“To go to work and shape our futures, we need to first imagine,” said Martin Wezowski, chief designer and futurist, SAP. “And as corporations sometimes forget, imagination is not on your job description.”
Speaking at the company’s fourth annual Smart Cities Forum, Wezowski pointed out that a little imagination in design can reap huge benefits.
“We need to hope,” he said. “We need to imagine the future.”
Consider, for example, a Barbie doll – it’s a toy today, but one that when connected to the cloud could sense when a child is hungry and use its GPS to find someplace to eat, or detect, record, and report the crime if it’s stolen. Or, as Wezowski demonstrated, it could have a discussion with its owner about possible career choices thanks to natural language processing and the cloud.
Look to the sky, and you see – what? One entrepreneur Wezowski spoke to sees a future when people live in space and need all of the amenities we take for granted here. He plans to build a machine that will extract rocket fuel from asteroids and will let him establish, in effect, gas stations in space.
Others foresee the internet turning into the “brain net”, enabling individuals with limited use of their bodies to communicate and interact with the world by controlling machines with their minds.
Some of this is possible now.
“What kind of citizen will we have in the very near future, if this is happening today?” Wezowski asked. “Never in human history has the present been so temporary.”
For example, sensors now the size of a grain of rice may be the size of a sugar crystal in 10 – 15 years, and he suggested that someday we may ingest one in our morning coffee that could teach us something as we sip. Painless French lessons, anyone?
Because of these possible futures we’re imagining, figuring out how to prepare kids for tomorrow is a challenge. How shall we do that?
“I have no idea,” he said. “The fun thing about it, the great thing about not having an idea is a sort of ignorance that comes in two shapes: the one that says, ‘I have no idea’, and the other one that says, ‘I have no idea. How exciting. Let’s find out.'” It’s changing the ecosystem of change, he noted, adding “Design is hope made visible.”
Later, in an interview, Wezowski talked about his role on SAP’s strategy team where they translate vision to a tangible strategy. The process has three horizons that, he emphasized, are often concurrent, not sequential. First, he said, the company has to do what it promised customers and stakeholders. Delivering stuff is key. The second horizon brings in imagination: what would it do if it were possible? What if customers could tell it what they want to do in three years?
The third horizon stretches beyond the time when the market can be predicted and focuses on things that should be done, that the team wishes were done, and asks the questions, “should we do it? Does it improve people’s lives? Will it make us relevant in ten years?”
At the same time, he noted, they also have to deal with existing problems. “We need to do that too,” he said. “I think the key for me was that SAP was the first company to deeply understand that.”
But while it’s exciting to live in a world of continual disruption, Wezowski acknowledges it doesn’t make sense to disrupt your own systems. Instead, they should be transformed, and it’s as much about transforming the people as it is about the digital and business worlds.
“I see a business enterprise as an adventure,” he said. “Why would you disrupt other people’s adventures? Let’s not compete, let’s complete. One plus one is three; the technology allows us to transform on a bigger scale rather than disrupt.”