Being a Futurist in a Half-Made World

Posted on February 20th 2012

Being a Futurist in a Half-Made World

The Big Idea
Big ideas. It was an interesting week for this Creative Culturalist, one highlighted by Social Media Week NYC and punctuated by a dispatch from David Sable, Y&R’s global CEO, who did a little crystal ball gazing in his Huffington Post column, then upped the ante by encouraging (challenging?) us to share our thoughts on where things are headed.

It got me thinking about a novel I read last year, The Half-Made World. It’s a sci-fi/fantasy story set in an alternative universe Old West (think Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, not the Hollywood critical flop Cowboys and Aliens). In this world, the Western Frontier is literally so raw and untamed that the topography, meteorology, flora and fauna are still being formed. It’s truly uncharted territory. An apt metaphor perhaps for what’s happening in our industry – and culture in general.

There were no shortage of agencies – ad, PR, digital, social – that hosted panels during Social Media Week, but I heard little about 30-second TV spots, print ads or other “traditional” ad agency outputs. Even discussions about the “new traditional” – Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, mobile ad delivery – were in short supply at the panels I attended.

Instead, RG/A talked about the metagame (what, you’re still talking about regular gamification?); principals from Deep Local, Breakfast, Mr. Youth and BBH Labs talked about the agency as maker (what, you think just having ideas is enough still?) and companies like Bluefin Labs, Umami and GetGlue, companies that didn’t exist three years ago, shared the stage with HBO and Bravo to talk about Social TV (what, you’re still worried about timeshifting?). I’ll be in L.A. next week at the 2nd Screen Summit talking about this new opportunity as well.

I could have gone to another half dozen events focused on Big Data, mobile, co-creation and other trends and innovations that will have an affect on brands and shape our culture. It all feels a bit like the setting of Half-Made World and we’ve reached the edge of the mapped territories. Now we struggle and grasp to define the unmapped, whether it’s David’s Digital Exponential, the mobilityness described by Y&R New York’s Thom Kennon, or my own stab at terra-forming new trends in transmedia engagement – intermedia.

This week I also had lunch with Margaret Robertson of Hide & Seek, a game design studio dedicated to inventing new kinds of play. Her insights on human behavior and motiviation were absolutely fascinating.  The opportunities for us to learn about people from the field of game design is enormous, and this is a field that is growing in both size and prominence at a rapid rate. They too are helping to explore the new territories of the half-made world.

Perhaps the greatest example of the trailblazers forging the new future are those working in mobile, and so I was particularly intrigued by a conversation I was part of that featured Thomas Fellger, CEO of iconmobile group. He showed examples of things they are doing with Mini that were jaw-dropping. It was a true realization of the concept of product as marketing. The innovations weren’t merely layered on top, they were truly integrated into the vehicle. Is that advertising? In our own half-made world the lines of demarcation, if they exist at all, are blurry and as easily gerrymandered as a Queens neighborhood after the opposition political party takes office.

Perhaps it’s time to read The Futuristby Y&R NY’s James Othmer, which was recently highlighted by Barnes & Noble for its uniquely skewed (or merely prescient?) view of future.  Without an understanding of the new future, are we, like the novel’s protagonist, doomed to write the introduction to a book we have never read? Computer scientist Alan Kay has famously said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”  Even more famously, Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses.’ The revolution may not be televised, but it will be advertised.




Rick Liebling

CMO, Unmetric


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