Papers, Articles, & Trend Reports
At the DaVinci Institute we are continually adding to our vision of the future. We have immersed ourselves in the fine art of launching new businesses, attempting to separate the myths and the fantasies from the things that work. Listed below are a few concept papers produced at the Institute. Additional papers can be found at FuturistSpeaker.com.
- Hi, I’m a robot, and I’m here to take your job - In September 1989, GE Chairman Jack Welch flew to Bangalore, India for a breakfast meeting with an Indian delegation that included Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. The purpose of his trip was to sell airplane engines and medical equipment to India, but the meeting took an interesting twist along the way.
Rather than buying what GE has to sell, the Prime Minister Gandhi proposed that GE buy software from India. After looking at the amazingly low labor costs, Welch decided instead to outsource portions of its business starting with Bangalore’s first call center. This short meeting led to an outsourcing revolution that would dramatically transform both the Indian and U.S. economies.
We are now on the verge of another business transformation, but this time workers are not being replaced by low cost labor in other countries. Rather, they are being replaced by machines.
Science fiction writers have led us to believe that humanoid robots, with all the nuanced skills and talents of humans would be walking among us today. But rather than some Stepford Wife-like creation appearing at our door and telling us they were taking our jobs, the true job-stealing culprits have been far more subtle, appearing under the guise of automation, without any clear relationship between the machines and the people they’re replacing.
Hidden inside this menacing movement to displace labor is a far more complicated shifting of social order. What appears on the outside to be little more than executives with blinders chasing higher profits may instead be humankind’s biggest opportunity.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been sketching out ideas on how to think about redirecting the energies of people. Here are some thoughts on how this may unfold.
The Headless Organization - Disintermediation is a term that sprung to life in the mid-1990s during the formative years of the Internet. Enterprising people learned very quickly that this new communication system could disintermediate, or bypass, many different layers of the business food chain and eliminate entire categories of decision makers both inside and outside of corporations.
During the past decade, millions of jobs have been eliminated by circumventing the gatekeepers. As we experiment with new ways of creating organizational structure, perhaps the next step will be to totally eliminate the “head.”…..
Business Colonies: A study of structure, organization, and the evolution of work - The average person that turns 30 years old in the U.S. today has worked 11 different jobs. In just 10 years, the average person who turns 30 will have worked 200-300 different projects.
Business is becoming very fluid in how it operates, and the driving force behind this liquefaction is a digital network that connects buyers with sellers faster and more efficiently than ever in the past.
But the effect of our flowing digital business world does not stop with how transactions are performed. Instead, it has begun to morph and change virtually every aspect of how business is conducted including the duration and permanency of work assignments, the employer-employee relationship, and the organizing principals around which work assignments and talent coalesce.
The Future of Philanthropy - Former Citigroup Chairman Walter Wriston once said, “Capital goes where it’s welcome and stays where it’s well treated.”
Philanthropy has traditionally been the interface between wealth and need. It gives pride to the wealthy, give purpose to those without, and gives hope to the underprivileged.
Philanthropy is power; the power to make a difference, the power to leave a legacy, and everything in between. It is the worthiness of a cause and the worthiness of a struggle that gives nobility to the process, and bestows awe and respect on those in the middle.
But for all its well-spun intentions, the process remains hugely inefficient.
Turmoil Ahead for Housing - Consider the following scenario. Over the next few years, several major cities in the U.S. will begin to impose a ban on all new residential and commercial construction. With populations declining in numerous metro areas, they will worry openly about becoming the next Detroit with abandoned neighborhoods signaling a rapid decline in property values.
In the past, many cities and counties invested in open space to insure there would be room for parks and open trails in the future. Now, with property values declining and funding in short supply, a new set of concerns has taken center stage.
The Urgency Paradox - Tick, tick, tick. For virtually all working people, there is a clock ticking in the background. Tick, tick, tick.
Much like the rhythm of a beating heart, the sound of time creates a rhythm for our lives, a world unfolding in iambic pentameter, pulsing to the tempo of life.
