What are Pockets of the Future?

In the year 1996, cell phones were mostly used by business professionals and less than one percent of Americans considered them a necessity. Within a decade, as expected by many industry observers, the cell phone became an everyday part of people’s lives.

An interesting tangent to this story concerns the addition of small, cheap, digital cameras to cell phones. This enhancement began around the year 2000. Now, nearly every person carries a digital camera embedded into their cell phone. The digital camera innovation was in plain sight to anyone, including executives at Eastman Kodak, a firm investing billions of dollars to adapt digital photography to its consumer business model. We can plausibly imagine that Kodak’s executives might have declared, “A camera on a cell phone is irrelevant to our business. It’s just a distracting, odd, fanciful curiosity.” It is possible that the Kodak executives might have similarly dismissed any significance from the emergence of MySpace (shifted its business model to social networking and media sharing in 2003), Facebook (founded in 2004 and by 2006 available to nearly anyone with a valid email address), Instagram (founded in 2010), Pinterest (founded in 2009) and digital imaging initiatives from tech companies like Google, Apple, and Yahoo.

With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that digital cameras on cell phones are commonplace and social media companies are now among the most valuable of all enterprises. We also know that Kodak declared bankruptcy in 2012, abandoning the consumer business.

William Gibson remarked that,

“the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

The statement means that in the present moment, an observant person can find some detail that’s currently low in prevalence but will become common in the future. A person who noticed, in the early 2000s, the presence of cheap digital cameras on phone, had found a pocket of the future in the present.

A pocket of the future is defined as an observable practice, idea, or thing that is rare and insignificant in the present moment but has the potential to become more prevalent and impactful. Pockets of the futures are important weak signals that have the potential to profoundly influence the organization’s core challenge.

.…The above is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of How to Think Strategically: Sharpen Your Mind. Develop Your Competency. Contribute to Success., available at all major booksellers. The book’s big idea is that strategic thinking is an individual competency that can be recognized and developed. As individuals steadily improve their capacity to think strategically, the organization gains potential to craft strategy that is good, powerful, effective, clever, and nuanced.

“Greg’s portrayal of ambiguity as a critical component of strategy development was eye-opening and truly the embodiment of what strategic thinking is about, rather than the rush to create a strategy (as it is many times inappropriately labeled). Well done!”― Vincent P. DiPofi

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