April, 2013 - What We're Watching in the Practice

Here’s a quick synopsis of projects, presentations, and work we’ve done over the recent past. I’m also including some trends we’re seeing from the work. It’s been a hectic several months as we’ve found a permanent place to live in a new city, remodeled a dwelling, and settled into home and office.

These days a great number of economic forecasting assignments come my way and the last two months have been no exception. I was asked for three economic forecasts in agriculture, manufacturing, and construction. It’s encouraging to be able to pass along relatively positive news and projections for a change.

Heaviest implications – the effects of a major cybersecurity breach on national/regional economies. Three years ago I moderated and did the closing keynote presentation to the most influential global meeting of information security professionals. 90% believe a major breach is imminent. The Pentagon has ramped up tactics, “weaponized code” is loose on the Internet, information security is now mixed into global conflicts and efforts to prevent access to nuclear weapons. This is a big deal and surprisingly it goes unconsidered in most business planning.

Most overlooked development – the quiet but impactful use of robotics. The development of devices like Baxter and the continuing utilization of manufacturing robots has quietly cut into employment. Expect deeper cuts in the next ten years. With the price point dropping, capability rising sharply, and programming easier look for these intelligent machines to slide into society under the radar.

Trending upward – succession is taking the biggest uptick in my consulting assignments. Transfer of business, top management replacement, and governance are areas where I see rising demand. With Boomers flooding over the 65 age-line and smaller pools of obvious successors available this is going to occupy more of my time in the coming years.

Longer term and interesting – the extraordinary transition society will make as energy sources swing from fossil fuels to renewables. It’s obvious that the effectiveness and adoption of renewable energy sources is poised for a rapid spurt. Legacy businesses have not thought through the implications for their own fields. The swing will most probably take place in the next 15-20 years.

I believe it’s shrewd to have social media presence although how this field gels in the next five years is still uncertain. I like the utility of
Twitter as a scanning aid and I also post sporadically. It’s also interesting to watch who follows the posts. I make no effort to attract followers but I find myself following many who find my posts useful.

Prediction, Betting, & Forecasting

My scanning turned a media story recently about two presenters on the agriculture circuit who have been disagreeing about the future price of corn, making rival predictions, and backing up those predictions with a bet for $1000. I think this a microcosm of stupidity about the future. Yes, I’m invoking the s-word here.

One of these people will be right. One will be wrong. One will win. One will lose. And that’s exactly how NOT to look at the future. Too often I’ve seen organization leadership “make bets.” They roll the dice on what they believe will happen. When they’re wrong organizations collapse, people lose jobs, and assuredly investors lose money.

Prediction and betting are folly. No individual is prescient. It is the wrong example to set. Frankly, it smacks of the same arrogance that we saw in the last presidential campaign primaries when one candidate offered a $10,000 bet on a point of policy, labeling him as elitist and out of touch with mainstream America. It’s posturing, pointless, and doesn’t help the audiences they were in front of accomplish anything about understanding their future.

Over the last 5 years I’ve encountered one of the presenters, a “futurist.” After all, the only qualification to become a “futurist” in the US is to say you are one. That goes for me too. I’ve not been impressed with that fellow’s work. My respected colleagues in the futures field don’t predict. We forecast. We engage in useful foresight that changes with time and new information to help clients prepare and take action.

I can’t accurately predict commodity prices as to specific time and amounts. Neither can the two fellows who are making the bet. But what I can do is point up the key factors to observe, outline robust strategies to take, recommend a highly probably range in which a commodity might trade. Those pieces of information are much more useful to a listener than arguing over who’s going to win a bet.