Innovating with an Eye Towards the Future

Innovating isn’t always about ‘creating new for new sake’. Or ‘technology for technology sake’. In 2019, our EVP and Chief Officer of Strategy, Joanne Healy, was invited by Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, to give a lecture and lead a workshop with graduate engineering students at the School of System Design and Intelligent Manufacturing (SDIM) on innovative thinking.

Shenzhen has been growing rapidly with ambitions to become the new Greater Bay Area – China’s Silicon Valley – by 2025. David Anderson, President, International, of global consultancy firm Mercer has studied this tech-mega city in China. He believes, “Disruption and reinvention are not possible without humanization. Technological innovations will not replace the uniquely human qualities that make people essential to the future of work — such as creative problem-solving, cross-cultural collaboration, emotional intelligence, empathy, reasoning and judgment.”

During Joanne’s lecture and workshop, she asked students to think about how technology will impact people’s lives 10 years from today. They were encouraged to free themselves from what they know today and think outside their comfort zone, take risks and suspend their disbelief to address the following:

  • What are the major drivers and implications about ‘technology’ today that will impact your industry tomorrow?
  • What trends and events – cultural, social, political, economic — do we anticipate?
  • Will these be opportunities or threats?
  • What are today’s ‘unmet’ needs that can help identify untapped markets tomorrow?
  • What patterns can we identify as early indicators?

Narratives across multiple future scenarios were shared – best-case through worst-case – and students identified product and service strategies in response.

As we think about design, this experience was yet another reminder of how critical the tools for envisioning alternative scenarios are in enabling us to innovate confidently in the face of an uncertain future.