Where technology has us headed


Dr Patrick Dixon
Dr Patrick Dixon
When Dr. Patrick Dixon really wants a vacation, he chucks his cellphone into a bucket of water. Seriously.

“I live in a very virtual world,” says Dixon, interviewed via Skype in London. Although trained as a physician, he works as a futurist – a business consultant who specialises in global change strategies. Being a futurist requires neither a crystal ball nor tea leaves. Instead, says Dixon, the author of 15 books on management and trends, “I’m constantly sampling humanity’s stream of consciousness.”

In his relentless quest to stay ahead of the curve, Dixon taps into both traditional and social media, including tweets, YouTube, the Financial Times, blogs, New Scientist magazine and even LinkedIn updates. Along the way, he keeps his finger on the pulse of hot topics like environmental sustainability and the drive for business innovation.

Dixon credits another crucial source of information that helps shape his views: the companies with which he works. “I lecture or consult in many different nations every year, and to many different industries. In each case, I work with people who are creating the future, people on the front edge of innovation. They give a perspective that is much sharper than what you would get from other sources.”

So what does the future hold?

Dixon predicts major progress in green technologies. This moment in history is one of extraordinary opportunities, he says, because concern about the environment is driving both government policy and consumer demand. “Consumers expect their companies to produce products that are greener but no more expensive,” he says. “And they’re getting those products, because innovation can deliver both.”

Looking more specifically at the polymer industry, he believes the future could bring carbon reductions through improvements in transportation efficiency. According to a recent study, 30 percent of British trucks carry nothing at all on their routes.

“Even more shocking,” Dixon says, “many thousands of trucks carry identical polymers in opposite directions and on the same roads.” Polish polyethylene is being trucked to the U.K. while British polyethylene gets trucked to Germany. If chemical suppliers coordinated their routes, he says, more than 100 million kilometers of trucking could be saved every year in Europe alone.

Dixon’s latest book, Sustainagility: How Innovation and Agility Will Save the World (2010), details dozens of ways companies have found to become greener. “Even the most profit-focused companies have realised that the fastest way to grow is to look after the environment,” he says. “Reducing global warming saves money. That’s why the green tech revolution is advancing so fast.” New fuel-conserving inventions are springing up everywhere, from winglets on airplane wings to nanotechnology that reduces friction inside car engines. In fact, Dixon says, “many of the most exciting innovations are invisible.”

Moreover, the way that innovation occurs is shifting. In the past, corporate innovation teams used to lock themselves away until they were ready to apply for a patent. Now, Dixon says, “many of the biggest innovations are happening more openly.”

Companies such as Hewlett-Packard, GlaxoSmithKline and IBM are using open innovation tools, sometimes giving a problem to several universities to crack or even turning to social media. “Many of the world’s greatest challenges are too complicated to be solved by any one company’s research department.”

Certainly, the past can help predict the future in certain ways, Dixon observes. Today’s pension crisis, for example, was set in motion decades ago by Europe’s declining population. “The trouble is,” he says, “that there are big shifts taking place for which we have no history.”

Global warming may indeed bring challenges humanity has never before faced. Yet Dixon says companies that are nimble and entrepreneurial can take advantage of upheaval. “The world can change faster than the time it takes for you to organise a board meeting, so you have to plan ahead. In crisis there is opportunity,” he says. “That’s the lesson of history. Some of the greatest fortunes have been made at times of economic meltdown or war or chaos. Companies need leadership teams that are able to make a big leap.”

In facing the future, the real key to success is agility, Dixon says. “It’s always having Plan C, because Plan B is not enough. Every sensible leader has at least two backup strategies.” And perhaps two cell phones. 

Article courtesy of www.minettmedia.co.uk
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