Written by Keerthana Sreenivasan, Partner at Supertrends Institute
How to understand new technologies and make them work for you
We often read and hear about how a company have benefitted from transitioning fully or partly from an older technology to one of the promising new technologies. Technologies like 3D printing, 5G, cloud computing, big data or even some aspects of AI. Or we may read a promising statement like:
“As it evolves, 3D printing technology is destined to transform almost every major industry and change the way we live, work, and play in the future.” – 3dprinting.com
Every major technology promises a widespread impact, but often not in the way people expect. While we may not be 3D printing our e-commerce purchase at home yet, 3D printers have produced vital parts for airplanes, musical instruments, and even fabrics.
1. From fancy statement to useful understanding
What does the revolution of 3D printing actually mean for you, your possibilities, your team, your organisation? In other words how do you come from the fancy statements of WHAT new technology is available to HOW it can make a positive difference for YOU.
At Supertrends Institute we have a long list of tools that can be used to explore a particular trend and guide you to make sense of the future implications for you of that trend. In this blog post we will introduce you to the Futures Wheel.
2. The Futures Wheel
The Futures Wheel is an excellent way to visualize the impact of a particular technology, trend, or issue. It is really a kind of mind map, as much as it is a wheel, and works by methodically listing out the direct impact of the technology or trend, followed by the secondary impacts and then tertiary impacts. The value in developing a Futures Wheel is understanding the “downstream” influence of a particular technology or trend before it is realized. Or in other words to give you the possibility to be an early mover in in your market or in your industry and have great benefits from that or to give you a possibility to be ready – to have an early warning – if any of your competitors start to make use of a new technology
2.1 How to use a Futures Wheel:
Using the Futures Wheel is straight forward as far as the steps you need to take, but it will require some deeper thinking of possible effects or impacts.
Step 1: Identify or discover the technology, trend or topic that you want to focus on and write it in the middle of a big piece of paper – Draw a circle around the word
Step 2: In a futures wheel, there are direct and indirect consequences. First identify the direct consequences and connect them to the centre topic.
Step 3: Identify the indirect consequences and connect that to the direct consequences.
Step 4: Keep performing this iteration until there are no other consequences.
Step 5: Analyse the futures wheel and look for solutions and outcomes. Focus on areas that need improvement.
Together these 5 steps will lead to the formation of a Futures Wheel.
2.2 The Future Wheel for 3D printing, as an example,
In our example here, you first look at the immediate implications on:
- Supply chain
- Maybe, Innovation?
You could then look at the second order implications for supply chain, as shown in the diagram.
- Lesser need for warehouse
- Reduced need for shipping service, etc
At the third level of abstraction, you may look specifically the reduced need for shipping.
- Fewer drivers
- Reduction in global trade requirements, etc.
Each of these may have specific implications relevant to you, and as you build out the wheel, you may find they relate, reinforce, or counteract other implications.
Constructing a futures wheel can be done alone but is more fruitfully constructed in a group with diverse perspectives in the form of a workshop. The strength of a Futures Wheel is going beyond the obvious trend and uncovering the implications and impact for you, your team, and your organization.
3. Put on your Thinking Hat
Now it is your turn – Time to think – Put your phone aside and turn off your computer screen and take 10-15 minutes to consider your answers to the following questions and formulate 2-3 additional questions that you would like to ask your colleagues, your team, your boss.
- How could you make good use of the Futures Wheel for one or more of your mission-critical decisions?
- How did you last analyse possible consequences from one or more new technologies for you and your organisation?
- How would you fill in the question marks in the figure above – Hit us with you choice
- How …
- How …