Once you have an opinion about what’s going to happen, you can no longer find things that are true, you only look for things that track your own opinion.
When I think about what helped me find success, what intrinsic qualities I had to have to do what I do -- which is study the future -- I know that one of the most important things I can bring to that is objectivity. Because once you have an opinion about what’s going to happen, you can no longer find things that are true, you only look for things that track your own opinion.
I have my own personal definition of disadvantage and it comes from my own background of growing up in foster homes in Brooklyn, New York. I never felt that I was disadvantaged because I was poor. My disadvantage as I grew up came from the fact that I didn’t know anybody who knew anybody, and from the fact that I had no role models. Nobody showed me what my future could be. I just knew that there were women who were teachers, women who were librarians, and women who were nurses. And it was kind of like if you wanted a career you could be one of those three and that was it.
As we head out into the future we know that we can predict certain kinds of disruptive technologies.
We were in the agricultural era for tens of thousands of years. We were in the industrial for two hundred. We were in the post-industrial for forty-five. In 1992, we moved into yet another phase, which we called the emotile. And we are now moving into another economy, which we call the metaspace economy. The real story here is that each time these fundamental transformations took place they were resolved in disruptive technologies that, not by themselves but in combination with other disruptive technologies, combined to change the way work was getting done, to create efficiencies, throw people out of work, but then went on to create whole other businesses.
So basically, the industrial age that was ushered in to create efficiencies in agriculture, through the steam engine bringing food to market, the machines that were the tractors, and so on. They went on to become industries in clothes washers and dryers, and hair dryers. That had nothing to do with efficiencies in agriculture, they just built whole other industries out of that. And the same thing with the post-industrial era, disruptive technologies came along in telephony and computing, and created efficiencies and robotics and automation, and we didn’t need all of those people on the factory floor. But whole other new businesses grew up around computing and telephony and so on.
The real key as we head into the future is that here’s an economy that lasted tens of thousands of years, then the disruptive technologies. Here’s another one that lasted for less than two hundred years, then the disruptive technologies. Here’s another one, the post-industrial, forty-five years, then disruptive technologies in 1992. And then we knew that we had till 2005 before we saw the new disruptive technologies take place. So in our business that was easily seeable to us; we weren’t surprised. So are you always surprised by disruptive technologies? No, but by a specific disruptive technology, possibly, but not the fact that they will happen and that they will combine to change the entire economy as we know it.
So as we head out into the future we know that we can predict certain kinds of disruptive technologies. We know that, for example, brain imaging will be a major disruptive technology in terms of the advancements that will be made there and how that will affect everything from marketing to education to even criminal justice. We know that the ability to harness nanotechnology—nano means billionths of—so in nanoseconds a billionth of a meter; a nanometer is a billionth—a nanosecond is a billionth of a second; a nanometer is a billionth of a meter. Harnessing things that fast and that small will be totally disruptive.
We have something coming along now, 3D Printing. So imagine your laser jet printer being able to make, you know, any article that you might have to go to a store for; and then also, to be able to make food. 3D Printers are now actually printing food. So that’s disruptive. Then if you take a look at what we call something that eyes glaze over when we say this, but we call it BAANGFUEL—B-A-A-N-G-F-U-E-L. And what that stands for is bits, atoms, antimatter, neurons, genes, frequencies and vibrations, and ultra and intraspectral energy, and light. What that really is talking about is the fact that we’re going to be combining organic and inorganic materials. We’re going to be creating things from the molecular level on up.
We’re going to be able to discover things in the light spectrum, frequencies and vibrations, that we have not harnessed before, and in combinations and in recombinations. These disruptive technologies in and of themselves will create even more massive disruptions as they combine, and the numbers of combinations there will be infinite. We know that we’re looking at disruptive technologies on so many fronts. So it’s not always easy to know or to name any one, but we know that in all of these tracks the disruptive technologies will be there.
Adaptability is going to be one of the most critical skills we can have in the future.
I honestly believe that there will be some kinds of skills that will always be required and they don’t necessarily need higher educational degrees. Those are the ones that must be delivered personally. You can’t outsource the plumbing in your house. You can’t outsource the fact that your electricity isn’t working. So we’re always going to need trades people close to home and we should never denigrate their value, because without them we are really stuck, and we know that because it’s so hard to get a really good one now.
So the future is not all about college education, higher education, things that can be outsourced, even at the more advanced levels. You could spend so many years developing the skills to become a radiologist, but if that can be digitized and it can be shipped anywhere in the world, then you are at risk in terms of what you thought was a great set of skills and competencies.
So in the end, if we were to come down to the few things that you would need, regardless of what the future is going to deliver, in order to be successful the most important one I would say is the ability to communicate. I don’t care if you intend to make pottery or run for the president of a country, if you can’t communicate—and it might not be in the same media that we use today—you cannot sell yourself. And if you cannot sell yourself, you will never be able to succeed and be the tops in your profession.
Beyond that, I think that adaptability will become a personal trait that will become so important for people, because you’re not going to be able to predict what’s going to happen next year. Nor will you have one job or one career your whole life, you’ll have many. Your social life will be in turmoil from time to time. Your geography will be unknowable. So to a certain extent, the ability to develop social schizophrenia, not clinical, because clinical schizophrenia is when your mind creates alternative worlds and as a result you can’t get on with real life. But social schizophrenia is the ability to constantly imagine yourself being something different, being somewhere different, earning something different, living somehow different.
Because if you can imagine it, if you can dream it, if you constantly play that game, whether it’s in virtual worlds or in your own brain, then when it happens to you, as it inevitably will, you will be much more capable of weathering it, surviving it, and going on. So I do think adaptability is going to be one of the most critical skills we can have in the future.
Edie Weiner is president of Weiner, Edrich, Brown, Inc., a leading futurist consulting group. Formed in 1977, WEB has served over 400 clients (corporate, academic, government) in identifying opportunities in the areas of marketing, product development, strategic planning, investments, human resources and public affairs. Clients have ranged from the U.S. Congress to many of the Fortune 500. She is acknowledged as one of the most influential practitioners of social, technological, political and economic intelligence-gathering.
At 29, Ms. Weiner was the youngest outside woman ever elected to a corporate board. She has been a guest lecturer at Wharton, Harvard, The U.S. Army War College, and a number of other universities. Her articles have appeared in numerous publications, including The Harvard Business Review, The Futurist, and The Wall Street Journal. She has co-authored four books with her partner Arnold Brown: Supermanaging (McGraw-Hill 1984), Office Biology (MasterMedia 1993), Insider’s Guide to the Future (Bottom Line, 1997), and FutureThink (Prentice Hall, 2006). She has keynoted over 300 conferences.
Throughout the 1990s, she founded and chaired the Esteem Teams, an innovative program in which dozens of inner city, at risk girls were mentored by executive women.
She serves on numerous Boards and Advisory Boards, including the US Comptroller General’s Advisory Board, Women’s Leadership Exchange, and The SyFy Channel. In the past, she has been on the Board or Advisory Board of the José Limón Dance Foundation (Chair), UNUM Corporation, First Unum Corp., CompUSA, the Fashion Group International, ThinkQuest New York City (Chair), Boardroom Inc., Independent Agents & Brokers of New York, and the Women’s Forum. Ms. Weiner is a member of the Women’s Forum, a co-founder of the Belizean Grove, the first recipient of the Fashion Group International’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award (1998), NOW New York’s 2011 Woman of Power and Influence Award, and The World Future Society’s 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award.