Any experienced surfer knows how important it is to keep one eye fixed on the horizon. When a wave is still forming a long way off, that is the time to start paddling, to get into position and get ready. Leave it too long or fail to move at all, and you’ll be wiped out as the wave crashes you.
It’s much the same when looking to ride the waves of change. Smart leaders and organisations recognise how important it is to have one eye firmly fixed on what lies ahead. Failing to identify and prepare the waves of change will set any business or professional on a collision course with irrelevance — or annihilation.
In the words of London Business School professor Gary Hamel: “You can’t outrun the future if you don’t see it coming”.
Having spent much of the last decade interacting with and interviewing some of the world’s brightest and most visionary thinkers, I’d suggest there are at least four major disruptions looming that none of us can afford to ignore.
1. The rise of the robots
While the ethical and moral implications of artificial intelligence are still up for debate, what’s clear is this automation technology will dramatically impact every single one of us. A few years ago, researchers at Oxford found as much as 47% of employment had a ‘high risk of computerisation’ by the early 2030s — more than 64 million jobs in the US alone.
Computers are getting smarter with every passing day — some even predict that they’ll overtake human intellectual capacity by as early as 2029. In this brave new age of hyper-intelligent machines, it will be uniquely human capabilities like intuition, judgment, empathy and creativity that will matter most.
2. A world without drivers
Despite recent setbacks, the driverless age is far closer than most of us realise. Tony Seba and James Arbib of the think tank RethinkX predict that by 2027, 90% of passenger miles each year will be travelled in autonomous vehicles and many of those vehicles will not be owned by the ‘driver’.
Consider this: within 25 to 30 years, owning a car could be like owning a horse today — something you do if it’s a passion or hobby, but it’s not your primary mode of transportation. Barclays Capital forecasts US vehicle sales to decline by 40% by 2040.
And it’s not just the automakers who will feel the full force of this disruption — insurers, car finance companies, roadside assistance businesses, car hire operators and even the paid parking industry is set for a major shakeup.
3. 3D printing
While 3D printing is far from a new technology, the years to come will likely see 3D printing become mainstream in some powerfully disruptive ways. In their book Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler name 3D printing as one of the world’s most exciting new technologies — referring to it as the “democratisation of distribution”.
To see how 3D printing could change the game and tip the scales of power toward consumers, consider recent advancements in the printing of consumer goods such as shoes.
In the past few years, all the major shoe manufacturers have taken significant steps toward 3D printing. New Balance chief executive Robert DeMartini recently reported that his company is working on a design for 3D-printed running shoes: “We’re envisioning being able to print these in consumers’ homes,” he said.
The emergence of virtual currencies and the blockchain technology that underpins them represents the most significant change to financial services in decades and possibly centuries. While Bitcoin has had a spectacularly dramatic 12 months, the fluctuating value of cryptocurrencies isn’t where the real story is.
Known technically as ‘distributed ledger technology’, a blockchain is essentially a secure protocol where a network of computers collectively verify a transaction before it can be recorded and approved.
Blockchain will significantly impact the real estate industry as it will allow anyone to manage, track, and transfer land titles and property deeds — with no need for intermediaries or the fees they charge.
Other professionals including journalists, insurance brokers and academics will likely see the impact of Blockchain due to research-driven applications of the technology.
As we consider the road ahead, there is one great universal and levelling truth: the future will impact us all and only we can decide what sort of impact that will be. To paraphrase the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, resisting change is like trying to hold your breath – even if you’re successful, it won’t end well.
So get ready. It’s time to lift our eyes to the horizon and get in position to ride the waves of change that are already taking shape.