A famous quote says “Prediction is very difficult, especially when it concerns the future” and yet the human kind never resisted the temptation to fantasize about it. The funny thing about predicting the future is that we surprisingly…generally get it right! Some details might be hard to foresee but we tend to get the big picture quite accurately. Another famous quote says “50 years ago people thought in 50 years we’ll have flying cars”. Instead we now have Twitter and Facebook. We were right about the computing power. But we were wrong about how it would be used. Big picture, we got it!
It looks like there’s a theme in all predictions regarding the future. We tend to get right the general trend that technology will be more prominent, but we tend to be not so accurate in how it will be deployed. So, what lessons can we derive from this?
It is going to be a technology-driven future. Does it mean you’ll need a computer science degree? Not necessarily! Just be more aware of it and what it implies. We’ll focus on some of those business-related effects that we’ll probably see, in an accelerated pace in the future. And because we’re moving fast into the future and don’t have time, we’ve selected just two main topics: speed and people.
Each cycle will become ever shorter. No more 12-month plans, forecasts or projections. Whatever you plan to do in the future will probably be obsolete by the time you launch it. Hopefully some late adopters will still be willing to buy it. Early adopters will probably know less and less what they really want. So, businesses better learn to experiment. Trial and error. Fail fast. Prototypes. And once you’ve got it, make sure to put it on the market very fast as it is quite likely that somebody is working on something very similar on the other side of the world. Agile approaches, which are very popular these days, are very helpful in this aspect. They allow you to get closer to your customers in order to understand what they really want. You can then deliver slices of that product incrementally and iteratively thus increasing the speed of product delivery.
Who needs people when you have robots, AI, and algorithms doing everything for you? Even if you want to join the game, it will be hard or impossible to keep up with all the knowledge constantly generated. Do not despair, there’s a glimmer of hope for all of us. Due to this increasing complexity, we need to pick a very narrow niche and dive into it very deep. Become the highest expert or professional you can possible be. But it is not just the depth. It is also the understanding of where our deep skills fit into the grand architecture of things and how we can contribute to the overall value creation. Why is this relevant? Because only through expertise and deep knowledge will we be able to add some value to the end product. In fact, value-adding might be just the one skill (is that even a skill?) to make us useful, desired and … employable! Again, turning to Agile should help again. Lean/Agile philosophy advocates cross-functional teams of generalizing specialists who are self-organizing to deliver value to customers.
As this future-visioning exercise may have come across as a bit depressing, let’s finish on a positive note. The reality is that nobody knows what the future will bring. But, by analogy with the past we can undoubtedly suppose that it will be great. Until now every moment in the present proved to be better than the past. We’re having the best time in the history of human kind. We have all the reasons to believe the future will be even better.