Book Review: Future, Inc.January 9, 2007
One of the biggest business lessons of the late 1990s and early 2000s came from teenagers using the Internet to trade music digitally, costing record companies millions of dollars. Caught off guard, the record companies ended up having 15-year-old kids arrested—not exactly the ideal way to interact with your target demographic.
In his new book Future, Inc., futurist Eric Garland says the record companies should have seen it coming, but they were too interested in working their traditional business model to notice a threat coming from a seemingly unrelated industry (computers). Similar (although less publicized) situations happen all the time in business, and the companies that avoid getting caught flat-footed are the ones who know enough to make educated guesses about the future. By doing so, they stay ahead of the curve, revamping their business models in advance to meet the changes head-on, or using the knowledge to launch new products or services that fill a coming need.
With Future, Inc., Garland gives you a double-dip toward predicting the future and getting out in front of it. First, he offers a wealth of ideas on how you can predict the future of your particular industry. Second, he offers his own take on today’s biggest trends and where those trends might be leading us.
How can you predict the future of your business? Garland offers a number of factors for you to analyze, and then suggests ways to put them together and make educated guesses. The issues that affect your business are not just about your current competitors. New technologies, government regulations, economic trends, environmental factors, politics, your company’s local community—any or all of these could affect what happens to your company.
As an example, Garland picks the chocolate industry. What if, thanks to the trends of increasing litigiousness and the epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes, the chocolate industry found itself increasingly under attack, thus damaging sales while costing companies millions in legal fees? How would those companies react? What could they do to get ahead of that trend?
(Another example that comes to my mind would be the fact that some companies that had long enjoyed their treatment by the Republican majority in Congress should have been preparing for expected changes if the Democrats were to take control. )
While Garland suggests ways to predict the future, he also cautions companies not to get caught up in media hype. Carefully analyzing what is happening through the use of multiple, reliable sources can help you better assess the market of today and tomorrow.
To help you on your predictive path, Garland uses the second half of the book to point out current trends, where they may be headed, and what risks/opportunities each presents. Among the issues he raises:
- the effects of an aging population
- rising costs of health care
- ever-increasing computing power with ever-smaller chips
- biotechnology breakthroughs and the ethical questions they raise
- the environment
You can probably easily cite some issues around these topics. The need for alternative energy sources, cloning controversies, people living longer and longer but the costs to keep them alive growing larger and larger—Garland discusses these and more, but offers thoughts on consequences you may not have considered.
Garland’s writing style is accessible and easily understood, not overly scholarly as books of this nature sometmes are. And, by combining his research on macro trends with a detailed plan for do-it-yourself futurism, Garland goes beyond telling you what’s coming—he makes the book a resource that you can return to repeatedly. Even when the trends he speaks of become dated, the methods used to make smart choices about the future will remain relevant.
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