Future Prospects?

Monday, February 13th, 2012

I came across some interesting perspectives on the future world of work in a recent blog from TomorrowToday.com – some interesting and challenging projections of what the global business arena will look like in 12 to 40 years time.  Clearly, one is never sure of this but some of the projections do make a lot of sense, given what we’ve experienced in the past five years.

Prior to 9/11 many of us would never have been able to foresee just how much the world will change in ten years.  The recession that began in late 2008 was almost unexpected, and even now, forecasters seem to vacillate between optimism and pessimism – almost on a daily basis – depending on what the latest ‘statistics’ say!  So, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m willing to keep an open mind on this, and choose to assume that what the blog predicts could well become reality!  With that in mind, let’s have a look at some of the trends that are forecast:

(I’ve tried to summarise the blog for readers, but with acknowledgment to TomorrowToday.com.)

  • · Increasing global integration:
    • Explosive growth in emerging markets will generate massive economic growth over the next thirty years.
    • By 2050, global real purchasing power will quadruple.  (Developing economies are already adding 90 million middle class people to the world every year!)
    • Globalisation will continue to be a business reality.
    • Business leaders will need to be adept at managing diversity.
    • Economic power will shift from the West towards the East.
    • China will become the largest economy around 2025 and India overtake China in 2050.

If you’re not participating in the global economy, in some way you’ve got to start thinking globally.  Do not count either China or India (Chindia) out of your strategies for future business – even if it’s not intentional, you’re probably buying something from them every day, right now! And because individual Indians and Chinese are becoming wealthier and starting to consume greater and greater numbers of goods, it won’t be long before you’ll be selling to them too. (even if you don’t do it directly.)

  • · Ferocious competition:
    • Competition will come from unlikely sources.
    • New business models will be invented.
    • New ways of engaging people inside and outside organisations will be invented.

It’s quite simple really – if you don’t become more efficient, you will not be able to have the edge on your competition. And if you’ve already got it, don’t be complacent; right now someone is either coming up with a better way to make your product, or something else that makes it obsolete!  Even the factory floor needs to change, and Trade Unions need to sharpen up on this!  This new global market will not tolerate the shenanigans we’ve seen in South Africa these past few years.

  • March of the machines:
    • Machines are becoming smarter and combined with the Internet we will increasingly be interacting with intelligent machines.
    • Robots will increasingly become a normal part of our daily lives with many professions, or repetitive aspects of professions being replaced by machines or sophisticated algorithms.

I still come across business owners that summarise their income and expenditure in an excel spreadsheet, handwrite invoices to clients in duplicate pen-carbon books, and then either deliver them by hand or post them.  Really!  (And that’s just in the office!)

This is one area where we can greatly improve on our business processes, and free up time to spend on making our businesses the best they can be.

  • Super intelligence:
    • By 2020 computers will have the same data processing capability as the human brain. (I’m not sure I agree with this as I don’t think anyone really knows what our capabilities are!)
    • Optical computing and quantum computing, will enable massive further increase in computing power.
    • Furthermore, telecommunication bandwidth and digital storage technology will also continue to grow exponentially. (I should think Telkom will be out of the loop by then, as they can’t cope now!)

Be willing to make use of this ‘super-intelligence’.  It’s no longer a case of “well, this has worked for me for 20 years, so why should I change?”  I have clients who soldier on with old technology and its dreadfully slow processing power, because of the initial extra outlay.  Tasks that should take minutes end up taking hours – literally – and when you equate that to how much revenue can be generated in an hour, the opportunity cost is enormous.

  • · A data deluge:
    • Aided by super intelligent machines our global knowledge will evolve exponentially.
    • Advances in information technology will assist companies capture and make sense of a tsunami of information.
    • By 2050, useful knowledge will be 40-50 times as large as in 2010.
    • Companies that focus on making the management of Big Data a priority will be winners.

