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The Future is Already Here (Thinks Out Loud Episode 370)

Photo of child wearing a virtual reality headset to illustrate the idea that the future is already here

It’s tough to predict the future. What’s much less tough is "predicting the present." There are lots of "future trends" that might be a big deal… or might fizzle as mere fads. But, there’s an easy way to figure out which is which for your business: Test.

In reality, the future is already here. Many of the trends that might shape our future — AI, machine learning, the metaverse (at least in the form of augmented reality), web3 — already exist in some form or other. And, if you follow a "Core and Explore" process, you can test and see if there’s any value in these for your business with relatively low risk — and relatively low investment.

So, what does that look like? How can you test which trends matter effectively and efficiently? How can you learn which parts of the future are already here… and which might not matter? That’s what this week’s episode of Thinks Out Loud is all about.

Want to learn more? Then give a listen, review the transcript, and check out all today’s show notes. Enjoy!

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Running time: 19m 28s

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Transcript: The Future is Already Here (Thinks Out Loud Episode 370)

Well, hello again everyone, and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter, this is episode 370 of the Big Show, and thank you so much for tuning in. I do appreciate it. So I think we’ve got a really cool show for you today.

Future Trends: They’re Already Here

I have to tell you, I’ve been talking a lot about trends that matter to your business and you know, the various trends that we keep seeing a lot of people talking about in terms of things like ChatGPT and web3 and crypto and NFTs and the metaverse.

And I’ve stated my belief more than once — and I will link to those beliefs in the show notes — that they’re not really ready for primetime yet. Generally, the way I look at it is anytime we look at some cool new trend, there’s really four things we need to do:

  • Define what we mean by the topic. So in the past episode I’m referring to, we talked about the metaverse. But this is true for ChatGPT. This is true for web3. It’s true for crypto. You know? Define what you mean by that term. If we’re talking about ChatGPT taking over, what do we mean by ChatGPT? what does that look like? For that matter, what do we mean by taking over? Is it incorporated into Bing’s search results — which is a possibility? Or is it a standalone product unto itself? Because I think those have very different market viability, at least based on where we are today.
  • We also need to define what success looks like. When we say something’s going to succeed, what do we mean by succeed?
  • We need to define timing. When we say X will succeed, when do we think that’s going to happen for some given definition of success?
  • And of course, you should have a pretty good feel for your confidence; Define your confidence level. How much would you be willing to bet on that definition of that topic succeeding? Again, for a given definition of success within a given timeframe, how confident are you about that?

Shocking News: I Could Be Wrong!

Now, the reason I’m bringing all of this up is… I could be wrong! I may not be right about any of this, for one thing. And the more important thing here is these are already here in some way or other. There are businesses today using some of these technologies, using some of these tools, to drive awareness for their brands, in some cases reach new customer groups.

They may even be using it to make money right now. So, you know, I’m pretty confident that these items will succeed at some point. And they may become more prevalent in our day-to-day lives.

The Future is Already Here

It’s also true that there may be opportunities you should be looking at. We’re already seeing augmented reality — which to me is a pretty big part of the metaverse — in use today in things like Google Maps and Google Lens. So there’s opportunities there for you to capture, for you to build on.

Core and Explore Revisited

Now I want to be fair. I don’t think you should throw everything at it right away. You’ve heard me talk many times on this show, including last week, about the value of a "Core and Explore" approach, Where you put most of your energies, most of your efforts, most of your budget, most of your resources towards things that are Core — 80%, 90% towards the things that work today.

And you hold back some budget, some resources, some energy, some efforts for things that you want to test. And here’s the thing: you don’t need to wait for permission to test some of these ideas. You have to look at the ones that make sense for you. You have to say, “Hey, these are some ideas that we think are worth paying some attention to.”

It doesn’t make sense for you to put all of your energy or resources or budget into web3 or Crypto or NFTs or the metaverse or ChatGPT. Even as exciting as it may be right at the moment, it’s also okay to explore. It’s okay to spend a small fraction of your time, energy, resources, and budget on these to test. Just don’t gamble with money you don’t want to lose.

There is No Perfect Moment to Start Testing

You just shouldn’t feel like you need to wait for the perfect moment either. One of the great things about Core and Explore is you get to learn, you get to practice, you get to see what might work for you in a somewhat more low risk environment.

You know, there’s a funny thing in life — you all know this; I’m not telling you anything you don’t know — that the only way to be good at something is to be bad at it first. Whatever your first effort is going to be with any of these technologies — any of them, none of them, something I haven’t talked about here at all &mdash you’re probably going to make mistakes. You’re probably going to learn some things. You’re probably going to stub your toe here and there. But if you’re just testing a little bit to see what might make sense for you, that’s okay. That’s a fairly low risk effort, and it may provide you with some skills that will be more valuable if and when any of these technologies go from being sort of cusp technologies, somewhere out on the edge technologies, to things that might become part of your core in the longer run.

Again, they’re already here. The future is already here in some way or other, in some fashion. And it’s okay to do some tests around this.

Now, it’s fair to ask when I say “do in some way,” what does that mean? You know? How do you get started if you’re going to test?

Who, Not How

I encourage people all the time start with “who, not how.” For many of these things, there aren’t a ton of experts out there. But there are a lot of people trying to learn about this. There are a lot of people who’ve put energy and effort into understanding any of these various technologies, any of these various tools, any of the various vendors that exist that might be able to help you succeed.

So don’t think about how you can do it. Think about who you can do it with.

