Rogue Report Episode 7

Recently Survivor aired its 40th season. Compelling storylines have become a Survivor trademark and have made it a leader in unscripted reality. To better understand how Survivor has lasted 40 seasons, we must turn to Mark Burnett.

Burnett, a former member of the British Army, is an excellent planner. Burnett perfected his skills by applying them to a precursor to Survivor, the Eco-Challenge. The Eco Challenge was a reality show in the form of a multi-day and multi-discipline endurance race. Teams of four would have to trek, swim, bike or climb day and night over treacherous terrain. The team not only had to face the competition from other teams but as with any endeavour that generates extreme fatigue, they would have the fight their proverbial inner demons and those of their team members.

When selecting teams Burnett didn’t start from the beginning, he started from the end. Predicting where he believed each team member would crack. Where it would become just too much. Where the terrain would become too daunting both physically and emotionally. And then he planned backwards from there. Through this he was able to not ensure a great race but, in this pre-drone era when the camera people had to be able to follow the contestants, he was able to predict when and where and on who the camera should be focusing.

Planning backwards from the future can sound a bit like science fiction. After all, to the best of our knowledge, at least, no one has been 100% successful in predicting what the future will bring. But what science fiction allows us to do is to consider alternative realities. And these alternative realities can help us make better decisions to be better prepared when unforeseen events happen upon us. So it begs the question, how can science-fiction help us better prepare for an uncertain future?

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”

Sensing the future

Certain pieces of science-fiction focus on the role of our different senses in our daily lives. In a Quiet Place, a family has to adapt to living a life with as little sound as possible. In this reality they experience life on mute. With everything from laughing and crying to noisy children’s toys being outright life-threatening. Other films have shows how the use of biometrics or neural transmission might lead us to be less reliant on our sense of touch. This might also be an impact of Covid-19 as we have already started to rethink handshakes and the handling (or lack thereof) of in-store items.

What does this mean for your brand?

In 2010, Sun Chips launched new packaging, touted as the world’s first 100% compostable chip bag. The idea was terrific and considering the fight against excess and non-recyclable packaging we still fight in 2020 it was ahead of its time. The one big, and apparently insurmountable barrier? The bag was crazy loud and was subsequently shelved permanently. Consider how your brand could adapt to a world in which noise was frowned upon. Does your product emit unessential sounds? Does the packaging make too much noise? What about if we considered our other senses? How might that impact some of your key product attributes and how could you work around this? Could this lead to interesting new rituals around the consumption of your products?

Life imitates art

In the 1987 classic Back to the Future Part 2, Marty McFly travels from 1985 to 2015. To help him fit in, his scientist pal, Doc Brown gives him time-appropriate clothes. This included a self-fitting jacket, and self-lacing shoes. The shoes are notable in that they were Nikes (created by the brand as prop for the movie). Over the years the shoes gained cult status and eventually Nike produced a limited run. The limited editions have become much sought after collectibles with auction prices reaching over 10 times the original sales prices.

What does this mean for your brand?

Remember the cloak of invisibility from Harry Potter? That fictional item inspired scientists to explore how to bring the idea to life. And while Matt Damon is not seen wearing Under Armour in the Martian, the brand created a campaign that supposed that the astronauts trained for the Mars expedition in Under Armour base layers. Imagine how your brand could meet the needs of some of the characters depicted in science fiction movies. How might this help future-proof your brand?

Fiction planning

In an episode of Twilight Zone called Time enough at last, a bank-teller pines for the day when his job, his wife, and the availability of time will allow him to follow his passion of reading more books. Then an H-bomb hits, while he happens to be safely hidden away reading in the bank vault, and leaves him alone on the earth. He relishes in his new-found freedom to spend his day reading. But as he is rejoicing, he drops and breaks his glasses, meaning cruelly, that he will be forever surrounded by books he can’t read. We sometimes plan for ideal conditions. But what if those conditions never arrive or are changed by factors beyond your control.

What does this mean for your brand?

When applying design thinking, both Stanford and IDEO use ”How might we” statements. This question is very useful for scenario planning. Use this statement to consider alternative scenarios. Among them consider few that seem absolutely far fetched. How might we plan for an alien invasion? How might our product adapt to a world in which average life expectancy is 120 years? Of course we can’t expect accurate answers, however it is a great exercise that can feed planning for more probable scenarios.

Dystopian brand scenarios

In Dodgeball the movie, the International dodgeball open airs on ESPN Ocho: “The Ocho bringing you the finest seldom seen sports”. While the movie intended this a joke, referencing the ever growing list of real ESPN channel (from ESPN, to ESPN2 to ESPN Classic, to ESPNews, well you get the idea…). Instead of taking offence, a few years after the movie came out ESPN actually created The Ocho, a 24-hour marathon of seldomly seen sports. ESPN could have taken offense to the depiction but instead used it a source of inspiration.

What does this mean for your brand?

Look to alternative sources to determine the possible future of your brand. What do science-fiction writers predict about your product category? What do they predict might replace it? Consider these alternatives as you explore potential product lines and derivatives. Afterall, almost 80 years before the iWatch, fictional police detective Dick Tracy was sporting a two-way wrist radio.

Had someone told you a few years ago that for most of the year 2020, people across the world would be housebound in order to help reduce the spread of a virus that had become a global pandemic, you would have probably asked what to movie they were referring? Many of us would have never believed that we would face something like this in our lifetimes.

Yet here we are.

A scenario played out in so many science-fiction pieces becomes real-life. Perhaps we should turn more often to science-fiction to help us be better prepared for scenarios we once thought to be too incredible to be real.