Will our future be terrifying or exciting? Probably both.
When I was a little girl, I was afraid of the future. Looking back, I suppose it could have been my choice of reading material. I read ALL the dystopian fiction, or at least as much as I could carry in my backpack. The Velveteen Rabbit, Watership Down, All Summer in a Day, Flowers for Algernon, The Lathe of Heaven, Woman on the Edge of Time. If you aren’t familiar with these stories, let me just tell you that they don’t have an optimistic view of human nature. When my science teacher explained that the sun would someday consume the earth in an expanding ball of fire, I cried. Everyone and everything that has ever existed, all vanished. Forever. I felt a sickening jolt of terror every time I thought of it, for weeks.
Now we live in the future!
With personal computers in our pockets, global travel, formal and life-long informal education available to more of us than ever before, not to mention the technological and medical breakthroughs arriving so rapidly they make your head spin, surely we are capable of fixing all the problems.
But instead, many of us are occupying our anxious brains binge-watching television, playing video games or hoping for legalized marijuana so we can tune out the political and societal gridlock, downward mobility, a changing climate, mass extinction, sick and aging parents, the unexpected losses of our contemporaries…
I’m not trying to depress you; just pointing out that there are two sides to every coin.
I’m still an avid consumer of science fiction and futurism. Though as a business owner, I work to balance cynicism with optimism. Looking ahead to the good and the bad helps me maintain an “open-to-change” mindset that is critical for adaptation. One of the many things I’ve learned over the past seventeen years as an entrepreneur is that getting comfortable in a routine is never good for business.
Foresight is 50/50
Looking to the future is not only useful for planning your strategy and goals. It helps you prepare to adapt your products and services to the coming needs of the marketplace.
And forecasting is essential for managing cash flow, whether you’re the CFO or the person in charge of your household budget.
There are hundreds of short- and long-term factors to consider; from the state of the economy, current politics, legal regulations, and the labor market, to technological and scientific leaps, changes in weather (like an unexpected snowstorm) and climate (global warming and the kind of climate instability that can affect food crops and accessibility to water).
If about fifty percent of new ventures fail within the first five years, how many of those failures and lost opportunities were due to inaccurate predictions?
I started to look into it.
You know what? People love to heap scorn on other people’s bad ideas. I found no shortage of “terrible predictions” to revile.
From the wildly overoptimistic
In Playboy’s October 1970 issue, David Rorvik fantasized, “By the mid-1980s automated autos, noiseless pneumatic subways and luxury-liner hovercraft will have radically restructured our surface mobility.” See an illustration from the original article of his near-future transit utopia, titled The Transport Revolution, here. Since we live in the future, your browser will probably even translate it for you.
To the dismally shortsighted
In July of 1992 Andy Grove, then CEO of Intel told the New York Times the cell phone concept was “a pipe dream driven by greed.”
However, my research turned up little direct evidence for some of the most oft-repeated “worst” future predictions, and most predictors were not entirely wrong about everything.
In the same 1995 Newsweek article, Clifford Stoll, American Astronomer and author of Silicon Snake Oil dismissed the internet in one breath,
“We’re promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obsolete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month?”
…while offering a reasonable criticism of it that still feels pretty valid in the next:
“While the Internet beckons brightly, seductively flashing an icon of knowledge-as-power, this nonplace lures us to surrender our time on earth. A poor substitute it is, this virtual reality where frustration is legion and where—in the holy names of Education and Progress—important aspects of human interactions are relentlessly devalued.”
Hindsight makes it easy to point fingers; the reality is that no one can see precisely how the future will unfold, except perhaps Paul, the German octopus who predicted the winners of six of Germany’s World Cup matches in 2010. Also, Jules Verne who forecast the moon landing way back in 1865; Nikola Tesla, who told the New York Times we’d all have personal wireless devices in the future; and H.G. Wells’, who foretold a multitude of visionary inventions.
“Good forecasts can seem almost magical, while bad forecasts may be dangerous.”
— Athanasopoulos and Hyndman, Forecasting Principles and Practice
Let’s bring on some magic! I’ve curated ten credible predictions to help you improve your forecasting and adapt your business, your nonprofit, or your family for the future.
Behold the crystal ball
THE FUTURE OF TECHNOLOGY
- The internet and Big Tech as we know them are coming to an end, predicts George Gilder, in the “How to Think Like a Futurist” episode of The James Altucher Show. Gilder was a proponent of supply-side economics during the Reagan era and is a frequently published economist, “techno-utopian” advocate and author of Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy. Sounds like it could be good news, doesn’t it?
But don’t be fooled into thinking we’ll go back to way things used to be.
