Synopses & Reviews
Watching for the Future
The future is where our greatest leverage is.
Let me share with you a true story that began in 1968. It illustrates why we need to learn how to explore the future.
In 1968, if anyone had been asked the following question, you would have expected the same answer: In 1990 what nation will dominate the world of watchmaking?
Why? Because Switzerland had dominated the world of watchmaking for the past sixty years. The Swiss made the best watches in the world. Anyone who wanted a good watch, an accurate watch, bought a Swiss watch.
And the Swiss were constantly improving their watches. They had invented the minute hand and the second hand. They led the research in discovering better ways to manufacture the gears, the bearings, and the mainsprings of modem watches. They were on the cutting edge of research in waterproofing watches. They brought to market the best self-winding watches. They were constant innovators.
What I am trying to point out is that the Swiss didn't just rest on their laurels. They continually worked at making better watches.
By 1968 they had done so well that they had more than 65 percent of the unit sales in the world watch market and more than 80 percent of the profits (some experts estimated as high as 90 percent). They were the world leaders in watchmaking by an enormous stretch. No one was even a close second.
Yet by 1980 their market share had collapsed from 65 percent to less than 10 percent. Their huge profit domination had dropped to less than 20 percent. By all significant measures, they had been ignominiously dethroned as the world market leader.
They had run into a paradigm shift--a change in the fundamental rules of watchmaking. The mechanical mechanism was about to give way to electronics. Everything the Swiss were good at--the making of gears and bearings and mainsprings--was irrelevant to the new way.
And so, in less than ten years, the Swiss watchmaking future, which had seemed so secure, so profitable, so dominant, was destroyed. Between 1979 and 1981, fifty thousand of the sixty-two thousand watchmakers lost their jobs. And, in a nation as small as Switzerland, it was a catastrophe.
For another nation, however, it was the opportunity of a lifetime. Japan, which had less than I percent of the world watch market in 1968 (even though their mechanical watches were almost as good as those of the Swiss), was in the midst of developing world-class electronic technology. The electronic quartz watch was a natural derivative. Seiko led the charge, and today the Japanese have about 33 percent of the market, with an equivalent share of the profits.
The irony of this story for the Swiss is that the situation was totally avoidable if only the Swiss watch manufacturers had known how to think about their own future. If only they had known the kind of change they were facing: a paradigm shift.
Because it was the Swiss themselves who invented the electronic quartz movement at their research institute in Neuchatel, Switzerland. Yet, when the Swiss researchers presented this revolutionary new idea to the Swiss manufacturers in 1967, it was rejected.
After all, it didn't have a mainspring, it didn't need bearings, it required almost no gears, it was battery-powered, it was electronic. It couldn't possibly be the watchof the future. So sure were the manufacturers of that conclusion that they let their researchers showcase their useless invention at the World Watch Congress that year. Seiko took one look, and the rest is history.
How can you avoid the mistake the Swiss made? And, keep in mind, the Swiss watch industry isn't the only one that has made such a mistake. Nations have done it. Many corporations and organizations have done it. Individuals have done it. We are all susceptible.
My task is to help you avoid the Swiss mistake by improving your ability to anticipate the future.
Most people know the future only as a place that is always robbing them of their security, breaking promises, changing the rules on them, causing all sorts of troubles. And yet, it is in the future where our greatest leverage is. We can't change the past, although if we are smart, we learn from it. Things happen only in one place--the present. And usually we react to those events. The "space" of time in the present is too slim to allow for much more. It is in the yet-to-be, the future, and only there, where we have the time to prepare for the present.
If we can learn to anticipate the future better, we need not fear it. In fact, we can welcome it, embrace it, prepare for its coming, because more of it will be the direct outgrowth of our own efforts.
We may not be able to discern the exact size of the future, but we can surely do better, through exploration, in obtaining significant data about its probable outline and direction. In fact, we need to if we want to begin to shape our own future. We are going to focus on a single concept that can help us do a much better job of anticipating the future. And while welearn to anticipate, we will also learn how to be more innovative through both discovery and creation.
Why is that intelligent people with good motives do such a poor job at anticipating the future?
We are going to examine several of the key principles that explain this apparent contradiction. These principles are embedded in a discussion of paradigms and how they change. These principles not only explain why people do not anticipate the future well; they explain how to improve your ability to see aspects of the future that may otherwise be totally invisible to you. And I promise you, because I have seen it repeatedly, that by understanding the Paradigm Principles you will be able to open doorways to your future that would have otherwise stayed locked up until it was too late. Just like the Swiss.
As more than one sage has already observed, the future is where you are going to spend the rest of your life. And since that is true, wouldn't it be useful to be able to get to know more about the neighborhood before you move in?
How would like to spot future trends before the competition?
We all know the rules for success in our business or professions, yet we also know that these rules--paradigms--can change at any time. What Joel Barker does in Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future is explain how to spot paradigm shifts, how they unfold, and how to profit from them. Through the power of this method--paradigm spotting--you can:
- find the people in your organization most likely to spot a new trend
- help your key people adept when a massive change is occurring
- learn to effectively grapple with your "intractable problems" and improve your results incalculably.
In addition, Paradigms is full of concrete examples of paradigm shifts and predictions for the future, and contains a new introduction detailing recent developments and pointing out areas to watch tor paradigm shifts.
The author and host of the bestselling corporate video of all time, Discovering the Future: The Business of Paradigms, leads businesses into the 21st century with this critically acclaimed book filled with tools for maintaining an edge on the competition. Published in hardcover as Future Edge. Line drawings.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 219-228) and index.
About the Author
Joel Arthur Barker has been a teacher and advertising executive and has served as director of the Future Studies Department of the Science Museum of Minnesota. His corporate clients include IBM, Monsanto, AT&T, General Mills, U.S. Sprint, the Mayo Clinic, 3M, Motorola, and Digital Equipment Corporation.