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Predicting Your Business Future

  • Get free access to this year’s Emerging Tech Trends Report to help shape your future business plans.
  • You can be a futurist too with this set of “easy” instructions.
  • Learn more about the “judge-y garbage can” and what it could mean for your future insurance payments.

While no one has a crystal ball for predicting the future, Amy Webb, Founder and CEO of the Future Today Institute (FTI) does her best to approximate one. The team of “futurists” at FTI attempt to prepare leaders and their organizations for whatever the future might hold. The organization tracks signals and trends to help companies, organizations, and governments prepare for upcoming opportunities. The company is very clear – it does not make predictions; it makes projections. And based on those projections, many large corporations place their future bets. New products. New investments. Hedging of certain bets. The application of risk mitigation strategies.  

But it’s not just large organizations. Anyone can access the tremendous amount of information available in the organization’s reports. This year, FTI’s annual report (free and openly downloadable from the FTI website) analyzed almost 500 tech and science trends. The 14th annual Emerging Tech Trends Report comprises 12 separate reports and also includes a tremendous amount of information on the organization’s methodology.

Lioness Magazine reached out to FTI and spoke directly with Webb. COVID had an out-sized impact on female-heavy industries (retail, food service, education). Hundreds of thousands of women have “stepped back” from their jobs or businesses due to childcare and family needs. Others are struggling and looking to pivot, or perhaps do more with side hustles. We hope we can give our readership valuable insights they can use as we come out of the pandemic economy.

The question is the thing

When it comes to gender differences in the futurist business, Webb points to her experience presenting to senior executives. She has noticed that men usually ask fewer questions, even when she is certain the information she is presenting involves new, perhaps unknown phrases and terminology. “Deep neural net” anyone?

“Women tend to ask more questions,” says Webb. “Women ask questions out of curiosity. They are looking for insights. But asking questions is a tricky situation. It can look like women are asking questions out of ignorance.”

A big part of Webb’s job is asking questions. She acknowledges that she is in a privileged position as a senior executive herself. She has nothing to prove and, “This is what I do. And, I’m not trying to sell my company to anyone.”

So, one of the things the FTI did was to add questions to its reports. Each segment of the report contains strategic questions everyone should be asking whether they work in a small company or an enormous one.

Give me a quick look at those big future trends

The FTI Emerging Tech Trends Report for 2021 “suffered” from an “explosion” of signals: COVID changed everything; the aftermath of the US elections; China; the economic downturn. And so, the 2021 FTI Emerging Tech Trends Report became 12 separate reports on everything from AI trends in health and medicine; to synthetic content and media; smart fitness and glasses, watches and other wearables; smart homes; rollable screens; privacy and security; blockchain; cryptocurrencies; robotics and drones; climate change, synthetic biology and so much more. The Report also contains a Book Zero, which share’s FTI’s methodology and shows how they did the work.

This information is gold for savvy entrepreneurs and business owners. You never know where an idea will plant a seed, or why. Without further ado, let’s get started. How about with “A”?

The A-B-C-D of trends

A is for artificial intelligence or AI. FTI’s Report offers an AI primer for leaders. According to Webb, the use of AI has accelerated, and we all need to have the vocabulary and the knowledge to know what we’re dealing with as we navigate the technical landscape. Companies are using AI in a wide variety of products. According to the report, “AI is now used across most industries. It solves business problems, detects fraud, improves crop yields, manages supply chains, recommends products, and even assists designers and writers in their work.” To put it another way, people are using AI all over. Webb, “Your email has AI. It’s not that big a deal.” How might you use artificial intelligence to improve your product, or the experience of your customer or simply make your business more efficient?

B is for buying stuff. The pandemic changed everything about how we purchase goods and services. As a businessperson, you need to understand the new supply chains and purchasing patterns. Webb uses eye doctors as an example. Maybe you used to sell glasses to patients as part of their office visit. With telehealth people can easily buy their glasses somewhere else. Since they are never entering your office you don’t have the chance to sell to them.

C is for Cyber-attacks. With everyone suddenly working from home and most companies behind the curve in terms of data transformation, security has been hard-pressed. FTI has been urging companies to get their executives up to speed, fast, and make sure they have a strategy in place.

D is for doctors. While Webb is surprised by very little (it’s her job to see things coming) she does point to what she calls the “stunning speed of regulatory change” due to the pandemic. The changes in regulations create security issues but also huge opportunities for anyone whose business is HIPAA-regulated. Webb also points to another interesting signal specific to our healthcare: Amazon Care will be available across the entire U.S. this summer, offering individuals and families immediate access to high-quality medical care and advice — every day, around the clock. Between the pandemic shifts and new offerings, telemedicine is suddenly in every home.

Should/Could you be a futurist too?

Strategic foresight reduces uncertainty about the future. It’s about preparation, not predictions. According to FTI, companies with a dedicated strategic foresight methodology and resources outgrew their competitors by 200 percent. Companies say that strategic foresight improves business objectives and planning, helps define new markets, and builds flexible mindsets among executives, even in times of deep uncertainty.

The FTI Emerging Trends Report shares guidance on how to perform some of these functions for your own business. The key to being a futurist is to keep your eyes and ears open. Watch for the signals, trends and triggering events, and think how they apply to your business. Keep in mind, people tend to over or underpredict change due to their own expectations and beliefs.

As you look at possible future scenarios for your business, understand that the farther out you go from today, the more likely a scenario is to be simply possible versus probable. Think about long- and short-term possibilities at the same time and you can plan better. And speaking of plans, all the awareness of signals and trends isn’t useful unless strategic action of some kind is taken.

What if? A way of looking at the future

After reviewing the reports and talking with Webb, we can’t stop thinking about some of the ideas she shares. (Part of the official futurist job description must be a predilection for science and dystopian fiction…and a sense of humor.) At this year’s SXSW virtual event Webb demonstrates how we can extrapolate out from the signals and trends she shares.

For example, she says, “How amazing would it be to have a garbage can that ‘knows’ you just threw out an empty container of a staple item of food, and orders more? You’d never run out of anything.”

But the talk grows dark quickly. What if that same garbage can is making judgments about what you consume? When you throw out an empty bag of potato chips, it instead orders some carrots. And your health monitoring devices know if you eat the carrots or not. (Webb calls them punishment groceries.) If you don’t eat your carrots, your insurance costs more. If you’re rich enough, you can eat whatever you want without a care. We already have examples of this kind of thinking in safe driving devices that consumers allow insurance companies to install in cars in exchange for a discount. What does this mean for your healthcare app or your company that makes “smart” household devices?

(Side note. Did you know that many Americans will sell their DNA for just $99? Webb says a study that asked us to put a value on our DNA showed that we undervalue our own worth and underestimate how much can be done with this data.)

Shining a spotlight on women

As a woman-owned and led company, FTI makes an effort to support other women entrepreneurs. As you read the reports you will notice that most of the people featured in the case studies and examples are women. By shining a spotlight on women and their companies, FTI helps everyone find them.

Webb says, “The more we normalize women in the boardroom and the C-suite, especially outside of traditional gendered industries, the better.” A great sentiment for Women’s History Month, although Webb suggests that in the future we might consider a Women MAKING History Month.

Let us know what you learn about the future of your business and your industry in the comments below.

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