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It was the best of times and it was the best of times:

March 20, 2012

I’ve decided to take a peak into the looking glass this month.

Reading the latest Economist we are clearly in better shape than we may have originally thought. Last week I read that Avian flu may not be the grim-reaper that awaits us all (and thank heavens for that, as a month prior I read that Tamiflu may not work either). This week I read about flying cars being on our roads by 2020 like the Transition or Trek (can see the launch headline already – The Great Trek). Is this a good thing? Imagine the Easter sky carnage, as taxis and inebriated flyers fight for airspace over unsuspecting suburban hoods.

The mind boggles – but it’s here. Almost as unexpected and interesting as Blackberry finally stumbling onto the potential of the Tablet market. Seems like Rip Van Winkel has been running the former Canadian tech wonder-company. How do you go from “inventing” the smart phone to eh, well, let’s ask Nokia that question too.

Another new-fangled invention I unpleasantly learnt about comes from those charming people heading Iran. UHPC (Ultra-High Performance Concrete). That ought to get Uncle Sam scratching his head. It is logical really, to build impenetrable bunkers when you are up to no good. There’s apparently a shopping cart out there, being filled with intercontinental rockets. Best someone in the old USSR check that 70’s inventory.

While man takes to the sky in his family station-wagon (now needing to possibly avoid rockets too), cars are apparently soon going to be driving themselves on our roads – because us drivers are simply too unreliable. We’re not that far from it either… I drove my wife’s Audi Q5 from Century City to Sea Point the other day on virtual auto-pilot. This genius car now uses its sensors (the park-distance control ones) to slow itself down, literally to a stop at a traffic light without me even touching the brake. It then speeds itself up, to the original speed, while maintaining the perfect distance from the other cars on the road. It tells you all of this with lovely, simple graphics on the dashboard. Until I tinkered with the little stalk on the steering wheel a few weeks back, I didn’t even know our “chitty-chitty bang-bang” from Ingolstadt could do this. I must try it in my A5 this weekend. Probably does the same.

Going back almost thirty years, as we hurtled down the appropriately named Target Kloof Rd in Port Elizabeth, dodging all sane citizens, my brother and I were known (much to my parents embarrassment) as “the Mad Abels”.  Well, how else was an 18 year old to drive his Alfa Veloce Sprint? Today, I’m thrilled at the prospect of my sons’ cars (the eldest is currently 11) driving him, Miss Daisy-like, to varsity one day. Although I’m sure they’ll find a way to hack the system and get it up to at least 60km/h by then. I am however reminded of that great quote by the philosopher Blaise Pascal who said, “the heart knows reason, reason knows nothing of”. And while products get more sophisticated and refined, there still has to be that throaty roar that appeals to the senses, that adrenalin rush, that visceral something that is ultimately, more heart than head.

So, I read all about these exciting changes but how does it apply to our world of marketing and communication? Well, if your car drives you, what will you be doing? Watching something, connecting, working or gaming. Brands will no doubt find natural opportunity here. It’s already going the intuitive and predictive route. Apparently soon enough we wont carry “phones” at all but will just have an earpiece. You’ll supposedly hold up your hand in a signal and a keypad from the nearest “eye” will be projected onto you – and you’ll simply type the number against yourself and hey presto. While this might seem very Jules Verne, I remember reading Richie Rich comics in the 70’s where you could see someone on the other end of the phone – well Skype and mobile handsets have already made those futuristic face-to-face options look outdated.

What won’t change? The human condition – the need to be loved, feel secure, hopeful, successful, primal, engaged – and that is where brands will always find fertile soil to sustain themselves. Today and into the future, relevance remains the key factor. Innovation is all about anticipating and sustaining relevance. Our Canadian friends at Blackberry can tell you all about that – the hard way.

So, what’s on the innovation menu for you today?

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