Prototyping science fiction

“The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented.” –
Dennis Gabor

Tiago Forte wrote a great piece about “What I Learned About the Future by Reading 100 Science Fiction Books“.  The article is one of the more inspirational posts about how to imagine, define and build a future for humanity. So much of what we as designers do is try to imagine a future. The devices, the interactions, the business models, the behaviours and the implications of choices played out on different timescales.

I also read a lot of science fiction (you can see what’s on my Kindle) but I had never thought about it as providing a near or long-term impact on to my speculations on the human condition. Here are a list of books including the Briand David Johnson book identified in the Tiago Forte piece that I need to add to my library and reading queue.

Photo credit: Ron Brinkmann CC-BY-NC-SA-20

Stories about a future worth creating

Updated: Adding Tobias van Schneider’s The Agency is Dead, Long Live the Agency and Ben Cline’s Design Studios are Not Going Away to list of 

The conversation around the shutting down of TeehanLax has been very interesting and insightful. For me, it has really shown the dominance of the venture fundable, highly scalable startup narrative in relation to technology, design and the human condition.

I have been focused on this narrative. We can call it venture fundable, we can call it scalable businesses, it doesn’t matter what we call it. Being able to build a company with 32 engineers that can surpass an entire industry is seductive. It is the American dream. Anyone can build a company with the scale, wealth and impact of The Social Network. It has dominated the conversation.

But is it the narrative that will allow us to tell stories about “a future worth creating“?

I remember the moment in 1995 where my role models changed. My role models had always been designers and commentators. People like Bill Moggridge, Don Norman, David Kelley, Brenda Laurel, Bill Buxton, John Seeley BrownNathan Shredoff,Lucy SuchmanHerb Simon, Stu Card, Abigail Sellen, Paul Dourish and others. (BTW this list is by no means complete). Designers of experiences and the explainers of behaviour. The moment was the Netscape IPO. It started to shift to David Liddle, Kelly Johnson, Ben Rich and the people that started the research labs and product development groups as companies. Then I was introduced to C. Gordon Bell’s High-tech Ventures: The Guide For Entrepreneurial Success. This was the first time I had read about venture capital and the types of company that can be built. It was eBoys: The First Inside Account of Venture Capitalists at Work about Benchmark that solidified it. I wanted to be a venture capitalist. It was the thoughtfulness, the wealth, the prestige and impact of this group of investors. It was Jim Breyer, Vinod Khosla, Mike Moritz and others. Because the story about new technology, new wealth creation and the ability to change the human condition were compelling. These were companies that affected my own behaviour. And it is still true today, I find myself reading David Skok, Mark Suster, Bill Gurley, Marc Andreessen, Mike Maples, Boris Wertz, Tomasz Tunguz, Reid Hoffman, John Lilly and others.

But is it the narrative that will allow us to tell stories about “a future worth creating“.

The Future of Design Agencies

“The future of design agencies lies not in their ability to become more like their in-house counterparts, but their ability to become more unique. They need to see, speak, and act differently. Their value lies in their ability to describe the changes they see in the world with new language. This, in turn, makes it possible for people to imagine the future differently from the present.” – Matthew Milan

I have not worked agency side in a long time. My only thoughts have been about the economics of scaling a linear business, and this is probably an artifact from a venture fundable view of the world (also see Jon Lax’s talk Let’s Kill the Billable Hour). It is time to start thinking about different narratives. It is  time to look to a new group building new models for inspiration.

I’m looking forward to spending more time listening and learning about different models for impactful businesses. What are the businesses and business models that inspire and intrigue you?

Feature Image – Photo credit Guigui-Lille

Brave new world

Is old media dead yet? With the Christian Science Monitor and the Seattle Post Intelligencer shuttering their print operations to move to an online-only model, it is clear that the news business is changing. With Hearst Corporation trying to sell or stop print production of the San Francisco Chronicle the writing which has been on the wall for 15+ years, will reach the second major city in North America.