Some have turned the clock into a sophisticated marketing tool, planning every moment in the finest of detail, placing the timing of their well-oiled business machine front and center for all to see.
“Delivered in 30 minutes or it’s free!,” “One-hour photo,” or “Overnight delivery” were common slogans from 20 years ago. Today, the urgency of business has shifted into an entirely new gear.
Ghost Towns of the Internet - In 1859 the tiny community of Tin Cup, Colorado got its first taste of gold fever. A tiny amount of gold was all it took for prospectors to start poking around with hopes of striking it rich. Twenty years later they landed their first major strike and rumors of the find spread across the country.
By 1900, the once insignificant mountain settlement had mushroomed into a bustling gold town with over 2,000 people. But in a short time the mines were exhausted, the people left, and the post office closed its doors in 1918. Today, the only remnants of this once thriving community are a few abandon buildings and a couple signs along the road.
Ghost towns are a rich part of world history. There are literally thousands of examples of these now-irrelevant pin pricks on a map. Overnight sensations quickly became a distant memory in the years that followed.
The Day that Google Died - It was a frenzy of activity as workers scurried from office to office, making their final checks, gathering books, papers, and personal belongings. Many were still stunned over the announcement that Google was closing its doors. The final minutes before the deadline were reserved for tearful hugs and remorseful goodbyes, but for the people of the world these brief moments of stunned silence would soon be replaced with long term anger and outrage.
A mere three weeks earlier this one-time tiny search engine company that overnight had grown into a goliath on Wall Street had appeared to be an invincible force on the global business stage. But now after wave upon wave of well-orchestrated attacks, the giant corporation had fallen to its knees, and in true medieval form, endured the equivalent of a public beheading of its data, its once stellar revenue streams, and its corporate integrity.
The Hornet Nest Theory - In nature, the Asian Giant Hornet is a predator that feeds off bees with the goal of obtaining the honey bee larvae. One of these hornets can kill as many as 40 honey bees per minute. It takes only a small amount of these hornets a scant few hours to exterminate the entire population of a 30,000-member hive, leaving a trail of severed insect heads and limbs, effectively destroying their food supply. Without the natural barriers of distance and geography, hornets would wipe out the entire bee species.
Many areas of the business world demonstrate a similar “win at all costs” business model even if it goes so far as to destroy their customer base.
The core premise of the Hornet Nest Theory is that wherever this is allowed to happen, it is a clear sign of system failure.
- Future Libraries: Once a Refuge, Now They Mean Business - Traditionally a quiet place for lovers of books to unwind, libraries are a place for serious students to escape to, a treasure trove for aspiring writers – and even a great hiding place from bullies where a kid can find cover among a labyrinth of shelves. They always have been a refuge. These days libraries are becoming something more than a place to hide out. Only recently did libraries become a bustling resource center for a growing number of jobless. People seeking work and budget-strained families seeking entertainment are now flocking to libraries as never before.
Future Libraries: Nerve Center of the Community - Ever since the people of ancient Nineveh began storing and classifying their books nearly 3,000 years ago, libraries have been hallowed and largely unchanging bastions of learning. But in the information age, libraries have been caste with a new identity, and the future is evolving into a very different place. Ten years ago, as the Internet began to take off, many in the tech elite were predicting the death of the public library. What the critics failed to predict, however, was libraries’ stirring ability to reinvent themselves. Much like plants that flourish with good soil, water and sunshine, libraries have actually begun to thrive in our information-rich environment.
The Future of Library Series: Part 1 – The Time Capsule Room - Most libraries will find that the Time Capsule Room will take on a personality of its own, as local people begin to participate in populating the spaces. Ideas about what constitutes a Time Capsule Room will vary from city to city, but it is the ability to differentiate, uniqueness of operation, and variety of perspectives that will give a dimension of personality to the library.
