Friday, August 22, 2008

A Peek into the Extreme Future

This afternoon I attended the SIM Annual Management Lecture 2008 at the Raffles City Convention Centre, Singapore. The keynote speaker was Dr James Canton, reknown global futurist, social scientist, author and sought-after business advisor. He is also CEO and Chairman of the Institute for Global Futures. His books include "Technofutures" and "The Extreme Future". I had skimmed the latter title last month (see my blog entry of 23 July), and found its coverage quite wide-ranging and insightful, so was looking forward to hearing from the guru himself.

In an interesting two-hour talk, entitled "The Extreme Future: Top Trends That Will Shape the 21st Century Global Marketplace" (based on his latest book), Dr Canton described the "Extreme Future" as a highly multi-dimensional world of complex trends. The key challenge for business and government leaders is to anticipate, navigate and change the future. Also the convergence of two or more trends is where opportunities (or threats) are most likely to arise.

Dr Canton shared seven trends that shape the future marketplace:-

(1) demographics

Global population has doubled over the past 45 years. Demographic changes directly gives rise to situations such as "aging boomers & "youth boomers" (creating opportunities for lifestyle products & services), global talent wars and explosive consumer purchasing demand. Rapid urbanization leads to mega-cities, most of which will be in developing countries by 2015. Worldwide by 2020, there will be some 50 mega-cities with more than 10 million people each.

(2) globalization

Most of the world's economies are inter-connected, forming a so-called "global village". Beyond economic integration, globalization can also be seen in greater political engagement, technological connectivity, personal contact and quality of life (see "The Extreme Future", Plume paperback edition, page 200). The rise of China and India is having huge repercussions on the world economy and society in general. With 1.3 billion people in China and 1.1 billion in India, these to nations represent the world's largest and second largest consumer market in the future, and together make up 1/3 of the global population. These developing countries also provide a willing, lower-cost workforce ready for the world (see next trend).

(3) workforce

The future of workforce will be defined by talent more than by geography. By 2015, the US workforce will have 14 million more jobs than workers and this will pose a restriction to US competitiveness. Hence the search for innovative talent will drive global outsourcing - not just the search for low costs.

The situation in many developing countries, for instance China and India, is quite the opposite. With a huge working population and relatively limited job opportunities, it is perhaps not surprising to hear statistics such as a million people a day walking into cities looking for jobs and other opportunities. And many of these talents would cross borders to find work, or else perform outsourced & offshored jobs from other countries like the US or Europe. Talent is mobile.

Organizations today are not preparing for and changing fast enough to compete for talent. The ability to attract and retain talent is the key to competitive advantage. Period. Ongoing future challenges include dealing with a culturally diverse, global and aging workforce.

Dr Canton even predicted that in the not too distant future, Singapore will be outsourcing to the USA.

(4) innovation

We are increasingly living in an Innovation Economy. Innovations will continue to come even faster, and likely even more radical than ever before. Today, more than 1/3 of the US GDP is innovation-driven, ie. based on innovation industries. The new building blocks of the Innovation Economy are bits, atoms, neutrons and genes. Building on this, the breakthrough innovations in the Four Power Tools (IT & networks, nanotech, biotech and cogno/neurotech) will create widespread global prosperity. Dr Canton emphasised that willingness to embrace innovation is key to competitive success. He also reminded the audience of the concept of Innovation Darwinism, ie. you need to innovate, adapt or you DIE.

(5) security

Sharing his "Securing the Future" Future Map, Dr Canton spoke about threats and opportunities related to Crime, Terror, Tyranny, Rogue Tech, Climate and Cognitive Liberty. Specifically he touched on an uptrend in cybersecurity, increased incidence of rogue players, and geopolitical risk analysis. Globally the security market is valued at around $80 billion.

(6) energy

A "Fueling the Future" Future Map was briefly shared, which touched on issues and options related to the "End of Oil" (or at least the era of cheap oil is over) , Nuclear, Geopolitics, Solar, Hydrogen, Biofuels, Wind, Nanotech, Security and Terrorism. The point emphasised here was that energy is a national security issue, and that we need to invest in new energy sources.

(7) climate

Climate change is real - there's no denying it. World temperatures are rising. Fixing the problem will be hard and long-term. Climate change will threaten national security, global prosperity and peace.

Future Readiness
Next Dr Canton touched on "future readiness", or the key skills one needs to have to be better prepared for this Extreme Future. For business and government leaders, he shared what he called his "21st Century Leaders' Playbook", which included his recommendations to:
  • Embrace radical innovation (you don't need to understand every radical innovation to monetise it)

  • Anticipate your customers' futures (by asking them questions such as: how is your business / industry changing? what do you think you will be selling in ... years?)

  • Understand desire, shape it and deliver to satisfy it

  • Understand the evaluation of value (business is in evolutionary change, and so is perceived value)

  • Understand that all business is going to be knowledge-engineered

  • Understand that collaboration wins

  • Not to wait until everything is perfect before taking action. Just go do it.

  • Develop a predictive awareness (ask what/who you are not listening to? ask what's missing?)

  • Pay attention to "edge culture" (defined as some groups, things you are probably a little uncomfortable with. Listen to "weak signals".)

  • Accept hyper-change (eg. from non-traditional competitors, potentially disruptive)

  • Invest in your future
Overall it was a good lecture - well delivered, good content (useful framework, relevant examples and solid research) and thought-provoking. SIM should be congratulated and thanked for bringing in yet another thought leader to jog strategic thinking and inject new ideas among the public and private sector community.


Anonymous said...

Good useful notes. I think Ill go find his book.

Anonymous said...

Seems to be many famous management gurus in Singapore. Kenichi Ohmae was also running a workshop in Sentosa.

Anonymous said...

Also check out Patrick Dixon's work. He's a British futurist.