I had a great lunch with Don Dodge about the legacy of print operations and the economics of manufacturing and distribution that will continue to hinder print based publications. Don has written about newspapers dying since 2006. The decline of the newspaper is the result of a rise in a decline of subscriptions, a decline in advertising and classified advertising, and a continued rise in production and distribution costs. This has coincided with the rise of alternative online sources for advertising, news, and classifieds. This is not a new phenomena.

After a fun, heated discussion with Richard Stursburg, EVP English Services of the CBC at Interactive Content Exchange (IN09), I started to realize the problem.

Future of the Medium, Part Two – The New Rules


Canadians are sometimes divided about the role of the state in the funding of media content and services. We do know however, that creative industries have become a large and growing economic engine. Most governments, especially in the prevailing economic conditions, recognize the value of job creation and investment.


We are already the 3rd largest developer of video games in the world. Yet it is still extremely difficult for interactive media companies to access the capital they need to grow in Canada. So as the manufacturing sector melts away, is this a new area for potential growth? Or are we too late?


Moderated by Alan Sawyer, Principal Consultant, Two Solitudes Consulting



  • Marilyn Burgess, President, Burgess Consultants
  • David Crow, Evangelist, Microsoft
  • Brady Gilchrist, President, Amodo Group
  • Richard Stursburg, EVP English Services, CBC

It was a fun conversation. It was very weird to be the only panelist on stage actively tweeting the conversation [1, 2, 3, 4, etc.]. It was amazing to hear comments along the lines of “Beautiful, highly produced, professional content can only be created by organizations like the CBC”.  The argument that Stursburg was making is that we shouldn’t like old media producers, broadcasters and newspapers go under because the future is unknown. We won’t have high quality content, whatever the hell that means, if we don’t provide government bailout moneys to support old Canadian media monopolies. I find the FUD factor incredibly high and un-nerving. It ignores competition, changing culture, and reinforces the wealth of an elite group. It plays to the fear of people. And it’s couched in the most absurd arguments around Canadian culture. That only existing broadcast players can fund, validate and manage Canadian content (only if we give them further tax credits and government support). It is the belief that broadcast media is the default media. That "high-production-quality” as determined by television is what the funding from an ISP tax should go towards. This completely ignores shifting media consumption behaviours of youth, it ignores the changing landscape of always one, always connected, multiple device content, and it ignores the increasing amount of data and news being created in multiple channels.

Video Killed the Radio Star

Sure the revenue models that will support emerging content business are still being defined. We’re starting to see the creation of distribution channels like games and XBox Live that can support artists and content producers. Sure, the middlemen hate the shift in power and wealth with emerging distribution models. “Aerosmith has reportedly earned more from Guitar Hero : Aerosmith than from any single album in the band’s history.” There are new models emerging for content financing, production and distribution. And they are probably different than the entrenched players that got rich off television and radio. The financing models are still emerging, but we have examples of movies, video games, advertising, etc.

What’s next?

“So this is what the old-growth forests tell us: there is going to be more content, not less; more information, more analysis, more precision, a wider range of niches covered. You can see the process happening already in most of the major sections of the paper: tech, politics, finance, sports.” – Steven Johnson

Steven Johnson gave a great talk at SxSW about the recent history of publishing and distribution of news. His vision includes a role for organizations like CBC and other traditional media outlets. The validation, accreditation, accountability and editing of the abundance of news and news sources. The goal is to build relevance, trust and accountability for news consumers. To be agile and embrace new distribution and business models.  To embrace new mediums, why do I need a Kindle when I have a laptop, an iPhone and a Blackberry. The question is how can old media embrace and monetize this brave new world.

“But it’s also bad news because it’s going to distract us from the long-term view; we’re going to spend so much time trying to figure out how to keep the old model on life support that we won’t be able to help invent a new model that actually might work better for everyone” – Steven Johnson

What role should policy play in:

  • Culture & Heritage
  • Education & Training
  • Trade & Commerce

As Canadians, we should be asking for smarter government, better policy and a plan for the uncharted future. Not a life support system for an existing set of players.