The Future of Library Series: Part 2 – The Search Command Center - One thing that is not commonly understood is that libraries have access to resources that most home-based computer researchers do not, including extensive database collections free to their patrons. For the most part, these consist of expensive pay-to-subscribe databases that few individuals can afford. As a way of shifting attention, the Search Command Center will replace the tradition card catalog as the first stop in finding information in a library.
The Library of the Future Series: Part 3 – The Electronic Outpost - As a public entity, libraries have been evolving. No longer are they the book-centric institutions of the mid 1900s. But the changes we’ve seen to date are only a tiny fraction of the changes we will see in the coming decades. There are no roadmaps that give us a clear picture of where we are headed, only fuzzy ideas. For this reason we will begin to see more and more experimentation in the area of digital libraries, and in this discussion, a version of the digital library I’ve termed the Electronic Outpost.
The Future of Libraries - We have transitioned from a time where information was scarce and precious to today where information is vast and readily available, and in many cases, free. People who in the past visited libraries to find specific pieces of information are now able to find that information online. Traffic counts in libraries are dropping. So what is the future of this once valuable resource?
The Future of Libraries: Interview with Thomas Frey - NOTE: The following is a reprint of an interview that recently appeared in American Libraries Magazine
Without consulting a crystal ball, Thomas Frey, executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute, writes and speaks about a promising future for those libraries strongly connected to their communities and quickly adaptable to the changing world around them. Tom Sloan, executive director of the DuPage Library System in Geneva, Illinois, asked Frey to discuss the future of libraries.
The Fall of Book Publishing: The Rise of New E-Book Business Models - Amazon revolutionized book reading in 2007 when it introduced its Kindle book reader. Within the past three years, the explosive sale of book readers has caused a massive surge in the sale of e-books, already outpacing the sale of hardcover books, with a prediction by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos that they will outsell paperbacks within the next year.
We are witnessing a major transformation of this industry. Within five years, the vast majority of all books sold will be e-books. Big box retailers like Barnes & Nobel and Borders will have shuttered most of their storefronts. The printing press industry, along with the craftsmen of ages past who have made a fine art of applying ink to paper, will be mothballing their machines. And the media, almost in unison, will begin writing the eulogy for this 500-year old industry.
Privatizing Libraries - Consider the following scenario. Two years from now in November, you find yourself walking into a voting booth to decide on the fate of your local library. The issue you will be deciding affects you directly because it has to do with the management of your local library. You will be voting on one of four choices for the operational management of your library. The choices you have to pick from include Microsoft, Google, Apple, or your current city-run operation.
Rest assured, this is not some takeover bid by one of these three companies to steal libraries away from their local constituency. Rather, it is a very considered offer to both manage and invest in your local library, while at the same time, extending the influence of their companies.
The Future of Colleges & Universities: Blueprint for a Revolution - As the disruptive forces of the Internet bear down on colleges and universities, everyone is beginning to feel the leading winds of this impending storm, but few have a clear view of the changes to come. Newspapers, travel agencies, yellow pages, and record labels are all industries that have been greatly affected by the Internet, and each foretell a different version of what may lie ahead.
College 2.0 will witness a massive peeling apart process. Learning will become separated from the classroom. Courses will be created organically and formed around an on-demand, any-time, any-place delivery models. Professors will declare their independence and work for multiple institutions rather than just one specific college. Accreditation will shift from the Institution to the course and to the individual. And textbooks, the ink-on-paper version that we know today, will all but disappear.
The Future of Education- While many people are making predictions about the direction that education systems are headed, we have found the best predictors to be hidden in the participative viral systems springing to life in the online world. This paper is the result of an 18-month collaborative research study conducted by the DaVinci Institute, its members and associated research teams. The focus is on the key missing elements that will cause disruptive next generation education systems to emerge.
Next Generation Literacy - So what is literacy?
The first time I listened to an audio book I thought I was cheating. As a child, reading for me seemed like a lot of work, and my teachers kept piling on more reading assignments, continually feeding into the notion that reading is hard work.
