As a kid, I remember watching “The Jetsons,” where Rosie the Robot took care of most of the family’s needs and George flew to work a few hours a week, as the household’s lone breadwinner in a world where the feminist movement never happened. That vision of the future was about as accurate as “The Flintstones” portrayal of early humankind.
But more than 50 years later, I have to acknowledge that “The Jetsons” got a lot of things right. Just to name a few, think of today’s increased automation, remarkably sophisticated robotics and artificial intelligence. The pace of change can feel daunting. And as business leaders, we are always looking to anticipate change and capture the opportunities it offers.
One thing that I’ve learned after investing in hundreds of smaller companies over the years at Riverside is that, today, every company is a technology company. Even if you’re managing a widget manufacturing factory, you won’t succeed without knowing how to harness the latest technology to improve efficiencies and production, find new customers, deliver product more quickly and anticipate customers’ needs. Today’s world changes too fast to do otherwise.
You even might have to reimagine what your company does. Amazon started as an online bookseller before becoming the nightmare of just about every type of brick-and-mortar retailer in the world. Imagine owning a taxi company just before Uber came out. These paradigm shifts are happening in many industries today. And even when the paradigm doesn’t shift, business models, competitive landscapes and value propositions do.
Author Salim Ismail’s compelling book “Exponential Organizations” covers this extensively. It’s full of ways the world is being turned on its head as technology rapidly improves and its costs plummet. He predicts that breakthroughs will continue to reshape our world and cause entire industries to collapse as others rise.
Ismail believes some radical things, but radical change has been the norm in the internet age. One is that energy will soon be nearly free, basing this on consistent improvement and corresponding price reductions in solar cells. The implications of free energy are astounding. Another is that self-driving cars will, within five years, dramatically shift how we build cities and have huge effects on the entire automotive industry.
Ismail is a professional futurist, and his predictions may or may not pan out exactly as he says, but change is already dramatically affecting the energy and automotive industries. It’s likely to continue and accelerate if history is a guide.
Hence, it’s imperative for us all to be futurists if we want to ensure the future success of our businesses. Today’s successful companies find, create or exploit the many opportunities technology affords.
Thinking about how technology will affect your business should be your priority when plotting the course for the future. It will be a huge part of your success or failure.
It has been famously said that “Making predictions is hard, especially about the future.” But it has never been more important. Keep innovating, fellow futurists.
Stewart Kohl is co-CEO at The Riverside Co., a global private equity firm based in Cleveland that has made more than 600 acquisitions and has in excess of $8 billion in assets under management.