It might just be the most difficult thing about being in business — although dealing with the present can also be daunting, as anyone who has ever attached their name to a venture knows.
Looking to the horizon and projecting what possibly lies beyond it is difficult, if not impossible. And the history of business and entrepreneurship is replete with examples of people not accurately reading the tea leaves.
Indeed, who can forget Digital Equipment Corp. co-founder Ken Olsen famously, or infamously, saying in 1977, “there is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.” Digital, as we all know, didn’t survive to see the end of the century.
And today, as the pace of technological advancement accelerates at previously unheard-of speeds, and with huge implications for business and society in general, anticipating the future and preparing for it is becoming that much more difficult.
It was with all this in mind that BusinessWest initiated a new series of breakfast lectures under the working title Future Tense, a name that certainly sets the tone (see story, page 10).
The first lecture, to be led by Paragus Strategic IT founder Delcie Bean, will be titled “An Unprecedented Technological Disruption,” and it will address a confluence of powerful forces and the ripple effects it will produce.
This program is certainly timely, and it coincides with a lively stream of commentary about technology and where it is taking the business world in the years to come.
Much of the speculation is about jobs and professions and what will happen to them as forces such as artificial intelligence, autonomous driving, and virtual reality rumble over the business scene like the glaciers rumbled over what is now North America millions of years ago. Only, glaciers moved very slowly; these forces will move at speeds we’ll have a hard time comprehending.
And this focus on jobs is understandable, especially as parents look not only at their own careers and how long they will be viable, but also at what their children should be thinking about as they mull possible career paths.
There is already widespread talk about how time-honored professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and, yes, even journalists, could soon be replaced by machines capable of doing their work. In fact, robots are already making their presence known in the operating room at many hospitals.
But beyond the obvious concerns about jobs and careers, there is the equally daunting issue of how businesses can anticipate change, operate in an environment of continuous and profound change, and even capitalize on some of this seismic activity.
Or, put another way, how do businesses avoid becoming the next supermarket parking-lot photo kiosks, Blockbuster Video franchises, and Digital Equipment Corporations?
Obviously, they must become flexible, cognizant of change, and fully aware that competition can come from virtually anywhere, and in the future, it probably will.
Beyond that, well, nothing is obvious.
That’s why the first lecture in the series, set for Feb. 22 at Tech Foundry, should be so intriguing — and also a little scary. The remaining quarterly lectures will be equally insightful, and equally important, for business owners looking toward tomorrow and what it might bring.
That’s why we called this Future Tense. As they say in the broadcast world, stay tuned.