- The year 2038 may be the “end of time” (for modern computers). Similar to the Y2K bug, this one relates to the way time is encoded in 32 bit computers, especially those embedded in transportation systems that aren’t engineered for connected software updates, like flight equipment and modern cars.** If you run an enterprise employing software that deals with dates in the future, or sell computerized equipment with long deployment lifetimes, like vehicles, you may want to read more.
THE FUTURE OF TRANSPORTATION
- Driverless cars won’t be chauffeuring you wherever you want to go as soon as you wish they would, according to Missy Cummings, Director of the Duke University Humans and Autonomy Laboratory in this episode of The Intelligencer’s “2038” podcast series from New York magazine. Never mind what you’ve heard from Elon Musk. It’s more complicated than the hype.
THE FUTURE OF THE ENVIRONMENT
- We Are Facing a Climate Apocalypse. David Wallace-Wells, who wrote The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming and an article by the same title for New York magazine, points out that we produce carbon in nearly every aspect of our modern lives, and “to reduce that or eliminate it will require a … thorough rebuilding of just about everything that we know and recognize,” including our infrastructure and even our agricultural systems. He maintains that personal lifestyle shifts can’t possibly resolve the magnitude of problems we face with the certain-to-come temperature rise and the only logical approach is coordinated policy change through politics. You can catch a thoughtful interview with David on the March 4, 2019 episode of The Ezra Klein Show.
THE FUTURE OF HOUSING AND CITIES
- Home-sharing and multi-use spaces will address the affordable housing crisis facing many of our cities, according to Chris Lehane, Head of Global Policy and Communications for Airbnb in this episode of The Mission Daily. Have you heard of the Access Economy? It refers to a model where we don’t have to own all the things to be able to use them when we need them. I’ve been yelling about this for years. Why on earth does everyone on my block need their own snowblower and lawnmower? It’s wasteful and unnecessary. Apparently, the Millennials agree with me.
THE FUTURE OF WORK
- Workplaces will integrate with the surrounding community instead of retreating to a campus-style fortress meant to provide for employees’ every need (so they never have to leave). Listen to more future workplace design ideas from Slack, and We Work, on this episode from The Future of Cities podcast. This New York Times piece by Gideon Lewis-Kraus covers the current state of coworking from a more critical angle.
- Automation might take over your job. Darrrell M. West, author of The Future of Work: Robots, AI, and Automation, reports on McKinsey Global Institute research that claims “as many as 45 percent of the activities individuals are paid to perform can be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies.” Then again, it might not. According to an Oxford study by researchers Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, “occupations that involve complex perception and manipulation tasks, creative intelligence tasks, and social intelligence tasks are unlikely to be substituted by computer capital over the next decade or two.” John Oliver hilariously summed up their findings on this episode of Last Week Tonight. Tune into 17:17 for a recap.
THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION
- In the economy of the future, traditional college degrees may no longer make financial sense. The cost of college is “increasing almost 8 times faster than wages,” according to Camilo Maldonado for Forbes. While Richard DeMillo, Director of the Center for 21st Century Universities at Georgia Tech makes a case for a different kind of education that is accessible to more learners and lasts throughout their careers.
THE FUTURE OF MEDIA
- “Print will be dead by 2021 and TV will be slowly killed… by TV,” anticipates Contagious editor Alex Jenkins. Even digital media disrupters are already suffering from the problems faced by traditional media. If you’re wondering about the Internet as a whole, see prediction number one.
THE FUTURE OF MARKETING
- Brands will be less relevant than convenient delivery mechanisms. Andre Redelinghuys, founder at Attention Lab, explains that we’ve already become too busy and overwhelmed to care much about brand loyalty and in the future, we’ll rely even more on reviews curated by trusted sources to simplify our decision making. He says, “Pipes are structural relationships… [that] are built on more vertically integrated distribution channels and behave more like utilities… Amazon is the ultimate pipe.”
I would argue that convenient delivery mechanisms will actually keep your brand relevant. Amazon is a brand, after all. And meaningful connections and experiences are becoming at least as important as convenience. Consumers will disregard inconvenience if we think it’s worth it. Take travel as an example. There’s nothing convenient about it, but we do it because we want the experience and connections we can’t get by staying at home.
Prepare to Adapt
In short, everything is changing, and we need to maintain our readiness to adapt.
The good news is that one of the best ways to predict the future is to shape it. We’ll have to address the coming complexities with strategic partnerships, so let’s shape it together.
How? By focusing on what has always been good for business: solving people’s problems.
Partnering with a strategic visual designer can help you to reach your audience and communicate the benefits of your solutions in a compelling package of story and design. Schedule a free 30-minute consult today.