5 hot products for the future
The Institute for the Future couldn't get clients to read its trend forecasts. So it started giving away prescient product ideas instead.
by Christopher Null, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) - Trendspotting is serious business. So much so that the Institute for the Future, a Palo Alto-based think tank, produces an annual 96-page 10-year forecast - an exhaustive compendium of societal and technological trends, widely regarded as the bellwether of long-range planning.

Just one problem: "Clients weren't reading the reports," admits Jason Tester, the IFTF's research and design manager.

Photo GallerylaunchSee more photos

So, in summer 2003, Tester tried a different tack that became known as "artifacts from the future": mocked-up products claiming to be from, say, 2009. You might go to an IFTF presentation and see baskets of finessed fruit that promise cognitive enhancement. Or you might wake up in the hotel where the IFTF seminar was being held to find your newspaper dated 10 years hence.

Artifacts were intended to start conversations. They worked. Mark Schar, senior vice president of financial software company Intuit, an IFTF client, says, "When you present forecasts to a group of executives, you're standing there and waving your arms a lot. When you put an artifact in front of them, they go, 'Oh, I get it.'"

IFTF clients now pay the nonprofit as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for research that includes custom artifacts. For Procter & Gamble (Research), a client for 20 years, artifacts have inspired real products. (P&G won't say which ones.)

Could what worked for P&G work for you? Is the IFTF offering prescient market research? We trawled Tester's archive of artifacts to find out. In one case (the RFID blocker), a similar technology has been released since Tester did his mock-up.

Click here to see a photo gallery of the other ideas the nonprofit institute has come up with - and how likely each is to become serious business too. Top of page

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