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What's in Store for Business Owners in 2014

The future hasn't happened yet--but we can imagine what it might look like in the coming year.
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Whenever I talk to people about the future, I'm struck by their belief that it is knowable. The impression I get is that most people imagine the future like a book ending: already written and readable if you can just steal a quick look at the last few pages. What they find difficult is accepting that the pages aren't written yet. The future hasn't happened, hasn't even been planned--and cannot be known because it doesn't exist.

So I don't know what will happen in 2014--and neither does anyone else. What I imagine, though, looks like this:

1. Technausea. Today's and tomorrow's technology sits on top of multiple layers, every one of which is changing and has to inter-operate with others. This makes our gadgets, the internet of things, phones and laptops unstable. And it makes consumers irritated. How many of your apps actually work--and actually make life easier, faster or more fun? I'd expect to see consumer cynicism grow, as delight is overtaken by disappointment. This will put pressure on hardware and software developers to deliver that most boring of qualities: reliability.

2. Mobile overtakes the web. Most technology developers are seeing app use grow and web use decline. That means companies have to have strong, fast, meaningful mobile platforms and those that don't lose customers.

3. Tablets meet viruses. As PC use declines, infecting them with viruses just won't be as much fun any more. I'd expect to see malware, worms and viruses jump onto tablets and phones. As a consequence, we will all have to start protecting our devices more assiduously.

4. Manufacturing won't save the economy. I'm pleased to see manufacturing jobs returning to the U.S., but I don't expect the manufacturing industry to have the galvanic effect on the economy that many hope for. Why? Because automation will sharply erode the number of jobs any factory requires. The disappearance of blue-collar and entry-level jobs is already a problem, and that problem will grow.

5. Women keep rising. The appointment of Inga Beale to run Lloyds of London and of Mary Barra to run General Motors marked an encouraging end to 2013. Progress for women in the coming year will continue to be too little and too slow, but you should expect to see women in positions of power and influence everywhere. Even Japan is starting to try to get women into work.

6. Gene therapy comes good. After decades of promise, new gene therapies are starting to deliver real results. Like all new therapies, communicating accurately how and where it works will prove as challenging as the treatment itself.

7. Trust will remain the single most critical business issue. Do your customers trust you? Do they know what you do with their data and are they happy with it? This will be a major issue not just for the N.S.A., Microsoft and Google. Nor will Google Glass be the only product to provoke debate. Trust reduces the cost of doing business and those who don't build relationships of trust with their partners, suppliers and customers will feel the pinch.

8. Collaboration will continue to be the engine of innovation but it won't work in highly competitive environments. This is the theme of my forthcoming book A Bigger Prize (Public Affairs, April 2014), which, naturally, I'm predicting will be the best book you read next year.




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