Our team at Autodesk is called Strategic Foresight. We help identify and articulate long-term forces of change and their implications to reveal insights shaping the future for Autodesk and our customers. Our team informs strategy across the entire company by working with Autodesk leaders to help shape a preferable future that delivers value for our customers and our business. We explore a broad range of areas (e.g., society, technology, economy, environment, politics) with a long-term focal length (~10 years). Autodesk has to be prepared to provide the right kinds of solutions for our customers by leveraging opportunities that the future will bring while mitigating potential risks to designing and making.
Our team is about looking to the future with an eye toward fostering positive outcomes and preventing negative ones, so it should be no surprise that our team is reading Upstream on nights and weekends. Upstream was written by Dan Heath who is a New York Times best selling author. Upstream explains how to prevent problems before they occur. Heath created the book from interviews and stories about unconventional problem-solvers. The purpose of the book is to make that unconventional, but successful, problem-solving, conventional among the masses.
The hardcover is hard to come by (Amazon is sold out, but Google has some):
but there's also an audio book on Amazon.
In preparation for our upcoming discussion, I have pulled a few quotes:
"Downstream actions react to problems once they've occurred. Upstream efforts aim to prevent problems from happening." [page 3]
"To succeed upstream, leaders must detect problems early, target leverage points in complex systems, find reliable ways to measure success, pioneer new ways of working together, and embed their successes into systems to give them permanence." [page 29]
"Data for the purpose of learning [available to those on the front lines] is different from data for the purpose of inspection [available those managing those on the front lines]." [page 89]
"A well-designed system is the best upstream invention." [page 103]
"We can settle for a pretty good solution that's equipped with so many built-in feedback loops that it can't help but get better over time." [pages 181-182]
"Three suggestions: Be impatient for action but patient for outcomes... Macro starts with micro [(solve an instance of a problem first and apply what's learned to the whole)]... Favor scoreboards [(system changes with feedback)] over pills [(one-time remedies)]." [page 234-237]
The real magic of this book is the set of stories that accompany the guidance. They bring the lessons to life. This is a book that I found very easy to read. There's even a website (www.upstreambook.com) with additional resources on problem prevention and solving. I highly recommend this book.
Autodesk has always been an automation company. Today, more than ever, that means helping our customers automate their design and make processes. We help them embrace the future of making, where they can do more (e.g., quantity, functionality, performance, quality), with less (e.g., energy, raw materials, timeframes, waste of human potential), and realize the opportunity for better (e.g., innovation, user experience, efficiency, sustainability, return on investment). Being prepared to provide our customers with the right technologies relies on preventing problems related to their development and adoption.
Here are some examples of the kinds of issues our team is applying Upstream learnings to:
- Without changes in education, will today's students be ill-equipped for the jobs of the future?
- Will people's trust in technology be challenged by concerns around data, algorithms, and privacy?
- When technology gives us the ability to sense, simulate, and visualize complex systems in ever greater fidelity, will it also equip us to better understand unintended negative consequences?
What problems could you prevent?
Problem-solving is alive in the lab.