Obviously we don’t know anything about the future. And bothering about the future is not what you’re doing all day. Yet, you want to be prepared.
So ask a futurist. But not even a futurist will know. So what could the futurist tell you? Well, to look around at what’s happening. Because the future is happening now, right in front of you. And the work of a futurist, like me, is trying to really see what’s happening in front of us—although we often don’t notice it—and to understand what implications these things might have.
Because every so often we look back and say: “Why didn’t we notice? It was right in front of our eyes!”
So here we go—ten reasons that the future is happening right in front of you. (This is the condensed version. If you want more I’ll be glad to give a talk as a speaker to give you a better understanding of where we’re heading and how your organisation can prepare).
- Everything is going faster and faster. You have probably noticed. But make no mistake, it’s a long term trend which as been going on for billions of years. And there’s nothing stopping this acceleration, simply because people are increasingly connected, and because we just cannot stop inventing. So remember—anyone who thinks that we might pull the brake and slow down the pace of change will be disappointed. However, we can still shape the future. So let’s talk more about it.
- Digitalisation is changing all conditions for what we do. Sure, digitalisation is a driver for change, but so has other technologies been. True. But the thing is—digitalisation changes the conditions for what we do in so many ways we almost cannot understand it. It’s not like the wheel, the printing press, the steam engine, or electricity. It’s so much more, letting you do basically anything more efficiently and smarter, mixing these things, copy them, and spread them to the world, pocket to pocket, at almost zero margin cost. Try to get the implications of that!
- We’re building horisontal networks at global scale. If you think about it, this has never happened before. Everything we have been doing at large scale through history have been hierarchical. And then suddenly we can build flat networks and communicate across the globe, peer-to-peer. Just look at what happened with news distribution that used to be hierarchical with editors etc. Then came news through social networks, and you know what happened. Very few had anticipated this. Most people thought that everyone would get access to the truth through the Internet. What happened was that everyone got the means to spread their “truth” across the globe. And this is just the start.
- Everything can be measured. Ok, so what’s new? We’ve always been measuring. Well, the new thing is that essentially anything can be measured like it was never measured before, in real time. Even the endings of episodes of tv series. And how machines are behaving. And how you’re feeling when you’re driving. And what illness you might have based on your breath. And we can analyse all these measurements and adapt our offerings, our actions, our strategies etc according to what we learn. Which means that you have to do this, unless you want to become irrelevant.
- The customer is more spoiled than ever. In what way? Well, simply because it’s possible to reach the world with whatever you want to offer, and because customers all over the world therefore have access to tons of stuff that they never could access before. So we raised the bar for what we think is good—if it’s not good enough we just go to another site. Meaning you have to do everything you can to keep the customer’s attention. It’s a war, and customers just won’t settle with less than excellence. This is why the customer experience is more important than ever.
- Sharing requires new business models. Why? Because sharing on digital platforms is so much more efficient than business as usual. This is what drives the shift from owning to accessing—of music, digital infrastructure, transportation, and more. So you’d better consider what sharing can do for your business.
- We can make a difference. Just ten or twenty years ago, very few people could make a difference at a global scale. Basically only global corporations and states had that power. Today, a few people with a good idea, using the Internet and cloud computing can make things that really change the world, even without aiming for profit. Wikipedia and Open Source Software are just two obvious examples. The consequence? People want to make a difference. People want purpose. Just ask millennials. Profit is not good enough.
- Everything can be mixed. Sugar and egg? No, I’m talking about digital stuff. Anything that have been digitised—quite a few things today—can be mixed with a few lines of code. Twenty years ago that was almost unthinkable. Today it’s a piece of cake, and probably the biggest unexplored source of new services and products. Just throw in some new data, a new game application, a new industry connection, or a new communications channel in the business you’re running, and you’re off in a new direction with new opportunities. Every day!
- AI can do stuff so you can focus on other things. You’re hearing about AI every day. No, it’s not human-like, yet. Far from it. But AI has made huge progress in the last few years when it comes to learn things that only humans could do, and it performs even better than humans. Playing advanced games. Optimising energy consumption. Interpreting chest X-rays. Distinguishing a fake smile from a real one. Translating. Answering questions. Predicting customer behaviour. Knowing what you like. Etc. But only in narrow niches. The fundamental take-away for businesses is that you just need to let machines take over everything that they can do so that humans can focus on the only thing that matters—customer experience. Simply because every new player in your field will do so, and if you’re not, you’re done.
- Humans will become more human. It’s easy. Since machines can focus on what machines are good at—boring, repetitive, and dangerous tasks—humans can focus on what machines are not so good at (yet)—creativity, capability to convince and motivate, empathy, and context and collaboration. In other words, human stuff. So if we let machines do what we’d rather not continue doing, we can focus on becoming more human. Or: work is for machines, life is for people.
Then there’s the eleventh point: Machines will become… Well, I have some ideas, but I could talk more about that in a speech. Just a hint—try to imagine machines becoming better at communicating with each other and at sharing their knowledge and their experience.
So, did you think that the future will be more or less like today, just with a few more gadgets? Now, maybe not so much. These ten points are not small changes. Then add the first point again—it’s going faster and faster.
OBVIOUSLY there’s an immediate conclusion: Without increased efforts for sustainability everything will go out of balance. Sustainability is therefore the most important aspect if you want to prepare for the future. Fortunately there are ways to solve the global warming, and a new compact, cheap and carbon-free energy source is part of the solution. But that’s another story.
If you want to hear more, don’t hesitate to contact me for a speaker engagement!