Any experienced surfer knows how important it is to keep one eye fixed on the horizon.
While a wave is still forming a long way off, that is the time to start paddling, to get into position and get ready. Leave it too long or fail to move at all, and you’ll be wiped out as the wave crashes you.
It’s much the same when looking to ride the waves of change.
Smart individuals recognise how important it is to have one eye firmly fixed on what lies ahead. Failing to identify and prepare for the waves of change will set any business or professional on a collision course with irrelevance or annihilation.
In the words of London Business School professor Gary Hamel, “You can’t outrun the future if you don’t see it coming.”
Since he has spent much of the past decade interacting with and interviewing some of the brightest and most visionary thinkers on the planet, none of us can afford to ignore his comment as it defines the coming 10 to 15 years.
1. A world without drivers
Despite recent setbacks, the driverless age is far closer than most of us realise.
Tony Seba and James Arbib, of the think tank RethinkX, predict that by 2027, 90% of passenger miles each year will be travelled in autonomous vehicles and that many of those vehicles will not be owned by the “driver”.
Instead, this 90% of travel will be done in driverless Uber-style vehicles, which will make up 60% of the vehicles on the road.
Even if Seba and Arbib are a few years off in their prediction, what’s clear is that transportation is about to change forever.
Consider this: in a driverless age you may never pay to park your car ever again.
Instead, your vehicle may drop you at the desired destination and then head off to a designated wait area or perhaps even drive home only to return and pick you up when you need it.
The car insurance industry specifically is set for a massive shake-up as driverless cars become mainstream.
After all, if you do happen to be unlucky enough to have an accident in an infinitely safer driverless vehicle, who will actually be at fault? By extension, what would the purpose of car insurance be?
KPMG estimates that as much as 80% of auto insurers’ revenues could evaporate in coming decades.
2. Subscription-based mobility
While the auto industry is already gearing up for the driverless age, another trend is set to significantly disrupt the status quo in the coming years – that of car subscriptions.
Iconic automakers GM and Volvo have recently spearheaded the trend offering Netflix-style subscription plans for car ownership.
GM’s program is known as the “BOOK by Cadillac” initiative. This service gives members access to a fleet of cars for $1500 a month – a fee that covers all the costs of car ownership but without the liability of owning the asset.
While initially only available in the New York metro area, the program is set to be rolled out in Los Angeles and other major markets in the near term and represents a radically new approach to car use.
Indicative of how significant this trend could be for the auto industry, Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson has said US vehicle sales will likely decline by 40% by 2040.
3. A truly cashless society
Imagine a world where you enter a retail store and are instantly identified by your mobile phone.
Your preferences, credit card details and buying history are immediately recognised along with your identity and, from that moment on, the entire in-store experience is customised to your needs and desires.
When you are finished shopping, there are no cash registers, no lining up to pay for your goods: RFID tags in the packaging of every product mean your shopping tally is calculated as you walk past sensors near the exit and the amount owing is immediately charged to your default credit card.
Sound fanciful or futuristic? Well, this is almost precisely the automated retail experience shoppers are already enjoying in Amazon’s bricks-and-mortar retail stores, which opened to the public in mid-March 2018.
While this technology relies on customers’ smartphones as the primary interface for retail automation, we are not far off removing the need for phones in the process.
Before long, biometric technology will recognise our voice, fingerprints or retinas as we walk into a store and kickstart the automation process.
Chinese payment giant Alipay even unveiled technology called Smile to Pay in September 2017, which allows customers to verify their identity and “pay” for a meal via facial recognition.
4. An end to the age of ownership
In the same way that music and entertainment streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify have changed the way we consume media, the coming years will see us pay to simply use products rather than actually ever own them.
Known as the product-as-a-service trend, this will see us subscribe to use items such as smartphones, furniture and even clothing rather than purchasing them.
Services like Rent the Runway and the recently launched Lisa by FlexiGroup are indicators of how significant this trend will be.
Electric lighting giant Philips has embraced a similar approach in responding to significant disruption.
With modern LED globes now lasting for up to 50,000 hours (the equivalent of running for 24 hours a day for more than five years), the traditional purchase-and-replace business model is proving much less lucrative and reliable than it once was.
As a result, Philips has begun adopting a lighting-as-service subscription model where customers can pay by the hour for the lighting they use rather than invest in the hardware upfront.
The emergence of virtual currencies and the blockchain technology that underpins them represents the most significant change to financial services in decades
and possibly centuries.
While Bitcoin has had a spectacularly dramatic ride in the past 12 months, the fluctuating value of cryptocurrencies isn’t where the real story is.
Known technically as “distributed ledger technology”, a blockchain is essentially a secure protocol where a network of computers collectively verifies a transaction before it can be recorded and approved.
Blockchain could be an enormous opportunity for banks and financial institutions to improve customer service and efficiency.
It will also significantly impact the real estate industry, as it will allow anyone to manage, track and transfer land titles and property deeds with no need for intermediaries or the fees they charge.
Other professionals, including journalists, insurance brokers and academics, are likely to see the impact of blockchain due to research-driven applications of the technology.
As we consider the road ahead, there is one great universal and levelling truth: the future will impact us all and only we can decide what sort of impact that will be.
To paraphrase the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, resisting change is like trying to hold your breath – even if you’re successful, it won’t end well.
So get ready – it’s time to lift our eyes to the horizon and get in position to ride the waves of change that are already taking shape.