The Four Questions: How Will The Future Be?

There are four questions that most companies and individuals seek answers to:

1)    The Future: How will the future be?

2)    Change Management: How does one navigate change?

3)    Modern Leadership: How to lead in today’s landscape?

4)    Purposeful Growth: How does one grow/remain relevant?

Every Sunday for the past 48 weeks this letter has shared perspectives on these questions. Over the next four weeks a curated compilation of writing on these topics will be published.

Starting with a focus on the future.

Three probabilities about the future.

We are all interested in the future since we will be spending the rest of our lives there.

But the future is unknowable since it is yet to unfold.

However, are three very high probabilities about the future that we should heed so that we can better align and adapt to what is likely to occur.

1.     The future will not fit the containers of the past: From organizational structure to how markets are organized, the existing ways of doing business have been optimized on what has come before. The challenge for most of us is to realize that the future refuses to be contained in the containers of the past whether it be media, money, markets, or mindsets.

2.     The future will come from the slime and not the heavens: Future prognosticating is often aligned with crystal ball gazing, scenario planning and blue-sky thinking. We look ahead and above. We watch market leaders and todays visionaries and time after time we are surprised that the future did not come from where we were looking but from those we looked down upon or were outside the “velvet rope” or who never appeared on our radar.

3.     The future while challenging for some is likely to be much better for most: Someone said that they were not afraid of the future, but they were scared out of their minds by the headlines. What enrages powers the algorithms that are built on what engages. While there are real challenges and some segments of society and certain regions fail and slip back, history indicates that for humanity the future can be looked at with optimism.

Six Forces driving the future:

Everywhere in the world six unstoppable intertwined forces are shifting the very landscape that business and society have been built on.

1.     Multi-polar globalization: Globalization is here to stay but it will be no longer a western centric but a multi-polar form of globalization increasingly with an Asian flavor as China and India continue to rise.

2.     The Three Divides: Every country is dealing with three internal divides of age, ethnicity, and geography. In most advanced economies and China populations are both rapidly aging and also declining, creating new stresses and opportunities. The United States and Europe are dealing with multi-ethnic populations among younger generations that have different values than older generations and every country is seeing a schism between their urban and rural populations in economic outlook, voting patterns and even vaccination uptake.

3.     The Third Connected Age of Technology: Already Society has been greatly impacted by the First Connected Age where we connected to discover (Search) and connected to transact (E-commerce) and the Second Connected Age where we connected to each other (Social) and all the time (Mobile).

We have now entered Third Connected Age where we will enjoy four new types of connections as data connects to data and writes software (AI), and all our devices are connected to Supercomputers (Cloud), with much faster connections (5G) and new interfaces to connect (Voice/AR/VR).

The age we are going to enter will be both magical in what will become available to us as individuals (AI capability is supposedly doubling every 6 months vs the old Moore’s law of 18 months) but challenging on a Society level (anything a machine can do it will do and more and more things will be done by machines)

And with more powerful algorithms which will make today’s sinister newsfeed look childish fueled with the power of facial recognition, will we be entering a utopian or dystopian society or more likely a combination?

4.       A Re-wiring of health, education, and financial industries:  In many countries these areas account for over a third of their GDP and are filled with legacy structures and rules which are now being buffeted by a new generation of competitors, new enabling technologies, and a shift in mindsets among regulators and consumers. Even established firms are filled with leaders who understand the challenges and opportunities and the urgency to change and so one will see significant shifts in all these areas.

5.     Climate Change: Denying climate change is like denying gravity. It does not matter what we “think” for just like if we reject gravity, it will not prevent us from becoming a symphony of broken bones and goo if we step out of a multi-storied building to broadcast our “beliefs. “

Business and their Boards/ CEO’s take a leadership role on all forms of sustainability. They do this not only because it is the right thing to do but because without it no “Purpose Mantra” rings true and as importantly their customers, and their employees demand it. Big investment firms like Black Rock monitor it.

6.     Second and Third Order Effects of Vaccine Drives: Over the next two years different regions of the world will be vaccinated at different levels. One already sees the impact of differing rates of vaccines determining the outlook for society in the US where the vaccinated rates vary from 15% to 75% depending on the region. Now imagine Africa with only 1% and many Asian and Latin America countries in the single digits.  From travel to mutations the second and third order effects of vaccination drives will impact our near term and possible long-term future.

The Great Re-invention (The Impact of Covid-19 as an Ongoing Force)

Covid-19 has changed the contours of the future in ways that many of us may not be fully comprehending

After nearly eighteen months of fragility, resilience and in some countries resurrection, we are changed as businesses, as society and individuals.

And one would be short sighted in thinking that the key driver of Covid-19 is limited to an acceleration of digital channels and technologies.

It is far deeper.

There will be no new normal or going back but rather a new strange as we think anew for what is ahead as everyone re-thinks their lives, their careers, their leaders and re-evaluates what is important.

The signs are everywhere including the how companies are struggling to attract talent or get them back to the office. It is seen with a Microsoft study that indicates that 40 percent of workers in the USA are thinking of switching jobs.

The Transformed Talent Terrain

Five forces ricocheting off and re-enforcing each other are sculpting a new terrain.