Later, I rationalized that the process of reading is the process of taking characters on a page and turning them into mental concepts and images. Listening to an audio book is a little different process where we convert sounds into mental concepts and images.
Power of 10 Interface - The distance between information and our brain is getting shorter.
Twenty years ago if you had access to a large information base, such as the Library of Congress, and someone asked you a series of questions, your task would have been to pour through the racks of books to come up with the answers. The time involved could have easily have been 10 hours per question.
Today, if we are faced with uncovering answers from a digital Library of Congress, using keyboards and computer screens, the time-to-answer process has been reduced to as little as 10 minutes.
The next iteration of interface design will give us the power to find answers in as little as 10 seconds.
Competing for Status - “Does being smarter make you happier?”
This was the question I posed to the audience at a recent DaVinci Institute event, hoping to gauge their reaction.
I found it fascinating to watch this very conflicted group of amazingly bright people as they struggled to put their thoughts into words. In the end, the answers, which varied tremendously, seemed to fall mostly into the category of “No, but…..”
A natural follow-on question would be, “Okay, so what constitutes being smart?”
iTunes U – The Rise of the 800 Pound Guerrilla - In April 2009 Stanford University announced that its iPhone Application Programming course had broken the 1 million download mark from the Apple iTunes site. And it did it in record time – less than seven weeks.
The course is nothing more than a series of classroom videos being taught by a team of Apple engineers. But the price was set at that very attractive price point of “free.” One catch though, only people who were enrolled at Stanford University received credits for the course.
With over 200,000 courses from over 200 different institutions to pick from on iTunes U, and all of them free to anyone who wants to take them, Apple is quickly becoming the world leader in courseware aggregation. The obvious question to ask is “what is Apple’s motivation for doing this?” and “how do they intend to make money?”
- Seven Predictions for the Coming Age of Micronations- On a recent trip to Dubai, I spoke at the prestigious “Leaders in Dubai” forum along with the likes of Tom Peters, former NY City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, Citi Group Chairman Sir Win Bischoff, and former McKinsey CEO Rajat Gupta. While most were trying to address issues surrounding our depressingly screwed up economy, I decided to take a rather different approach. My focus was on emerging new Power Tools for the coming years, one of which was the idea of selling islands as autonomous countries.
Dubai and the UAE are on the cutting edge of island-building technology. Their creative approach to building Palm Island along with the coming Palm Jumeirah, the Palm Jebel Ali, Palm Deira, and The World, have become an inspiration to other countries such as Bahrain, Thailand, and the Netherlands where new islands are also springing to life. Countries in the Middle East have a distinct advantage when it comes to island-building because the Persian Gulf is a far more stable body of water than any of the major oceans.
My talk centered on the concept of building islands, and rather than selling them as real estate, to sell them as autonomous countries.
- When Systems Collapse- Systems collapse for all manner of reasons. Historically, problems have stemmed from waning confidence associated with severely injured financial systems.
Economic turmoil has humbled great nations. The worst chapter in modern history was prefaced by Germany’s economic collapse. Argentina descended into a nightmare 10 years ago (and may never forget the horrors visited on its citizens). Mexico came close to collapse in the 1990s when the peso was allowed to float on the open market.
So, we find ourselves staring into the abyss. What brought us to this crossroads in history? Two key decision points have been cited as culprits. One, a mismanaged formula for calculating the risks associated with subprime loans, and two, the limitless money expansion properties of derivatives. But the root cause is far different.
- Ten-X Stimulus Projects- As we begin the process of thinking through the places where we can insert the electrodes and shock new life into the global economy, I would propose a new way of reviewing proposals, allowing the best of the best to rise to the top. I propose we only consider projects that can provide at least a 10X rate of return on our investment dollars.
As most taxpayers who are watching this process unfold, the idea of borrowing today against future revenue streams becomes a contentious issue with severe implications for almost everyone. If we invest the money poorly, there will be no revenue streams in the future to pay the money back, a scenario that will not end well.
