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By J. Daniel Beckham

Disrupting the economic status quo is a time-proven method for redirecting cash flow from the old-line to the upstart. As George Gilder put it in Forbes ASAP, "In the past, capital equipment was costly and production complex and dominated by large firms. Bill Gates might have spent his life working his way up the chain of command at IBM or General Electric, thus avoiding an immense contribution to income inequality in America. Instead, he began a new company at a poverty-level entry income with capital goods costing a few thousand dollars."

Calamity - calamity reshapes the course of history, including industries. When potato crops failed in Ireland, a wave of Irish immigrants left for America. They joined the lower strata of American society and began to work their way up. Their labor, like that of immigrants before them, often drove the machinery of American industry. They also supplied a strong contingent of the nursing staff in American hospitals.

War is so dislocating and disruptive (and often irrational) that it is best put in the category of general calamities like the eruption of a volcano or the spread of a plague. Paradoxically, while war has devastated nations and industries, it has also made them. And every war has contributed to medical innovation.

All of these currents are interrelated.

Everything in the future is connected to everything else in the future. And everything in the future is connected to everything in the present and the past. Everything is in the same pool. Because computers and software make searching for information easy, we search more. And that speeds up the rate of technological change and economic growth, which drives up the ease of searching (and drives down the cost of searching more) and so the cycle moves on.

What do you look for as you scan the future? How do you recognize what's most important in the fog into which the currents flow? I'd suggest paying attention to velocity, volume, and energy. When looking at demographic trends, say population growth, ask: How fast is the population growing? What is its velocity?

Velocity generates momentum. Momentum carries things from their present location to a future one. This is as true for a demographic trend as it is for a thrown rock: It makes a trip from the present into the future. If it is moving fast today, it will carry momentum and impact into the future.

Beyond velocity, there is the phenomenon of volume - the size of the rock. Big rocks create big splashes. Big splashes have broad and often pervasive impacts. If volume is high or building in the present, then it will probably have a large impact in the future.

At the turn of this century, the volume of the elderly was still relatively small (around 12%), but it will grow exponentially over the coming decades. This volume will be accompanied by a fairly high rate of velocity. This demographic current will become a big rock and it will begin to move fast.

Collisions release energy. When trends collide, energy is released that exceeds that embedded in the trends independent of one another. This is true for colliding technology, economics, societies, ideas, resources. Big rocks moving fast make for big collisions and lots of energy. The energy of such collisions is destabilizing.

While upsetting to the status quo, such collisions inevitably create opportunity-rich environments. Convergence is often the precursor to collisions, which always yields a blending. A prime example is the collision of telephone, television, computer, and software technologies.

Computers began to serve as telephones. Telephones became more computerlike and so did televisions. Computer monitors began to display images as fluid as those on televisions. Cell phones became cameras and video cams. And fax machines stopped caring whether they were getting a fax from another fax machine, out of a computer or through a cell phone.

In assessing the future importance of a current, consider its combination of momentum, volume, and energy. Think of it as a formula: MVE = future impact.

A popular conceptual device for thinking about the future is the sigmoid curve - an S-curve resting on its side. You start at the lowest end of the S-curve and begin to climb the front edge of what looks like a bellshaped curve. You reach an apex then begin your decline.

Copyright © The Beckham Company             Future Scanning – Mar. 1997 (Prediction)


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