BizTechReports Q&A: Global Futurist James Canton, PhD Reveals Game-Changing Trends That Will Transform The Future

 CantonPicIs your organization “future ready” — and what does the term “future-ready” really mean? Advances in technology — and the impact of technology on the way business is done — have triggered a fundamental transformation in the enterprise space over the past decade or so. But past technology-driven disruption pales by comparison to the radical changes that will emerge over the next couple of decades.  

GlobalFuturesLogoTo discuss the challenges and opportunities facing organizations in the future, we were fortunate to speak with James Canton, PhD, a renowned global futurist and top advisor to the Global Fortune 1000. Dr. Canton is CEO and Chairman of the Institute for Global Futures, a think tank he founded in 1990 that advises business and government — he has advised three White House Administrations and over 100 companies. In his new book, “Future Smart: Managing the Game-Changing Trends That Will Transform Your World”, Dr. Canton discusses the results of a five-year global forecasting study on the most urgent trends that will impact business, society, and individuals over the next two decades.

ACantonBookCovers a former Apple Computer executive and high tech entrepreneur, Dr. Canton has been insightfully forecasting the key trends and technologies that have shaped our world — The Economist recognizes him as one of the leading global futurists.

Dr. Canton’s theory is simple but radical: if you understand the emerging trends that will shape the future you will better manage the changes they bring, avoiding risk and creating profitable opportunities. 

Dr. Canton also is the author of “The Extreme Future: The Top Trends That Will Reshape the World in the 21st Century” and “Technofutures: How Leading-Edge Innovations Will Transform Business in the 21st Century.” BTR caught up with Dr. Canton…and here is what he had to say:

BTR: Let’s talk about your new book “FUTURE SMART: Managing the Game-Changing Trends That Will Transform Your World” (Da Capo Press; February 2015). Why did you decide to write this book and how is it different from your previous efforts?

Canton: My first book was in 1995 called “Techno Futures,” which was preparing people for the Internet, faster computers and Moore’s Law from a business metric, not just a technology metric perspective. The whole notion of change impacting the organization in the enterprise was just starting to heat up in the ‘90s. What I did at Apple – being one of the first strategic planners and first futurists at a computer company — I was tasked by Steve Jobs to look at the picture and report on what’s coming… including an analysis on artificial intelligence. I took that into my first book Techno Futures and then I took that further with my book that came out in 2007 “The Extreme Future.”

As a futurist, I’m only in business because my clients – many of whom are multinationals in the enterprise space – were wondering what was coming next. My last two books – and why I wrote this book – were to better understand the ferocious acceleration of trends that are impacting the enterprise. I wanted to de-couple these discrete trends and talk about the future of talent, future of climate, future of energy, future of technology, and future of business.

My mission for 25 years has been to help my clients better predict and get ready for a disruptive future that could either be very risky or be filled with great opportunity. My book reports on the trends that will transform your world; and yes you can predict them and you can do something about shaping them, as well as shape your market, your enterprise and your customer.

BTR: Let’s segment that – as you look out across these elements of transformation and growth that are rapidly transforming, what are the top two or three issues that executives – in particular executives that are in the technology business in one way or another — what are the trends that they should be watching?

Canton: The first is to think about the convergence of technology in the enterprise as a business trend, not a technology trend alone. That’s number one. And my example of that – the big trend is the predictive enterprise. The notion that you’re going to be using the cloud, analytics, Big Data, the Internet of Things these emerging technology waves – these trends are going to collide making the enterprise completely different – changing fundamental business practices.

And that is going to create a new kind of enterprise – a predictive enterprise that can do a better job of predicting what their customers will want and need and how this will put demands on their ecosystem. Every enterprise needs to become a predictive enterprise in order to survive over the next five to 20 years. That’s probably the biggest shift. It’s the collision of these other technologies, but it’s also about rethinking these business processes that make an organization successful. The companies that embrace the predictive enterprise trend faster than others will be the winners — whatever industry they’re in, they’re out in front of the wave of change and they’re shaping that future.

BTR: The trade and business press has spent a lot of time talking about the agile business and how organizations are responding to change. We often see evolutionary terms to describe how those organizations will adapt to survive and how those that don’t will become the dinosaurs. But what you’re suggesting is it’s not good enough to just adapt anymore – you have to pre-adapt to a circumstance that has not yet manifested. Am I capturing that correctly?

Canton: Yes. In the first chapter of my new book Future Smart, I dispel the myth that you can’t forecast accurately. Are we going to be able to forecast everything? No. But developing predictive awareness is a new executive competency that can be achieved. If you just look at what is happening in the world of social media now, social media is giving us a glimpse of what the crowd – or the customer mind or the competitive mind is thinking not just now, but will be. So better use of these tools, better creating agility in your infrastructure is important, but towards what aim? To be agile for what?

But to be adaptive…that was good enough for last year.

This year, you’ve got to be able to predict faster, predict with agility. You know, “situational awareness” is actually a military term – our military clients use this to become aware of a holistic theater of opportunities and risks.

