Look back to future plans – Design Monday

Look back to future plans – Design Monday

The future won’t follow the futurists. Never does. This is problematic when designing security for the future. We know this. That might be why security presentations about the future often ask the tough questions. Where’s our jetpack? Where’s our flying car? Where’s our round house above the clouds?

Let’s answer one of these. Right here. Right now.

The House of the Future

Futuro was the closest we came to the round houses of science fiction. Designed in 1965 by Matti Suuronen as a ski cabin, the sleek Futuro resembles a plastic flying saucer. The owner of the ski cabin loved it. Absolutely loved it. Fresh from this success, Suuronen turned towards mass production of the house. The resulting retail price was less than half the cost of American homes at the time. When mankind landed on the moon in 1969, there was a wave of interest in space. Everything space-themed was suddenly trendy. Futuro was affordable, stylish, and well-timed.

And then? After about a hundred Futuro pods were produced, the entire line was shuttered.

When trying to predict the future, security leaders often look to peers. Who has done a similar project before? What worked well, and where did they stumble? It’s a valuable source of insights for project planning and project risk management. There’s another area, however, that’s often overlooked. What happened here, in our organization, in our past?

The Futuro story offers a few lessons:

  • The house landed too far outside of Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable (MAYA) Remember the first house, the ski cabin? The locals held public protests. Futuro was too different to be acceptable.
  • Like Wallace Neff’s concrete bubble houses, like Buckminster Fuller’s aluminum Dymaxion house, the round Futuro didn’t offer a comfortable living experience. Round houses are a struggle when so much is optimized for the rectangular. Futuro wasn’t human-centric.
  • The economics didn’t work out as planned. Yes, the house was half the cost of a typical American house. But it was a third of the size. Moreover, there were many unexpected costs in delivery and installation. The oil crisis in 1973 dealt a final blow as raw material costs skyrocketed. Futuro’s initial total cost of ownership was unaffordable.

Looking Back on the Future

I visited my first Futuro during a trip in Europe. The Futuro offered this look back at a more optimistic time. A time when jetpacks and flying cars were within reach. I keenly felt the gulf between the future we predicted and the future we lived.

We gap assess all the time in security. What’s the compliance standard for this IT environment, and where do we fall short? Given the reference model for this security capability, and how do we measure up? What’s the gap between our approach and our peers in the industry? But rarely do we look inward, look backward, look at the gap between our expectation and our execution.

Find your organization’s Futuro, those projects with great promise which fizzled. Look there for lessons to apply to your next security project.


Futuro House in Carlisle, Ohio, with DMC DeLorean. Photography by Jeremy Popp.

This article is part of a series on designing cyber security capabilities. To see other articles in the series, including a full list of design principles, click here.

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