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February 2013

Success requires vision (with data to support it)

What do we know about the future?  According to Futurist Tom Frey, we know that it’s constantly unfolding, relentless, unforgiving and going to happen whether we want it to or not - all good reasons for wanting to control it as much as possible.  How much control do we have over the future?  Less than we want, but more than we think.  How important is it for organizations to develop a closer relationship with the future?  Put simply, “If your business initiatives are not aligned with the problems, needs and desires of the future, the future will kill them.”

As the Executive Director and Senior Futurist at the DaVinci Institute, Frey uses data from the Institute’s specialized research studies, as well as his 15 years of experience as an engineer and designer at IBM, to help organizations  identify business opportunities through the development of accurate visions of the future based on current trends.  According to Frey, an organization’s vision of the future will determine its actions today.  In short, if you want to increase your organization’s odds of success, get the vision right.

Shaping, growing and realizing the vision
Every vision of the future begins as a vague concept, according to Frey.  If there is enough meat-on-the-bones, the idea will begin to grow. While an idea left to prosper on its own has little chance of surviving, an idea combined with hundreds or even thousands of similar or related ideas can quickly reach the point of critical mass, creating its own gravitational pull which Frey likes to call an “attractor.”  The better we become at developing frameworks for clustering our ideas, the more attractors we create; more attractors will mean better vision and better tools for interacting with the future; and the more familiar we become with the future, the quicker it will happen.

Defining our future relationship with data
There are some future trends that organizations can predict with a high degree of certainty:

  • big data will get even bigger
  • big data will need to interact with other data and devices

CMMS, ERP and process and control systems, both at the plant and enterprise levels, currently generate massive amounts of data. Estimates on the total amount of process manufacturing data available right now is 694 petabytes (1 petabyte equals 1,048,576 gigabytes), a number which will increase exponentially as more and more wireless sensors and control devices are deployed.

Mobile technology will play a central role in a growing “connected” life.  According to Jim Morrish, Director at Machina Research, "We are moving into a new era in connectivity where we will see the proliferation of billions of connected devices in the world, with most of that growth coming from machine to machine."

According to a 2011 CIO Insight Research Exclusive on Emerging Technology Adoption Trends, nine out of 10 organizations are in some stage of adopting tablets for employee use.  Seventy-five percent of recently polledAPM professionals indicated that they were currently or planning on using tablets in field-data collection.

What these trends point to is a need to quickly adopt methods which allow us to build a better relationship with the data we produce to build the future we want, says Frey.  It’s no longer a question of when big data will happen, but rather one of what will organizations do with their data.  By itself, data is meaningless.  However, data which is integrated, analyzed, and delivered in the right context so people will act on it, can give data a “voice” and help organizations begin to better understand the world around them.  “The greatest value in understanding the future comes from spotting the major cultural, demographic, societal, technological and economic shifts early, and translating them into viable business strategies,” says Frey.

About Thomas Frey
Thomas Frey serves as the Executive Director and Senior Futurist at the DaVinci Institute where he works closely with the Institute’s Senior Fellows and Board of Visionaries to develop original research studies to translate trends into unique opportunities.  Mr. Frey is author of the 2011 book “Communicating with the Future,” and has been featured in hundreds of articles for both national and international publications including the New York Times, Times of India, USA Today, US News and World Report and has been featured on numerous radio and television interviews.  Because of his work inspiring inventors and other revolutionary thinkers, he has been referred to as the “Father of Invention” and the “Dean of Futurists.”

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