Prepare for the Future of Everything


I participated in several days of the WSJ Future of Everything conference. I didn’t get a sense of awe but got some good insights into what leaders are thinking about now.


Jerome Powell spoke about the potential for a bumpy landing given the level of geopolitical instability. He acknowledged the limits of what they can predict and what they can do to offset unpredictable events. Hence, the potential for a bumpy economic landing.


I’ve also been reading the booked called the Trillion Dollar Triage. The book is about the economic stimulus pumped into the economy during the pandemic and the resulting impact.


I’d like to share some of my key takeaways from the conference and insights from the book that may help you plan for the near future.


1/ Prepare for a bumpy landing


We’ve had years of artificially low interest rates and financial engineering. Many companies are overvalued and over leveraged as a result. While not ideal, the economic changes present leaders with an opportunity to evaluate the fundamentals and make adjustments to help mitigate a bumpy landing for employees.


2/ What you could do versus what you should do


Slashing jobs and wages in the short run might seem like a good solution but it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. Leaders should be thinking about how to retool their organizations before cutting jobs. The shift in the future of work is more about job training and less about college degrees. 


If your employees are a good fit for the organization, it’s worth the time and resources to develop career paths for the hard to fill, higher skilled positions. If well planned, employees will provide value along the path. 


Many of the lower skilled jobs can and should be automated if they haven’t been already. Employees are more willing to help with the planning and execution of a transformation when they have a better opportunity in the future.


3/ Start measuring impact


The idea of measuring impact came from the Future of Everything discussion with David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee. It is becoming increasingly important for all companies because consumers care about the environment and society. Leading edge companies like Unilever continue to push their brands to think about impact.


Leaders involved in technology and science should be rumbling with the ethical issues that are starting to surface. There are a lot of things their companies could do with the information being collected and technologies in development now. The more important question leaders need to answer is “what should they do”.


4/ Identify the lines


Regulations are often thought of as obstacles because companies have to tighten their processes and invest in their systems to comply or suffer the consequences. However, regulations are actually safeguards that help protect consumers, companies and leaders.


Leaders of social media companies and many other industries have done a poor job of mitigating the negative societal and/or environment impact. It’s why those leaders end up in the hot seat during public hearings and why public trust has eroded.


Leaders need to proactively think about the lines that should never be crossed within their industry and work with regulators to establish policy. Comparable metrics are needed to make it easy for the public to understand when the lines have been crossed.


Proper regulation may add complexity to processes and systems but it is necessary to restore public confidence. No one wins without trust and consumer confidence.