By Dean Whittaker

So, what have we learned from this last trip around the sun? Here are my top five lessons from 2012. What were yours?

1. The Importance of Curiosity – the value of continuing to be curious: Having gone back to school to study Innovation Methodology at the NewNorth Center for Design in Business has brought me much joy and valuable insight into my business. I learned how to develop future scenarios using a framing question, analyze social, political, and economic trends, and create mind maps from their intersections. I learned about the power of narrative as my classmates each told their life stories, and we experienced the book Unbroken by Hillenbrand together. I learned that innovators are thought to be crazy by most of their contemporaries, and that it take a team to take an idea and turn it into a company.

2. The Risk and Reward of the Cloud – Having benefited from the cost savings of the cloud, I also lost six month’s worth of work when our vendor failed to back-up their hosting service. I learned to trust but verify. In addition, I learned the value of good relationships with our software design firm who helped us get back up and running quickly. And, I also learned that it is not the end of the world thanks to the dedication of my co-workers.

3. Changing the Question – By asking a person what they are passionate about opens up whole new worlds of understanding. Try it next time you meet someone new or want to re-discover the people you thought you knew. Ask them what they are passionate about. What about you? What are you passionate about?

4. The Gift of Attention – Tutoring a fourth-grader has taught me the joy of giving the most precious gifts of all, our time and attention. For one-hour a week, I give my full attention to a 9-year old boy who needs a hand to help him focus his overflowing energy. Kids Hope is an amazing program that provides support for Kindergarteners through 5th graders under the direction of teachers who have referred children to the program. Our attention is the most precious gift we can give anyone.

5. The Joy of Friendship – I was reminded again this year that happiness comes from my relationships. My relationships with friends and family matter more than anything that the material world can produce. The joy of being with someone with whom I share common interests and experiences makes my life rich beyond belief.

Top Five – Looking Ahead to 2013

What’s coming up in 2013 that is going to impact economic development and commercial/industrial real estate?

1. Access to Talent – Companies go where the talent is located. Companies will move into the core cities to access talent leaving the suburban office space vacant. Well-connected (bandwidth) co-working space will grow as talent goes virtual and free-lance. Talent is in the drivers’ seat. Community and companies offer location incentives to people with in-demand skills. Companies pay communities for the right to access the communities’ talent pool.

2. Healthcare Consolidation – Healthcare reform is bringing on a wave of merger and acquisition within the healthcare industry as it strives for better outcomes at reduced costs. Doctors will become employees of large corporations causing many to leave the profession or wish they could. There will be more transparency of the cost of procedures and outcomes achieved. Wellness will be the new focus for reducing cost.

3. 3-D Printing – The ability to replicate objects using a 3-dimensional printer will grow into a major industry and begin to revolutionize how we make things including human organs, airplane and car parts, as well as art sculptures.

4. Machine Learning – Breakthrough predictive analytics and machine learning will result in “creepy” marketing of products and services to us before we are aware of our need or want for them. Machine senses will evolve creating the ability for machines to see, touch, and smell. The ability to upload our consciousness to a machine will move one step closer to reality.

5. Optimism about the Future Returns – An increasingly optimistic view of the future returns to the social psyche with a belief that the future will be better than the past. As the economy continues to rebound and employment opportunities grow, a more optimistic view of the future will begin to permeate society resulting in increased confidence and, therefore, an increased willingness to invest in the future. 401-Ks will regain much of their lost ground (unless cashed in during the Great Recession). Breakthroughs in science and technology will continue to drive the economy. The well-educated will thrive in the idea-driven economy.