In order to be able to imagine how you could use drones, you need to think beyond “how to do what we’ve always done, but just a bit better” and you need to adopt what I call “The Futurist’s Question”. This is: “What new ways are there to deliver value and outcomes to our clients, without just improving what we’ve always done?”
If you haven’t watched last week’s video, please do that first, and then settle down to this application lesson in learning how to think like a futurist. See here.
It’s Throw forward Thursday, my name is Graeme Codrington and thank you for joining me as we talk about how to apply what we learned last week.
Now, if you haven’t seen last week’s video on drones and the massive variety of uses of drones, not just in the future, but actually already in industries from firefighting and ambulances to auditing and portable cell phone base stations, there are hundreds, if not thousands of applications for drones. If you haven’t watched that video, maybe pause this application video and go back and watch that now.
What we’re doing in season three of Throw Forward Thursday, is we’re taking a technology or a set of technologies, looking at it just from a futurist’s perspective in the one week, and then in the second week, that’s where you are now, we’re learning how to think like a futurist and apply that thinking to our business. Now, hopefully with this idea of drones in the last week, since you saw that video about drones, you’ve been thinking how you might apply drones to your business. And really, as I think about it, there are very few businesses that wouldn’t be able to use drones in one way or another.
In some industries, you can apply drone technology to your core business. And so, I just, out of interest, had a look at the businesses that I’ve worked with in the last month and just quickly went through them to see if I could imagine a use of drones in those businesses.
So there is a food company, they’re a warehousing and bulk delivery company, and they could use drones in a number of ways. The one would be to manage their warehousing, they need to do a lot of stock counting, and a lot of stock control. So, the simplest version is to just fly the drones through their warehouse with cameras on them and with smart technology that would be able to do stock counts and audits on a day-by-day basis. So, there’s an auditing stock control and a security implication there.
Slightly bigger drones with a little bit of robotics on them would allow them to replace some of the labour in those warehouses with those massive forklifts that have to go right up to the ceiling, stuff that’s on the high shelves might be able to be collected by drones and put onto the delivery pallets. Of course, if we’re talking deliveries, they might then be able to change their delivery vehicles, which are now big trucks and vans, and certainly for smaller orders, they would be able to use those drones for deliveries, and I guess that depends on the country that you’re in and how confident you are that the drones wouldn’t be hijacked or shot down in transit. My home country, South Africa, is probably not going to be the first country in which those drone deliveries are experimented with, but so be it, at least in principle Drone deliveries are being experimented with around the world and might become a common place in the future.
If we’re talking drones that can carry things, well, then of course we’ve got to also talk about drones for transportation. One of my other companies that I worked with recently is in the transportation industry and obviously we are able to put people onto drones. So big enough drones so that they act as many helicopters, really, one, two, and maybe even four, six, eight-seater drones, and essentially at that point you’re getting to the size of a helicopter, but those drones can be used and a few weeks ago, as I record this, Dubai had already approved the use of drones for air taxis from the airport down to the mall of the Emirates and the Dubai mall downtown, and I think that we will see that coming later in 2023. I think the Dubai police force already used drones for their traffic patrols in certain circumstances. So, the transportation of people and of course, now we’re opening up massive opportunities in almost every industry.
One of my other clients in the past week was a massive infrastructure company, that’s involved in building power plants and dams. And there, of course, we can think of lots of opportunities for drones in the construction industry, for surveying locations, for doing daily reconnaissance and record keeping of the progress of buildings for doing maintenance or at least surveying where maintenance is required and then in the actual construction process for the delivery of certain supplies at certain locations, especially in larger construction projects for security patrols and well, the list goes on and on, and there were very few of my clients that I was thinking from schools that might just use drones for photography or for security monitoring, anyway, the list went on and on.
I think that if you unlock your mind to imagine the work that you are doing at the moment and then ask yourself the futurist question, the futurist question is not just how would we do what we’ve always done but using a new piece of technology. That question is very much about saying, how do we increase the effectiveness, efficiency, speed, or cost of the work that we always do? So, if we’re in transportation, we are thinking about replacing the existing transportation with something that’s faster, safer, and more fuel efficient. If we’re a lawyer, we’re thinking about doing what we’ve always done, but doing it in faster, more cost-effective, more efficient ways.
That’s one way to think about how we use technology and new innovations to improve our work. But the Futurist way looks at it very differently and doesn’t start with what we already do and try and improve it, but it says, what happens if an entirely new technology emerges? An entirely new way of doing things emerges. Would we be able to replace or completely do away with what we already do by using this new innovation?
Now, this can be a very difficult thing to think about because, of course, you do what you do in the ways that you’ve always done it and it’s very difficult to imagine that we might replace that with a completely new technology. As soon as that new technology emerges and our competitors start to use it, it becomes immediately apparent how we might be replaced, but by then it might be a bit too late. So, they’re classic examples of this, but of course, Uber replacing taxis or Airbnb replacing hotels, who would have thought that private individuals using their private cars and homes would replace an entire industry?
Then, of course, COVID comes along and we’ve suddenly got Zoom meetings and Microsoft team meetings, and suddenly that’s a threat for the airline industry and for travel, and it impacts the investment property market, who suddenly realise we’ve probably got way too much office space in the world at the moment and for the next few years at least, we’re not going to be building new offices, but there might be an opportunity for people who are retrofitting those offices to make them more friendly for hybrid and virtual workers, and my list can go on and on and on, of when a new technology, a new innovation or some change in the way that we work fundamentally gives the potential at least to change the work that you’ve done.
That’s the conversation I’m suggesting you have. What would we use drones for if we could use drones for anything? that’s the question to ask. It might not be an easy question to answer, but imagine that you weren’t constrained by your current industry, or your current ways of doing things, and don’t worry about the cost or viability of the technology. Imagine there was a drone, and forget the word drone, imagine there was some flying machine that could fly through the air doing something in the air, so it could get somewhere faster, it could carry things, it could take photographs, it could have smart technology on it. Don’t limit yourself with your strategic imagination, but if that technology existed, what might it be able to do for your industry? How might it change the work that you do? And then you go and look and see if it’s available, that is how to think like a futurist.
So, yes, you may have some direct and immediate use for drones in your industry, and I hope that you give somebody the task in your business to at least experiment with that and see what might happen. But I also think that you could use drones as a way of thinking about what types of innovations and technologies could disrupt your business, whether it’s drones or something else that emerges in that strategic imagination session. If, what if, what would happen if, something new came along? And I wonder whether that new idea and innovation might be closer to reality than you imagine.
As always, if you would like some assistance in this type of thinking, you’d like somebody from our team to help your team imagine the future and make it a reality. Make sure that you connect with us. You can go to askaboutthefuture.com, that’s probably the best way to connect with me, or have a look at these websites or my team’s website at tomorrowtodayglobal.com and we’d be happy to help to take you into the future.
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For the past two decades, Graeme has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, travelling to over 80 countries in total, and speaking to around 100,000 people every year. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, and on faculty at 5 top global business schools.