Future Focused Part 4

    Welcome to Part 4 of this Four Part Series in How to be a Future-Focused Small Business.

    Check out Part 1 here – Look Back to Look Forward

    Part 2 is here – Signals of Change

    And Part 3 is here – Create Your Successful Future


     Are you Future Focused?

    Do you plan to still be in business in two years? Hopefully the answer is a resounding YES!

    What about in seven years?  Same?

    Are you ready for the changes that are coming your way?

    Let’s prepare for the future of your business by looking at the job skills expected to be the most important in 2025, and then we can look at the trends expected to be in place by 2030.  How can you be ready for these future forecasts?

    Job Skills of the Near Future

    The whole world seems to think that AI is going to replace their job. And for some of you the answer is yes – or maybe.  Your risk of being replaced by AI can be calculated by your job, as shown in the examples below:

    • bookkeeper – 100% yes
    • fast-food order taker – 99% risk
    • computer programmer – 52% risk
    • market researcher – 40% risk
    • attorney – 22% risk
    • psychiatrist – 0% risk

    AI will affect us in ways we can’t imagine.  But it’s not the only change we will see in the next few years.  Automation and robotics will impact manufacturing jobs; demographics and politics will impact the availability of employees; and mental health issues seem to be impacting all of us.

    So moving forward, how can you and your work force be prepared to remain competitive?  The World Economic Forum (WEF) has shared the top ten job skills for 2025 – those skills it believes we will need to have in order to be successful and not be replaced by a robot.

    Those top ten job skills – in order of the percentage of businesses in need of employees with these skills, are as follows:

    1. Analytical Thinking
    2. Creative Thinking
    3. Resilience, flexibility and agility
    4. Motivation and self-awareness
    5. Curiosity and lifelong learning
    6. Technological literacy
    7. Dependability and attention to detail
    8. Empathy and active listening
    9. Leadership and social influence
    10. Quality control

    The Challenge – Improving Job Skills

    My first thought when reading these job skills was – these are super vague and not classes I took in college or even for my MBA.  Unless a lot has changed, I haven’t seen college or graduate level classes offered in “motivation” or “curiosity”.

    My second thought was – aren’t these skills already important for solopreneurs, business owners and employees?  What is really changing?  Haven’t we always needed to be resilient and able to pay attention to detail?

    And my third thought was – how can any of us improve or acquire these skills in the coming years?  It seems to me that many of the skills on this list are more innate.  For example, I consider myself to be an analytical thinker (math major, market researcher, spreadsheet nerd, etc.) – but not very creative at all.  How can I become more creative?  Taking a class or workshop isn’t really going to change my approach to problem solving or make me all of a sudden more creative.

    The WEF Report emphasized that “six in ten workers will require training before 2027, but only half of workers are seen to have access to adequate training opportunities today.”  So, large businesses will be looking for ways to help their employees be exposed to, practice and improve these skills.  Smaller businesses may be helping employees on the fly.  And solopreneurs should be looking for opportunity as skillsets are in demand and training options aren’t readily available.

    To feel ready for the future, small business owners should be:

    • Encouraging cross-training among employees, which can help in skill acquisition
    • Seeking out suggestions from employees to help the whole team to think more like an entrepreneur
    • Consistently paying attention to opportunities to help grow their own skillsets

    Trends Coming by 2030

    And speaking of paying attention, a separate report from MIT shared nine “megatrends to watch” for by the year 2030.  Bear in mind this report was written in the ‘before’ days (aka pre-COVID).  However, many of the other megatrend predictions shared in the ‘after’ days (aka more recently).

    What are the trends being shared by all these different experts and futurists?  Let’s take a look at some of the key trends.  I am going to divide them into two categories by following futurist Daniel Burrus’ concept of “Hard Trends” and “Soft Trends”.

    As Burrus says, a hard trend is “is a future certainty, in that it is something we know is going to occur whether we want it to or not.”  And a soft trend is a “future possibility” that “may or may not take place.”  So we start with the hard trends.

    These include things like:

    • Demographics – we can’t change the fact that people are living longer and that by 2030, “more than a billion people will be over 65.” Fewer people are having children, so we know there will be fewer working adults in 15 years because the people who will be working in 15 years are already born.
    • Regulations & Climate Change – Regardless of your position on climate change, we can expect to see increases in the regulatory environment around energy and sustainability. This is already happening globally, nationally and state-by-state.  The recent Inflation Reduction Act focuses on a “clean energy future”, as does the National Climate Task Force.
    • AI and Technological Advances – We can’t stop science. Big Tech companies and tiny start-ups are continually advancing technology.  It may be your personal choice to stick to a ‘dumb phone’ or avoid ChatGPT, but continued rapid developments are not going away

    Soft Trends

    Soft trends often come about because of a hard trend.  For example, the increasing regulatory environment around climate change often drives new developments in renewable energy.  Rapid increases in technology are making it easier to automate processes that were once manual, which leads to a change in how work is delivered.

    Some soft trends expected between now and 2030 include:

    • Transparency – Technology makes it easier than ever to collect massive volumes of data on our every transaction, location, and conversation. Big Tech firms are already taking advantage of their access to your data.  Moving forward, it will be harder than ever to hide your digital footprint, which will be more visible to more people.
    • Urbanization – The MIT report from 2019 predicts that “by 2030, more than two-thirds of the world will live in urban centers.” Already, over half the population of the world lives in a city.  In 2030, the top five cities by population are predicted to be Delhi India, Tokyo Japan, Shanghai China, Dhaka Bangladesh, and Cairo Egypt.  Will this 2019 predicted trend change because of COVID?  We aren’t seeing a rush back to the big cities in the United States, but the focus of this prediction is more on the developing world, where there is clearly more opportunity in the city than in the undeveloped rural areas.
    • Clean Technology – Driven by the regulatory environment, technology changes and an interest in sustainability, we can expect to see more development in clean (or green) technology. As a matter of fact, “worldwide investments in clean energy are projected to reach $1.74 trillion in 2023, a 7.6 percent increase compared to $1.617 trillion invested in green energy in 2022.”

    Another soft trend predicted by the MIT report is a rise in nationalism and a subsequent lack of global policy to drive change.  As a result, we may see international businesses taking on the role of driving change, perhaps driven by consumer demand and lack of resources such as water or other raw materials.

    How does this affect me and my business?

    That all sounds well and good, but how does it impact you?  Is that what you’re wondering now that you’ve stuck it out this far into the blog post?

    Let’s discuss why this should all matter to your small business.

    Let’s start with your customers.  If your customers are large businesses, then any policy or process changes they make due to these trends or job skill needs can impact you as well.  Perhaps they will require all of their suppliers to monitor their carbon footprint.  If you service and repair equipment for fast food restaurants, your business could ramp up significantly as the restaurants hire more robots and fewer people.  If you work with health care facilities, consider the impact the aging population will have on their business.  I could go on here, but hopefully you get my point.

    Now let’s look at your employees.  Do you have an aging workforce?  How rapidly can they get up to speed on any new technology put in place by you or required by your customers?  Where can you find new employees as your employers retire? And are there ways to re-focus your employees on tasks that involve more interaction with people, and automate other areas?  How can you have an efficient, effective workforce to help ensure the future of your business?

    And what about your competitors?  If you own a bookkeeping business and can only grow by hiring more employees, then what happens if a competing business finds a way to automate all of the routine tasks, and can handle twice as much work with half as many people?  Or perhaps your competitor takes advantage of ChatGPT and other AI tools to ramp up their content writing, becoming more visible to more potential customers.  How can you stand out from them?

    Opportunity or Threat?

    Basically the question I am asking you is – do these expected changes in the workforce and the work around us create opportunities for your small business?  Or are they a threat?  To some extent, that is up to you.

    I have worked with hundreds of small businesses over the years, and I have seen the challenges you face daily.  Small business owners rightly focus the bulk of their time and energy on bringing in revenue – by meeting the needs of their existing customers and seeking new work.  And you also work to keep your own employees busy and satisfied.  So where is there time in that schedule for looking toward the future or anticipating change?

    That is one of the biggest risks I see in most small businesses.  Not that there isn’t interest in a successful future – but more that there is limited time to look forward and plan for it.

    But here’s the thing – we live in a “VUCA World” (a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous).  So even if we don’t want to change, we don’t always have a choice.

    It pays to be resilient, to prepare for that change, and to set aside time to consider how these changes can be an opportunity for your business, rather than a threat.

    Not sure how to get started?  Stay up on the news that presents potential opportunities or threats by subscribing to my free Five for the Future videos.  Only five minutes to learn about five topics that could affect your small business.

    (If you’re interested in a bit more detail and links to my sources, check out the paid email subscription by reading a sample newsletter.)


    It’s no coincidence…

    Over the course of nearly 20 years, I have supported (and been supported by) small business owners and solopreneurs.  Small business owners are the backbone of our country and the lifeblood of our towns.  They are the originators of innovation and the supporters of the community residents.  Anyone who puts on an entrepreneurial hat has my respect and appreciation.  That’s why I love to put my skills to use supporting them through environmental scanning like my free Five for the Future weekly videos, market research, business owner roundtable groups and futures-focused accountability programs.