Insights · February 22nd, 2023
2023 feels like a pivotal year for so many of the exponential technologies we track – renewable energy, generative AI and automation, genetic engineering, social media and gaming, cryptography, cellular/genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and quantum computing. In the mix of that there is hype, reality, struggles and breakthroughs. It’s intoxicating.
In the Futurist.com Think Tank we try and navigate the hyperbole and big promises to see the opportunity. By doing this we take our clients down the rabbit hole into a world of new possible futures and talk about how we need to widen our view where these lead us deeper into technological and organizational advancement.
As futurists, we scan for signals indicating new technological trends. We also deeply consider new organizational capabilities, societal and cultural shifts, and how new business models will shake up the world.
In this article, we focus on two trends that promise to have a marked impact on how organizations work and think – an overrated technology (The Metaverse), and an underrated capability (Strategic Foresight) in relation to work and driving profit and growth for organizations.
The Metaverse, a new reality?
Through 2022 we saw a huge acceleration in the buzz and hyperbole around Virtual and Augmented Reality, Web3 and ‘crypto’ technologies (blockchain, cryptocurrencies and cryptogaming). These were held up as candidates to join existing Internet technologies as ‘The Metaverse’.
A transcendental utopian platform to liberate our mundane digital lives, and disrupt every industry through an integration of digitization with our real offline lives.
‘The next version of the Internet™’.
This was not a net new idea. In his 1992 novel “Snow Crash” science fiction author Neal Stephenson coined the term “metaverse”. In that he envisions a virtual reality-based platform that replaces the Internet. A place where people use digital avatars of themselves to explore an online world to escape an increasingly dystopian reality.
Then, three decades later – on Oct. 28, 2021 – Mark Zuckerberg said he’s trying to build The Metaverse. Facebook rebranded to Meta where they are reimagining our online-offline lives with high-production speculative videos of functionality that promised a new way of living our lives and operating in business. Billions of dollars were poured into promotion of this idea and ‘The Metaverse’ seeped into public consciousness causing an incredible hype cycle, buzz and grift. Here’s how he launched it (warning – long video and the first 5 or 6 minutes will give you a flavour).
Excitement ran high. McKinsey has gone on record saying that The Metaverse has the potential to generate up to $5 trillion in value by 2030. Is there really that opportunity and an organizational advantage being promised? Metaverse evangelists say that we could work more efficiently, connect with each other in more real and visceral ways, ensure that digital assets are unique (and can be traded / shared with tracking on use and ownership), we can more seamlessly process payments, and drive deeper levels of consumer engagement.
Many consultancies and ad agencies went all in on The Metaverse and took brands with them. Some moderate success has been made with the registries of luxury goods, ‘live’ online events, and support for anti-money laundering and minor banking processes.
However, reality bites and we’ve seen cryptocurrencies faltering, crypto-gaming platforms like The Sandbox with ultra-low engagement (vs. it’s seemingly crazy $4 billion valuation), augmented reality headset development being shelved by the big tech majors like Apple and Google (new physics in hardware is very hard and expensive), and NFTs not providing any real value (good luck with your monkey picture).
Underlining this decline into the shadows are VCs clearly in an investment protection mode desperately trying to provide utility with speculations on how tokenizing everything can change the world for the better. It’s a failed experiment, for now.
It is also clear that Meta is standing alone with its transition and is on life support, crawling ahead with the promise that the metaverse is a few years away. It’s doubling down on harvesting data and selling ads. It’s clear that is the motivation behind all of the promise of The Metaverse – a new revenue stream dressed in the Emperor’s new clothes.
Strategic Foresight, a new capability.
Thinking about ‘the future’ has been framed as a fun exercise with technologies promising change in our world with futurist keynote speakers running around stages unchecked talking about things they have learnt about from popular press and shouting missives like ‘there will be more change in the next 10 years than the past 200’ or ‘exponential growth though new developments that will change every industry. Or, the future of industry X is <enter nascent technology>.
The Metaverse is a perfect example of that and it has created a somewhat comical view of what comes next accompanied by impatience and a healthy dose of skepticism. An affront on the discipline of strategic foresight where we establish rigor and discipline in exploring futures and reflecting that against our strategic plans today.
