Smarty Pants Book Club: Trends & futures

March 10, 2014

At Design Concepts, a book club has emerged as a fun way to learn from one another. The Smarty Pants Book Club operates a little differently than most book clubs in that it allows the participant to read any publication within the month’s topic — book, magazine article, non-fiction or fiction — it doesn’t matter. When the group gets together, each participant shares a couple of points that either inspire or intrigue them about their readings. As those ideas are discussed among the members, high level talking points emerge.

Recently, the book club came together to discuss the topic of Trends & Futures. Participants explored offerings from Nicholas Carr (The Shallows), Malcom Gladwell (David and Goliath), Karen Thompson Walker (The Age of Miracles), and Jane McGonigal (Reality is Broken). Overwhelmingly, the team spotted themes surrounding change, control, power, adaptation, and skill.

In The Shallows, Carr points out that many years ago literacy was exclusively for the rich and powerful but today it is a given that everyone should learn how to read and write. What about digital literacy skills?

With our monthly theme of Future in mind, the club considered how access to digital information and the ability to evaluate and understand it holds great power. Ownership of information, or the means to access information, has been used as a method of control throughout human history. Looking forward, there’s no sign of that power play ceasing to be effective.

David and Goliath is the classic underdog story — with a precise and targeted attack the little guy can take the big guy down every time. Gladwell uses this well-known tale as a lens for viewing the future of growth and innovation. He suggests that readers take control of perception and let go of the negative power of insecurity and fear. The small can match up against the giant by being great at what they do and owning the knowledge that they are great.

As competitive markets expand and the speed of innovation increases it feels easy to curl up and think “there’s no way I could go up against [insert big scary thing here]”. But a clever approach with the right tools always has a shot at winning the day.

The Age of Miracles was the only fiction book on the January discussion list. The story begins with the earth’s rotation suddenly, and inexplicably, slowing down and becoming erratic. Days and nights both grow longer and inconsistent, gravity is altered, and the environment is thrown into disarray. Changing societal norms given what is going on with the natural world lead to changes in power structures — the key to winning in this new world order is being highly adaptable. People who were afraid to change didn’t adapt as well as others.

Ownership of information, or the means to access information, has been used as a method of control throughout human history.

Dystopian fiction always leads to fun “what if” conversations and scenario planning. Our discussion at book club, again with Trends and Futures always in mind, really highlighted the importance of adaptability. You can try to be rigid all you want, but eventually enough force will make anything snap. The ability to pivot and keep moving in the face of change is important both in business and the zombie apocalypse.

We ended our January discussion with Reality is Broken. In this book, McGonigal addresses the power — both collaborative and motivational — of the gaming community and asks how that power might be harnessed to solve problems in the non-virtual world. Games reveal what makes individuals feel happy and fulfilled — missions, accomplishments, rewards, consequences. Collaborative game play is an experience that many individuals seek out to satisfy any number of wants and needs.

Crowd sourced science projects, such as Zooniverse or The American Gut, leverage the desire to play in addressing big problems. Gamification, the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts, is an engaging way to solve problems. This notion can be applied in innumerable contexts, from marketing and customer retention to education and health.

As we discuss our projects and work with clients, the question of “how might we turn this experience/problem/product into a game” is often lurking in the back of our minds.

We are looking forward to our next session which will meet in April. Clubbers are reading up on Information Processing and preparing for a fantastic discussion. Check back for more from the Smarty Pants Book Club!

— Written by Leah Ujda