That’s the same approach as developing predictive awareness for the enterprise. You’ve got to become more aware holistically of the environment, your environment, your organization, your customers, your competitors, your ecosystem.

The second part of that trend, if you really can get it right in terms of predictive awareness, is that you have the opportunity to be not just a thought leader, but actually shape the future that is best for you and your customers. And you can see that in folks that are ahead of the game. Apple is a great example of a company that shapes the future by putting out an innovation putting out a product that shapes the future…doesn’t just respond to market demands.

By the same token, Elon Musk’s gigafactory is not built yet, but he’s building a gigafactory to manufacture batteries and he’s attracted Panasonic’s sponsorship to build something for a vehicle and an infrastructure that does not exist yet.

So this is a bit of a transformational thought in terms of how they go to the market place, how they meet the customer, how they attract talent. Technology that enables us to do better prediction offers a competitive advantage for the enterprise, but will be a competitive requirement in the near future.

BTR: Interesting. But Elon Musk and Steve Jobs are considered a few of the geniuses of our time—the Edisons and Einsteins of our era, right? Are you suggesting that there’s going to be a mainstreaming of concepts that have separated the icons of, in this case, Silicon Valley? What’s going to allow this skill to go from Silicon Valley to the rest of the country or to the rest of the world?

Canton: I see opportunities all around. So take healthcare — it is going to be transformed by mobile technology, Internet of things, cloud analytics. I mean it’s an industry that right now is disconnected. You walk into a hospital today and you still see paper, you see film, you see disconnected people. You don’t see electronic health records everyplace, you don’t have back office front office integration. There’s more technology integration in financial services than there is [in] healthcare. But that will change…and we are already can see that “Mobile Health” is going to have a massive impact on this industry.

This is part of the concept of the connected planet. In healthcare, everything that can get connected will get connected. I call it “Canton’s Law” for what’s going to happen, and healthcare is a perfect example of where this will take place and have great impact.

If you to connect unconnected systems, devices, people, processes, in every hospital, every clinic, every doctors’ office, and between patients and caregivers and information, we can save $5 trillion dollars over a year.

Most of the solutions are already around us and are not rocket science…anymore. There’s more technology in your android and iPhone than most hospitals use. And mobile health is a perfect example you don’t need to be Elon Musk or Steve Jobs at Apple. Imagine running our hospitals where this entire experience of healthcare is predicated on this kind of uber connectivity, where you’re sharing Big Data and intelligence and you have cloud and access devices that recognize each other and they recognize the patient and they access the patient’s information on demand. This connected planet trend is huge and Healthcare’s just one of 15 vertical industries that will be connecting the unconnected.

BTR: You mentioned some of the moving parts underneath it –Big Data and Analytics — and you mentioned the Internet of Things. So what do executives need to do differently now, given that one can look at your argument and say yes, the dice have been cast — there’s a new infrastructure being put in place. So what needs to happen in order for more organizations to adjust appropiately — what do they need, what needs to change in terms of either corporate culture or management acumen to take advantage and become a predictive organization that can define its own future?

Canton: You’ve got to get the strategy right first…and then that will justify the value you’re going to bring to your business, your customer, and your employees or partners. So you’ve got to get the strategy first. And in order to get the strategy first there are three strategic touch points that every leader in every organization needs to consider. They require a certain degree of responsibility in terms of that choice, and many are playing catch-up with the customer.

BTR: What do you mean by catch-up?

Canton: Oh that they’re behind, they’re playing catch-up with the customer, the customer’s out in front of them demanding more innovation, demanding more products and services, demanding more customer engagement, demanding things that they are not quite in sync with and their intention is to catch up.

It’s important to analyze first where you are with the customer in order understand the kind of future scape of where customers are and your enterprise will be. You’ve got to be honest about that.

BTR: So my question to you is how much awareness, how honest are people, about their need to catch-up with their customers?

Canton: So that is why I believe that there are three strategic assessments that every organization has either made with awareness and commitment, or they haven’t. There’s a lot of folks out there that are blowing smoke, and that’s why you have leaders and you have laggards in the marketplaces.

  • The first strategic assessment revolves around a determination that your customers are ahead of the curve…and you are playing catch-up.
  • The second strategic touch point stems from concluding that you’re just where the customer is today. You’re on par with the customer right now and your ability to be adaptive and responsive is faster than folks that are in touch point number one, because they’re playing catch-up [and] you’re just where the customer is.
  • The third touch point – from which you will develop a strategy – will step from an assessment that you’re out in front of the customer and you’re really leading them (customers) into the future.

Now it would be great to say we all want to be out in front, right, leading the customer. But the truth is that most of us are not. We kind of know who the leaders are in the marketplace — the ones that are out there shaping the future, driving the future, navigating the future, for the customer. They’re the ones that are creating the most innovation. We refer to those as disruptors, but they’re just being more predictive.

That’s the predictive enterprise, right? So first of all, you’ve got to make a choice to determine with honesty where you are. You can’t BS yourself and everybody about that, you can’t make believe you’re out in front when you’re not.

