On Looking Back To The Future

Have you ever thought about looking back to the future?

This is not about the acclaimed 1985 Academy Award winning American Science Fiction Comedy directed by Robert Zemeckis and produced by Steven Spielberg – which by the way is a must see.  The question is whether you have ever thought about the notion of ‘looking into the future’ as akin to that of looking back.

Let’s talk about the Aymaras

Apparently this tribe of indigenous people in South America called the Aymara have an unusual way of referring to the future – when they talk about the past, they point to the space in front of them and when they talk about the future, they point behind them. Wonder why?

As Austin Kleon succinctly puts it …

The reason they point ahead of them when talking about the past is because the past is known to them — the past has happened, therefore it’s in front of them, where they can see it.The future, on the other hand, is unknown, it hasn’t happened yet, so it’s behind them, where they can’t see it.

A very thought provoking concept if one begins to think about it.

After embarking upon a mini thought + search experiment, I have come to appreciate that looking back to the future can be more than just a conceptual metaphor of the Aymara’s. My three riffs on this concept:

1. First a relatively straight forward one –  in a very practical sense, the notion of looking back into the future can be said to be closely related to the concept of Retro Innovation. Think about it. Isn’t it? More about it here.

2. We have heard about Chris Anderson‘s concept of The Long Tail. Of comparable significance is Bill Buxton‘s concept of The Long Nose of Innovation – a must read for anyone fascinated by the world of Innovation and Design. Flip through the following slide deck to get a gist of what he meant by this in just under 50 – 60s.

He makes a strong case that – any technology that is going to have significant impact over the next 10 years is already at least 10 years old. And thereby says The Future Is History and goes to conclude with the advice –  “Use history to evaluate new concepts and ideas instead of only gut feel”.
So may be next time we ideate within a category/segment for innovation ideas, it might be worthwhile to look for trends that go back to nearly 10 years from now for a change.

3. Lastly, in many ways the concept of looking back to the future could also be related to the idea of photography as time travel.

Irina Werning was a virtually unknown photographer till she embarked on a project called Back To The Future in 2010 (and subsequently in 2011) and the rest as they say is history, with her photographs going hugely viral – even becoming Internet Memes and her project becoming a big sensation. Read more about Irina’s obsession as a photographer to take her subjects back and forth in time through her unique project here. Enjoy the behind the scenes video of the project here.

I find the idea of looking back to the future hugely fascinating and as Austin Kleon says, the Aymara’s way of referring to the future continues to blow my mind no matter how long I think about it.

And you thought History and Innovation make strange bedfellows?

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2 thoughts on “On Looking Back To The Future

  1. Hi Chaitu, Interesting perspective of “Looking back to the future”. I often use this example in some of my Innovations presentations – When a Typewriter was shown to some primary school kids in US, this was their response:
    (Typewriter pic)
    “Cool……a laptop that prints as you write and you don’t have to plug in.”
    INNOVATION: THE FUTURE IS BEHIND YOU !
    Cheer!
    Jagdish

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