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How to kick off innovation with future-proof ideas – part 2

In our previous post, we wrote that ideas must be future-proof if we want our innovation efforts to succeed. Since we can’t predict the future, we shouldn’t even try. But we should seek to understand the impactful and uncertain drivers, in order to prepare ourselves for the future. In this post we continue explaining our Future Sketch method.

Question your beliefs

We heard this one from a friend in a bar. “If you wake up every morning and tell yourself that your life sucks and you have an ugly wife, your life will suck and you will have an ugly wife. If you tell yourself that your life is great and that you’re sleeping next to a beautiful woman, your life will be great and you will sleep next to a beautiful woman.” And that was after many beers, so it certainly must be the truth.

The moral of this story is that all of us, no matter how open-minded we may be, are bound by the assumptions and beliefs that we hold to be true. Typically, assumptions that brought us success in the past will limit us in the future, preventing us from reaching new goals when the game changes.

To illustrate this, let’s take a look at a boutique hotel where the owner recently invested in expensive customized beds and shiny rain showers hoping to attract a younger, trendier clientele willing to pay a bit more for luxury. What the owner didn’t take into account is that many Airbnb renters, who tend to be in this younger, trendier customer profile, don’t mind sleeping on plain-old IKEA beds in not so tidy rooms because they are looking for an authentic experience and a great deal. Were the expensive beds and rain showers really worth it? Probably not. Based on an industry assumption, this investment had very little impact on the hotel’s business.

There are many more examples of industries that consider certain beliefs to be facts until customers stop sharing those beliefs. So when you investigate possible future scenarios, get people in the room who don’t share your assumptions. This can be tough and it can get really personal. But being aware of your own assumptions gives you the option to change those assumptions as the game changes.

Live the future

By now, we realize that the road to Radical Design doesn’t start with randomly generating ideas, but it requires a time investment and a process that examines the future with an open mind, considers different views, and pools different expertise around the table. So, what’s next?

Well, with the right people around the table, you start discussing the trends and drivers that may impact your business. By asking “what if” questions, you start to recognize the most critical drivers and trends. But a strictly factual description of a trend is not an open canvas on which to sketch the future. Too much of an analytical approach reduces the subject at hand. It loses its personality. The end goal is to enrich it. You can only achieve a rich impression of a future vision by sketching it.

At Studio Peter Van Riet, we refer to this as a Future Sketch. A Future Sketch doesn’t have to be written down as a text. It may just as well be shaped as a scenario, a movie, a drawing… whatever sparks your imagination the most.

An example

According to the United Nations, by 2050 66 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. For one of our projects, we knew we needed to really understand what the impact of this statement would be. So we thought through all the related drivers and trends and started building scenarios based on the various links. A possible tangible future scenario may look like this:


It is 2025. Agriculture and manufacturing productivity have accelerated in the past decade. Fewer people are needed in rural areas and in areas with heavy industry. In addition, the average level of education has also increased. People have moved to cities to find jobs in the service industry.

Take Sylvia, for example. Sylvia got her master’s degree in social sciences three years ago, but after a six-month trip through Asia, she decided that she didn’t want to live the 9-to-5 lifestyle. Sylvia started her own knitting shop downtown. This is costing her a pretty penny since real estate prices have skyrocketed.

Sylvia has many plans, but buying her own apartment isn’t one of them. Why would she get herself tied up in a mortgage to buy a tiny apartment, while she has her own room in her parents’ comfortable home just outside of the city? Besides, this arrangement includes free meals and laundry once in a while. Sylvia isn’t an exception. Many of her friends still live at Hotel Mama, too.

Of course, Sylvia needs privacy. She’s not downstairs with her parents all the time. They installed a shower in her bedroom and her bedroom is also her living room. She often invites friends, watches shows, creates new knitting patterns, does her accounting, eats and sleeps in her 18m2 room.

Sylvia doesn’t own a car. It is just too expensive and besides her knitting shop is in a car-free zone. She has a subscription to a car sharing service. And, if need be, she can borrow her Dad’s car, when he can part from it (boys and their toys).


You see, by developing this statistic into a scenario, we learn that not only will more people live in cities, but that living spaces will also become smaller, cars will become less attractive, and people will increasingly share stuff. These types of stories make up a Future Sketch, which serves a framework for relevant future-proof ideas.

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This article is an excerpt from our book Create Meaningful Stuff. It deals with the question: how do we, as business leaders, entrepreneurs, designers, engineers, innovators and marketeers create products and services that add value to our lives, that are smart, sustainable and meaningful?
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tags    Book , future sketch , Innovation