When unusual creators meet business innovation
Imagine entering into a business plan meeting and you see top-level executives with a sci-fi short story in their hands.
On the main screen, you see a comic illustration of this story, inspired by a product you’ll be launching next year. It’s some astonishing artwork, you think to yourself.
You’re intrigued by what you see.
“Please take note of what we’re going to talk about today”, says the CEO’s voice dead serious.
“We’ve asked a sci-fi consultancy firm to help us envision the future of our company and our main products. They’ve come up with a fascinating storyline and product applications we might end up using soon. Everyone had received a copy of the story beforehand and now that you’ve analyzed it with your teams, let’s start with the discussion. George, care to share what your supply chain team has come up with?”
The abovementioned scenario is not a funny prank someone pulled out on their colleagues.
It’s actually something that’s been going on for several years now with Ari Popper, founder of SciFutures, a consultant company specialized in using science fiction as a business tool to help shape the future of their clients.
If you’re still unsure of how these two seemingly opposite fields of work can mix, let’s take a good look at it.
Corporate consulting with sci-fi narratives
Businesses are trying to predict how the future will look like and try to create it or at least adapt to it.
And they spend a lot of money on it through business plans, strategy analysis, market research, etc.
So why not use a bunch of sci-fi book authors and write customized stories for their clients?
That’s what Ari Popper did with his 300+ sci-fi writers from around the globe in SciFutures. And if you think nobody will take him seriously, just look at some of his recent clients: Visa, Ford, Pepsi, Samsung, and even NATO.
Yes, even the military is taking sci-fi seriously.
My friends, imagination can pay the bills if you know how to use it.
What Popper and his team usually see from their clients is that they want to read about bright future possibilities instead of unhappy ones. However, if they write a dark ending, clients want to know ways to avoid it with concrete business strategies at least.
Both scenarios are considered but these are not just stories for people to read out of pleasure. They give precise data on how these storylines contribute to the business at hand.
What’s something sci-fi writers have written to help these clients?
One of Popper’s clients was a chocolate firm that was intrigued to know how well the firm’s future looked like with 3D food printing.
Popper and his team created an illustrated story of this future.
It would envision a virtual reality tour in the firm’s premises where clients would experience first hand the whole process of manufacturing chocolate, the eco-friendly practices of local farmers, and realize the whole supply chain involved in the process. After returning home, the customers would download a patented chocolate recipe and would print it in their 3D printers.
In a world surrounded by technological wonders, the company would remain relevant thanks to its unique narrative and chocolate formula.
Writers are a key component in this endeavor, and their vision might even become true.
It’s a unique opportunity to get their art to people that can decide whether to invest in an idea or not. And while it’s not yet a very profitable gig, according to one of their contributors Ken Liu (a Hugo Award-winning author), writers can help shape the world of tomorrow through their unique vision of the products of their clients.
Two main contributions of using sci-fi in business
If you’re still unsure of how sci-fi can help a business, let’s look at some of the things this field can bring to the game.
#1 It can give a unique vision to the development of a business
Top executives are always thinking about what lies ahead, and how their business will either shape or adapt to the changes yet to come.
For instance, Jeff Bezos and his team, are already setting up a plan for what will happen three years from now. They’re rarely focused on the daily operations of Amazon which means that they’re carving the future to their vision.
It’s just a matter of time before it becomes a reality.
Science fiction can aid in this endeavor, especially in the industries using new technology. By using a well-thought story, these new technologies can be better understood and make it more relatable both to the ones imagining the future and to the customers.
Years ago when we didn’t know much about using a virtual space to buy things, science fiction could’ve helped people transition into the Internet world.
Relatable characters having to operate in that digital world would’ve been great examples to get people used to the idea, so when it became a reality, we could’ve adapted faster.
Science fiction can give clarity to complexity and pave the way for a new reality.
In a way, we’re living the future through these novels. Experiencing new possibilities through the eyes of our dear characters. We would’ve forged an emotional bond that would later transfer from paper to reality.
We have to remember that disruptive innovation is not linear and it takes time for people to adjust to it.
If the use of sci-fi in business can become a usual practice, perhaps we could reduce the time needed to transition from where we are towards where the company wants us to be.
#2 Create intellectual property by exploring new applications of the product
Science Future works closely with the client’s R&D department. They show through their stories, how the product can be used in the future.
By using storytelling, sci-fi writers can clearly illustrate ways in which customers would use the product in 3, 5, or 10 years from now. They can integrate it into this new reality and explore the characters’ motivations and behaviors while interacting with these products.
And even make it seem like it’s an everyday experience!
They’re testing their ideas:
- Would the item be something useful for a particular character?
- Will it fit into this future society?
- Where will it be used more frequently?
- Does it have other applications not yet thought of?
And so on.
Let’s say the sci-fi team has been commissioned to explore new applications for virtual reality technology.
How else could it be used in the near future?
Perhaps, given our state of prolonged pandemic and children being unable to attend school, VR could develop ways to keep them engaged in virtual classrooms.
Could the teacher take them on a journey through ancient Rome during history class? Could they have individual assignments while exploring it and report back to their teacher like a quest? Could they talk with virtual characters to learn more about the culture and customs from that time in history?
Thus the idea starts growing, expanding into new possibilities, and there’s a chance businesses can make tailored software to tackle this problem and license it to schools across the country.
There are so many possibilities out there!
Science fiction has frequently been considered a way to explore realities that will mostly never become true.
But that’s going to change.
What was once thought of as mere fantasy, is finding its way into businesses as a tool for change. Sci-fi writers and consultancy firms specialized in thought-provoking scenarios of the future have been working closely with companies for some time now.
Thanks to this collaboration, brands can sharpen their vision of the future and find new business opportunities for their products.
However, for this partnership to thrive, not only do leaders need to be on board with it but also people from all levels in the organization have to engage with these seemingly crazy ideas.
Like the scenario illustrated at the beginning of this article, we might have a resistance to change the way things work, more so if we start relying on people from a field too imaginative for our daily lives.
This poses a new beginning in the way companies work, but as one of the greatest sci-fi writers once said:
“The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.”
Arthur C. Clarke
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