Snakes on a plane? That’s so 2006

Future Shock, my second favourite book about ‘the future’, was penned by Alvin Toffler It remains a good read, with some pretty prescient observations about, well, the future. As I re-read it a few weeks ago, I was reminded that I should write up a post based on his description of an aborted experiment by the now defunct British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).

As one of the three regular readers of this blog, you may recall we spend a good chunk of time thinking about how we can engineer the randomness of human interaction in the hope that we can enrich for serendipitous outcomes. One of the earliest examples I’ve found of this (outside of the problème des ménages) was in Mr. Toffler’s book, where he shared BOAC’s latest (at the time) ‘innovation’ – “The Beautiful Singles of London”. This involved pairing unmarried American male BOAC passengers with ‘scientifically chosen’ blind dates during their time in London. The scientific bit was derived through personal data being fed into a computer and processed algorithmically by ‘Scientific Introduction Method’ a subsidiary of a company called Autodates, Ltd.

The plan was ultimately cancelled following objections from two Members of the British Parliament who considered it ‘… an affront to British girls and to Britain’s reputation’. Curiously, sending what we might consider mixed messages now, a Member of Parliament was quoted as saying “I still hope young Americans will come here and get friendly with our miniskirted young girls”. Oh dear. This was all covered in the New York Times on September 13 and 16th 1969.

As I read more about this combination of engineered randomness and the aviation industry, I was reminded, perhaps unsurprisingly, of Delta Airlines’ recent release of their ‘Innovation Class’: a unique mentorship opportunity between an entrepreneur and someone, chosen ‘scientifically’, using their LinkedIn profile as an application.

Holiday experiences, airline journeys, meal times – each of these spaces represent containers that we try to set conditions around to enrich for serendipitous outcomes: be it romance or innovation. As I read Mr. Toffler’s book, I was struck by how we’ve been trying this for a really long time, and reminded that it remains really hard to do…

Thanks for listening,


PS. What’s my favourite ‘future’ book I hear you belch? Future Babble by Dan Gardner. It’s a great read with some soothing words of caution regarding those who spout prognostications and certainty, when a more probabilistic view (and some humility) is probably more the ticket.


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