The Terminator, Apple And Six Months Into Your Future

10/16/2012 7:24:42 PM

August 29th 1997 was the date, according to The Terminator, that Sky net became self-aware and started the war against humankind. 2001, in a Kubrick/ Clarke world, was the year we were going to make contact with an extraterrestrial race, and ironically when HAL, the onboard computer, went a little nutty. Star Trek, on a more positive note, foretold the coming of flip-phone communicators, tablet-like computers, ear-bud speakers, and flat screen displays. The science fiction genre, and more importantly, we humans, make both bold and mundane predictions of the future all the time. Although science fiction has been prescient at predicting various aspects of modern-day life there are many more prophecies that litter the cultural editing room floor. Even with the failures, the dreamers and their machines have dramatically altered the ways in which we pass our days.

Description: Apple and six months into your future

Many of the technological marvels that have been introduced into our lives over the past two decades would have been considered science fiction, and possibly magical, in a previous age. Whether or not you are a proponent of the way in which some of the devises have permeated our lives, there is no denying that the productivity of the average human residing in the developed world has skyrocketed, thanks in-large to the clever new machines.

A common question of those under the age of 25 is "what did you do before you had cell phones?" The introduction and adoption of the tools has both positive and negative ramifications in our routine, but they have also altered the way we accept technology as a necessary and sometimesevil component of our overall society.

Businesses, especially technology firms, constantly make predictions in order to prepare for the future and to compete more effectively. People also do so on an individual, and not-so-mercantile, level. I check the weather forecast every morning so I can dress appropriately. Much of why we take medicine and seek the advice of doctors is for preventative purposes; you may have high blood pressure so you take a pill daily to reduce the possibilities of having a stoke in the future. Much of the success that we have had as a species comes from successfully predicting possible future events and preparing for them; lions, let's move to greener pastures, winter coming, let's save some of this mammoth for the cold months Profit enterprises are getting more sophisticated, day in and day out, in the manner in which they can foresee market movements. The ones that are not very sophisticated enhance the possibility that they will go the way of the Dodo, while the firms that are first to adopt and accept better methods of future-casting increase the probabilities of survival and success.

Nostradamus has two options

There are two distinct ways in which prognostications assist individuals, companies and political institutions. There is the actively confront and change method in which you can engage and hopefully capitalize on a prediction. If you believe you can see the way things are headed then you can get out in front of the market. Apple, at some point about six years ago, decided that the future in the consumer phone market demanded smarter and more elegant products than what the market was then providing. Apple made a strategic decision based on their capabilities in conjunction with where they projected the market was headed. Blackberry's soothsayers probably saw the same set of tea leaves, but they seem to have made the wrong bet and today are paying dearly for their lack of capitalistic foresight.

The other way to use your insight into the future is to avoid the obstacles and hazards that you see coming. GPS devices and services provide up-to-the-moment snapshots of road conditions, some of which would add considerable time to your drive. We alter our path, literally and figuratively, to avoid the congestions ahead. We change our paths in response to possible future ramifications, or road closures. Who knows how many electronic device manufacturers decided not to get into the phone market? Pure speculation, but what sort of company would break into the cell phone hardware industry especially after the realization that Apple was, and is, using their superior design and marketing techniques. Would you buy an Emerson Electric handset?

Excel As a WMD

Today MBA programs throughout the world are producing legions of middle level professionals that are well-versed in the language of goal-seeking, scenario analysis, and Monte Carlo analysis. Some editorial axe-grinding coming: Financial Weapons of Mass Destruction. There is no doubt that our collective methods of financial analysis and predicative tools have advanced significantly since the time of Adam Smith, but we now live in a world that rests on the edge of civilization-wide collapse. All brought to you by the same armies of financial geniuses armed with their Excel-powered chicken guts, cloud formations and dice.

Description: Excel As a WMD

The constant search for forecasting tools, financial and otherwise, is bankrolled by the world's most wealthy firms and even nations. Today, the US government itself is dabbling in collectivizing the perceived power of individual predictions. Go to Forecasting World Events (http://forecastwe. org/) and you will be asked to take part in surveys that will go to, hopefully, better understanding and preparation of coming events. Oh, and by the way, the project is supported by an alphabet soup of American intelligence agencies.


But I digress. Apple Corporation is a classic example of a successful firm that has had its ups and downs when it comes to peering into the future of their product launches. For every iPhone or Mac success there was more than one Newton, Lisa or Cube failure. That's what happens when you drill for oil: a bunch of projects are going to come up dry and a few may break even, but one or two will hopefully be gushers that bring profits sufficient enough to drill another dozen or so exploratory holes in the ground.

Description: APPLE'S ORACLE

Steve Jobs is credited with being the head priest at the Temple of Cupertino. His vision and marketing prowess identified opportunities and led others to see his vision. His uber-soothsayer abilities have been well-chronicled as was his sometimes nasty methods in getting buy-in on a business level. No matter what you thought of his business practices, there is no denying that Jobs brought an entire sector into worlds that he first envisioned.

I was at a conference in the year 2000 where a futurist from Razor fish, a then-powerful company that excelled at predicting six months into the future, told the audience about the coming revolution in social computing augmented by smart personal devices. I was doubtful and pooh-poohed her claim of a future where people would check-in from where they were and tell their social circles of their likes and dislikes. I thought it preposterous and useless. In retrospect, I realize I was completely unable to see beyond my own life. I could only see what I had been prepared to see. Many of the science fiction movies, novels, and television shows allowed viewers and readers to see a possible realm that they were prepared to see. Steve Jobs, as futurist, did not ask the market to see something that they thought preposterous, but he did ask them to see the next step in technological advancement, small steps that were not too bewildering. Today, the success of individuals, companies, and nations, rests upon their ability to see the small steps that make our future, and the ability to adapt to the changes coming. We also need to be aware of hubris, on a personal and enterprise level. We are not yet able to predict in a Hari Seldon-like manner to see the path of history unveiling itself through mathematic algorithms. We should take heed, it is 2012, the end of the Mayan calendar.

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