Today – October 21, 2015 – represents the day 30 years into the future that Marty McFly and Doc Emmett Brown visit in their time machine. If we could find the town ‘Hill Valley’ we could watch them burst through the space-time continuum. What have we learned – both in terms of what was predicted in Back to the Future II, and from reality, now that 30 years have passed?
Human behaviour is still human behaviour
In 30 years, we can see how much things have changed, but what has not shifted at all are the key drivers of human behaviour – as demonstrated in leadership, work, play and consumption. Whilst the context has changed, the behaviours of individuals remains the same as it did in the 80’s. People still follow trends and fads, are scared of uncertainty, driven by scarcity and comparison, know they have capabilities beyond what they currently offer and fall into exactly the same communication and relational errors that they did 30 years ago. It seems that this is the constant across time – and although there is always talk of ‘new age’ human practices, they have not arrived.
Disruption has kept things the same
Whilst everyone is talking about ‘disruption’ in business (the 2015 buzz-word?), the last 30 years has seen relatively little large scale ‘disruption’ in society. Wealth distribution, wars, poverty, the need for human connection, the role of education, transportation…. All of these are essentially ‘business as usual’. Whilst there have been disruptions in specific industries and fields, disruption is not the societal norm. Trends drive incremental change more often than disruption, which ends up often being a fad.
Just because it is possible doesn’t make it valuable.
In Back to the Future II, Biff and the gang are covered in metal headgear and chestplates with electronics. It could be argued that this is the equivalent of the smart phone and social media, which have probably emerged as one of the key mega-trends of the last 30 years (tech integration, mobile and connectivity). However, consumers still make choices based upon their sophisticated and unsophisticated needs and wants. We could be wearing those things, but unless there is consumer demand, they are never going to make it. What we provide has to be valuable, rather than simply offering something because we can.
Some questions remain unanswered.
Some things we could not answer 30 years ago remain unanswered today. We don’t have time travel, flying cars, true hoverboards, etc. There are big questions that were unanswered 30 years ago which we just don’t know. There are also lots of things we have learned in 30 years by asking great questions, investing in innovation and challenging conventional wisdom. For example, 30 years ago, the idea of neuroplasticity and brain repair was thought impossible – we however developed the tools to finally prove this position wrong. We have also found water on Mars.
We have to ‘make do’ with what we have, and the technology that is available to us. We have to make the most of what we have, and keep asking ourselves the difficult questions and continue to learn – and as technology emerges, so some of the bigger questions may get answered if we are brave enough to keep asking them.
The future is there to be created.
In the end, the big lesson on this day is that we create our own futures. Humans have very defined patterns of behaviour, motivations and responses, which may adapt to the context that changes, but essentially have not changed. We get to create our future by the actions we take, the choices we make and the way we evolve our context. Wouldn’t it be great if our context could evolve not to be ‘Hill Valley 2015’ or the ‘Hunger Games’ – but one where we could encourage the best from, and for, everyone?
That is the challenge of our future – now let’s get back to it!