We can already see the future taking shape. But I believe that the future will turn in unexpected ways. The greatest changes are still ahead of us. The society of 2030 will be very different from today’s society and bear little resemblance to that predicted by today’s futurists.
The next society is close enough for action to be considered in five areas:
- The future corporation. Enterprises—including many non-businesses, such as universities—should start experimenting with new corporate forms and conducting a few pilot studies, especially in working with alliances, partners, and joint ventures, and in defining new structures and new tasks for top management. New models are also needed for geographical and product diversification for multinational companies, and for balancing concentration and diversification.
- People policies. The way people are managed assumes that the workforce is still largely made up of people who are employed by the enterprise and work full-time for it until they are fired, quit, retire, or die. Yet, two-fifths of the people who work in many organizations are not employees and do not work full-time. Today’s HR managers also still assume that the most desirable and least costly employees are young ones. Older managers and professionals are often pushed into early retirement to make room for younger people who are believed to cost less or to have more up-to-date skills. The results are not encouraging. After two years, wage costs per employee for the younger recruits tend to be back where they were before the “oldies” were pushed out. The number of salaried employees seems to be going up at least as fast as production or sales, meaning that the new young hires are no more productive than the old ones. Demography will make the present policy increasingly self-defeating and expensive. The first need is for a “people policy” that covers all those who work for an enterprise, whether they are employed by it or not. After all, the performance of every one of them matters. So far, no one seems to have devised a satisfactory solution to this problem. Second, enterprises must attract, hold, and make productive people who reach official retirement age, become independent outside contractors, or are not available as full-time permanent employees. For example, highly skilled and educated older people, instead of being retired, might be offered a choice of continuing relationships that convert them into long-term “inside outsiders,” preserving their skill and knowledge for the enterprise, yet giving them the flexibility and freedom they expect and can afford. The model for this comes from academia: the professor emeritus. He remains free to teach as much as he wants, but gets paid only for what he does. Many emeriti do retire altogether, but about half continue to teach part-time, and many continue to do full-time research. A similar arrangement might well suit senior professionals in a business. But for people in operating work-sales or manufacturing-something different needs to be developed.
- Outside information. Surprisingly, the information revolution has caused managements to be less well informed. They have more data, to be sure, but most of the information so readily made available by IT is about internal matters. The most important changes affecting an institution today are likely to be outside ones, about which present information systems offer few clues. One reason is that information about the outside world is not usually available in computer-useable form. It is not codified, nor quantified. This is why IT people, and their executive customers, tend to scorn information about the outside world as “anecdotal.” Moreover, many managers assume, wrongly, that the society they have known all their lives will remain the same. Outside information is now available on the Internet. Managers must ask what outside information they need, as a first step toward devising a proper information system for collecting relevant information about the outside world.
- Change agents. To survive and succeed, organizations will have to become change agents. The most effective way to manage change successfully is to create it. Grafting innovation onto traditional enterprises does not work. Becoming a change agent requires the organized abandonment of things shown to be unsuccessful, and the continuous improvement of every product, service, and process. It requires the exploitation of success, especially unexpected and unplanned-for success, and it requires systematic innovation. It also requires seeing change as an opportunity, not as a threat.
- Big ideas. Once again we see the emergence of new institutions and theories. The new economic regions—the European Union, NAFTA, and the proposed Free-Trade Area of the Americas—are neither traditionally free-trade nor traditionally protectionist. They attempt a new balance between the two, and between the economic sovereignty of the national state and supranational economic decision-making.
And then there is the upsurge in interest in Joseph Schumpeter’s postulates of “dynamic disequilibrium” as the economy’s only stable state; of the innovator’s “creative destruction” as the economy’s driving force; and of new technology as the main, if not the only, economic change agent-the antithesis of earlier economic theories.
The central feature of the next society will be new institutions, theories, ideologies, and problems.