Can the process of figuring out the next big trends in products and services be guided by seven simple rules? Probably, according to an essay–and seven tips–from Wired’s Executive Editor Thomas Goetz in the May 2012 edition of the magazine.
Here are Wired’s seven rules, along with my condensed explanations and interpretations of them:
1. Look for cross-pollinators. As Goetz writes, “resonant are those ideas that are cross-disciplinary not just in their application but in their origin.” True interdisciplinary invention draws inspiration from a spectrum of realms, with a result that defies common boundaries and arrives at a strong, original idea based on applying knowledge from a variety of subjects.
2. Surf the exponentials. Goetz borrows this phrase from synthetic biologist Drew Endy. What it means is to to find and implement ever tinier, less-costly, and quicker-to-market products–and make sure that they will indeed improve on your company’s business plan.
3. Favor the liberators. The freedom-fighters Goetz refers to are those companies that put an end to imposed scarcity of products, such as music on CDs (those who led the MP3 revolutions, like Napster), as well as those firms that figure out how to turn outdated institutions into fresh new businesses (for instance, Netflix originally using snail mail to deliver DVDs). Of course, reading this rule I kept thinking that Napster and Netflix have certainly had their shares of woe, and might be surprising examples. However, it would be hard to argue against their important, historical roles in contemporary business innovation.
4. Give points for audacity. Seemingly over-ambitious goals certainly get attention. And they should, because they could very well improve the world in some dramatic way. The more grandiose a company’s BHAG (the popular acronym for the phrase “big hairy audacious goal”), the more impact it might have, in terms of convenience and ease of use. Goetz cites tech darling Jack Dorsey’s start-up Square, whose mobile-phone-payment-acceptance device dares to make the institution of cash registers obsolete.
5. Bank on openness. Transparency triumphs. That’s especially (and perhaps counterintuitively for older generations) true among today’s leading corporate behemoths. Open source code is embraced at IBM and Google. Microsoft has opened up the Kinect video-game controller to experimentation in a variety of fields, turning it into a platform. And even though Apple tries to operate behind secretive, ultra-controlled walls, its exercises in openness have helped it triumph: just look at the App Store’s commercial success.
6. Demand Deep Design. “Design, at its best, lets us prioritize,” Goetz writes. In that beautifully designed sentence, he sums up the advantage of products and services with excellent design. Interestingly, he goes on to say we’re entering a “golden age of design.” Only his version isn’t a new Renaissance of elite artists and architects practicing their crafts; instead, thanks to more and easier-to-use software and services that help regular folks organize information and create images and other visual content neatly, everyone will be a designer. (Although upon reading Goetz’s thought, I think it’s important that if a design-democracy scenario comes true, we should remember that professional designers and engineers figured out how to improve the process of creating aesthetically pleasing, user-friendly tools.)
7. Spend time with time wasters. It’s one thing to put in productive time at the lab, the office, the classroom. But often it’s during spare time that brilliant people pursue the passions that turn into products that the public loves. Look at the legitimacy of “hackathon” events where coders jam and create potential new platforms and businesses. Or flip back through the decades and consider that Apple grew out of the Homebrew Computer Club, a gathering of tinkering tech hobbyists.
In the end, there’s no easy way to accurately predict what innovations and designs will succeed in the future. Just look at how counterintuitive some of these seven tips are. But after reading Wired’s seven rules for spotting tomorrow’s innovations, it’s clear that pointing out patterns among recent triumphs can certainly help set expectations–and provide inspiration–for the next generation of winning businesses.
Image: Geoff Wong/Wikimedia Commons