The enterprise of the future: Yesterday, today, and tomorrow

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Where we are

Junction points such as this one don’t happen very often. But when they do, the disruptions can be strong and sudden, breaking long-established patterns and forcing the rethinking of almost every aspect of life. Here are four critical industry sectors where this is happening right now.

Finance: A clear game-changer has been the introduction of digital currencies and blockchain-based cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. The former, already fully implemented in parts of China where cash, credit, and debit cards are no longer accepted, represents digital versions of traditional government currencies. The latter represents the possibility of a totally self-regulated, secure, fully distributed system of monetary exchange. Only time will tell if one will win out over the other, or if both will peacefully coexist.

Health: Almost every aspect of healthcare is being questioned and vigorously debated. One example, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, is the use of vaccines versus other treatment options. When they first came on the scene, vaccines were considered tremendous breakthroughs in combating disease. But as the use of vaccines and antibiotics continues unabated, pathogens keep mutating and adapting, building up increased resistance. Similarly, the human physiology slowly changes and adapts in how it responds to diseases and treatments.

Adding to the challenge is that we’re now making observations and interventions at the individual, cellular, genetic, and even molecular levels. With the continued appearance of new pathogens, some of which are synthetically produced, you can see how the complexity quickly becomes overwhelming. Entirely new health paradigms will be needed.

Education: We’re well aware of the shortcomings of our current, industrial-age approach to education. Moving the traditional classroom to an online environment has only amplified the frustration. Colleges and universities are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the needs of a rapidly changing workforce, while innovators continue to close the gaps. Don’t be surprised if you see education becoming “Uberized” over the next several years.

Energy: Since 1991, global energy consumption has increased by more than 60% to a yearly total of almost 160
petawatt-hours. That’s a staggering 20 megawatt-hours per person. However, from extraction through processing and distribution to consumption, the ratio of BTUs expended to BTUs ultimately consumed keeps growing, along with the costs. That’s true with all forms of energy, including renewables. We’ll definitely need to be a lot smarter about how we generate, distribute, and consume energy. And the solutions must be long-term and eco-friendly.

These are just a few examples. We also have food and water, transportation, supply chain logistics, climate, geopolitics, defense, security, and safety … you get the idea. The age of incrementalism is over. We need to meet these challenges head-on with radically new, totally systemic approaches.

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