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2020: The start of a greatly rewarding or overwhelming decade?

The year 2020 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of a prophetic book whose title, Future Shock, came to symbolize the overwhelming nature of “too much change in too short a period of time.” But, if the changes occurring back in 1970 have been rapidly transcended by those that have taken place in the decades since, they’re going to be even more vastly eclipsed by those we can anticipate in the one now beginning—which was precisely what the book’s author, Alvin Toffler, had in mind.

From a business standpoint, the innovations awaiting us over the next 10 years are, in my opinion, going to be nothing short of spectacular. If we take those of the last decade and multiply them by a factor of a thousand, that’s the scope of what I believe we are on the verge of experiencing.

Think, for example, about brands that have not yet been heard of delivering freshly prepared foods to your home via a “ghost kitchen” situated in some secret location in your city or neighborhood. Now imagine one company investing $600 million or so to set up such clandestine kitchens to serve a commercial clientele around the country over the next decade.

Rather than requiring the 20 years or so of heavy lifting it would normally take to develop consumer recognition for a restaurant or retail food operation, (to say nothing of the tens or hundreds of millions that might be put into such a venture over that period) it can now be done instantly using Instagram, a dash of star power, and a kitchen located who knows where (nor does anyone even care.)

Or how about a “budding” industry, cultivated by an institution everyone probably thought was no longer all that influential—the trade union. Yes, the production of commercial cannabis already has 10,000 employees who are members of the United Food and Commissary Workers. Think about the significance of having collective bargaining behind your cannabis supply chain. Normally, I would shrug off such a development. But upon further exploration, I have decided this effort to organize a still very fragmented emerging industry was rather incredible—perhaps most importantly because of the training and education it provides a work force putting out a promising new product, with no small amount of legal controversy attached to it.

The real importance of these two issues is the challenge they pose to the regulatory bodies we have created over the last few decades. It raises the question of just how meaningful these entities still are in an era of dynamic change. For example, how relevant is the Federal Communications Commission? It is a tired old regulatory agency that has thousands of employees, but can’t seem to keep up with the legal implications inherent in the increased use of social media such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

This failure by the feds to stay abreast of what’s happening in the real world became particularly pronounced when iHeartRadio was prohibited from accepting advertising for CBD, even though it could be sold online by anyone. In fact, none of the traditional radio stations could take part in the $1.5 billion business that was emerging from garages and offices everywhere in the world, in many cases with nothing more than an Alibaba account and a credit card processing capability. This really made me question not only the ability of the FCC and FDA to stay one step ahead of things under their supposed jurisdiction, but of all established bureaucracies to do so. I’m reminded of the technological lag suffered by the FBI several years ago when the 9/11 Commission described its information systems as “woefully inadequate” with “no effective mechanism for capturing or sharing its institutional knowledge.” It should be interesting to watch whether these agencies can play catch-up over the decade to come, but I have my doubts about how relevant they will be in light of the unprecedented magnitude of the innovations the next few years will bring us.

Finally, there’s what I call the emergence of the Bold and Courageous Consumer. That’s the customer who is going to say, “I don’t care if this is FDA-approved. If it will take away my pain, allow me to function again or cure my disease, I want it now.” The consumer who is already saying, “If CBD works, I want it now, regardless of what regulators say.” A defiance further underscored by the FDA’s continued approval of the “legal” drugs that fueled the opioid crisis in the face of mounting evidence of the harm they were causing. Just check with anyone over 75 who is in pain and ask them what they are doing to alleviate it. I guarantee that the number of seniors quietly using CBDs and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) would shock you.

I am not sure we in the business community really understand the magnitude of these coming changes, especially those involving consumers. But just think about how today an online review from one customer can impact the reputation of a local doctor or dentist who has practiced for 30 years—and that’s not to mention restaurants, hotels and other establishments. Now imagine such capabilities being multiplied perhaps a thousand times beyond what they were during the last decade. That may sound exaggerated until you consider the speed of the technological developments that occurred a century ago and multiply that exponentially.

My recommendation would be that we do whatever it takes to get ready for some astounding changes, get ahead of this curve, and be fully prepared to accommodate the rapid and continued growth of the Courageous and Bold Consumer movement. Because once millennials realize how much real power they have, and the once-rebellious but now retired baby boomers see how much easier today’s technological advances can make their lives, we have no idea what impact the combined power of those two groups will have on the marketplace. Especially when they start to figure out how mutually advantageous their demands can be.

So, yes, the next decade will be an exciting time indeed. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be an active participant in the amazing change it will bring about. That’s why I say, “Bring it on!” But instead of allowing “future shock” to overwhelm you, be among those who can anticipate and appreciate the magnitude of such transformation, and quickly learn to use it to your advantage.

That’s what I would call “2020 vision.”

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