These questions are the business futurist's meat and potatoes. The answers are of prime importance to a wide range of companies: traditional telephone companies, wireless carriers, phone manufacturers, digital camera makers, and so on. The answers could sway investments of billions of dollars. Even thinking about the possibilities can spark big changes and new ideas. It's all in the perspective, says Fariborz Ghadar, a futurist at Penn State. "Futurism helps organizations see perils and opportunities."
Ghadar gives this example: One inescapable prediction is that by 2015 the world will have 20 megacities, cities with upwards of 20 million people. Only three of those megacities will be in the industrialized world (New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo). All the others will be in the developing world, and that means places like Mumbai, Lagos, Shanghai, Mexico City, and New Delhi will be bursting at the seams. Is that a nightmarish vision of tomorrow? Not in Ghadar's eyes. "Those concentrations of people will need significant infrastructure, and somebody, probably not government, will put it in place. Just think about the opportunity involved in putting in wireless networks in these cities. The possibilities are very positive for businesses that grasp the fact that these changes suggest needs that will be met by open-minded organizations."
Indeed, it's the thought that counts, says Southern Methodist University adjunct professor Joe Dancy. About a decade ago, when natural gas deregulation took hold, Dancy advised a smaller natural gas company to rethink its very business model. Maybe gas wasn't its real business, Dancy posited. Maybe the company's core assets were its rights of way for pipelines, particularly in urban areas where new easements are very hard to acquire. Add in skilled, fast-responding maintenance and construction crews and, just maybe, the company could go into the telecommunications business. What if it began laying broadband cable? What if it reinvented the business completely? The company did none of this, Dancy says, but by going through this deep thinking, it made sure it knew itself that much better.