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We don’t need a time machine… to tell the future

“All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.” I love that line from the sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica because it’s so applicable to the world we live.

When you look at history, you can see how things repeat. You can look for the signals of how things will change.  You can also gain a lot from looking at all of the current data to plan for the future. Josh Gunkel talked about turning foresight into action.  Gunkel is the Foresight Curator for Hallmark and leads the social media research team there. He also writes a blog called Curating Pixels.

“The future is here – we just haven’t discovered it yet,” Gunkel said.  When mining data, Gunkel goes back about one year for analytics.  There are a tremendous number of tools out there that have a range of costs. Gunkel listed several sites he uses to analyze how trends interact between each other, including TrendWatching and TrendSpotting.

Remember the message John Connor left for his mother in The Terminator?  “The future is not set. You must be stronger than you imagine you can be.”  To tell the future, you need to gather everything about it you can and analyze it at all possible angles.  But even with all of the information, you’re not going to get everything right.

One thing we can know for certain though is that the younger generation is growing up today with a dramatically different set of tools than ever before.  Digital devices are an extension of themselves instead of something they use.  Have you read the article about how every child needs an iPad?

You might laugh, but there’s definitely a trend toward what Gunkel called the “untethered life.”  That is that when we’re digitally connected, we can do anything, anywhere, anytime.  We don’t have to be tied down in our office to respond to emails or call clients. We can accomplish goals while on the go.  If you have access to everything, you can do anything.

Think about one small change you can make at your company.  A one-degree change right now could be paradigm shifting in the future of the company.  “What do you need to do today to capture the future?” Gunkel asked and it’s a prescient question for any company in any field.

When Apple launched its iOS platform, did it really think they thought it would end up commanding a more than 75-percent of its profit? Perhaps, and if it did make such a bold prediction internally, it was done so with tremendous research and foresight analysis. Now, it’s a dominating force in the smartphone and tablet field.

There’s a tendency to think business and the economy is returning to a level playing field or some type of normalcy, but looking ahead there’s a lot of volatility, Gunkel said.  There are dozens of start-ups out there with hundreds of ideas to dislodge entrenched companies.

To social media work, it’s not going to be a silver bullet of growth for any company, but it’s a fantastic way to get into the mind of your consumer.  You can listen to people talk about brands and categories. You can hear what they have to say and react accordingly.

Looking up and looking ahead, there’s a lot of volatility. There’s a tendency to think we are returning to a level playing field or some type of normalcy. Warfare: you knew who the enemy was thirty years ago, but today with terrorism you don’t know where the enemy is.

There is a lot of great tools for future planning. Establish a framework for working toward the future.

Social media isn’t a silver bullet, but the growth of social media is good to listen to people talk about your brand or your category.  Get in the mind of your consumer. Make sure you don’t confuse a reflection of yourself as the consumer.   We don’t need a time machine to tell the future, we just need to use the tools at our disposal.

This is the fourth of a seven-part series taking a look at how we can be a force of change for those around us.

Introduction: Back to the Future Midwest

Part 1: We don’t need a time machine…to predict the weather.

Part 2: We don’t need a time machine…to stay relevant.

Part 3: We don’t need a time machine…to know where we’re going.

Part 4: We don’t need a time machine…to tell the future.

Part 5: We don’t need a time machine…to live in the clouds.

Part 6: We don’t need a time machine…to bridge the digital divide.

Part 7: We don’t need a time machine…to drive the conversation.

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