Great book for the holidays….


The future is here.  It’s just not widely distributed yet.  ~ William Gibson

I get tired of hearing continually about how bad things are, how we are going to hell in a hand basket.  I’m always on the lookout for examples of things going well, of people and businesses achieving success.

So I was pleased to read An Optimist’s Tour of the Future by Mark Stevenson.  It does what it says on the tin: it takes a positive look at how people are changing the world for the better.

Stevenson has four sections: Man, Machine, Earth and Re-Boot (like when you have to restart your computer because it failed).  Some of the ideas and things that are already happening could be seen as frightening.  For example, I don’t think I want to live forever as the ‘Transhumanists’ do in his book.   But a lot of the ideas being developed now are of interest – I certainly would appreciate it if cures can be found for illnesses like cancer and Alzheimer’s.

I found his stories about programming engaging. This is not just programming robots (and what some of the robots can already do today is amazing), but also programming DNA. He talks about nano-technology: very appropriate as the Mars rover Curiosity, which landed successfully this week, is an object lesson in applying this technology. And he discusses the possibilities of augmented intelligence: controversial, thought-provoking and scary.

I was very much taken with “when ideas have sex” from Making a Road Where There Isn’t One in the Re-Boot section . What a great metaphor! This is when, as Matt Ridley says, “human culture allows ideas to meet and interact freely”. We certainly need more of it now, as the rate of change continues to accelerate.

Which leads naturally on to the chapter  entitled Future Shock, in which Stevenson emphasises that we can no longer expect or accept the ‘business as usual’ outlook of the Great Moderation.  The way we structure our businesses is based on our existing infrastructure, not on the way that we currently experience accelerating change in the environment around us.  Yet many companies still expect to survive and thrive based on the Great Moderation’s assumptions of stability and constant growth.  Such businesses are unable to engage with the emerging world of fast-paced innovation.

This chimes strongly with the work we do at LASA. Today’s innovation challenge is not technological innovation: it is organisational or institutional innovation.  It is about creating new ways of organising and new ways of doing business.  How we respond to the information age, constantly adapting and learning to take advantage of what is coming on-stream: this is what will make the difference between success and failure.

LASA’s expertise as Change Engineers is in this very area of organisational innovation – just what Mark Stevenson says is needed.  His book is a good read; it’s amusing and thought-provoking.  So if, after you’ve read it – or even before – you want to know more about how to introduce organisational innovation in your business: just get in touch with us.

An Optimist’s Tour of the Future
By Mark Stevenson
pp. 334
Profile Books Ltd, 2011
ISBN 978-18466834572

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