Using science fiction to explore business innovation

Future Today is a publication that talks about the future, with personal reflections, compiling studies and projects, and showing science fiction narratives. Some time ago I published an article to explain the why of this third pillar, Why Business Leaders Need to Read More Science Fiction, and now it’s time to reinforce it by talking about Design Fiction.

Science fiction has systematically predicted future technologies and social phenomenons. Jules Verne wrote “From the Earth to the Moon” 100 years before we conquered the moon; Ray Bradbury with “Fahrenheit 451” in 1953 imagined the headphones, or Arthur C. Clarke projected the tablets with digital newspapers in 1968 with “2001: A Space Odyssey”, are some literary examples. Obviously in the movie world there are many other examples: Skype-style video call in “Blade Runner” (1982); Virtual Reality glasses in “Back to the Future” (1985) or holograms in “Star Wars” (1977). Then there’s “Minority Report” (2002), a film that produced an infinite number of patents and inspired the devices we now consider NUI (Natural User Interfaces): iPhone, Wii, tablets, Kinect… I don’t know if you knew, but Steven Spielberg sent his production designer, Alex McDowell, to the MIT to imagine this futuristic scenario.

These narrative fictions allow companies and organizations to initiate conversations and generate ideas for business innovation. PricewaterhouseCoopers has a very interesting article on these topics: Using science fiction to explore business innovation.

Design fiction is a thought experiment, a way of purposefully imagining future societies and the set-dressing that goes with them while dispensing with the shackles of reality — such as technological capability, funding or commercialisation potential. The method uses fictional future scenarios in order to imagine and examine the use of products. While this could be seen as a form of prototyping, there’s a subtle difference which lies in the expanded universe around these creations.
Julian Bleecker, who coined the term in 2009, says design fiction “creates these conversation pieces, with the conversations being stories about the kinds of experiences and social rituals that might surround the designed object.” Companies such as Microsoft, Google and Apple have dabbled with design fiction, connecting science fiction writers with their developers. Of course, tech giants have the benefit of their own engineers to turn fictions into a reality. But while local business might not have the immediate capability to build the objects they imagine, the concept still provides a starting point. The actual development of an object can then approached using other design and implementation methodologies.

Take a look at this 2011 Microsoft video about their vision of the future of productivity. Interesting, isn’t it? What do you think? Do you see science fiction as an interesting discipline for business innovation?

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