In the future, small business will change beyond recognition. One of the main drivers for this shift? The one we already know about today: advances in technology. In the past 13 years writing about small business, I've seen my share of tech milestones. Some, like social networking, have rocked the business landscape and created entire business segments. Others, like speech recognition, have developed slower than anyone ever expected.
Looking ahead to the next 20 years and beyond, there's no question technology will continue to dramatically alter our basic understanding of how to conduct business, hire new employees, and work in an office setting. Here are a few changes we can expect by the year 2030 and beyond. Write to me with your opinion about them.
1. You won't use the US dollar
A few of you just rolled your eyes. Isn't making money the whole point of starting and running a company? Yet, alternative currencies like bitcoin are starting to stabilize (finally). While that particular crypto-currency gets all of the attention, there are dozens of other alternative currencies that could rise in popularity. In the next 20 to 30 years, the U.S. dollar might not even exist. How will that change your business? I doubt we'll see a rise in traded goods, but we might see completely different pricing models and currencies. One of my favorite examples: A tiny beef jerky supplier once told me he sells his product at a high premium because so many European customers have bitcoins stored away in a stockpile. In other words, they make beef jerky impulse purchases not because they have enough spare cash or love jerky, but because he takes bitcoins. It makes me wonder how a currency like bitcoin might change business markets in the future.
2. You will have a clone
Don't laugh! It might seem ridiculous now (and illegal in some states), but there are clear indications human cloning will become a normal part of business in the next 20 to 30 years. It's not just the fact that animal cloning is now routine (a Chinese company clones about 500 pigs per year) or that human embryos have already been cloned. It's all a matter of public perception. In 30 years, having a human clone might be perfectly acceptable. Could you clone yourself and instruct the replicate to do your accounting? Or go on sales calls? Or wash up the floor? Governments will have to come up with new laws (especially related to taxes and human rights) and practices to govern how a business operates when there is one or more clone involved. Yes, it's the Blade Runner scenario.
3. You will hire transhumans
Maybe you think cloning is too far-fetched, but transhumanism will also change how small business works. A transhuman is someone who is a new kind of human--in tech circles, it means a human who has merged with technology in some way or has tech implants. We're already seeing wearable devices like the Fitbit that help you count calories and footsteps. New "fitness" shirts go a step further and can track your heart rate. Watches emphasize design over a nerd factor. It's not a stretch to suggest that, in 10 years, people will start injecting chips into their skin. In 20 or 30 years, who knows? The obvious implication is that businesses will have to adjust with new employment laws--and maybe install a charging station that replaces the water cooler.
4. You won't use a computer or a phone
It's hard to imagine a future without the iPhone or a Lenovo laptop. Yet, all signs point to a future in which we rely on technology that is available all around us--in our home, in the car, and at the office. We'll speak basic commands like "read my most important messages" (just watch the movie Her for some ideas on how this will work) and ask a "computer" to research tax laws for a new pharmaceutical. The sensors, processing, storage, screens, and interfaces will be all around us on doors, windows, and walls instead of sitting in our hand or on a desk. Businesses will have to adjust to this emerging reality--computers you can't see or touch might be harder to manage, and there will be an even greater need to make the data secure. It could also open up some amazing new business categories.
5. Everyone will work remotely
Technology will usher in an age of widespread telecommuting. It's more than just the ability to tap in from some remote Rhode Island farmhouse at high speeds and more than just the prevalence of videoconferencing apps like Skype in the workplace. In the next 20 to 30 years, a remote worker will be no different from someone who is in the office. We'll "visit" the office with a hologram, walk around the cubicle farm, interact with employees, and chat about the weather. There are bots that already do this today. The obvious implication is that the building itself might not need to exist at all--it might be a hologram itself. And, most of these "holoployees" won't be W2s. They'll all be self-employed.
6. You will work in the car
They will have four wheels and an engine, but there won't be a steering wheel--or even a dashboard. By 2030, autonomous cars will start ruling the roadways, at least in Las Vegas. Google recently revealed a prototype that looks suspiciously like something Pixar might create. Critically, this robotic driving will affect business in remarkable ways. New vehicles will emerge that not only drive you to work, but also provide a full videoconferencing suite, a work area, and a place to lounge and search Google (with your voice) to conduct research before you arrive at the office. Oh, and these personal transport pods will probably be owned by the business itself. Finally! No car payments.