However, if the money is invested into some truly remarkable developments with the ability to not only jumpstart the economy but also pay handsome dividends in the future, we will have created a win-win situation that everyone will benefit from.
So what are these 10X projects and how do we decide if they have the explosive potential needed for the situation we find ourselves in today?
- Watching the Income Tax System Implode - In 2003, I wrote a paper titled “The Coming Collapse of Income Tax” in which I predicted that our current income tax system would collapse within 10 years. My prediction stands, even as the clock is running out of time. I am convinced more than ever that the collapse is near.
- City of the Future – Part One- Great communities are founded on great ideas. At the same time, our most admired communities become a magnet, attracting the brightest minds. The relational effect is clear: Bright minds make a community great, and great communities attract bright minds.
In the future, communities will be designed around ways to stimulate new ideas using such things as creative environments, imagination sparkers, and inspirational architecture.
City of the Future – Part Two - As we start to understand the way people connect with their local communities in the future, we begin to see a growing need for central gathering places to help drive person-to-person activities.
Ironically, at a time when cities are very strapped for cash and there is a growing push to decrease the number of city-run facilities, our ongoing city-to-city competition for attracting talent will cause exactly the opposite to happen.
Reinventing Sales Tax - As a general rule, extreme levels of complexity take a significant toll on society. The price we pay for complexity is far greater than the money involved. With upwards of 90,000 separate taxing districts in the U.S. sales tax has become an overly complicated system deeply entrenched in the fabric of society, but woefully out of touch with the times.
As people become increasingly mobile, both on the seller and buyer side of every transaction, location-based differentiators become decreasingly relevant.
But when it comes to sales tax, here’s what everyone get’s wrong. Sales tax is not a location tax, it is a transaction tax. The transaction triggers the tax. The location just determines the amount and who the recipients will be. Without a transaction, there is no tax.
A Country of 90,000 Governments - The total number of governmental bodies in the U.S. is approaching a staggering number – 90,000. During normal economic times there is plenty of money to go around, but now every city, state, county, parish, township, and special taxing district is competing for the same tax dollars that the federal government is.
Governmental entities are living, breathing organisms, each fighting for survival. With tax shortfalls cropping up in nearly every corner of the U.S. economy, most are struggling to preserve their own piece of the pie. With money declining, many are compensating with unusual policy decisions that they hope will shore up their balance sheets.
When Smart Grid Meets Smart Home - Way back when guys were sporting white leisure suits and “mod” hair styles, I enrolled in my first programming class. In 1973, programmers were introduced to the far less glamorous world of FORTRAN working with machines that churned out punch cards.
Like electricity, computer power was a precious commodity that was closely metered. As a more mature industry, electric power had become a staple of modern living. Even though it was moderately priced, change was coming. The era that began with lighted dance floors and disco balls closed out with oil prices soaring. The cost of electrical power increased and forced what we now see as a constant tension between escalating prices and the customer ability to pay for it.
Colorado’s Opportunity to Take the Lead in the Alternative Transportation Market - The first time I rode on a Segway, I was confused. Even though I loved the experience, I couldn’t quite figure out how it would fit into my life. It wasn’t going to replace my car and it certainly wasn’t a substitute for my bicycle, so what exactly was it?
When it came down to pulling out my checkbook, I was left in a quandary, “How could I possibly justify spending money on it?”
I soon found out that I was not alone. Talking to local city officials I was told that virtually no one had a policy for alternative vehicles, such as electric scooters, hybrid skateboards, fuel-cell motorcycles, Segways, and Segway knockoffs. They opted to let the police department decide. When I asked the police department about it, their comment was that if it wasn’t a car or a bicycle, “we just ban everything else.”
From a public safety standpoint, “banning everything else” was an easy way of managing what has become an increasingly complex marketplace for alternative transportation. At the same time, the easiest approach is rarely the best one.
Today, literally thousands of alternative transportation vehicles are coming out of the woodwork and they nearly all have the same problem – no place to drive them. Most are banned from biking and hiking trails, and they are neither licensed, nor licensable, for use on the streets.
