In 2016, Will We Finally Enter the Age of Imagination?


The biggest advance or most surprising development of 2015 was the private sector’s rapidly advancing and serious pursuit of commercial spacecraft development. This, coupled with the success of various missions like the Pluto fly-by; the dream of landing a craft on Jupiter’s moon Europa; the discussion of an outpost on the moon; the colonization of Mars. All of this points to the fact that the long slumber of our space ambitions is finally coming to an end. We have important people thinking BIG ideas once again: Branson, Musk, Bezos, Page, Cook. The next 20 years should be very exciting indeed.

Timing of Self-Driving Cars

When it comes to the big ideas behind self-driving cars and how long it will take before we see them hit the consumer market—getting a self-driving car to 99 percent reliability is straightforward, but 99.99 percent reliability will be incredibly difficult. I think autonomous vehicles will find interesting niche markets and will be quite valuable, but acceptance and use in the general public on the open roads and highways … well, let’s just say I think that will be harder than most of us imagine both in terms of adoption and practical application. I think the engineering mind says, “But these will be so much safer than the average driver!” There is no way for us to actually know this, because we don’t have statistics that tell us how many deaths are avoided by the average driver every single day.

Age of Imagination

However, moon flights and self-driving cars can seem part of the realm of science fiction; in my day-to-day life, what I’ve been fighting for nearly the past 20 years is the use of fear as a tool to manage or motivate. These fear-based management systems manifest in many different forms: crushing bureaucracy, reward systems that punish and disengage all but a few in our work forces, and the chaos that results from the application of the first two. I am incredibly hopeful that we are exiting this age and entering the “age of imagination.” A new form of leadership is rapidly emerging that does not rely on bureaucracy, control, and hierarchy. It looks to autonomy and alignment. The companies who get this will thrive. (For inspiration, look at the companies listed by WorldBlu, the pages of Conscious Capitalism, the work of the B-team and Virgin’s People Centered Innovation, and the strong emergence of academic research such as the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.)

[Editor’s note: To tap the wisdom of our distinguished group of Xconomists, we asked a few of them to answer questions heading into 2016 about the most pressing issues facing the innovation community. You can see other questions and answers here.]

Rich Sheridan is the president and CEO of Menlo Innovations, an Ann Arbor software company built around the business value of joy. Follow @menloprez

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