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When it comes to integrating technology into cars, Ford has to look outside of the automobile industry and look at big-picture shifts in society. Business Insider spoke with Ford futurist Sheryl Connelly about how the automaker figures out the best technologies to put in its cars.
Connelly says Ford has three tools they implement to stimulate future thinking:
First, there’s wild-card analysis. That means looking at things that have a low probability of occurring because if they do happen, they have a high probability of changing human conditions.
Some examples include natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. Less dramatically, the rise of the Internet and the proliferation of cell-phone technology are examples of wild cards: While we take them for granted now, they were far from given when the trend towards adoption got underway.
Secondly, Connelly spends a lot of time thinking about global consumer trends through the lens of society, technology, economics, the environment, and politics.
“We have a collection of trends that we’ve been studying for quite some time,” Connelly says. “The purpose of them is to help us understand the forces that will eventually change consumers.”
One big trend is information addiction.
“There is this desire for constant connectivity,” Connelly says. “It’s grounded in the idea that having information at your fingertips delivered [in a timely fashion] means you’re presented with more opportunities and better able to control your environment.”
Connelly points to an emerging study about “email apnea”—a phenomenon where peoples’ breathing patterns change when they read email. She also pointed to a study about phantom vibration syndrome, where people feel like their phone is ringing even when it’s not.
Connelly says there’s also emerging science that says the brain releases dopamine every time it receives new information.
“We can physiologically crave the sort of rush you get when there’s new information,” Connelly says. “At the very least, it kind of explains how customers can lose themselves into the black hole of the Internet.”
Once all the research is done, Connelly engages in the third step, scenario planning. That’s when she and her team come up with a story to persuade Ford to actually think about some of these trends when making future products.
“Trends add the ingredients and scenarios are the different meals you can make with them,” Connelly says.
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