For these reasons, I’d like to discuss some new possible solutions and why Colorado is poised to take the lead in the alternative transportation marketplace.
2050 and the Future of Transportation: Frictionless Vehicles and Binary Power will Define Transportation in the World Ahead – Transportation technology is progressing at a much slower pace than some of the other sciences such as information technology, biotech, and nanotechnology. As an example, the world’s human speed record was set in 1969, a full 37 years ago, when Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Gene Cernan flew in Apollo 10 at 24,790 mph. While there is much talk about flying at a speed that approaches the speed of light, very little effort is actually being expended in this area. But that is soon to change.
Where is My Flying Car? - Imagine yourself in 2030, 20 years in the future, sitting in your living room watching your favorite show on a 3D holographic display, and you witness a product placement scene where someone is eating one of the best pizzas you’ve ever seen. The depiction is so lifelike and intense that you instantly start craving pizza, and simply utter the word “yes.”
Thirty seconds later, a flying delivery drone docks with your house and delivers the exact pizza you were craving along with a six-pack of your favorite beer. It automatically knew what you wanted, and it knew about the beer as well as the pizza.
As this plays out, you will have eaten half of the pizza before you realize what you paid for it.
The Alternative Transportation District - Over the past few years I have been carefully watching what has turned into an explosion of alternative transportation vehicles being developed all over the world. These vehicles include everything from electric and fuel cell scooters, to hybrid motorcycles, to electric skateboards, to turbo-wheelchairs, to dog-powered bikes, to Segways and Segway knockoffs.
Nearly every one of these vehicles is different. They differ in size and shape, height and weight, fuel source, speed, and maneuverability.
Perhaps the only thing they have in common is that there are virtually no roads to drive them on, and that’s where we find a tremendous opportunity.
The Future of Gaming – Where brilliant thinkers like DaVinci, H. G. Wells, and Mandelbrot inspired much of the world around us today, the world of tomorrow, the very world where we will be spending the later years of our lives, is now being imagined inside the young minds of today’s gamers as they learn to harness the awesome power hiding in each gamer’s toolbox.
The Coming of the Terabyters - Recently I was preparing for a talk on the future of money, a talk I have given many times in the past, and I became absorbed with one singular thought – the relationship between information and money.
The value of a person, as an example, has traditionally been calculated based on hard number such as money in their bank account, personal assets, 401Ks, earning power, etc. As our ability to capture and process information improves, we are able to assign many more numbers to the intrinsic value of an individual.
Today we find ourselves in an awkward in-between state of trying to transition from a world based on hard currencies to one where things like talent, relationships, knowledge, reputation, personal networks, influence, and accomplishments all have growing significance. These attributes have always held value, but only recently have they been considered valuable enough to serve as a tradable commodity.
Messing with the Reality of Reality- Life is a game. Every day we find ourselves in the middle of the game, involving the work we do, the people we hang out with, and the social structures that surround us. But who exactly created this game? Each day we live our lives as animated playing pieces, playing by rules that others created. Conformity is a constant force, imposing a lifestyle that most of us were born into, saddled with goals that often go cross-grain with our personal strengths. All of this, however, is about to change.
The Future of Agriculture – Can better food create better people? Will a better food supply lead to healthier, stronger, better thinking people? This is exactly the premise that is driving many of the advances in farming today.
The Coolest Profession on Earth – Next Generation Agriculture – When people think of farming, they typically conjure up images of a tractor cresting a hill billowing large plumes of exhaust into the air. However, recent news of a system for channeling tractor exhaust into the dirt, so carbon fumes are plowed into the soil eliminating the need for fertilizer, has been gaining significant attention. The win-win arrangement of turning a known pollutant into a soil enriching additive, combined with the prospects for significantly lower operating costs from the elimination of fertilizer has many farmers buzzing. The technique, developed by Canadian, Gary Lewis of Bio Agtive, is currently in trials at 100 farms around the world.
Additional papers can be found at FuturistSpeaker.com.