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Industrial Research Looks Into the Future, and You Can Too!

A report out this month from IRI—one of a handful of associations that specialize in industrial research—presents a vision of the research-and-development industry 25 years from now. How is the future glimpsed, and how can you do it too? The process:

[llustration by Zine Police]

Step 1

Look at existing trends. In other words, what is the current thinking about the future?

Existing trends in R&D:

The reasons to work for large companies (job security, opportunities for advancement, health insurance) are rapidly diminishing; and it's getting increasingly easier to work remotely.

Step 2 & 3

Seek out "weak signals," or trends-to-be, and then extrapolate them into a vision of the future.

Weak signals in R&D:

Holograms could be important in remote work environments; more research could be conducted by machines; and certain people might opt out of connectivity entirely, hiding behind firewalls.

Step 3 &4

Assemble a scenario, then "backcast" to see what has to happen for us to get there.

Scenario for R&D:

Scientists make themselves available to companies on a freelance basis; and the most successful researchers become like Hollywood stars—the most in-demand and the best compensated for their services.

A version of this article appeared in the November 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine.