Who could predict…

Phew!  It’s been some year so far, hasn’t it?  Just one more quarter left in 2020.  Who would have imagined in January that we would all be living and working in pandemic quarantine world?  This was not on any predictions for 2020 that I read before this year!

Now we use whole new terms and concepts, like designer masks, social distancing, virtual conferences, quarantining, pods of friends, outdoor meetings, “unprecedented times”, the “new normal”, and so on, not to mention an entire vocabulary and set of memes solely related to Zoom calls.

So much has shifted – from bars and restaurants struggling to survive to businesses finding out (to their surprise) that their employees can be productive working from home.  Schools have made some major shifts, some managing well and some not so well.  But it’s hard to think of very many businesses or individuals that haven’t been impacted in some way by COVID-19.

Small businesses, in particular, have been severely impacted by this pandemic.  The most recent data from the US Census Small Business Pulse survey shows one-third of small businesses indicated a “large negative effect” on business due to the pandemic, and another 43% indicated a moderate negative effect.  That’s about three-quarters of small businesses seeing a negative impact on their bottom line this year!

While some of these businesses will (hopefully) bounce back, it is expected that a large number of closed businesses will remain closed permanently.

But the pandemic won’t be with us forever.  Eventually, we will move on to the new normal or the next normal or whatever we decide to finally call it.  So today, let’s move away from wallowing in the misery of this year  (Q: If 2020 was a drink, what would it be? A: Colonoscopy prep) and set our sights on planning for business success moving forward.

Where to start?  No, not 2021.  Too close, too many scary things won’t be over with.

We are going to move 10 years into the future, and follow the wise words of business guru Peter Drucker: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

How do you create a future for your business?  Follow these steps:

Step 1:  Take advantage of a PESTLE Analysis to seek out opportunities for change

The first step to predicting what your business will look like 10 years in the future is to examine what’s going on around you today.  PESTLE is an acronym to describe all of the external factors that can influence your business:  Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal.  See my past blog post for more details on using this tool.  The key here is to consider trends that are underway and how they might impact your own business, your customers and your suppliers moving forward.

For example, let’s look at economic factors.  Will the pandemic push us into a recession?  What are some leading indicators that you can use to predict that possibility in your industry?  How can you plan for this possible future?  What can you do today to protect your business from an economic downturn in the future?

Or consider technology.  How might shifts in available technology help or hurt your business moving forward?  If you find your customers through trade shows, what are some new ways you can reach out virtually?  What might trade shows of the future look like?  How can you connect with potential customers in this new future?  What kinds of technology should you be considering to be prepared for this version of the future?

Take a look at each of these external factors and give some consideration to what is changing and how that could impact your business moving forward.  Where are the opportunities?  Where are the threats?

Step 2: Consider Global Trends

Expand beyond the PESTLE analysis to consider some much more global trends that will have an impact on everyone on the planet.  How do these trends impact your future and your business?  How might these trends change your customer types or your supply chain?  What kinds of employees will you need in this future, and what kind of training will they need?

MIT Sloan has a great article on megatrends for the year 2030.

Some of these trends should be somewhat obvious – like the shift in demographics, with the giant Baby Boomer population aging and demanding more support from a smaller number of younger employees paying into Medicare and Social Security.

Some are controversial, like the need to address an aging infrastructure of roads and railroad tracks and bridges.  Will we continue to commute to work in cars?  Will they be self-driving?  And will they travel above ground or in underground tunnels?  Will drones be our new delivery person?  What will air travel look like?

And some trends feel more like they belong in a science fiction movie (I’m thinking Minority Report or I, Robot) where robots become sentient and either help us run our lives better, or decide we are unnecessary!

Consider some of these key global trends – changes in the population, changes in the climate, changes to how we interact with technology and so forth – and how these trends could have an impact on your future business.  Or how your business could have an impact on the future!

Many of us can make predictions for one or two years into the future, but ten years is even more challenging.  That brings us to the next step.

Step 3:  Be creative and flexible

We are not trying to predict the future accurately – just trying to seek out opportunity where we can find it.  Use your imagination, think about your favorite science fiction books or movies, and consider what has changed in your business in the past 10 years.  What more might change in the next ten years – and how might the pandemic accelerate some changes and slow down others?

What might the future of entrepreneurship in general look like in 10 years?

Will we all be living in a gig economy with very few large employers – just everyone bidding out mini-projects wherever they can?

Will the current internet giants (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google) be broken apart through anti-trust decisions, and then new, smaller, more nimble ventures will take their place, filling in gaps?

Will robots take over all of our jobs and we will all live a life of leisure?

What jobs can robots do well?  What jobs can’t they do well?  Will everyone suddenly decide that classes in creative writing, philosophy and ethics are more important than the STEM curriculum?

Is your future more utopian or dystopian?  What role do you play? What role does your business play?  Who are your customers of the future? Who are your suppliers of the future?

The best way to address these questions is with groups of people brainstorming.  There are no bad or wrong ideas – and the more people involved in the conversation, the wider the diversity of viewpoints for these different versions of the future.  Get creative!

If we don’t want to spend any more time thinking about 2020 or even 2021, then set aside some strategic planning time to create a future in ten years where you and your business play a leading role.  Then start working on the step-by-step process to get yourself to the future you envisioned!


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