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Finding Value Where Futures Diverge
Read on to dig into your company’s official future
I’m Pascal Finette, co-founder of be radical – and this is our weekly Briefing. We share our latest insights, analysis, and articles we read; all focussed on the future of technology and business. Just like a good banana, it’s easy to digest. nutritious and yummy.
Decode. Disrupt. Transform.
It’s the 4th of July here in the US, a holiday commemorating the ratification of a Declaration of Independence that put forth a very different vision for the future of Britain’s American colonies than the one the British king and Parliament had in mind. The ramifications of this divergence of views on the future and even what was possible within the systems and structures that made up the Transatlantic world of 1776 would – spoiler warning here – prove to be historically and globally significant.
But you don’t come to this newsletter for the history (and you’ve seen Hamilton), so let’s focus on the futures piece. Every organization – be it the British Parliament, the Colonies’ 2nd Continental Congress, OpenAI, or your local school board – is operating with a set of assumptions about the future. As we’ve written before, those assumptions (about what’s probable, what’s possible, what stakeholders will value, how the world will work, etc.) can easily go unexamined and unquestioned, calcifying over time into an organization’s version of what Peter Schwarz called an “Official Future.”
One danger of letting an official future go unexamined is that the assumptions embedded within that operating understanding may not, in fact, be entirely reliable – or might have a limited and shrinking shelf-life in a context of rapid change and high complexity. Another danger is that we can easily overestimate the extent to which other stakeholders or players share our own assumptions about the future in the environment – each of whom is operating with their own set of expectations about what the world will / can be like. Understanding the assumptions and expectations of these other key players is nearly as critical as understanding and reflecting on our own.
In a workshop with a healthcare company last week, I had an opportunity to unpack some of the client’s assumptions and expectations in a way that produced a rich set of conversations for the leaders in the room.
First, I asked the group to identify expectations about the future of the industry that they believed to be widely held within their organization. Even this proved to be rather interesting as the leaders realized that some of them had quite different ideas about what might be assumed or expected by the organization at large over the next 5 years.
After we had that body of assumptions named explicitly, I broke the workshop cohort into smaller groups and assigned each group to explore the perspective of a stakeholder or other player in the broader healthcare ecosystem (tech companies, customers, providers, etc.). I asked each group to identify some of the assumptions that their assigned stakeholder or ecosystem player might have about the future of the industry – focusing especially on assumptions and expectations that were at odds with those identified for their own organization in the previous round.
Soon, we had a fascinating collection of divergent viewpoints about the future (assumed drivers of change, things that would remain relatively constant, unsolvable problems, the bounds of the possible…) and the basis for a set of conversations about communication and partnership across difference and the many ways in which views on the future can deeply shape – and at times constrain – the possibilities we see for action and leadership in the present.
Even outside of a structured workshop, the questions at hand are well worth any leader’s time and reflection.
What are your organization’s key assumptions and expectations about the future? Where do those ideas come from, and how are they refreshed over time?
What do the key stakeholders and players in your ecosystem assume and expect about the future, and where/how do those assumptions differ from your own?
How do these divergent views define/constrain your options for action or suggest new opportunities for building mutually beneficial relationships? (via Jeffrey)
The Thin Wisps of Tomorrow
The effects of COVID-induced WFH policies will be felt for a long time to come. Economic analysis firm Capital Economics is out with a new report stating that office values will not regain their pre-pandemic peak prices until well into 2040. Fortune’s write-up provides further details. For example, 56% of surveyed firms have adopted a hybrid work model, and key swipes (an indicator of an office’s utilization) are down 50% from early 2020 levels. As much as this hits commercial real estate investors, it has trickle-on effects on many other infrastructural pieces – from restaurants to commuter traffic. Even more reasons to rethink urban and suburban living in a new world.
The Size of Firms and the Nature of Innovation. Think income inequality in countries is bad (and getting worse)? Take a look at firm concentration: According to a recent study on “100 Years of Rising Corporate Concentration,” the top 1% of firms in the US raked in 80% of all sales. A massive disparity that is increasing over time – another core driver of what we have called “The Great Bifurcation.” Firms either orient themselves towards fully vertically integrated “super-firms” or focus on specific niche markets with a high level of modularity (i.e., most components of their value chain are outsourced). With this comes a shift in innovation potential – a recent meta-analysis found that the larger the firm, the more incremental and less disruptive innovation happens inside the firm. In essence: Startups disrupt, and incumbents innovate.
Prompts Suck. You almost certainly have crafted a prompt for ChatGPT or another LLM lately. Did it frustrate you? Were you baffled at how complex and long some of the “best practice” prompts you can find online are? Or did you get little more than garbage in return (yet confidently presented as truth)? There is a reason why prompt engineering is an actual job (although one which, I bet, will have a very short shelf life). The future for most LLMs will, almost certainly, be different input modalities – buttons, controls, touch surfaces – instead of an ambiguous text prompt. Stanford’s Varun Shenoy has some concise thoughts about this.
Bing! Microsoft Copilot lands. I don’t think one can overstate the soon-to-be omnipresent Microsoft Copilot’s disruptive potential in some of the world’s most used software, Microsoft Office. After integrating Copilot into the Bing search engine (on its Edge browser), the Redmond-based software giant started rolling out deeper integrations into Windows and soon Office. Prepare yourself for AI-generated emails via Outlook, reports and proposals via Word, financial calculations via Excel, and – gasp – slide decks created by Copilot inside Powerpoint. A brave new world open to most white-collar workers in the world. It turns out – it still pays to own the operating system…
What We Are Reading
😶🌫️ AI machines aren’t ‘hallucinating’. But their makers are This week, I caught up on a thought-provoking article from author and social activist Naomi A. Klein on the utopian dream of AI being the answer to all our problems. Needless to say, there is much to consider and much to do. AI will certainly fundamentally change our lives, but it will take a lot more than that to create a positive future for everyone. Jane ⇢ Read
🤝 How to Make Meetings Shorter (for Real) Meetings, meetings & more meetings. How to make them more efficient, shorter, or even eliminate them completely. Mafe ⇢ Read
👷 AI Is a Lot of Work The magic and scalability of big AI still depend on a staggeringly large and largely unseen infrastructure of human labor. Jeffrey ⇢ Read
🎸 Coldplay’s Sustainability Report While not the most conventional corporate sustainability report, it’s great to see the effort and interesting tech from BMW and kinetic floors being used. Julian ⇢ Read
🥱 Regular Short Naps Could Be The Easiest Way to Reduce The Risk of DementiaRegular napping could help keep the brain young, according to a US, UK, and Uruguay study. Those who napped had larger brains, equivalent to those who were up to 6.5 years younger. Pedro ⇢ Read
🧳 The Case Against Travel There is an actual (good) case to be made to NOT travel. At least not in the way most of us think about traveling. This thought-provoking piece made me reconsider some future plans… Pascal ⇢ Read
Around The Horn
Harvard University welcomes AI tutors to the classroom.
“Bigger is better” might not get us to where we want to be when it comes to AI.
An in-depth look at how to build autonomous agents on top of LLMs.
OpenAI is coming for your Executive Assistant.
Some Fun Stuff
A beautiful, interactive exploration of what lies beneath the ocean’s surface. Keep scrolling… 🤿
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