Future Minds

Highlights by David Willden

In the book Future Minds, Richard Watson, a scenario planning consultant, writes about innovation. He is the author of Future Files and the publisher of What’s Next a website dedicated to tracking trends. Richard argues that computers are changing the way people think which are counter to the skills and environment needed to develop innovative breakthroughs.

For decades scientists assumed that an individual’s intelligences was fixed. What they learned is that the brain is “plastic” and malleable. In other words, it responds and develops based on the experiences it encounters. The problem is, the cyber-world encourages shallow thinking, facts without context, and weakens empathic connections.



Those that are between the ages of 11 – 18, spend 11 hours a day looking at screens (e.g., computer, cell phones, IPod). Richard writes that this generation could be called “screensavers,” because they experience the world through computer screens. He argues that this generation is losing intellectual rigor, they don’t commit things to memory since the internet will remember it for them, their writing is fragmented, they don’t question the trustworthiness of sources, they rush through data as if it is a race, and they can’t stay focused.

To generate innovation ideas, you need to come up with a wide variety of ideas. Too often, those that are “convergent (logical) thinkers” evaluate ideas way too early in the process – when there hasn’t been enough “divergent thinking.” “Divergent thinking” ensures that a broad base of ideas are identified, thought through, and considered.

Richard argues that deep thinking and extended focused in needed for innovation. He suggests that:

  • Stress and fatigue reduces cognitive function. The fast pace of life makes people tense and tired. To be creative you need rest and relaxation
  • Actively cultivate the “open mind” of a child. Ask why, over and over, to drill your inquiries to a deeper level
  • Stay at it. Be patient. “One of the biggest problems with big problems is that people give up far too soon”
  • To find good ideas, you need to come up with many ideas
  • Keep an “ideas diary”
  • Evaluate ideas at the right time

Future Minds