How will you take advantage of the Breakthrough Ideas for 2006?

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One of the biggest skills of a successful entrepreneur is being able to quickly synthesize what is going on in the world and translate opportunities into viable businesses.  A good way to do this is to read newspaper, magazine and journal articles and ask yourself "what impact might this have on the business environment?" With this in mind, I just read the Harvard Business Review which coupled with the World Economic Forum to report on 20 breakthrough ideas for 2006.  Here are summaries of the first 10, pulled from pages 52-53 of the February 2006 issue. I will write about the second 10 tomorrow.  My notes are in red.

1:  The Synthesizing Leader:  The ability to decide which data to heed, which to ignore, and how to organize and communicate information will be among the most important traits of business executives in this century.
How might you help a leader synthesize information?  What kind of coaching could you provide to help them develop this critical skill?

2.  Can I Hear Me Now? Body area networks that can tell us things about our physiology-when our blood pressure is rising, when our blood sugar is falling, or when we’re about to keel at the wheel-will help lower health care costs and improve public safety. Such networks give new meaning to the word "self-awareness."
The article says "body area networks rely on sensors embedded into "smart" fabrics and materials.  These sensors will eventually appear in a range of consumer products, from shoes to keyboards to jewelry and even makeup."  Yikes, this can have many implications including some Big Brother ones … how might you educate the public about the pitfalls of this trend?  If you are a clothing designer, how might you keep it in mind for future lines?

3.  China as Green Lab*.  The urgency of China’s environmental problems-including an overreliance on fossil fuels and water shortages in many cities-will open up vast markets for forward-looking energy and technology companies and will offer the world a seedbed for new types of ecologically intelligent products, services and technologies.
Eco-buddies out there that have been slogging away for years to make headway in alternative energy may have a great new market to play in.  Or those Asian Studies majors that haven’t yet found use for your degree might want to apply it here as a consultant to those that are heading East to enter new markets.

4.  Risk, Uncertainty and Doubt*.  In the twentieth century, businesses concentrated on managing risk-developing assembly lines, budget tools, and organizational structures that, to varying degrees, made transactions and processes predictable.  In this century, businesses will need to tame two more amorphous foes:  uncertainty and doubt.
Yoga teachers, massage therapists, coaches and management consultants, how are you going to help people deal with this uncertainty and doubt?  Business coaches, how can you sieze this opportunity to help people plan for a scary future?

5.  Battle of the Networks.  Companies are steadily mastering the art of networking their products, customers and suppliers-some to the point of successfully locking out their more traditional rivals.  The next challenge for these firms is to determine how to navigate network-to-network competition.
By "networks," they are referring to critical masses of customers or vendors tied together with technology.  How might you offer a product or service to help people navigate in this new world?

6.  Science in the Wild*.  More and more, scientists are extinguishing their Bunsen burners, flinging open their lab doors, and using the messy world outside as their petri dish.  Corporate R&D departments could benefit from similar forays into the wild, using segments of the general population as test subjects or as amateur collaborators in helping to process hitherto unimagined quantities of data.
This one frankly gives me the "heebie jeebies" (for any non-US readers, this means it makes me very scared).  When I think of using segments of the general population as test subjects, I can only think of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments conducted on unsuspecting African-American men between 1932-1972.  But aside from this horrible example, there might be some ethical and interesting areas to play in.

7.  A Homestead Act for the Twenty-First Century.  What if ever newborn in America received $6,000 as seed money for college, a first house or a business?  The nation would spawn a mass investor class, with ever more citizens deriving their income from returns on financial holdings as well as fro wages; there would be less need for a generous welfare state; and the interests of workers and business would be better aligned.
Can you say financial education?  If this truly came to pass, we would need to undertake a massive educational campaign for all citizens.

8.  Customers Demand Their Slice of IP*. It used to be that your customer-collaborators were more than happy to leave their beta marks on your products or services; remuneration didn’t matter.  Now the novelty is wearing thin, and these enthusiasts are starting to ask, "What’s in it for me?"  How are you going to reward these people for their great ideas?
This could have multiple angles, from new ways to market to customers to innovative profit-sharing ideas.  I kind of like the thought of getting paid to be a bug tester for Microsoft (since I am convinced all software I have bought has been in beta version)

9.  A Cartel for Oil Consumers*.  As worldwide oil consumption begins to overtake petroleum-producing nations’ capacity to pump out black gold, governments may need to convene a controlling organization of petroleum-importing countries or OPIC.  Otherwise regional groups and large states will pursue their own energy interests in a form of energy mercantilism-and that wouldn’t serve anyone’s interests.
The whole issue of energy and oil has hundreds of different implications for business from environmental advocacy to rideshare programs to indigenous rights to conflict resolution.

10.  Seeing the "Health" in Health Care Costs.  What company would willingly look for ways to increase its health care spending ?  Still, targeted investments in employees’ health-covering the full cost of workers’ diabetes or asthma drugs, for instance-can more than pay for themselves by reducing employees’ treatment costs and improving workers’ productivity.
Health educators, nutritionists, acupuncturists and benefit companies all could exploit this encouraging trend.

*Codeveloped by Harvard Business Review and the World Economic Forum

I’d love your thoughts on these trends.  Tomorrow I will write about the next 10.

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