radical Insights.

Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.

Tech's Official Futures Meet Reality.

Nov 29, 2022

Dear Friend,

There are currently around 500 million people using the Metaverse — dominated by Roblox (200 million monthly active users) and Minecraft (175 million). Meanwhile, Meta’s Horizon — what most people might think of as “the Metaverse” when they hear the term, has a paltry 200,000 users. 1/10th of a percent of the users of Roblox. It might be time to rethink what we mean when discussing the fabled Metaverse…

Read to the end for a Netflix binge recommendation.

Decode. Disrupt. Transform.

We often talk with our clients (many incumbent firms) about the dangers of the “official future” — Peter Schwarz’s term for the collection of assumptions that an organization or a top-level organizational leader has about what the world will be like. Too frequently, this vision of the future grows detached from an evolving context and becomes fixed, overly specific, and rarely questioned. It overlooks new drivers of change, misses emerging risks and opportunities, and potentially leaves the organization planning and optimizing for a future that never arrives.

Recent churn in the tech industry should serve as a reminder that even the ostensibly future-focused, agile firms of the world’s innovation capitals aren’t immune to the dangers of rigid adherence to an official future. Meta, Shopify, Netflix, and Amazon have all seen their growth projections run headlong into a reality that doesn’t look much like the future they were planning for and spending wildly to create. Meta offers the most perplexing and least sympathetic example here, with a case that extends well beyond widely shared assumptions about continued industry growth and the availability of capital to focus on a very particular and costly bet on a vision of a metaverse that no one was clamoring to see realized.

But while Zuckerberg’s version of the official future might have been the most weirdly quixotic, all of these firms were running with visions that seemed to remain heavily, even stubbornly, informed by Covid lockdown-era trends in user behavior long after the users themselves had moved onto a new new normal that was decidedly more in line with the pre-pandemic old normal. As Ryan Petersen, co-CEO of Flexport recently quipped: “If the future doesn’t look like the past, being data-driven actually is not really helping you that much.”

And in times of transition and transformation, it’s arguably more important than ever to question assumptions about the future and what will determine the scope of possible and plausible futures that should inform decision-making in the present. (via Jeffrey)

What We Are Reading

🧓 The Global Population Is Aging. Is Your Business Prepared? The aging of the global population is inevitable — but how it affects businesses will depend on what leaders do today. In this piece, political demographer Jennifer D. Sciubba explores the implications of this shift for businesses and policymakers, including its impact on workforces, customer bases, retirement expectations, and more. JaneRead

🌱 Beyond Meat Is Struggling, and the Plant-Based Meat Industry Worries Is Beyond Meat beyond its time? The company and similar competitors like Brazil’s Planterra foods are laying off employees, closing operations, and seeing their stock take massive hits. MafeRead

🧑‍🎨 Imaginology Imagination is central to creativity, innovation, and new knowledge. Why isn’t it at the center of learning? For your deep-diving pleasure, here is a fascinating argument on why (and how) the study of imagination could be. JeffreyRead

🎧 What Spotify data show about the decline of English Social media is the main driver of spreading music across cultures. As global as it might be in some cases, musical taste and language are still very local characteristics — as this interesting analysis shows. JulianRead

😵‍💫 Kia’s Logo Is So Confusing That 30K People Google ‘KN Car’ Every Month In case you were wondering, there is no new car-brand named KN. Is this one of the best marketing strategies? Or a design mistake? PedroRead

🗣️ The long, slow death of voice assistants From “the future of computer interfaces” to predicted ubiquity, all the way to “looks like people don’t care” — Alexa, Siri, Hey Google and Cortano are loosing. PascalRead and Read

The Thin Wisps of Tomorrow

🔫 I remember talking about the potential for this a decade ago. Arming robots with guns is just not a good idea.

🌐 Web3, the Metaverse, and the Lack of Useful Innovation.

🖋️ Pen and paper still rule.

🔋 Next-Gen nuclear reactors could be true game changers.

💨 Cities cracking down on smog: London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone to cover entire city.

🐺 The wonderous ways of our natural environment: Parasite gives wolves what it takes to be pack leaders.

🤿 Ever wondered how scuba diving works? Here are the physics involved.

Internet Finds

Remember the PEPSI/Coke war? And PEPSI’s Harrier Jet? Here is the story – it makes for great weekday evening watching… And do get a soda with it! 🥤

In Case You Missed It

🏴‍☠️ The Heretic: Stuff is Just Hard

🧨 Disrupt Disruption: In our latest episode, we chat with Barak Berkowitz, former Director Operations and Strategy Director at MIT Media Lab (and a long, storied career in Silicon Valley). It is a fascinating conversation about all things innovation and disruption. Listen here.

Radically yours, take good care, friend!

— Pascal, Mafe, Pedro, Vivian, and the three Js (Jane, Jeffrey, and Julian)