Fourteen Future Trends for Business in 2009 and Beyond

Global shifts will cause a new social order to emerge

Thomas Frey: As I started pulling my notes together for 2009 trends, I instantly became overwhelmed by the sheer volume of changes currently in the works. The number of moving parts seems to exceed the number of stationary parts. All of our markets, systems, and technologies have become incredibly fluid, and much like a floating vessel, we are heading to parts unknown.

To a futurist, the chaotic nature of interconnecting trends and the extreme possibilities appear at times like a spinning compass needle. The disarray that we find ourselves in cries out for answers – some glimpse of the uncharted waters that lie beyond the horizon. So I’ll give it my best shot.

1.) Desynchronization. Different aspects of our society are moving at radically different paces. Businesses that are flying executives around the world, marshalling resources to capitalize on new opportunities, and working teams 24-7 to meet deadlines, face a rude awakening when they have to interface with a government agency operating at a pace that makes a turtle yawn.

In his recent book Revolutionary Wealth, Futurist Alvin Toffler describes how the desynchronization of society has created more and more speed bumps along the fast lane, and with a nearly unlimited set of options for circumventing anything that slows them down, systems are becoming marginalized at a record pace.

While the radical pace differential is not just between government and business, it is precisely this desynchronized relationship that is driving the disruptive changes we’re seeing around us, the most radical of which are happening on a governing level.

Much like laminar airflow coursing over the fabrics of society, we are first seeing a “peeling apart” of business, industry, and social structures. This “peeling apart” is creating a number of vacuum spaces between the rising gaps in the social structure. While disruptive on one level, these vacuum spaces also create an array of new opportunities for business and industry.

The stage is set for myriad transitions to begin to shape an era that has not only become unrecognizable to generations past, but implausible as well.

More than ever, the world is looking to the US for leadership as they find themselves lost in the wake of the storm.

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2.) System Crisis. The incoming Barack Obama team will bring fresh new energy to Washington but we will find them spending the majority of its time in a reactive mode as opposed to a proactive mode.

Many of the global systems we currently have in place are on the verge of breaking. Most global systems have evolved out of a patchwork of kluged-together national systems, and have not been designed to properly manage the speed, volume, and excessive nature of today’s society. We are in need of a complete systems overhaul, transitioning us from national systems to global systems

Because we have had little ability to experiment with new systems in the past, we will be taking blind shots in the dark, best-guessing our way forward. National systems will fight to survive, but will flounder because of complexity overload. It has become all too apparent: If we don’t change our systems, our systems will change us.

Look for major failures to occur in most systems over the coming years including our tax systems, justice systems, social security, monetary systems, and much more. On the flip side, also pay close attention to the opportunities these failures will create.

3.) The Coming “Empire of One.” As a general rule, 7 percent of the recently jobless will attempt to start their own businesses. While those who create our next breakaway success story will be but a tiny fraction of this phenomenon, we will see a strong entrepreneurial push and a realignment of the systems supporting entrepreneurs.

With financial markets being pinched, the most popular form of startup will the Empire of One, one-person businesses with far reaching influence. Technology is driving a trend of placing unprecedented power and capability into the hands of the individual. That trend coupled with skyrocketing costs of employment make this a perfect environment for a no-employee business to thrive.

Look for rapid growth of support structures, management systems, and outsourcing options. Even colleges and traditional business schools will see this emerging trend and start to teach courses on one-person entrepreneurship.

4.) Business Colonies. The movie industry has long used a project-based business model where talent swarms and forms around specific projects. Directors, cameramen, lighting specialists, scriptwriters, and makeup artists all form around the production of a movie or television show. Once the project is complete, workers swarm and form around another project.

Business colonies will emerge as next generation, industry specific incubators with an economic development component added in. Colonies, such as nanotech colonies, gamer colonies, and alternative health colonies, will be formed in cities to serve as an industry focal point and breeding ground for startup businesses. Owing to their nature, colonies will be both virtual and physical, but people living and working in close proximity to the colony will derive the most benefit.

Colonies will form around shared resources. Equipment that is too expensive for one person to own will be owned by the colony for all to share. Colonies will vary in size and structure as communities begin to experiment with the essential ingredients needed to make it successful.

5.) Smart Electrical Grid. In September, Google and General Electric CEOs Eric Schmidt and Jeffrey Immelt proposed the idea of creating a “smart” electric power grid to promote clean energy. Their plan is to create a grid that uses electricity more efficiently and allow more power generation from cleaner sources.

However, both concur that public policy is a major impediment to building a 21st century electricity system and the benefits of renewable electricity cannot be fully realized without updating US power transmission lines into a “smart grid” that lets people track and control what types of power they use as well as when they use it.

Yes, this may be a self-serving play with GE positioning itself to receive many of the major construction contracts and Google could profit as the designer of the overall operating system. The clout of these corporate giants along with stimulus money flowing toward key infrastructure improvements could push this proposal to center stage in the coming year.

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