Monday, June 16, 2008

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Every once in a while society and life seem to go through fundamental transitions. I’ve got a strange feeling that we are in the midst of one now, and that it may not be all that pleasant for us. Naturally, our current economic woes are cause for concern, but there are a lot of other current and emerging issues as well. If you look back over the last several years and then think about current issues and where they could lead, it can be rather sobering.

Over the last few years the U.S. has experienced the following;

  • Prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan increased political and fiscal stress
  • Sustainable building moved from the fringe to the mainstream
  • The price of oil jumped from $45/barrel to $138/barrel (as of this writing)
  • The housing boom went bust
  • Mobile communication became ubiquitous

I am not a fortune teller and, truth be told, I never go to the race track. Las Vegas only sees me when there is an air show in town, not a prize fight, and I’ve never won a lottery jackpot (have to play to win, right?). Never the less, I will take a shot at predicting the future (warning, some of these are intentionally “out there” in order to get your over the horizon perspective geared up).

As we look ahead to the next decade we can guess that some of the following may occur;

  • Emerging nations will continue to consume resources at an increasing rate, driving up the cost of goods even as U.S. consumption of strategic resources declines
  • Increased global demand, concerns over supply life cycle, and geopolitical issues maintain price pressure on oil
  • Global warming debate sees real international agreements to limit carbon dioxide emissions
  • A carbon credit arbitrage marketplace will emerge
  • Fundamental changes in workplace strategy will include incentives for those who use mass transit (somewhat common now), penalties for those who don’t (less common now but gaining momentum), and mandated telecommuting two days a week for some workers
  • Workplace strategy changes in turn contribute to a period of commercial Real Estate instability
  • Younger generations of workers will choose to live and play closer to work, causing a reversal of the “Burbs Boom” of the last century and helping to revitalize cities
  • Older workers exit the workforce en mass, creating knowledge gaps in companies and stressing social systems
  • Meaningful immigration reform will be adopted in some fashion
  • A major terrorist incident in the U.S. causes economic disruption and tighter security protocols
  • The U.S. airline industry, hammered by energy prices and reduced appeal of air travel, contracts to two major airlines
  • Private enterprise goes into space, taking tourists along for the ride

Looking still deeper into the crystal ball and gazing decades into the future, we might suspect that;

  • South America and Africa become economically and politically aligned with those who benefit them the most – the new super powers China and India
  • The U.S. loses its technological pre-eminence as the interest on a decades-long slide in the quality of education comes due
  • All of those unmanned exploration devices sitting on the surface of Mars will be visited by humans
  • Increasing influence of growing Muslim populations in western Europe increases social stress and emotionally charges policy debates
  • Someone is going to find a cure for cancer.
OK, you say, what does that have to do with me and my company? Why does an FM care about all of this economic and geopolitical stuff? Here’s why;

  • Your energy consumption may go down but the cost most certainly is going to go up
  • You will be challenged again and again to improve your environmental stewardship, including new reward and penalty systems for companies and individuals
  • The cost of construction will continue to rise as commodity prices are driven up by expansion in emerging nations
  • You will be challenged to provide better connectivity and collaboration tools that truly enable the any thing-any time-any place work model
  • Real Estate strategies will shift as fewer people are entitled to private work space
  • You will need to identify and “secure” future leaders much sooner than before
  • Cross-border/off-shore staff recruitment will be increasingly important
  • Teenagers will still be teenagers

Okay, maybe that last was a bit obvious, but you get my point. Despite all of the changes that will happen, life and business will go on …. and you will be challenged to keep pace with it, be a part of it, and even lead your organization through one of the most exciting times in human history

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