  • Who can you ask for help?
  • Who in your network can help you get started?
  • Who knows more than other folks about the one topic you want to try?
  • And even if you can’t find somebody in your network who’s an expert, ask them if they know anyone who they trust.

What if your answer is still nobody? Then think about who wants to learn, who within your organization wants to have an opportunity to get better at these things, to learn a new, potentially invaluable skill.

When I worked for Charles Schwab, we used to talk about how we’d hire for attitude and for hard work, and then we would train for skill. As I said, nobody’s really expert at any of these topics yet. There’s a handful of folks, but most of them probably aren’t folks you’re going to hire.

So it’s more a question of who’s willing to learn, who’s willing to work hard and get better? Who do you trust to give you good answers and follow a solid process to get to those answers so that you can become more expert, you as an organization can become more expert.

Define Success

The next thing you want to do, once you’ve thought about the who, is define what success looks like. Just as I said in assessing these tools, if you are to conduct a project using one of them or a test using them, what do you mean by “a successful test?” And it’s okay for success to be defined at this point as “better understanding of how we might use them.”

Iff your definition of success is “It’s going to contribute materially to earnings this quarter,”that might not be realistic. If it’s, “We’ll have a better sense of how we might actually use this in the future so that it could contribute materially to earnings at some point,” well, then, good. Just put some parameters around what you mean by “better understanding.”

Don’t Produce Shelf-Help Books

I’m a consultant. My team are consultants. We get hired all the time to conduct feasibility studies and research projects for the people we work with. What we don’t like to do is produce what a friend of mine calls “shelf help books.” Those are those presentations or reports that you deliver to a client — or if you’re a client, get delivered to you &mdash and then they get put on a shelf and are never touched again. They just sort of decorate the shelf. They’re a “shelf help book.”

Instead, that report or the final output of whatever you do here should turn into a plan or a budget request for next steps. Next steps might be a small pilot to test any hypotheses learned during the research that you’re conducting. It might be a small budget request to pilot a couple of concepts. And it might be “Revisit in 12 months.”

Now, that doesn’t mean that that becomes a shelf help book. It means, literally, put that on a calendar to say, “You know what? Not now. But maybe nine months from now, maybe 12 months from now, we’re going to take another look at this and see if it makes sense.”

Or some small budget to keep an eye on things on a monthly basis, on a six week basis, to see if anything pops up in the news that you should be taking a closer look at. And you can then dive deep again without having to start from scratch because you’ll have done some work today. If the future’s already here, we should be preparing for the future today.

Define Your Timing

The next thing you want to do after you’ve “defined who,” after you’ve “defined success,” define your timing. Projects should always have an end date.

I remember working on a project years ago, one of the first big projects I ever, ever worked on was an ERP implementation at one of the first companies I ever worked for. And I went to this kickoff meeting with my boss. Afterwards I walked out of there saying, “Wow, that’s some kind of crazy project.” This was going to completely upend our business. And my boss said, “That’s not a project, that’s a career.”

Because the way they talked about it, they really didn’t have a defined end date. They didn’t have a defined scope. It was just something we were going be working on forever. She was right . When I left the company four years later, they were still doing quote-unquote, “the project.” That’s not a project, that’s a career.

Don’t make the work you’re doing here open-ended. Pick dates that are sooner rather than later.

If you’ve ever done any work in an agile process, you tend to have very well defined sprints of usually a week or two weeks. And you can do the same thing with something like this.

Break it into stages. Set regular, and I’m going to put this in air quotes, “releases,” where you have defined deliverables. Whomever is working on this for you is going to come back to you every two weeks with some new information, some update of where they are and where they’re going next, and also give you the opportunity to say, “No, that’s great, keep going.” Or, “Hey, we want to redirect,” or, “Hey, this doesn’t make any sense any longer.”

Potential Deliverables

So the first set could be just “identify companies who’ve already launched successful projects in the area.” You are thinking about, again, with a clear definition of what you mean by successful.

The second set of objectives could be identify who those companies have partnered with. Remember “who, not how.”

The third set could be holding discussions with those partners and sharing the results of those discussions with your stakeholders within your organization. How could you use this for your business?

And the cool thing is if you find after any one deliverable that, you know, the first one even, no one is doing much of anything, or no one is doing much of anything that has business value to you, or you can’t see how to make it a business value for you, then you can readjust the deliverables or end this “Explore” action, this exploration. Tag it with “revisit in six months,” and then move onto something else.

That’s the point of Core and Explore. Sometimes the “explore” is going to take you in a direction that says, “This doesn’t make sense for our business today.” But the beautiful thing is sometimes it’s going to take you in a direction you didn’t know — and you’ll discover that not only is the future here, but it’s a future that you can actually benefit from today.

So think in terms of your success. Think in terms of who not how. Think in terms of your timing.

Remember that the future is already here and that you don’t need permission to explore that future because if you do that well, you’ll discover not just new insights and new information. You may discover a whole set of benefits for your business you didn’t even realize were out there.

Show Closing and Credits

Now looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this. I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all past episodes, by going to Again, that’s Just look for episode 370.

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Show Outro

Finally, I just want to say one more time how very much I appreciate you tuning in to the show every single week.

I am so, so pleased to get an opportunity to spend a little time with you every week. And I just thrilled that you continue to listen and you continue to participate and you continue to help grow the community here at Thinks Out Loud every single week.

So I hope you have a great rest of the. I hope you have a wonderful weekend ahead, and I will look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time.

Until then, please be well. Be safe. And as always, take care everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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