberg, who works at the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford once remarked that “nothing gets older faster than future visions.” — to which we say: Right on!

Building on my notes from the last radical Briefing, I have come to think about the conundrum that our projections about how the future will play out, can be wildly off (as was the case in the example of Alexa taking over our battery-purchasing process), and yet the result can be deeply disruptive. Although hardly anyone orders their batteries through Alexa, Amazon still has become not only the dominant seller of batteries in the US, but also outsells established battery brands with their Amazon Basic-labelled ones.

The disruption initially started with Amazon selling batteries, and then launching their own branded supply. Our prediction was that the longer-term disruption would come from Amazon leveraging their dominant position in voice assistants to shift more of the purchases toward their brand. This clearly didn’t happen — what happened though is that the market for batteries morphed from a traditional pyramid structure (small volume, high quality, high price at the top, the opposite at the bottom, with a well-defined middle where you get “value for money”) into an hourglass structure (the top does well, the bottom does well, the middle disappears) — something we have dubbed “Hourglass Economics” (check out past Briefings here and here for more on this). This shift toward an hourglass-shaped market allowed Amazon to capture the low(er) end of the market, squeezed our brands who traditionally played in the “value for money”-game, and pushed brands such as Duracell toward the top end of the market.

Following the lead from my friend and colleague Jeffrey Rogers, the question we ought to ask ourselves when looking at a specific disruption (such as Amazon’s world of batteries), is both “How could I be wrong” and “What else might be true?” The former allows us to critically assess our current position and believes, the latter opens up new possibilities. (via Pascal)


What We Are Reading

📉 3 Ways to Innovate in a Downturn Economic downturns offer major opportunities for innovators. Explore if this is a good time for your business to introduce game-changing offerings or simple, affordable solutions or make bold, strategic moves. JaneRead

🧜‍♀️ Starbucks to unveil its web3-based rewards program next month Does Starbucks’ presence in web-3 make you happy or make you cringe? MafeRead

🇨🇳  The overworked humans behind China’s virtual influencers It takes a lot of overworked, unrecognized IRL humans to power the success of China’s $16 billion virtual celebrity industry. JeffreyRead

📱 Apple already sold everyone an iPhone. Now what? The connection between software and hardware can be considered from a slightly different perspective, posing questions of what to do with that pretty hardware? JulianRead

🕴️ What Ever Happened to the Transhumanists? I met my fair share of Transhumanists over the years — you don’t hear all that much about them anymore. Here is what is happening in their world. PascalRead


Tidbits

🚚 Wondering why fully autonomous trucks might not make as much sense as promised? It’s in the economics!

🗞️ First Facebook, now Wikipedia: Study finds Wikipedia influences judicial behavior.

👩‍⚕️ MIT engineers develop stickers that can see inside the body.

🙃 To uncover a deepfake video call, ask the caller to turn sideways.

☁️ The unsung heroes who keep the cloud working.

🎮 Teens are re-discovering Tetris — and changing the game forever.

📹 Tell this to your kiddos: The Unlikely Odds of Making it Big on TikTok.

🍄 It is all in your head: New evidence that micro dosing is mostly a placebo-effect.


Internet Finds

Traveling like the Roman’s did: Plan your next trip not with Google Maps, but with OmnesViae: The Roman Route Planner. 🗺️


In Case You Missed It

🏴‍☠️ The Heretic: Don’t Be That Guy

🧨 Disrupt Disruption: We got to speak with Hemali Vyas from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. In our conversation, we explore (no pun!) the future of space exploration, and what companies and leaders can learn from NASA.


Radically yours, take good care, friend!

— Pascal, Mafe and the three Js (Jane, Jeffrey, and Julian)


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