By Dean Whittaker

As the year draws to a close, I like to step back and take a look to see where I am headed. It’s a time to look forward into the New Year. For this article, I would like to share some thoughts regarding the direction in which we are going (subject to change without notice) and how it will impact our work in 2014. As I have learned this year, we face three futures: the probable, the possible, and the preferred. I have also learned that my choices in the present will determine which one of these futures I will experience. Here are several patterns in the data that I have observed:

Work is becoming more complex, requiring higher skills. Fewer workers will be needed to produce the same or greater output. Also, 30% of us will work in our home office. More of our work will come to us rather us going to it. We will continue to seek meaningful work that we can do in a globally competitive way.

Talent will drive the location of business. “Live first, work second” will continue to be the mantra of the millennial generation. They will choose where to live and then what to do. Talent wars (the effort to attract and keep talent) will escalate with signing bonuses and other incentives to attract scarce skills. Small cities and rural areas will struggle in their efforts to keep and attract talent. The movement to the urban center by young talent will drive much of their lifestyle choices with older adults retiring to the small cities with quality medical care. Retirement will continue to be postponed, health permitting, as the purchasing power of the dollar continues to erode.

Education is one of the sectors most likely to be disrupted next. How we learn will undergo a fundamental re-conceptualization as we learn more about the functions of the brain.

Internships and apprenticeships will expand as a way of learning (paid and otherwise). Business will demand a better outcome from the educational system. The value of degrees will be increasingly questioned by parents, students, and employers as student loans put a drag on the economy. Education will move more online into a collaborative learning environment. Learning will become personalized and customized using a combination of online and collaboration classrooms.

Social media will undergo a fundamental change. Attracting and keeping our attention will determine the value to the advertiser of each channel we use to share our thoughts and ideas.

LinkedIn will grow in importance for business connections, especially like-mined industry groups. Text will continue along with email as our primary mode of communication. Letter writing will make a comeback as we value and re-discover the personal nature of our relationships. Facebook will become the next MySpace.

Electric vehicles grow in use. The shared economy gains traction in urban areas with vehicles and Uber-like services. Our use of Airbnb will expand in both urban and rural areas disrupting the traditional hotel business models.

We will continue to shift to buy local when we can. Our desire for same day delivery creates a need for distribution centers to be close to urban centers. Distribution of patterns for goods will change with the widening of the Panama Canal as more goods come in from the Atlantic rather than Pacific side of the country.

Distributed generation using solar and lithium storage will grow as an alternative to peak demand billing that is being implemented with the “smart meters” that we have been “given” to show us our consumption pattern.

Inexpensive, abundant, natural gas will shift the location of chemical production closer to the consumer. The electric generation shift from coal to natural gas will impact rail roads and coal mining regions. The U.S. will continue exporting energy.

Water will become the new oil as we become increasingly concerned for water as a resource.

Bank alternatives will grow including micro-loans, credit card payment systems, and PayPal. Crowd funding and other alternatives to investment backing will struggle as the banks, through legislation, attempt to hold back this competition.

The U.S. will continue to devalue its currency as it prints more money at the rate of $85 billion per month (tapering off) to bail out the banks. Banks that now re-capitalized can afford to foreclose on delinquent property loans without dropping below the 3% deposit reserve requirement. China will bail out Europe to preserve the market for their products.

Cloud computing and storage become the norm along with ubiquitous mobile computing. Cyber war and cyber security will become top of mind as we experience the first major Internet disruption.

Robotics take center stage as Google becomes a major player with its recent acquisitions of the top seven robotic companies. Combined with their voice recognition, artificial intelligence, and pattern recognition (vision) capability they capture the next DARPA prize for the robotic soldier.

Molecular engineering becomes a common solution to many engineering challenges using nanotechnology.

Customized medical treatment using our genetic data begins in earnest for the wealthy. Bio engineering grows in capability and use.

Social media becomes maxed out, limited by our discretionary time. Professional and amateur sporting events grow in demand as we are distracted from the critical issues of the day (read: “Fall of the Roman Empire”).

Cultural influence shifts from the U.S. to China and India. Relevance advertising become increasingly frightening and accurate as our “Big Data” is exploited to more accurately target our consumption. We become more homogeneous in our thinking as our information bubble (the sources of our information) become narrower and more focused on only that which reinforces our beliefs. We will begin to make an effort to seek non-traditional information sources from outside sources. The importance of diversity grows.

In Summary
2014 will be one of the most amazing years in history as we create, evolve, grow, and learn. We have the tools and the capability to dramatically shape the future. Our challenge of adapting to global warming and climate change will be our focus as we are also confronted by the unsustainable consumption of natural resources.

If there is one thing I have learned about us, it is that we are exceptionally resourceful and creative when we need to be. Our ability to adjust and adapt to change is truly stunning. Our challenges are great but so is our ability to overcome them. Here’s to a happy, healthy, prosperous 2014.