Our Job is to Invent the Future

If we are trying to innovate, what is our actual job?

According to Mark Earls in Welcome to the Creative Age, our job is to invent the future.

Seems reasonable to me. Here is how he builds that argument:

…opinions are what you get back from customers once you’ve done something, so they are largely irrelevant to you. They aren’t the precondition for customers doing something or a good guide to what you should do. At all.

So don’t waste your time with ask/answer research and opinions. Throw away the reassurance of quoting the consumer or stats garnered from opinion polls. Watch your customers, observe them, live with them, but don’t expect them to tell you much themselves. Because they can’t.

Instead, recognize:

  • It is your job to invent the future – you are the inventors.
  • It is not the customer’s job – they are not good at the future but they might buy your invention if you get it right (or not).

Our Job is to Invent the Future

I’m in the process of working through some focus group results for a consulting client. Against my advice, they insisted on doing this work to try to figure out the best use for a new piece of technology. So this section from Earls rings particularly true for me at the moment.

I keep trying to tell them that it is up to them to invent the future – customers may well play a co-creative role in the process, but first my client has to come up with an idea, a proposal to put in front of their customers. It’s their job.

Since they’re not listening to me, I hope that you will.

If we’re trying to innovate, it’s our job to invent the future. As simple as that. And as frustrating, vexingly hard as that too. In any case, it’s our job. Time to get started.

(flickr/redteam under a Creative Commons License (discovered after searching for “contraption”!))

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Tim KastelleTim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

Tim Kastelle




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No Comments

  1. Anna Pollock on October 21, 2010 at 4:37 am

    Important point Tim. The future emerges from what we are doing and thinking about now. Only point I disagree on is “it’s not the customer’s job to invent the future”…
    A considerable amount of innovation in the marketplace is originating from customers trying to deal with some pain or lack in the marketplace. If we were in closer dialogue with our customers we’d hear of their pain and instead of producing a competitor could generate another happy customer. 8 years ago I called this “Dancing with the Customer”. (https://www.scribd.com/doc/39730490/Dancing-With-the-Customer-Final-Paper) Now the pundits are talking about customer centricity being the next big thing!

  2. Anna Pollock on October 21, 2010 at 5:44 am

    By the way Tim, I did a webinar in NZ last night and used the flowers and bee metaphor to explain the laws of attraction and pollination as they apply to social marketing so really resonated with your herding butterflies post.

  3. Kass on October 27, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Here here…I couldn’t agree more. Reliance on focus groups for anything more than perhaps some incremental innovation is pointless. As has been shown time and time again, you have to invent the future and make proposals to your customers about a possible future with your products. You have to research future socio-cultural trends and behaviours to try and determine what future products may look like.

    Perhaps suggest to your client they read at least the first section on design driven innovation by Verganti. Sums it all up quite nicely.

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