'The Jetsons' World Is Becoming Reality. Innovators, Start Your Engines.
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
The innovations we saw in 2017 came to fruition much faster than even the most optimistic futurists had projected -- except, maybe, for the creators of one of my favorite childhood cartoon shows, The Jetsons.
As entrepreneur and optimist Peter Diamandis has written in his (and Steven Kotler's) book, of the same name, we're living in an age of abundance. Growth is exponential. Few, for example, could have predicted, Elon Musk’s big steps toward the colonization of Mars or last year's incredible growth of the cryptocurrency market -- which surpassed the market capitalization of Amazon ($600 billion) in December.
That’s not all. Self-driving cars surpassed 4 million miles on the road last year. Quantum computers made strides toward their debut. The advent of cancer-killing cells put a cancer cure closer within reach. Even Bluetooth-connected vibrating denim shorts came to be -- leaving us to wonder whether humanity had reached its peak.
True, we can't yet Uber around in Jetsons-style flying cars, but some of us will soon be able to party like it's 2062. A flying car worth more than $1 million went on display in April; pre-orders were accepted; and delivery is expected by 2020. These advancements are not only rapidly transporting into the future, but are actually bringing us the kind of future we were promised in the past.
How the cartoons of yesteryear inspired today’s tech.
With so many retrofuturistic dreams coming true, the entrepreneurial community should look to past visions for inspiration for tomorrow’s innovations. Remember Rosie, the Jetson family's robot maid? Meet Sophia, the first-ever robot citizen, who made her debut in Saudi Arabia last year. Sure, Sophia has expressed a desire to “destroy humans,” but her new tone about living in harmony with humanity is genuine -- we hope.
Not all the real-life innovations first predicted in The Jetsons are reserved for the ultra-elite. Families in the Jetsons' world could talk to their houses to request food delivery and weather updates or schedule meetings. And that's happening: In May 2017, eMarketer projected that more than 35 million Americans would be using a voice-activated device monthly. Alexa and Siri can’t deliver food through high-speed tubes yet, but they can certainly summon Uber drivers quickly enough.
Then there were those flying robots that took care of many basic tasks for the Jetsons; today, unmanned drones dominate our discourse on robots. From their roles in our military actions overseas to their potential for package delivery, drones represent another feather in the cap of cartoon prescience. And, with space-age societies come space-age rules: The police in Abu Dhabi announced a plan to set up a security station on Mars, putting out the warning that any bad guys wreaking havoc across the solar system should tread carefully, come 2057.
Is life imitating art, or did (cartoon) art imitate life? Are we following in the path of The Jetsons because we saw it on TV first, or did the show just happen to predict -- accurately -- what life in the future would be like? We can’t say for sure, but entrepreneurs of the future would be wise to borrow a few ideas from the predictions of the past.
How to innovate like the Jetsons
Now is the time to stop feeling limited by reality and start taking cues from cartoons. If the Jetsons got to have flying cars and cool gadgets for everything, so do we. Follow these steps to turn inspiration into action:
1. Think bigger -- a lot bigger.
We are living in exponential times. Entrepreneurs can realize new opportunities quickly, but speed is a double-edged sword, as those who don’t move fast enough get run over by those who dive in.
Innovation, then, means looking for bigger problems to solve, not just bigger solutions to create. Take, for example, the scientists at NeoLight, who are introducing a device to treat jaundice in infants and are disrupting the traditionally slow medical device industry through a portable phototherapy technology that parents can use to treat infants at home. Those scientists found a widespread problem -- jaundice affects about 60 percent of babies -- and focused on finding a simple and inexpensive solution.
So, be like them. Think bigger -- in terms of the problem you'll solve -- and find the simple solutions. As NeoLight co-founder Vivek Kopparthi has said, innovation is "about the vision and impact you’re trying to create in the world." Anyone with a dream and the drive to realize it can create the next big advancement, especially when seeking the simplest solutions to the world's largest problems.
2. Build systems and company structures that facilitate innovation.
Yes, innovation relies on freedom. However, without systems in place to drive progress, innovative ideas rarely move beyond the brainstorming phase.
Smaller companies and startups tend to innovate faster and better than larger, slower organizations. PricewaterhouseCoopers' Innovation Benchmark confirmed, and Clayton Christensen's book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, described the reasons behind this phenomenon. But larger companies certainly have a role to play, because they can encourage innovation by creating spin-off companies free from corporate bureaucracy. Larger companies can also put money into existing startups.
As Skift.com has written, JetBlue Technology Ventures is one such large company that takes innovation seriously in hopes of being a part of the disruption in its space.
3. Embrace diversity in all its forms.
Innovative companies and innovative products depend on teams with varied backgrounds, cultural influences and perspectives on life. While The Jetsons wasn't the best example of diversity, teams with wide-ranging skill sets can innovate in ways homogeneous teams cannot.
Seek diversity to create better solutions and improve financial success. According to research from McKinsey, companies that are in the top 25 percent for racial and ethnic diversity enjoy a 35 percent higher chance of achieving higher financial medians over competitors that are less diverse.
Gender diversity pays dividends, too. ConsumerTrack, a tech startup in L.A., is bucking trends by running a successful company made up of 62.3 percent women and 37.7 percent men -- almost the exact opposite gender ratio of most tech startups. Want to embrace diversity at your startup? Find people with different perspectives and backgrounds to help you respond to problems in new ways.
4. Take employee feedback to heart.
Cosmo Spacely's borderline abusive approach to leadership might have delivered results, but he was a pretty horrible boss. George Jetson wasn't the happiest employee, and Spacely Space Sprockets never seemed to truly get a leg up on Cogswell's Cogs. Clearly, something was amiss.
Instead of emulating Mr. Spacely, encourage innovative thinking among your own employees by adapting methods that reflect their feedback. According to PwC's Innovation Benchmark, 60 percent of companies surveyed saw internal employees as their most important drivers of innovation.
I confirmed that view for myself this year when we worked with the special innovation team at Scientific Technologies Corporation in Phoenix on a new venture concept. Some of the company's team members weren't regular parts of the innovation arm, but they all helped further the idea and expressed passion about bringing it to market.
So, follow that model: Be open to feedback from your team, and create mechanisms for employees to submit new ideas for consideration by your company's own innovation group. When someone does submit a great idea, don’t steal it and run. Let the original innovator have a voice in the process.
Today, we're living in an amazing time of abundance and innovation. If we appreciate the advancements around us and make room for new ideas, we can make the world of tomorrow even better. It'll be a fun ride -- so buckle up in your fancy new flying Jetsons car and aim for the stars.