Five quotes from business leaders that will make you think deeply about the future

Business leaders, especially those in tech, like to do a bit of crystal ball gazing and what they sometimes predict can be pretty eye-opening stuff.

It’s definitely worth paying attention to what these leaders say because they usually have a deep understanding of what’s going on in their fields and in the world around them.

Here are five quotes about the future from some of the world’s most provocative business thinkers, including Jack Ma, Jeff Bezos, Ginni Rometty, John Chambers and Elon Musk.

IBM chief executive, Ginni Rometty

“Everybody in this day and age says ‘I’ve got to be a tech company’. But when everyone’s digital, who wins? I believe digital, for all the hard work of putting it into our companies, is a foundation but it’s not the destination. That one thing that I believe is more transformative is this era of cognition … If you’re digital today you’ll be cognitive tomorrow. There’s zero doubt in my mind.”

Still coming to terms with the digital age? Ginni Rometty has news for you: it’s time to get cognitive. The IBM chief executive believes the companies that have successfully transformed in the digital age will continue to have to adapt or die as the cognitive computing era takes hold.

What exactly is cognitive computing? It’s the next step from people telling computers what to do, to computers being able to think for themselves, coming even closer to mimicking human brain patterns but on a far bigger scale. Business leaders like Rometty are saying cognitive computing will act upon the vast amount of data being generated through Internet of Things (IoT) applications in driving all sorts of innovations.

Former Cisco chief executive, John Chambers

“Forty percent of businesses in this room, unfortunately, will not exist in a meaningful way in 10 years.”

Need a wake-up call? Long-time Cisco chief executive John Chambers had one during his outgoing keynote speech for all those companies still meandering through the digital transformation: get with the program, or go the way of the dodo.

Driven by Chambers’ leadership, Cisco has positioned itself at the forefront of the IoT space. He says those companies that fail to grasp the exponential power and potential of IoT will quite simply fail to survive the next decade.

Alibaba chief executive, Jack Ma

“Over the next 30 years, with computing power as the new`technology breakthrough’ and data as the new`natural resource’, the landscape of retail, financial services, manufacturing and entertainment will be transformed.”

Jack Ma is at the centre of the great retail transformation of China. As the scale of China’s emerging middle class takes hold, we’ll see the great digital disruptions of the past 20 years ripple through China and the rest of the developing world. This will open up all sorts of new markets and opportunities for entrepreneurs who can use the “natural resource” of data around the world.

Tesla chief executive, Elon Musk

“There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation. Yeah, I am not sure what else one would do. I think that is what would happen.”

Elon Musk is right at the cutting edge of future technologies, from driverless cars to colonising Mars. However, he also sees the possible problems, like unemployment, that could arise from technologies such as automation. His mooted solution of a universal basic income would be radical at a political level but might be necessary in order to keep the wheels of the consumer economy spinning.

Amazon chief executive, Jeff Bezos

“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time.”

Jeff Bezos has plenty of thoughts and predictions on all the things that are going to change. However, he flips the idea of making predictions about the future by asking instead: “What’s going to stay the same?”

Bezos says people will still want great service and lower prices, which is what he builds his retail strategy on. Sure, the technology used to deliver that might change with artificial intelligence, drones and everything else, but the fundamentals of what customers want stays the same.

Want to know what Bezos was thinking about the future in 1997? Watch this video in which he predicts the future of Amazon and e-commerce.

Fi Bendall is CEO of The Bendalls Group, a business that leads STRATEGY : ADVOCACY : MOBILE delivering the business acumen to drive effective positive results in a disruptive economy for the C-suite. Fi has recently won a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence award. 


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