My “infrastructure is the new plastic” post drew attention; at a keynote last week, I was asked, “what other areas are seeing the emergence of the ‘next plastic?'” (It’s a play on the theme in the sixties movie, The Graduate, when the kids dad’s friend mentioned “plastics” as being the industry of the future.)
- Analytics. The future is owned by the math geeks. We’re entering an era in which extremely intelligent people who know a lot about how to throw a bunch of computers at a complex problem in order to come up with interesting solutions. Here’s an example: backyard energy. Lots of people would like to do their part in helping the environment by having their own back yard solar or wind power station. The problem is that most of the North American electric grid wasn’t designed for two way transmission — meaning that you can’t pump your excess energy back into the grid. Yet, some smart math dude will come along and come up with a fascinating new load-balancing technology, based on sophisticated mathematics and massive amounts of computer processing power, to solve the problem. There are going to a be a lot of unique solutions, and hence, unique industries that are set to unfold.
- Location-intelligence. Think about the transformative change that can occur when you link the type of information found in GoogleMaps to existing corporate data. In the insurance industry, individuals are looking at how they can link existing insurance policy information to spatial (i.e. geographic) oriented information, in order to come up new forms of assessing, understanding and underwriting insurance risk.
- Pervasive connectivity. Everything around you is about to become “plugged-in”, and life is about to get really strange. One day you’ll get up, and your weigh scale will send an e-mail to your fridge. Just kidding, but consider this reality: many of the things that we use in an industrial, commercial or residential setting are about to undergo three distinct transitions. They are gaining intelligence; and at the same time, we are seeing the emergence of information that advises us as to their location, and their status. Think about what happens when you bring home a box of popcorn, and it interacts with your microwave, linking into a centralized database to determine the best cooking duration for your particular microwave brand.
- Hyper-innovation. China is rapidly transitioning from the “made” phase to the “created” stage. Think “Designed in China” as the next big wave that will lead to rapid product innovation. Half the population in China is under the age of 25. They’re collaborative, highly educated, and eager to continue the transition into the wealth that comes with being a member of the Chinese middle class. They’re about to innovate like crazy, and will soon be flooding our stores with all kinds of innovative consumer products, not to mention stuff for the industrial, health care, packaging and just about every other industry out there. Someone is going to import, support, sell and install this stuff.
- Skills specialization. The future of every career is either extremely specialized, or massively general. Most professions are fragmenting into dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of specialities. Someone needs to understand all this, and help organizations tap into narrow bands of knowledge. In the health care industry, we are seeing the emergence of “hospitalists” : medical professionals who now fulfill the role of steering a patient through the ever increasing complexity that is the world of medical care today. The field is expected to swell from about 15,000 today, to 120,000 within a decade. The rise of similar “uber-generalists” is expected in most other industries as well.
Dig beneath any of these trends, and you’ll find the birth of billion dollar industries, the emergence of new careers, and all kinds of opportunity!