By Jim McCarthy Jan 19, 2012 0 comments

TEDxBroadway: Why Look 20 Years Into the Future?

Twenty years ago, the World Wide Web barely existed, the Soviet Union had just collapsed, MTV’s The Real World, considered the precursor of reality TV, was a few months away from its debut, Times Square was a dangerous and run down place, the total value of China’s economy was only about half a trillion dollars a year, Al Qaeda’s declaration of war on the United States was a few years away, and a “mobile” was still something you hung on a baby’s crib to keep him happy as he fell asleep.

The fact is, that no matter what industry or group you represent, a lot has changed in the past twenty years—but what if instead of looking 20 years back, we looked 20 years ahead?

That’s exactly what those of us who are organizing the inaugural TEDxBroadway have asked.  With Damian Bazadona of Situation Interactive and Ken Davenport, Broadway producer and entrepreneur, our goal with the daylong conference is to get some of the smartest, most progressive people in and around Broadway to contemplate a single intriguing question:

What’s the best Broadway can be in twenty years?

We’ve drawn in speakers from inside and outside the community to paint a picture of what’s possible and to answer that question through the lens of their expertise  in fields like economics, customer service, architecture, cultural trends, demographics, as well as theatrical production, management and marketing..

As we go through the process of putting this together, we’ve learned some things that could be applied to any industry or group about why it’s useful to look 20 years into the future:

1.  Creating a positive vision prevents just stumbling into the ‘default’ future. As human beings, we assume the future will be pretty much like the present, but with smaller, better iPhones.  We draw a line from past to present and continue it forward.  Is that the future we want?  If not, we’ll need to design a new one.

2.   Anticipate the surprises. Look at the list of big changes at the top of the page.  Most of them were not predicted, but they weren’t exactly hidden either.  You may not be able to identify the next World Wide Web, but thinking about what could disrupt your corner of the world might give you an edge or a head start when that disruption is in its early stages.

3.  Make the future get here sooner. I’ve heard that early cell phone developers were inspired by the “communicator” on Star Trek.  They saw it on the show and asked “how could we make that actually work?” You probably don’t need William Shatner to help your industry or group thinking this way, but who knows?  He might be helpful.

4.  Excite the young and aspiring. Where do the talented, ambitious, interesting people of twenty years from now want to be spending their time?  Thinking big and bold about the future and talking about it in a public forum means they’re more likely to want to go where the action is.  That could be your industry or it could be something else.

5.  Untangle yourself from the problems of the present and see what happens. If history is a predictor, many of today’s headaches will be irrelevant in 20 years.  Sure, they’re be replaced by new ones, but the problems and issues that bedevil the day to day work that goes on in any industry will at least partly be relics of the past.  By tuning into that, It’s possible to put them aside momentarily and get focused on the big stuff, the stuff that wins long term value.

So next time you have the chance, take a day to get your tribe together and think about the world of 2032.  And don’t just think about it: tell the best possible story for your industry or group.

Will it play out that way?  Almost certainly not.  Will it fall short in many important ways from that vision?  That’s just about guaranteed.

On the other hand, some things will be better than you can legitimately hope for, and the plot twists along the way are more likely to work for you than against you… Especially if you spent some time in 2012 thinking about them.

TEDxBroadway is this coming Monday, January 23rd at New World Stages in New York.  You’ve still got time to register so go already!

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