20 Predictions For The Next 20 Years
Fast Company|December/January 2016
Robert Safian

The doctor handed me the scissors. As I pressed down the blades, snipping the umbilical cord, I looked up at my wife. She was smiling, holding our newborn son.

That was 20 years ago. Our baby is now 6 feet tall and a junior in college. When I look at him, I see all the stages of his life in one continuum, the toddling and the tantrums, the laughs and the arguments, the late nights coaxing a crying infant to sleep and waiting for a teenager to come home.

Fast Company turns 20 this month too, and the world has changed dramatically since the cover of issue No. 1 declared “Work Is Personal. Computing Is Social. Knowledge Is Power. Break the Rules.” Yet that manifesto is more relevant than ever. How we interpret those words has evolved— we did not predict an App Store or an Oculus Rift—but their spirit has become central to our culture.

We celebrate birthdays to remember all that has gone before, and also what is to come. This month, with issue No. 201, we recognize Fast Company’s 20th anniversary by looking toward the future. The dynamic change of the past two decades is just a warm-up for what is still to come.

I talked recently about this with CEO Hans Vestberg of the Swedish communications company Ericsson. Because Ericsson builds products for the major telecom providers and cell-phone makers, as well as hundreds of governments around the globe, Vestberg has inside knowledge of everybody’s plans—information he cannot specifically reveal but that informs his thinking about where our world is trending.

“Today, there are 7.2 billion mobile subscriptions,” he says, “and only 2.9 billion people have broadband,” by which he means high-speed Internet access. “But as technology advances, prices will fall. By 2020, 90% of the world’s population will be covered by mobile broadband networks. Another five to 10 years further, broadband will have universal reach.”

This, Vestberg argues, will have a transformative impact. He points to a historical precedent that is now hundreds of years old: the steam engine. When first invented, its function was to remove water from mines. Only later was the technology applied to other arenas, spawning steamships and railroads and turbocharging industry. The advent of connected mobile technology is just as powerful and equally underestimated, Vestberg says. We are still in the early stages, with implications for health care, education, banking, energy, manufacturing, and more. “Our imagination is our limitation,” he says.

Vestberg’s predictions of transformation are echoed by those on the frontier in other disciplines: genetics, alternative energy, artificial intelligence, and so on. If you travel down the likeliest development paths in each of these areas and then wrap all the advances into one future, you see that we are at a dramatic inflection point.

I have used the phrase Generation Flux to describe this era of transition. Because the changes are coming so fast, there is a rising premium on our ability to adjust, to be adaptable in new ways. This can be scary for some, but it is also undeniably exciting, and for those prepared to embrace this emerging reality, the possibilities are tantalizing.

What follows are 20 observations that we believe will hold fast in the years ahead. They are predictions and, as such, are fraught with limitation and supposition. None of them, on their own, is shocking. That is by design. In combination, though, they outline a world of tomorrow where work is still personal, computing is still social, and knowledge is still power. And where the rules for success will be ever-changing.

1. Speed Will Triumph. The best soccer teams in the world emphasize pace of play over perfection. They recognize that keeping the ball moving quickly is better than waiting and trying to make the ideal pass. As deputy editor David Lidsky explains in the first of our “100 Moments That Matter,” beginning on page 22, speed emerged as a business imperative in 1995 with the meteoric rise of Netscape, and it has become even more central in the years since. Constant iteration and redefinition are central features at businesses from Amazon to Google to Netflix, and every industry is now required to embrace that pace. (The unanswered question: Which governments will learn to operate with this speed imperative?) Facebook may be the ultimate expression of iterative change, expecting new initiatives to be imperfect—and relentlessly improving them over time.

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