Organizations are now realizing the value in being curious, igniting imagination, and speculating about our trajectories towards 10, 20, and 50+ year horizons.
In 2018, Rohrbeck and Kum developed a model that judges a firm’s future preparedness (FP) by assessing the need for corporate foresight and comparing it to the maturity of its corporate foresight practices. They measured future preparedness across several companies in 2008 and then its impact on their performance in 2015.’ Their study looked at several companies that have been undertaking corporate foresight as a core capability, including Cisco, Daimler, Deutsche Bank, Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, L’Oréal, Pepsi, and others.
After seven years each company’s maturity was measured. It was found that organizations that recognize that the future might change the very foundation of their business are 33 per cent more profitable and achieve a 200 per cent higher growth rate than the average company.
With this evidence, and more futures work becoming more public, we are seeing more organizations stepping up to ask fundamental questions about what might come next and how they might respond, either with new services and products, or with new ways of working. They are also using this as an opportunity to get more creative and curious when setting out the organizational vision and undertaking strategic planning.
We work with organizations to help their people think differently – to shift their mindsets from what is to what if… and wonder what comes in 10, 20 and even 50+ years. We set out some challenges for clients to help kick start this shift:
- Question your own history – aim to rewrite your assumptions and consider the impact of your personal and organizational agendas.
- Practice curiosity and be courageous – share your true thoughts in lively discussions. Also, listen carefully to others.
- Get comfortable with ambiguity and multiple perspectives – organizations have as many internal futures as employees multiplied by the number of interactions they have over time, and that’s before we turn to face the world.
- Be (wildly) creative – work fast and write down as many ideas as possible – from the possible to the preposterous. Don’t discount any solutions presented. Discuss them with your group and/or colleagues.
- Focus on the non-zero-sum game – ensure that the futures you imagine are places where multiple people win vs. the winner taking all.
After this shift comes the discipline. Strategic Foresight gives us a structured and systematic way of exploring ideas about the future to anticipate and better prepare for our futures and changes ahead. There are four key parts to this:
- Signal scanning – we look for distinct pieces of information, statistics, stories, activities and/or events that indicate an impending change or emerging issue may become significant in the future.
- Trend identification – from the signals we identify trends. These are the general directions in which our world is developing or changing. They inherently have momentum and are created by existing conditions and environments.
- Scenario building – scenarios explore how people will be affected by emerging trends. Building multiple scenarios with many, varied groups of people from differing backgrounds and demographics (age, gender, sexuality etc.) is incredibly important. It’s then we can see a bounty of great ideas, and equally, the gaps that we need to fill to ensure we cover ground on which to base our speculations.
- Speculative fiction and experiential futures – beyond scenarios, we can travel down the rabbit hole into more emotional and visceral explorations of our futures through fiction, filmmaking, the creation of media and art.
Clients we have worked with have used this mindset shift and process in a number of ways – They’ve explored which countries will gain importance in the next 35 years; explored how the global pandemic changes work culture, team cohesion, productivity, and health / wellness; speculated on the changing effects of climate on European food production and where to invest; and, they’ve tried to understand the shifts and changing needs relating to the water-energy-food nexus and rise of the circular economy.
This discussion of The Metaverse and Strategic Foresight is an illustration of the ongoing pursuit of hope. Technological saviors vs. useful strategic capabilities. Both can coexist however human imagination is immediately available and probably the greatest tool that we have.
Future of the Metaverse Keynote with Nikolas Badminton, Futurist Speaker
Futurist Speaker Nikolas Badminton talks about the challenges and opportunities when considering experience futures by utilizing web3 and metaversal experiences. TL;DW – gaming is the opportunity today and we need to see how web3 and metaversal experiences play out.
Nikolas Badminton is the Chief Futurist at futurist.com. He’s a world-renowned futurist speaker, consultant, author media producer, and executive advisor that has spoken to, and worked with, over 300 of the world’s most impactful organizations and governments. He helps shape the visions that shape impactful organizations, trillion-dollar companies, progressive governments, and 200+ billion dollar investment funds.
The #1 Best Selling Book – ‘Facing Our Futures: How Foresight, Futures Design and Strategy Creates Prosperity and Growth’ at Amazon, Bloomsbury, Barnes and Noble and other fine purveyors of books. We’s also love it if you considered visiting and ordering from your local, independent book store as well.