October 14, 2016
When we were kids it was nothing to simply invent a tool, power, or state of being that solved our problems. Your buddy just zap you with his laser? No problem…now you’re self- healing and activated your invisibility cloak. It was just that simple. And while your buddy might argue the validity of your new-found status of immortal invisible being, the game went on. New worlds to conquer, new problems to solve, new things to imagine.
What the hell happened? When, exactly, did we lose the ability to truly imagine things beyond constraints?
Partly the games got real and we started to learn that dirt clods hurt (hey..I was raised in central California, we didn’t have snowballs…so we improvised. Don’t judge.) and when you crashed your bike that bright red mercurochrome (aka Indian Juice) stung like a bitch when your mom held you down and coated your road rash.
No matter how much you imagined you could fly your bike, gravity is a thing. So are tar roads and gravel. When it’s 110 F outside, gravel embedded tar burned road rash sucks. True story.
So, our introduction to constrained thinking started with red stained knees and tear stained faces.
On a side note, I’m convinced they coated us in that red stuff more as a stupidity deterrent than an antiseptic. Pain relieving ointment and hurt free band aids?
I don’t think so. For you millennials the phrase “rip off the band aid” came from your predecessors doing just that. And screaming. You’re welcome.
Fast forward 40 something years and I’m sitting in a hotel bar in Rome with MTV playing American Pop videos on a pull-down movie screen writing a blog about breaking free of constraints to imagine solutions to future problems.
Yes…it’s a bit surrealistic. You can’t make this up.
Yet, here I am working with NATO and offering a non-military perspective to a great project: figuring out what skills, doctrine, and equipment needs developing between now and 2035.
It’s really hard. Letting go of constraints is way harder than you think.
Think about it, in the 70’s when I was getting painted red the idea of mobile communications was the stuff of SciFi. Unless you had a HAM radio or a CB good buddy, you, the average bubba wasn’t talking to anybody wirelessly. That Star Trek communicator was just crazy talk…now drag that 42 foot phone cord to your room if you want a private call and on your way by the TV switch it to Wide World of Sports for Dad. That was reality of the time. Your dad couldn’t comprehend the iPhone any more than he could ESPN, both wondrous things but unimaginable when the best thing going was boxing between golf segments on Wide World.
What does 2035 look like? Who knows. That’s not the point. The point is how do we imagine what both the problem set and the solutions will look like? If we constantly imagine the future within today’s constraints, we’ll completely miss the mark.
The capabilities of the future will evolve incrementally, each evolutionary cycle changing and expanding the known constraints. The cell phone evolved from the radio phone. Computers shrunk from room sized calculators to laptops connected to more information than anyone in history could imagine. The iPhone combined shrinking computer technology with the cell phone and a new mobile computing data processing platform that destroyed our ability to think was born.
Very few saw that coming. But a few imagined it. Even if they didn’t have all the details, they shook off the constraints of the day to imagine what could be. Remember Uhura’s earpiece and her tablet? Bluetooth and the iPad. Yes, it was fantasy then and the props were probably Styrofoam, but Gene Roddenberry could see that things were generally moving that way and something like it would eventually come to pass.
When we think about the future we absolutely must let go of constraints and imagine what would be useful…even if it seems impossible now. Whether we’re talking about pizza delivering drones and self-driving cars or lighter, more agile protective equipment for the soldier of the future.
In this case, I’m working with military visionaries who are trying to imagine how best to engage enemies in the future environment while not destroying the environment or non-combatants (which deserves admiration all by itself, seeing how historically blowing up neighborhoods was never much of a concern). In your case, it may be trying to imagine the next iteration of mobile computing so you can get a jump patenting the OtterBox case for our neural-implanted communicators. Or perhaps you’re thinking about a whole new level of cyber-kinetic violence and how to protect people from the criminal element that will exploit people with batteries and networks connected to their brains (um…that’s a real concern BTW).
So let go. Imagine. Fly the bike, invent active protection for vehicles that defeats rockets, invent a vacuum that cleans the carpet and terrorizes the dog autonomously…wait…never mind. That last bit’s done, too late.
My point is simple. Let go. Imagine crazy things. You can always go back and apply analysis and reality later, but to start really anticipating the future you have to imagine what might be, what could be. And if you happen to crash your bike trying to fly within today’s constraints…fear not, the new generation of first aid is nothing like yesterday’s.
Somebody had to imagine what it would feel like to disinfect a wound without red stained fire searing your leg. Somebody imagined THAT. Just saying.