1.Demographics: Most countries outside of Africa and the Middle East are aging as people live longer and there is less immigration and fewer children being born. This means more people are going to stay in the workforce longer. In addition, those aged under 34 having grown up in a very different economy (less growth and more shocks), technological (digital natives) and social set up (more liberal and more ethnically diverse) and have very different mindsets and expectations than those over 50 that might be currently leading companies and making up most of Board leadership.

2.Unbundled Workplace: Post vaccine the office is not dead but it will play a lesser role for a variety of reasons from talent preference to work part of the time from home or near their homes ( a third place that is not home or the old HQ office), a need for companies to either manage costs ( lower real estate costs) or be more aggressive in filling open roles and finding scarce expertise (allowing talent to live wherever they want), Covid-19 has made remote work a reality and very few companies will be able to compete for talent without being open to it.

3.Technology: While broadband technology, cloud-based computing, and communication software like Zoom and Slack have enabled remote work and collaboration we are on the cusp a quantum jump of enabling technology including integrated AI for improved competency, Voice and Augmented Reality for leaps in communication, and 5G for faster and more resilient connections.

4. Government and Policy: Most governments are tilting resources to labor and collective infrastructure rather than capital and private enterprise, recognizing that after years of disinvestment in society and poor market driven outcomes in some areas such as climate change the pendulum may have swung too far. It is also clear that company leadership is now being asked to take stands and work with, or influence government.

5. Culture: After a long while diverse voice and points of view are now both being heard and paid attention to all over the world as for too long too many talented people’s potential was never unleashed or recognized as well as many company cultures needed to be rethought to ensure greater fairness, equality, and opportunity.

The Future of Work

1.The nature of workWe are all going to be gig workers. The only difference is that the lucky ones will have longer, higher paying gigs with better benefits like a consultant at McKinsey or members of a movie/television crew who come together for as long as the project takes and then the disband and recombine in new ways on the next project. Many others will be working for Uber, Door Dash or on contract for tech and other companies (Google has many more contract workers than full time employees already and the divergence is growing). This change will be driven by employees wanting flexibility, companies wanting to make costs variable versus fixed, enabling technologies that allow for distributed and fractional work, as well as the shrinking half-life of skills that place a premium on plug and play work forces.

2.How work is doneAlmost all work will be instrumented and technologically augmented. Today everything is measured including page views and interactions with each piece written by an online writer, time spent answering a tele-marketing call or billable time spent by doctors in seeing patients or lawyers in seeing Clients. If there is an emission of data it will be used to stack, compare, enhance, iterate, and improve.

3. Where work is doneThe ‘office” of 2019 will become like a typewriter did three decades ago in the age of computers and Microsoft Office. A collectible and a romantic notion of a time past. Or movie theater chains believing that people will flock back to their locations to see movies at the same frequency as before despite every blockbuster being available at home the same day as part of subscription service

Ruptures in the Mediascape

Every decade or so there are significant shifts in the media landscape.

In the early 80’s we saw the birth of cable, the 90’s the beginning of the World Wide Web, less than a generation ago we witnessed the explosion in social media and the criticality of mobile phones as revolutionary creation, consumption, and distribution platforms/instruments.

We are now amid what maybe the most significant rupture in the mediascape whose implications on business and society are only beginning to be sensed. A rupture that is not just driven by advances in technology but a very deep wrinkle in the very fabric of every element of how media, messaging, content, information are created, designed, distributed, consumed, shared, and trusted.

Media is becoming mongrelized as the difference between offline and online media, above the line and below the line communication and audio/video/word blur. Even more importantly the differences between social, mobile, search and e-commerce make very little sense and yet so many organizations are set up this way. A shoppable mobile video with chat support belongs to which part of a marketer’s organization?

In addition to mongrel media another key change is determining who is a creator and what is a media company? In the United States nearly 50 million people define themselves as creators and Kylie Jenner’s Instagram gets more traffic than the Super Bowl and Oscars combined.

Add to this the rise of Voice (Amazon Echo, Google Home, Podcasting, Clubhouse), the emergence of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality and the renaissance of Out of Home as an electronic wired interactive media one can sense the entire media landscape is ready to rupture.

Here are links to posts on the Future. (Each a 6-minute read covering an area touched on above in greater detail)

The Future: https://rishad.substack.com/p/the-future

The River of Change: https://rishad.substack.com/p/a-river-of-change

The Great Re-Invention (Covid Impact): https://rishad.substack.com/p/the-great-re-invention

The Transformed Talent Terrain: https://rishad.substack.com/p/the-transformed-talent-terrain

The Future of Work: https://rishad.substack.com/p/the-future-of-work

Ruptures in the Mediascape: https://rishad.substack.com/p/ruptures-in-the-mediascape

Next week we address the second of the four questions is which is how do companies, teams and people navigate these changes?

Photography by Heiko Hellwig.

Rishad Tobaccowala (@rishad) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by HarperCollins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in and The Economist Magazine called it perhaps the best recent book on Stakeholder Capitalism. Business and Strategy named it among the best business books of the year and the best book on Marketing in 2020. Rishad is also a speaker, teacher and advisor who helps people think, feel and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at https://rishadtobaccowala.com/

Rishad Tobaccowala