The key word there is “useful” – and it’s very important, because all of us need to learn how to discern between what is useful and what is an absolute waste of time.  At least half the emails I receive on a daily basis are either junk, or at the very best, don’t add any value to my day or my business.  We also need to know how to use these super-machines to get the best information we need, to make high-value decisions.

And just think of this – we no longer need to print out invoices from suppliers. With the click of a mouse (less than ten seconds), we can file it away in a well-managed data bank in cyber-space.  In the past, we would take the time to print the invoice, attach it to a purchase order, and then file it in a lever-arch file (all of which mean a few more trees are chopped down), which will go into a cabinet, which takes up office space, which is costing more and more each year.

  • Mass mobility:
    • The emergence of flexible e-workers or electronic-freelancers will be a growing trend, supported by electronic tablets and Smartphone’s.
    • Projects will be managed much the way they are on a movie set with people with key skills coming together for key projects, working for an agreed period of time, and then the team will abandon.

This is already a reality.  I have a client who ‘employs’ a key technician in both the UK and In India, while his business is here in South Africa.  I am already operating from a different office; instead of it being in the same building, its 1500 kilometres away from the hub.  And certain key skills are simply too expensive to employ on a full-time basis.  Employees that fit this mould know it too, and many have taken steps to set themselves up as freelancers.

  • · Values driven:
    • The impact of the credit and financial crisis will result in business becoming more transparent and responsible towards broader society.
    • New business models such as Creating Shared Value will emerge.
    • Capitalism will survive but in a much more sophisticated and refined way.
    • Values will represent a key way in which people are led and customers are attracted to organisations.

I’m not too sure I agree with these statements about values.  Sure, values are changing, but that doesn’t mean they’re becoming intrinsically, or morally better.  Transparency is being forced on people in business because of poor morality, but it’s more a case of changing because one feels the heat, not because one sees the light!

Capitalism is seriously under the spotlight right now.  I don’t think there’s anything else around that is going to do the job better though.  All the proponents of these economic systems make the assumption (wrongly) that the systems can be successful while they’re managed by fallible human beings.  Not true!  Man, in his unregenerate state is inherently selfish.  So, how do you make a flawed system more sophisticated and refined, using flawed people?  At any rate, I do agree that it is all going to be about perception of what is good or better! (even if it isn’t in reality.)

  • · Turbulence is the normal:
    • We are living during a major revolutionary period.
    • The ways in which people live work and play will dramatically change over the next two decades.
    • New global powers will emerge and people on the whole will become wealthier.
    • However, there will be a huge demand on resources especially water. Wars over water will be fought.
    • There will be several financial bubbles and crashes (up to 12 over the next 40 years)

I do believe that however we plan, for the next decade or so, we need to ‘pack light’ – be prepared to move, and to move quickly (and by that I don’t just mean physically.)  Make sure your business can metamorphose at the drop of a hat; adapt to new products within new and changing markets.  For those of us in the professional services business, we are going to have to realise that we can no longer just wait for business to come to us.  We will need to be constantly striving not just to meet expectations, but to raise the standard.

  • Workforce evolution:
    • Aging will be another major theme.
    • The number of elderly will explode, and perhaps surprisingly, 90% of this growth will take place in emerging markets.
    • Retirement or non-retirement will increasingly be a major theme.
    • We predict conflict in the organisation as a result of younger employees being unable to progress as retirement age increases and people stay on working longer.
    • This will require a complete rethink of how people are promoted, motivated and managed.

As I’m about to enter my 60-th year, I’ve become conscious of two things:  I still enjoy what I’m doing, and I think I’m doing it better than I used to do it!  Sadly, there is a general perception that just because you’ve reached so-called retirement age, you need to be led out to pasture.  How mad is this?  Men and women in their 60’s and 70’s are completely different to what they were like a generation ago, and are more able to provide an enormous amount of much-needed (and highly experienced) training to younger colleagues.  Can you imagine what can be done for today’s (and tomorrow’s) workforce if this huge resource could be skilfully harnessed?