Innovation is a funny thing — impossible to quantify, replicate, or pin down. And inspiration often comes from the places we least expect it, although if we train ourselves to look, we can get better at finding it. I'm fascinated by examples of successful innovation and how we can learn to emulate the behaviors that led there. We may not be able to get the same results by repeating the same steps, but I'm convinced that creating a mindset that is receptive to all of the clues the world offers can lead us to a place where innovative ideas are readily accessible to us.
One interesting (and perhaps unexpected) place to look for inspiration about the future is science fiction literature. One of the world's oldest and most notorious genres is also sometimes known as speculative fiction — because it speculates about future cultures that could arise as the result of technological leaps. Whether or not you enjoy science fiction as entertainment, you should be able to appreciate it for its ability to look into the future and its track record for predicting the evolution of the human experience.
While George Orwell's distinct vision of society in 1984 may not have come true (though some argue we've come closer than we think), many of the innovations we take for granted today were first introduced to the culture through the lens of science fiction.
Cell Phones and Touch Screens
In 1996, the technology world was awed when Motorola launched the Motorola StarTAC — the first cellular device in “flip-phone” format. Everything about the phone was hailed as new, different, and innovative. It was the first phone with a flip-design, the first phone with a vibrate option, and the lightest cellular telephone ever created.
However, its design was not entirely new. In fact, as early as 1966 (30 years earlier!), Captain James Kirk was using a similar device to communicate with his crew mates on The Starship Enterprise in the futuristic series Star Trek. In Time Magazine, Peter Ha notes,
“The fact that the StarTac looked similar to the communicators used on Star Trek was just icing on the cake for a phone chock-full of firsts.”
A decade later, Apple launched its first iPhone, which was marketed for its innovative features: multi-faceted touch screen, internet connectivity, and download capability. The iPad was launched later that year as well, and with this one-two punch, Apple became the new face of innovation. It had introduced two products the world had never seen before… or had they?
Five years before the iPad's launch, Tom Cruise could be seen navigating the many touch screens in the futuristic police offices of the film “Minority Report” (2003). Just as we download songs to our iTunes library and drag apps across our screens, Cruise was downloading and dragging crime scene photos almost a half decade earlier.
What we can learn: The future of design is closer to reality than we think, and innovative design can launch a successful product. Motorola took inspiration from the devices in Star Trek to enamor customers and drive sales. Apple did the same with its interactive and futuristic (at the time) touch screens. The movies made it look cool, and people wanted to be a part of that vision of the future! These companies delivered.
The majority of us remember Marty McFly racing around the future on his hover board in the Back to the Future trilogy or Luke Skywalker jetting around the forests of Endor on his “speeder bike.” Audiences were envious. Every kid wanted one for Christmas, but had to settle for pretending. Until now…
The Aero-x, an innovative and ground breaking hover device, will be launching in 2017. This bike, which bears some resemblance to the hover bikes seen on the big screen in the 1980s, markets itself as,
“An affordable reality for businesses needing the utility of low-altitude flight, and for individuals eager to experience the liberating thrill of breaking their bonds with the ground.”
And bikes aren't science fiction's only automotive premonition. Both “Demolition Man” (1983) and “Minority Report” (2002) featured fully-automated, self driving automobiles. Thirty years ago, the idea seemed impossible. Now, it's becoming a reality.
“Google claims that its small fleet has now driven more than 300,000 miles unassisted by human control, and usually has at least 12 cars out on the road at all times. ”
What we can learn: Never discount an idea as impossible. In the 1980s, the notion of personal hovercraft would have been laughed at and un-piloted automobiles would have been dismissed as a danger to society. Now, companies like Aero-x are attempting to redefine hover travel while dozens (if not more) of Google's self-driving cars navigate our streets. Persistence and innovation can create possibilities where none existed before.
These have been a mainstay in action thrillers and police dramas since the late 1980s and 90s. Gene Hackman used them to comb the globe in “Enemy of the State” (1998). Tom Cruise (once again) was subjected to a barrage of personalized ads in “Minority Report” as a result of identity recognition programs.
For better or for worse, this science fiction technology is about to become non-fiction reality. The British supermarket giant Tesco will soon begin running personalized ads generated by face-scanning technology. In an article for Digital Trend Magazine, Trevor Mogg explains,
“Made by digital signage company Amscreen, the OptimEyes technology uses a camera to establish a customer’s age and gender before serving up ads based on their demographic profile.”
What we can learn: Get personal. As the world become more and more interconnected, the opportunity to send targeted messages is becoming easier and easier. Your customer's opinions and insights are more accessible than ever. Learn what they want or need and make it happen for them!
William Gibson, one of the most venerated Sci-Fi authors of all time, once stated, “The future is already here — it's just unevenly distributed.” Look around, pay attention to the changing possibilities technology creates, and don't be afraid to chase your dreams and turn them into the new reality!
What is your favorite science fiction innovation turned reality? Share by tweeting @EidsonPartners!