Now, the fact of the matter is that it is much easier to catch-up, it’s much easier to get out and make an effort to get out in front if you recognize is that you’re a laggard, or you’re holding back, or you don’t have the capabilities yet, because then you have to make some changes.

I call it strategic honesty. Based on that assessment you can make the choice you want –and by the way there are a lot of companies that make choices not to be first to market, not to be on the leading edge, not to be the leaders and they’re okay — they are fast followers, but they do a great job.

So first you’ve got to decide where you are and what you want to be.

Then – and this is the tough part – you have to create an infrastructure that layers on the things you need – not because they’re in fashion, but because they’re business justified. So, for example, Cloud Computing is a wonderful technological development, but if you don’t have a strategic value proposition that says we want to do this because we want to be delivering these kinds of services, it may not pay off.

If you can’t business justify cloud analytics, big data, mobile apps, the whole integration of your IT stack, evolving into an apps based with more agility, then don’t do them. The Internet of Things is a lovely idea, but at the end of the day, it’s not about choosing the right vendor, it’s about business justifying why we want to do this.

I think we are at a very important time not just to experiment with new technologies, but to create value propositions that can drive profitability, that drive attracting talent, that drive leadership. But you really need to put some thought into how and why it is important to embrace these technologies…or not to do them. But we have to move quickly. I believe there are key forces that will develop over the next 10 years that accelerate the imperative to change fast.

One of the forces revolves around smart machines and autonomous systems.   Smart machines and autonomous systems are really a co-evolutionary trend – the combination of human computing networks that can help people predict but also are vastly more intelligent than what we have today. We call these things computers today but we won’t tomorrow – and they’ll be embedded every place, everywhere and they’ll be in the cloud. The point about cognitive machines: humans are going to have tool sets that are bigger, smarter and vastly more self-organizing than anything we have ever had before. That’s going to be a very important tool set that technology leaders and CEOs just need to know is coming very quickly.

The most important thing in order to get there is talent. You’re going to need the right kind of talent – the right kind of people who can manage complexity and that means not just technology but the transformation of your business processes to identify ways of creating products and services and value that will separate your organization from every other one in terms of purpose and value. Organizations need to be hiring folks that are more like entrepreneurs that can work not just inside your organization, but outside for your organization.

This whole notion of entrepreneurial grids of talented individuals who can understand and manage the complexity of cognitive machines, morphable intelligence, of delighting customers, of predicting what customers will want even before the customers know it, who are comfortable with the five strategic technologies that will transform the world:

  • Nano;
  • Bio;
  • IT;
  • Neuro; and
  • Quantum technologies.

You’re going to need a different kind of person in the organization. Now you’re not going to get them right away, but a recognition that you either need to re-train, re-engage and re-cast talent to deal with helping you.

You may have to start with a group of consultants or what I call “knowledge engineers” to re-cast the purpose of your organization to make it more agile, predictive, and really an organization that is ready to become what I call “Future Smart.” Future Smart, the core of it is the right kind of talented individuals that appreciate the convergence of all these different technologies to be able to manage the data tsunami to extract value and to create new mountaintops of opportunity many of which don’t exist today but they will.

BTR: You’re saying that these are things every decision maker will have to do to remain relevant.

Canton: What I’m saying is we’re in the midst of a change, a revolution in business and what the organization does and how it makes money, how it serves customers, how it understands is going to change dramatically. We’ve watched these product cycles collapse, we’ve watched marketing – in a traditional sense – disappear. Organizations at all levels and across all industries are already feeling this pressure. The organizations that are able to embrace these changes faster and attract talent to be able to integrate these technology vectors, they will have an advantage.

BTR: Outstanding, this is great. Is there anything you want to hit that I haven’t asked you about? 

Canton: What I’d like to say in conclusion is that I write books like Future Smart to help my clients be ready for what’s coming…but also to become game changers. But it’s not just about the organization. Individuals are really the game changers that change organizations; people change markets and industries. We all have the ability to be a game changer and that’s a big point of what my book is about – to challenge people. We all have the ability to be a game changer – there are challenges facing the planet and I believe individuals do make the difference. The technologies that are emerging – whether they’re bio, nano, neuro, quantum technologies they are just the tool sets to help us make a better world.


About lcooper

Lane Cooper has over 20 years of experience as a researcher, reporter and editor analyzing the business and technology industry. On average, Lane meets with 600 CIOs and senior enterprise executives every year to understand the impact of evolving technological developments on organizations of all sizes across all industries. He has organized and moderated many live and online events and works with a variety of high-tech organizations to ensure that information is presented in a context that is useful to an audience of sophisticated technology buyers and implementers. He is a Contributing Content Partner to CIO Magazine, Network World and Computerworld. Other news services and magazines that have carried his by-line include: Voice Report, Network World, Byte Magazine, TechWeb, Optimize, Information Week, Telephony, Communications Week, ComWeek International, and Enterprise Systems Journal. He lives in Washington DC, where he is the Editorial Director of BizTechReports, an independent reporting agency that analyzes user trends in business technology.