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How To Design Our Future

Creating unique, transformative business ideas can be a form of art. In this issue, we celebrate today’s most exciting developments.

I first went to Disney World as a kid. It was magical: Mickey, Donald, the monorail. The Haunted House seemed haunted. Cinderella’s castle was majestic. I recently went back as a parent and–surprise–I enjoyed it anew. So much has changed, but the emotional experience was similar. Even my kids marveled at the attention to detail. Walt Disney wouldn’t recognize the Orlando, Florida, park that bears his name, but he’d love it. His fascination with the future wasn’t always spot-on (monorails!), but his spirit was emblematic of today’s innovation culture. In many ways, Disney was the protobusiness designer: He was engaged in designing “experiences” before that phrase was in vogue. He focused on possibility, not limitations.

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This issue features dozens of Walt’s spiritual heirs–people and companies that are designing our future. There are myriad lessons in the more than 50 articles that follow; here are three that the Disney in all of us can learn from:

1. INSPIRATION IS AN INEXHAUSTIBLE FUEL

When Tony Fadell talks about the connected home that Nest (and new corporate parent Google) is working to make a ­reality, he isn’t dismayed about ­today’s market being relatively small; to Fadell, that’s an opportunity. For comedians Tim and Eric, the ending of one TV show just opens the door to starting another. And the $2 billion Shanghai Tower demonstrates how dreams of combining sustainability and livability can come to life.

2. DATA CAN BE FRIENDLY

Many people fear big data’s spying eyes, but numbers can also be liberating. At True&Co., founder Michelle Lam is using stats about women’s bodies to revolutionize bra shopping. At Counsyl, data and design are being paired to create a DNA-­testing experience that we can all love. For Lisa Strausfeld at Bloomberg View, presenting the right numbers in the right format ­illuminates everything from sports-franchise statistics to blue-chip stocks. And for IBM’s Watson supercomputer, data can even make cooking more appealing, mixing ingredients and ­recipes in new, tasty formulations.

3. NEW MODELS ARE BEAUTIFUL

You don’t have to attend a fashion show to see eye-popping new designs. Business models are increasingly creative too. Silicon Valley startup Beyond Meat is beautifully reimagining the entire food chain, drawing on cutting-edge protein science and the science of taste. Quirky is testing preconceptions about crowdsourced design by teaming up with GE and other megacorporations. And One Medical is turning health care on its head by putting the ­patient experience first. Even at Disney World itself, Walt’s successors continue to ­remake the theme park, through a $1 billion investment in ­MyMagic+, a new, high-tech interaction platform that my family got to play with. What would Walt make of all this? That’s really academic. What matters is what you can make of it. Have fun.

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About the author

Robert Safian is the editor and managing director of The Flux Group. From 2007 through 2017, Safian oversaw Fast Company’s print, digital and live-events content, as well as its brand management and business operations

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