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The Future of the The Future: Turning problems into opportunities

Every day, the world seems to kick it up a notch, both in the problems we face, as well as in the steady stream of scientific and technological breakthroughs. One of the goals of the Enterprise of the Future is to respond to the challenges by applying the breakthroughs in the right way. As the size of our global mastermind exceeds the billion-plus mark, we should be up to the task.

Problems and challenges

On the problem side, we’ve had no shortage. For one, global demand for fossil fuel is steadily increasing, while available supply is decreasing. Let’s say we find new sources of energy to power our cars, trucks and airplanes. The infrastructure supporting the movement of people and goods all over the world is more than a century old, and in various stages of deterioration.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 14 infrastructure areas in the United States, including aviation, drinking water, roads and bridges, rate a "C" or "D," at an estimated cost to repair of $1.5 trillion. Now may be the right time to re-evaluate our mass market, mass production mentality. We don’t want to pour vast amounts of resources into developing new fuel sources, only to find we don’t have enough left to build and maintain the infrastructure needed to support them. Nor do we want our actions to have unintended consequences, like the shortages we have seen resulting from the diversion of food crops to biofuels. Rather, we should approach the problem systemically and look for solutions that are physically and environmentally sound, yet able to support sustained economic growth.

Public health is another area of concern. As medical knowledge grows more complex, so do the chances for errors. Despite the $2 trillion spent on healthcare in the United States each year, more than 1.5 million people are adversely affected by medical errors, including 100,000 deaths. It’s not that new knowledge isn’t being generated. Rather, dissemination and application are unacceptably slow. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it takes 17 years, on average, for medical evidence to work its way into practice. Perhaps, in addition to the movement of physical goods, we should invest more resources into the movement of knowledge.

Here’s another one: a major shift in demographics, resulting in fewer workers paying into a welfare system supporting a growing population of retirees. Combined with unprecedented deficit spending, taxation, monetary expansion and instantaneous global currency and derivatives trading, you have all the elements for economic disaster.

Massive, centralized governments, whose budget growth consistently exceeds gross domestic product (GDP) growth, are unsustainable. Just as in the last century, large corporations became bloated and were forced to downsize, governments and government-sponsored organizations will be forced to do the same. In short order, we must start building the Government of the Future, which I wrote about in the April issue of KMWorld, and make it the true knowledge enterprise it needs to be.

Breakthroughs and opportunities

The good news is that every major challenge presents the opportunity for the innovative application of new breakthroughs. Information and communications technology (ICT) is one obvious area. From cloud computing to mobile applications to exploding bandwidth, the capacity for discovery and learning through a global network of billions of minds is staggering.

That, in turn, gives us the ability to better organize ourselves, both physically and virtually. Starting with the micro-enterprise of the socially responsible knowledge entrepreneur, as covered here in the June issue of KMWorld, we are seeing renewed growth in business incubation, including virtual incubators, which aid in the formation of global knowledge enterprises. Likewise, various knowledge enterprises are choosing to co-locate within science and technology parks, aimed at providing a regional focus in major industries, such as space systems, life sciences and nanotechnology, to name a few.

Similarly, science and technology parks are expanding into knowledge clusters and knowledge cities. One example of an emerging knowledge city is the "Intelligent City" of Songdo, located within the free trade zone of Incheon, South Korea. What makes Songdo unique is that it will be one of the first cities in the world with a ubiquitous IT infrastructure, embedded in all structures and facilities, including streets. Businesses, hospitals, governments, schools and residents will be able to share information on an unprecedented scale. A major goal of the city planners is to make Songdo the first place on earth in which the dream of a "digital life" will be fully realized.

Everyone has a role

The combination of local aggregation and global networking will require entirely new models for business, government and non-profit enterprises. Regardless of which sector you find yourself in, you have the tools for playing a more direct role in co-creating the future. Here are some simple steps to get you started:

  • Identify the role you want to play in the world
  • Determine what needs to change in order for you to succeed in that role.
  • Pick one or more of the many breakthrough technologies available, and start applying them.

Be forewarned. You might just create a few breakthroughs of your own.   

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