At lunch the other day, I was talking with some friends about the future direction of business. We talked about things like Jittery, which founder Jonathan Ruff is turning into a "distributed blog commerce company." We talked about the impact of feminization on management thinking, which was inspired by this post from last week. But in the midst of this my friend Deborah brought up a topic I hadn't thought of before. She threw out the term "opportunity science." I have been thinking a lot about this over the last few days, and I think this could really be a valuable area of study in the future.
The basic idea behind opportunity science is that in an age of increasing competitiveness, falling barriers to entry and ever increasing business opportunities, the advantage will lie with the companies that pick the best opportunities to pursue. No big surprise there. That happens now to a large extent. The part that is interesting is that we could start to put more and more science behind this task. That could mean the field will take the next step and become a discipline unto itself, complete with college majors and whole departments at major corporations.
Don't buy it? Think about how primitive our models for this kind of thing are today. We do a SWOT analysis and figure out ROI and then debate a little while. That's it. Yet with increasing computer power, models borrowed from economics, biology, neuroscience, physics and sociology, opportunity scientists could potentially give structure, formalization, and predictive power to a field that now requires lots of "hunches." Think about being able to estimate the "tipping point" of a new venture with a high degree of probability.
We are already seeing early attempts at evaluating ideas with things like Merwyn. The next step is to generate ideas as well. That too, is already starting to happen. So the time is ripe to combine models of what people want, what they need, how they think, how they interact, what our resources are, what our budgets are, what our skills are, what our ideas are, etc., and combine it all into a formalized field of study.
Initially, opportunity scientists will have to fight the same battle that psychologists have fought, that their field isn't grounded enough in hard data. But as we begin to better understand and model the human mind and the way we interact in groups, the day may come when our business strategy for attacking new markets is heavily determined by an opportunity science computer program.