It's a rough economy out there, but even scarier than the persistent threats of recession, deflation, countries defaulting on their debt, governments' inability to balance the budget and other boogie people is the pace of change itself.
If you are a business owner looking to adapt, or if you are an unemployed corporate executive trying to figure out where tomorrow's job opportunities will be, everything's changing so fast, and the world economy's so volatile, that it seems impossible to prepare and plan.
Having said that, though, there are some ongoing changes in our economy that most people agree will probably continue well into the future. These changes, about which entire books have been written, can be easily summarized in 12 little words. Commit them to memory. Write them down on Post-it Notes. Put the notes up on your computer, your refrigerator door or somewhere else where they're readily visible, and read them at least once every day. Once you memorize them, recite them like a mantra, and plan your business or career future with them in mind.
"The Future Is Digital." Make no mistake about it. Brick-and-mortar businesses in just about every industry are succumbing to the siren pull of the internet. Business models that have been around for decades, even centuries, are slowly but surely disappearing into the cloud, never to return to planet Earth. Most of the work you do for your clients will probably be done by software bots in 10 years' time — a lot faster and probably a lot better.
Sooner or later there will be a virtual solution for whatever you do at extremely low cost, and you won't be able to compete.
—Stores that cash checks: not necessary in an era of digital payments and debit cards.
—Attorneys, accountants and financial advisors: There are websites with prepared forms you can access for free (or for pennies).
—Printed books and periodicals: Every time I board an airplane, I see more and more Kindles and iPads and fewer and fewer dead trees.
—Retail and distribution outlets: It's much quicker, and more convenient, to shop online than to navigate your local mall — and you can even get free shipping.
Look at your kids or grandkids at work and at play. They grew up with the web and video games. Everything they touch is digital. They are the future. Pretty soon (if not already), they will form the core 18- to 35-year-old demographic everyone panders to. That pandering will take place in cyberspace.
"The Future Is Global." State and national boundaries are meaningless in an era where I can order something directly from an online merchant in Bangladesh who has no physical presence in North America, or outsource a key part of my business to a country whose citizens don't even speak English. Two-thirds to three-fourths of the world's population is joining the world economy for the first time in human history. Sooner or later, wealth will be more evenly distributed throughout the globe, and few countries or continents will have a competitive advantage over others. Except where access to local natural resources is critical, any business will be able to be conducted anywhere on Earth.
"The Future Is Freelance." The concept of employment as we know it probably won't exist in coming decades, or if it will, it probably will be viewed as a steppingstone to something else. The corporate career ladder will disappear. Instead, people with marketable knowledge and skills will bid to participate in specific projects hosted by companies — or teams — that are more or less virtual. They will float from project to project (or work on several projects simultaneously), from company to company as independent contractors, picking up experience and learning points that will enable them to bid competitively on progressively more advanced — and, therefore, more lucrative — projects. When they get tired of doing that, they will form virtual companies and begin soliciting virtual teams of their own.
"The future is digital. The future is global. The future is freelance": 12 little words that can give you real insight into where future opportunities lie.
So how do you take this and translate it into a real action plan? Simple: by recognizing that because you can't beat these trends, you had better join them. Now's a good time to sit down at your computer with a blank word processor page and a VSOP brandy or single-malt scotch and ask yourself the following questions:
How can I adjust what I do to fit a more digital, global, freelance world?
How can I help individuals and businesses adjust to this world?
I don't know the answers any better than you do (although I have some ideas). What I can tell you is that the answers, once you find them, are the business opportunities of the future. The people who will make money, survive, thrive and prosper in the coming century are those who find the answers, and act upon them.
Cliff Ennico ([email protected]) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series "Money Hunt." This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our webpage at www.creators.com.