Five Regions of the Future: A book review by Bob Morris

Five Regions of the Future: Preparing Your Business for Tomorrow’s Technology Revolution
Joel A. Barker and Scott W. Erickson
Portfolio/Penguin Group (2005)

How to frame the new “fearful symmetry

Those who have already read Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future, already know that Barker is one of the most insightful and eloquent business thinkers in our time. Years ago, Peter Drucker suggested that one of the greatest challenges for any organization is to manage the consequences and implications of a future that has already occurred. I agree. However, I also agree with Barker that it is possible to recognize what he calls a “paradigm shift”: a major change of the rules and regulations that establish or define boundaries, a change which suggests that new behavior will be required within those redefined boundaries.

One of the most important concepts in Paradigms is what Barker calls “paradigm pliancy”: “the purposeful seeking out of new ways of doing things. It is an active behavior in which you challenge your paradigms [i.e. the status quo, assumptions and premises] by asking the Paradigm Shift Question: What do I believe is impossible to do in my field, but if it could be done, would fundamentally change my business?” This is a question that must be asked…and then answered correctly, especially given the fact that competitors may be doing so now or will do so in the near future. I again recall Wayne Gretzky’s response when asked to explain his great success playing hockey: “Everyone knows where the puck is. I see where it will be.” Barker does a brilliant job of explaining both how to “change the rules of the game” or at least recognize when such change is underway and then respond to it effectively.

In Five Regions of the Future that Barker co-authored with Scott Erickson, the focus is on “a geography of technology so that we can better map our future. Just like locating our towns and cities on a physical map of the world, we need to locate, on some kind of conceptual map, the blizzard of new products and processes that are appearing [and will continue to appear] so we can better understand this `brave new world’ of technology.” The reference to a “conceptual map” is especially appropriate because Barker and Erickson are introducing what I view as a new business discipline: cartology of paradynamic transformation. (Yes, I realize that it’s a bit of a mouthful but, at this moment, I can’t come up with anything better.) I am curious to know what would happen if senior managers in an organization were to read this book in combination with Robert Kaplan and David Norton’s book Strategy Maps in which they explain how to “convert intangible assets into tangible outcomes,” and then formulated a game plan based on the core principles in each of the two books.

Barker and Erickson conclude with a passage from a poem that William Blake wrote 200 years ago. His metaphor for technology was the tiger “burning bright/In the forests of the night.” Now, another quite different “tiger” burns even brighter. Here’s mankind’s challenge: How to frame its “fearful symmetry”? And what will be the consequences if we don’t? In this context, I am reminded of Robert Oppenheimer’s reaction when the first atomic bomb was detonated more than 60 years ago. He immediately recalled a line from the Bhagavad Gita (The Song of God): “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Those who share my high regard for this brilliant book are urged to check out Robert Kaplan and David Norton’s The Strategy-Focused Organization as well as the afirementioned Strategy Maps. Also two books by Peter Schwartz, The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World, and, Inevitable Surprises: Thinking Ahead in a Time of Turbulence; and finally, for now, Frans Johansson’s The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Cultures. I truly envy those who have not as yet read any one of them. What an intellectual feast awaits them!

 


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