Have you ever told yourself: “I’d love to start my own business… if only I had a great idea”?
Finding an idea is a commonly cited hurdle to starting a business.
Entrepreneur and investor Paul Graham wrote How to Get Startup Ideas, an interesting essay that suggests that there are many ways to find startup ideas, but empirically the best way is “to become the sort of person who has them”.
While that might sound tautological at first, Graham also adds that “living in the future” is an important part of becoming a person who has good startup ideas. More specifically, he proposes that when you live in the future, you become more adept at finding and building what’s missing in the future. In this view of the world, the entrepreneur closes gaps in the world between the future and the present.
So, what does “living in the future” mean?
It might mean reading up on trends and breakthroughs like wearable technology, bitcoins, drones, driverless cars, organ regrowth or 3D printing.
Personally, I do like to try out things that seem to come from the future. Currently, my Basis B1 watch monitors my cardiac rhythm, calories and steps, and syncs that health data to my smartphone to help me develop good habits. I’m busy this week installing a Nest thermometer in my home to control the temperature using my smartphone. I’ve ordered a soon-to-ship Lockitron door lock that I can also control through my smartphone. I’m also looking forward to get my genome analyzed using a service like 23andme. Our startup uses a DoubleRobitics telepresence robot to facilitate collaboration with remote workers. I’ve not yet had the chance to try Google Glass, but I’m following its evolution and I’m very excited about its potential.
I expect that most of these products will become part of my daily life in the near future. I also like think of all of the possibilities these new devices will open up, and how they will change our lives.
Many Montreal-based entrepreneurs are also living in the future. Hexoskin, one of many Canadian companies leading the way in wearable technology, has designed an intelligent shirt with integrated sensors “that captures body metrics including heart rate, breathing rate and acceleration” to help athletes monitor their performance. Lufa Farms has built the first commercial rooftop greenhouse in the world which grows fresh local and responsible produce all year-round. Merchlar is a digital agency that engineers marketing experiences based on augmented reality technology that bring brands to life. Smart garments, rooftop farming and augmented reality will likely play a role in all of our futures.
Living in the future also implies understanding new business models and broader trends, not just products. Concepts like SaaS, the sharing economy, cloud computing and the lean startup framework have all had profound impacts on how ideas have been developed in the past decade – with new models sure to follow in the future.
Many of us seek to be innovative and “ahead of the curve” in our careers. But what specifically can we do to be ahead of the curve?
1- Research at the cutting edge: Contributing to advance scientific research in an academic faculty or lab is likely the best way to have a front seat to a breakthrough that will have major impacts for the future (even if commercialization may still be many years out). Both Google and Yahoo were conceived based on research carried out at Stanford. The Roomba vacuum robot emanates from MIT researchers.
2- Seek innovators out: Attend conferences like C2MTL or TED where you can connect with leading researchers and innovators. Fast Company publishes an annual list of the most creative people. Work for innovative startups. Startups are disproportionately responsible for pushing new innovative ideas into the market. The CIX, PwC and E&Y publish annual lists of the most innovative startups in Canada. Fortunately, there are many entrepreneurship resources in Montreal, both in terms of organizations and events, that make it easy to connect with local entrepreneurs. Go to places where innovators hang out. Spend an hour at Notman House and you’re almost guaranteed to have interesting conversations about the future.
3- Use imperfect products: Download betas. Try or buy the V1 of a product. If you are a developer, play with newest APIs and prototypes. The products might break, not work fully, be expensive (especially at first) and even frustrate you. This Mashable article shows what top websites looked like when they launched, a far cry from what they look like now. That said, by using the latest generation products, you will have a window into how things will work in the future. If you were using Facebook in 2006, you probably understood several years before your competitors its power to become a powerful marketing platform.
4- Travel: Innovation is not concentrated in one place. In his 2008 article Mon Québec à Moi, comedian Bruno Blanchet implored Quebecers to be adventurous and to roam the world more in search of new experiences. Going abroad will also expose you to many different technologies and realities. Cell phones and networks in Japan, South Korea and Singapore are far more advanced than they are in North America. WiFi on your phone, unlimited data plans and the cameraphone were all pioneered in Japan. If you visited Montreal a few years ago, you would have seen our innovative bike-share system Bixi. It’s now it’s in Toronto, New York and many other cities.
5- Read a lot. If you’re not able to move to get closer to the action, the Internet has fortunately facilitated access to knowledge. It’s easier than ever to read up on future trends, watch interviews with innovators online, or participate in discussions and workgroups. The MIT Technology Review is a great place to start reading. Beautiful Montreal-based magazine The Alpine Review also publishes in-depth quality articles about the future. Video is also playing an increasing role in spreading new ideas, from TED to Udemy.
Living in the future does require some effort. You may have to chase new ideas to where they are emerging from and be patient.
Of course, not all entrepreneurs need to live in the future or develop futuristic products to launch successful ventures. That said, living in the future can definitely increase your ability to find interesting ideas. If you’re living in the future, you’ll be among the first to see what’s missing. By building what’s missing, you are increasing your odds of growing a startup that has impact on how we live in the future. Graham reminds us that “If you’re at the leading edge of some rapidly changing field, you don’t have to look for waves; you are the wave.”
Famous inventor Alan Kay once stated that “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”. It may also be true that the best way to invent it, is to live in it.
Searching for an idea? Be bold, explore, live in the future – and that interesting idea should find you soon enough.
Feed back (or to share how you are living in the future): @lpmo
More about LP Maurice at lpmo.com.
LP Maurice was one of the 25 young entrepreneurs honored by The Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Family Foundation at C2MTL 2013.
For your reference, all of the links featured in this post were wrapped up for you in the Bitly Bundle, Living in the Future.
Photo courtesy of LP Maurice.
Afin de respecter la vision des auteurs, les textes de ce blogue sont publiés dans leur langue d’origine.
So as to remain true to the author’s intent, the articles featured on this blog are published in the language in which they were originally written.