10 signals and trends

Gleaned from recent press reports and other sources:

These are boom times for U.S. makers of unmanned military aircraft (drones).

Sample Lab Ltd. opened a  “marketing cafe” in Tokyo that lets trend-setting women see and test new products.

With the recession crimping legal budgets, some big companies are insisting on flat-fee payments instead of law firms’ long-standing practice of the “billable hour.”

City “water cops” are handing out citations to people caught wasting water resources in drought-stricken areas.

Lumber mills that produce woods for hardwood floors and maple cabinets have been devastated by the U.S. recession’s double whammy: the housing bust and unavailable credit.

Some hospitals find that owning up to medical errors reduces litigation and helps them learn from their mistakes.

Despite a 25-year effort to improve U.S. education, the latest high-school SAT exam scores are disappointing. Asian-American students are thriving but the SAT gap for blacks and Hispanics widens.

More than half of Somalia’s population needs humanitarian aid, the U.N. says.

Software makers are scrambling to develop cell phone safety applications that prevent texting while driving.

Inexpensive mini-reactors may be an alternative to building giant nuclear powerplants, though there are technical, financial and regulatory hurdles.

Future shocks: Killer robots, hyperaging, space tourism, intelligent cars, resource wars

The Washington Post Outlook section (4 January 2009) is full of articles under the label “future shocks.” A sampling:

The world won’t be aging gracefully. “For the world’s wealthy nations, the 2020s are set to be a decade of hyperaging and population decline. Many countries will experience fiscal crisis, economic stagnation and ugly political battles over entitlements and immigration. Meanwhile, poor countries will be buffeted by their own demographic storms. Some will be overwhelmed by massive age waves that they can’t afford, while others will be whipsawed by new explosions of youth whose aspirations they cannot satisfy. The risk of social and political upheaval and military aggression will grow throughout the developing world — even as the developed world’s capacity to deal with these threats weakens. The rich countries have been aging for decades, due to falling birthrates and rising life spans. But in the 2020s, this aging will get an extra kick as large postwar baby boom generations move into retirement.” — Neil Howe and Richard Jackson are researchers at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and co-authors of “The Graying of the Great Powers: Demography and Geopolitics in the 21st Century.”

Coming to the battlefield: Stone-cold robot killers.Armed robots will all be snipers. Stone-cold killers, every one of them. They will aim with inhuman precision and fire without human hesitation. They will not need bonuses to enlist or housing for their families or expensive training ranges or retirement payments.” — John Pike is the director of the military information Web site GlobalSecurity.org.

The next big things:

  • Space tourism in 2012 (+/- 2 years) >>>>

    Spaceship for space tourism
    Spaceship for space tourism
  • Intelligent cars in 2014 (+/- 4 years)
  • Telemedicine in 2015 (+/- 4 years)
  • Thought power (brain signals controlling systems) in 2020 (+/- 9 years)
  • Artificial intelligence in 2021 (+/- 7 years)
  • Smart robots in 2022 (+/- 7 years)
  • Alternative energy in 2022 (+/- 9 years)
  • Cancer cure in 2024 (+/- 8 years)

William E. Halal, president of TechCast LLC

Global warming could lead to warfare over scarce resources (e.g., arable land and fresh water); mass migrations; and territorial disputes over newly available energy resources (e.g. Arctic oil). — James R. Lee runs American University’s Inventory of Conflict and Environment project. He’s at work on a book on climate change and conflict.


What CEOs worry about

The greatest concerns of U.S. CEOs
(% citing challenge as of “greatest concern”)

  1. Sustained & steady top-line growth (41.3%)
  2. Excellence in execution (39.6%)
  3. Consistent execution of strategy by top management (38.5%)
  4. Profit growth (29.9%)
  5. Customer loyalty/retention (25.6%)
  6. Finding managerial talent (20.9%)
  7. Top management succession (20.1%)
  8. Corporate reputation (19.7%)
  9. Stimulating innovation/creativity (19.2%)
  10. Speed, flexibility, adaptability to change (18.2%)

Base: Survey of 409 U.S. CEOs
Source: The Conference Board “CEO Challenge 2007” (4 October 2007)

Continue reading “What CEOs worry about”

We’re good at complying with the Law of Unintended Consequences

Four examples of how good intentions can produce unexpected results:

Worldwide demand for ethanol biofuel is causing massive deforestation in Brazil to to grow sugarcane, the raw material for Brazilian ethanol. Brazil’s Cerrado region is being deforested at 7.4 million acres per year, a higher rate of clearing than in the Amazon. All of the remaining vegetation in Cerrado could be lost by 2030. — “Losing Forests to Fuel Cars,” The Washington Post (31 July 2007, registration required)

Clinical information technology systems — especially those known in the health care industry as computerized provider order entry (CPOE) systems — promise to improve health outcomes, reduce medical errors and increase cost efficiency. But a study found that hospitals adopting them must plan for “immense” workflow issues and a host of other unanticipated consequences. Doctors, for example, spent much more time at the computer inputting prescriptions and other orders. And system over-dependence created havoc during system failures. — Oregon Health & Science University / Science Daily (2 Aug. 2007)

Credit-card disclosure information intended to discourage consumers from overspending may have the opposite effect. The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 requires credit-card companies to provide scary details about high interest rates and long pay-off periods. But a study found that, for many shoppers, knowledge of mounting debt can be so depressing that it spurs them to binge shopping to alleviate the gloom. — The Wall Street Journal (18 July 2007, subscription required)

The new Massachusetts health care reform, which aims to rescue 550,000 residents from the ranks of the uninsured, has run into a snag: a shortage of doctors willing to take on new patients. — The Wall Street Journal (25 July 2007, subscription required)

Poll: Americans are gloomy about the future

More than two-thirds of Americans believe the U.S. economy is either in a recession now or will be in the next year, according to a new Wall Street Journal / NBC News poll. Despite some positive macroeconomic signs, many Americans are nevertheless pessimistic about the future, for three major reasons: the Iraq war (which has depressed the nation’s mood across the board); fear of terrorism attacks; and the health-care system. Health-care costs and outsourced jobs are big domestic worries.

Which one or two elements of the economy concerns you most?

  1. Cost of health care (44%)
  2. Jobs going overseas (34%)
  3. Gap between rich and poor (22%)
  4. Cost of higher education (17%)
  5. Federal budget deficit (16%)
  6. Lack of good-paying jobs (15%)
  7. Cost of housing (14%)

Bright spots: Americans expressed high confidence in the military and in small businesses.

Source: WSJ/NBC telephone poll of 1,005 adults conducted July 27-30, 2007; margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points. Article: “America’s Economic Mood: Gloomy,” The Wall Street Journal (2 August 2007, subscription required)

Related: Policies needed to soften the blows of globalization