Ahead of next week’s World Future Trends Summit in Miami, for which The Futures Company is a media partner, we’re continuing our interview with Manoj Fenelon, the Director of Foresight at Pepsi, which we started yesterday. Manoj is leading a session called, intriguingly, ‘Creating The Future of Brands with the Power of Science Fiction Storytelling.
What is your session on Creating the Future of Brands with the Power of Science Fiction Storytelling about?
I’ve nurtured a seething hatred of PowerPoint for a long time, and completely second Edward Tufte’s thesis that it distorts and dummifies business (and other) thinking. Communicating today’s insights in PPT is hard enough – just imagine all those slides droning on and on about authenticity to people who mostly haven’t been within breathing distance of consumers in quite some time – so try getting people excited about the future in PPT!
In looking for a mode of communication that can help executive audiences feel like they can touch and smell the future, as it were, I’ve found science fiction to fit the bill quite nicely. This session is a natural follow-up for those who have already convinced themselves of the power of storytelling to help communicate your vision of the future. For others, this is an invitation to take storytelling seriously, very seriously, as a business skill – not just for its aesthetic and communicative effects, but also for the structural effect it can have on your thinking. For example, it can turn on its head a seemingly mundane assumption (such as, beverages come in bottles/cans) and imagine, say, a day in a family’s life, without bottles or cans. That imagination can be very specific and very real.
Science fiction tends to be thought of as distant from current realities, but I’ve always been struck by how keen observers of humans and human relationships and attitudes (good) sci-fi writers are. As my friend and co-presenter Ari says, “Engineers will imagine the vehicles of tomorrow, but someone’s got to imagine how people will drive these things, and the traffic accidents of the future.”
Can you share with us some of your views of the future?
I’m reprising quite a few serious economists here: If you thought 2008 was a crash, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Cheery, no?
But seriously, the “market” has done a horrendous job of holding the nominal exchange value of all sorts of things close to their real-use value. So the last few decades have been a procession of bubbles, some bursting even as other ones build. And there are quite a few bubbles still floating around, waiting for their days of reckoning.
But I don’t think the world is coming to an end. As the environmentalists with a sense of humor are fond of pointing out: the earth is a pretty resilient thing, it is humans who aren’t. I think some major dualities that now define our thinking (human vs machine, for example, or natural vs artificial) will fade away, with nanosurgery and human microbiome enhancement – that’s what you’re doing when you eat yogurt with live bacteria, by the way – and all the new possibilities therein, it’ll be hard to tell how natural or enhanced we are as beings. Science vs religion is another one – I’m always amused by how shrill and fundamentalist those who denounce religious fundamentalism often sound, but I also draw profound hope from the fact that leading quantum physicists can not only sit down with Buddhist monks but also make sense of each other’s systems of thought and practice. Profit vs not-for-profit is another ripe one.
Catch Manoj’s panel at the World Future Trends Summit in Miami, October 15-17. We’ll be there, and we hope you will be too. Save 20% on your registration with code FT12TFC