The future of business: choosing the industries that will prosper in the decade ahead


The cover story on the current issue of MyBusiness magazine is on The Future of Business: Businesses to seek – or flee – in the next decade.

It features ideas from three futurists: myself, Bernard Salt of KPMG, and Christine Christian of Dun & Bradstreet.

Here are a few of the quotes from me they used in the article. I will do a separate post tomorrow that runs through some of my ideas on the specific industries that will grow and shrink in the coming decade.

Ross Dawson, a futurist and Chairman of Future Exploration Network, advises that it is not important to pick which industries will rise or fall. Canny business people, he believes, will try to preduct what those changes will mean for the way business is conducted. “It does not make much sense to think about rising or shrinking industries,” he says. “It makes sense to think about where value is going.”

The key point here is that the boundaries of industries are blurring to such an extent that it is essentially meaningless to think about an industry as defined today and wonder whether it will get bigger or smaller. If you are currently in a particular industry or looking to enter it, if you are not doing something quite different in 10 years from now, you will probably be out of business. You need to be following value, not thinking within industry boundaries.

Dawson offers music retailing as an example, as this sector has seen traditional methods – selling CDs in a retail store – severely challenged by online sales. “New forms of music and entertainment retailing are going to rise,” he says. “Industries are changing shape.”

Sure, the music industry is currently getting smaller. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be in it. It does mean you shouldn’t be doing what most others have been doing over the last few years. There will be plenty of people who make money in the music industry in the next decade.

Dawson counsels that business owners must watch for the trends he mentions, and those in their own industry.

“Every business person is responsible for trying to pick out trends,” he says. “Whatever they do, even if they run a corner shop, that industry will change. In most businesses up to now there has been an assumption it’s in a steady state world. Now we are moving to a point where the fundamentals of every business are going to change.”

“Every business owner needs to take responsibility to understand that change, through talking, reading, thinking, and drawing on different influences.”

I said almost exactly the same things recently to another journalist who was trying to get me to tell businesspeople what they should do. Rather than looking for the answers from someone else, entrepreneurs need to be trend watchers and futurists themselves, looking around, thinking about the implications, and acting on the trends they can see.

That said, tomorrow I will share my views on industries that are likely to prosper in the decade ahead.