Understanding the future


Some entrepreneurs I know tell me that the future is overrated. “How can we expect to know what will happen tomorrow?” they ask.

Fact is, they can’t. No one can. There is no magic crystal ball. Yet understanding the future is critical to success in business – knowing what the competition might be planning, what new product might doom your line, what economic changes hold for your firm.

Predicting the future is NOT the critical factor. Understanding the future IS.

To understand the future, we simply connect things – ideas, people, technologies – to arrive at “possibilities,” ways in which the future might affect our business, influence buying habits or change our lives. Good marketers constantly scan the horizon for technological changes that may affect their business.

Today’s consumer suffers from Attention Deficit Economics. Inundated with advertising messages, upwards of 10,000 daily, your attention is constantly in demand. As marketers, we use posters, shelf talkers, door hangers, jingles, contests, dinnertime telemarketing calls and pop-up ads online. Anything to grab a few moments of your time.

Teenagers are probably best at multi-tasking, and even though we think it’s an ability that needs to be treated with Ritalin, it’s really the expected response for the world we’ve given them: everything happening at once, everyone demanding that we pay attention.

The most valuable commodity of all is not time, but attention. Increasingly, our attention can be bought, sold or traded.

Harness it

Imagine how you might apply that thinking to your relationships with your clients. How can you manage, or even control, their attention? Creating awareness for your product or service is only the first step. Getting them to listen to your message acknowledges that they are providing you with a valuable resource, their time.

This age of information makes experts of everyone. We can all be an authority. This can be dangerous because facts, manipulated to our own devices, can misrepresent anything.

For example, did you know that dihydrogen monoxide is a dangerous chemical found in most every home that causes thousands of deaths each year? It’s highly corrosive and especially hazardous to small children! Sounds dangerous, huh? Oops, it’s only water.

The facts are accurate, but the message is biased. The problem again is time. Despite the availability of information, we don’t always have the time to check the facts.

Perhaps most frightening of all, technology is making location unimportant. We have instant access to anybody, anywhere, through cell phones and cyberspace. We are no longer defined by our location.

In this new order of the future, everything is for sale (think eBay or Craigslist). Anything can be bought, sold or exchanged anywhere in the world. The old corner store is just around the planet.

Borders become muddled (think EU or NAFTA). We are no longer a culture of many. We are fast becoming a culture of one. A global culture.

Privacy is being redefined, too. With instant access comes instant accessibility. To our personal identification, our purchase history, our credit rating, our personal lives. We cannot even protect the borders that define who we are. Anyone with an internet connection can penetrate the façade.

Plan accordingly

Ultimately, the future will not come unexpectedly. It is, after all, an evolutionary process. We will still need food, clothing and shelter. We will still seek employment, advancement, enlightenment. We will forever face the same mundane, everyday problems we face today.

The answers will not come from where they might be expected. We seldom learn from the things we already know. And not all change is progress. If you can learn to combine technology and innovation with the best traditions of the past, change becomes easier to accept.   

The future may be overrated, but it’s the only one we’ve got.

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