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Innovation

Face the Future

The future may seem to reveal itself as if from nowhere.

By Aaron Lazenby

Spring 2019

Sometimes we make predictions, plan, and prepare for what’s on the horizon. But other times the future reveals itself as if from nowhere.

In his book Don’t Even Think About It, environmentalist George Marshall argues that the human brain—which cleverly evolved to react to immediate, personal threats such as hunger or enemy attack—is not well engineered for tuning into transformational, globe-size, life-or-death problems. The scale of the change is too vast, the threat to the status quo too intense, he says, making us “innately conservative and defensive of our current circumstances.” That’s why, Marshall specifically argues, humanity has a hard time confronting a challenge such as climate change.

For example, many of us don’t realize that while we tap away on our smartphones, the satellites that are transferring our data are beset by high-speed debris. These objects could disrupt our communications in an instant. Our cover story, “It’s All Rocket Science,” looks at Analytical Graphics, Inc., a US-based company that monitors thousands of objects in low Earth orbit—and anticipates a near future where the expanding commercial space industry is threatened by space junk.

In “Zero-Waste Innovation,” we look at Recology, a San Francisco Bay Area–based sanitation company that, responding to local regulations, transformed its garbage collection and disposal processes to divert 80% of San Francisco’s waste away from landfills, more than any other American city does. By embracing the Internet of Things and Oracle ERP solutions, Recology is well positioned to serve a region that leads California in population growth.

Regardless of where you shop, live, or drive, these advances are redirecting your future, defining the opportunities and threats that will shape our lives for decades.”

In “Lead with Speed,” we talk to the CEO of GMO Financial Holdings, Hiroyasu Kito, about the radical changes that threaten to transform foreign currency exchanges, the most active trading markets in the world. Artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency, and money laundering are all hot topics in this part of financial services and put exceptional pressure on the major players (GMO Financial Holdings is one of the world’s largest). With so much change at his front door, Kito sees speed as the critical differentiator when preparing for unforeseen disruption. “We gather information as quickly as possible, create a plan, and execute it—and running the cycle more quickly than the competition is the key for us to win,” he says.

These are just some of the disruptions that exist on the edge of our field of vision, but there are so many more. Indeed, this issue’s Need to Know section includes “Are You Already Living in the Future?” which underscores recent technologies that, not long ago, might have been the stuff of science fiction: helpful robots in the grocery store, master-planned tech utopias, a virtual reality option for your autonomous car. Regardless of where you shop, live, or drive, these advances are redirecting your future, defining the opportunities and threats that will shape our lives for decades.

The future may seem to reveal itself as if from nowhere, but it may be our own biases that prevent us from seeing what’s right in front of our eyes. We must face the future if we are going to build truly successful societies and businesses. The alternative is to be caught off guard, unprepared for the reality that awaits us.

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Photography by Bob Adler/Getty Images