Have you ever wondered if NASA has made alien contact?  Well, I know firsthand that they have, because I had the honor of being NASA’s alien visitor!

In August, I was asked to serve as the speaker for the NASA iTech Speaker Series at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in California. The room was filled with brilliant individuals who go to work every day to create ideas and innovations around space travel and exploration, private and commercial flight, and even new approaches that will revolutionize human health and healthcare.   And I was the alien in the room.

NASA invited me to share my insights related to the topics of commercial transportation and on-demand mobility which they have been exploring extensively for the past several years.  What would a futurist with no formal science background be able to teach a room full of NASA engineers?  Actually, a lot.

Some of the topics I covered included:

  • Digital Worlds and Values
  • Brain-to-Computer Interface
  • Blockchain Technology
  • Autonomous Transportation
  • Mirror Cities and Simulation
  • Augmented Reality
  • Quantum Computing and Teleportation

My talk was meant to challenge the group’s prevailing assumptions around the future of “mobility.” It’s clear from the emerging landscape that people around the globe are challenging traditional ideas of mobility in our environment of growing complexity.  For instance, mobility is no longer limited to physical modalities.  As technology improves and adoption rates rise, individuals will see the options provided by holograms, augmented reality, and digital worlds as a substitute for movement and interaction in the physical space.  Further, as our value systems adapt to the reality, digital values will emerge to help us further embrace these changes.  At the end of my presentation, I shared an even more provocative idea – that these digital substitutes are creating a world of “quantum travel.” If we can virtually be in more than one place at one time or perhaps even be more than one person at one time, might this not be preferred to traditional notions of physical mobility?

And now you are beginning to understand why I called myself the alien in the room.

Those of you that have partnered with us in the past, will be familiar with the concepts of “Alien Eyes” and “Educated Incapacity.” If you are a new Kedge-convert, let me explain.  Educated incapacity is  knowing so much about what you know that you are the last to recognize that things are changing.  The truth is that we all have educated incapacity. The more success, experience and subject matter expertise we have in a field the worse our affliction.  One of the best ways to counteract educated incapacity is to include external perspectives that are free from institutional and organizational biases about a topic.  For NASA, this meant that I leveraged our broad scanning in the macro environment to identify trends, values shifts and implications that, on the surface, seemed to have no relation to NASA’s focus on mobility.  Using foresight, however, I was able to help them to connect the dots and see how these seemingly disparate developments are directly impacting the work and research they do every day.

We can all serve as “aliens” for our organizations, challenging the status quo and identifying the threats and opportunities on the horizon.  If you are interested in further developing your alien skills, join us at the next session of The Futures School!

Frank Spencer
Principal

Frank Spencer is the Founding Principal and Creative Director of The Futures School. He holds a Master of Arts in Strategic Foresight from Regent University. He has worked on Strategic Foresight projects for companies such as Kraft, Mars, Marriott, and The Walt Disney Company. Read more.