This article is adapted from a presentation I am making at the World Congress on Intellectual Capital & Innovation at McMaster University later this week.

SVP mockup
I‘m going to start this future state vision at the front lines of a typical corporation, and look over the shoulder of a typical knowledge worker in 2015. The company this employee works for no longer has a knowledge centre, in-house researchers or a corporate library. In fact, it has outsourced and shrunk its IT and other infrastructure to zero. It has no in-house overhead, no ‘back office’. Everyone on the payroll either sells product or delivers services to customers.

The company learned a valuable lesson in the early 2000s, when it released two commercial software tools to all its staff: instant messaging software, and VoIP global peer-to-peer telephony. These two products, which cost the firm absolutely nothing, quickly became the highest-rated and most-used IT applications in the company, even though staff had received no training in their use. Since that time, the primary technology strategy and KM strategy of the company has, as a result, been to propagate simple, free tools to all staff, and develop no technologies internally. The entire financial system of the global corporation is run by three people, and aside from the company’s public e-commerce site there are no centralized repositories or centrally-managed websites. Each employee’s laptop now contains the following tools and content:

  • A simple, personal content management system that allows individual employees to organize all the information they use in their job, publish that information selectively to people inside and outside the company who want to subscribe to it, free or at a price, and likewise subscribe and archive other people’s information. This tool is a stripped down version of a weblog. It takes five minutes to learn and connects everyone in the company to everyone else in the business world. The tool is free. It, and all the content it manages, is completely under the control of the employee and, like the laptop on which it sits, is portable when the employee leaves the company.
  • An expertise finder tool that allows employees to find and contract with experts inside and outside the organization as easily as they find information. It includes a ësuper address bookí that lists, diagrams, automatically harvests and maintains access information for everyone in each of the employee’s networks. Like the CMS tool, it was developed by tech hobbyists and is free.
  • A ëvirtual presenceí tool that provides one-click multimedia access to anyone in each employee’s ësuper address bookí, and virtual presence at any conference. Used in connection with a rotatable laptop camera and headset, the tool, which comes free with new laptops, simultaneously shows a view of and provides high-quality audio of, the person you’re talking or listening to, the document or presentation you’re collaborating on, and any sidebar instant messaging conversations you’re participating in.
  • A set of new, easy-to-use productivity tools that enable DIY research, data mining, and one-click canvassing of each employee’s networks for peer-to-peer help solving a problem or finding information.

With this powerful, simple suite of tools, knowledge management has become a personal rather than a corporate matter. The company no longer needs centralized infrastructure or content management, or full-time information professionals. KM & IT really have become ëeveryone’s jobí, and corporations no longer need website development specialists, website managers, content architects, content managers, network coordinators, or database purchasers. Front-line professionals do their own analysis and much of their own research as well. The personal laptop, with its context-rich content selectively and simply made available to others inside and outside the company, has become each individual employee’s and independent contractor’s proxy, resume, and calling card. And the ëvirtual presenceí and other tools empower each worker to conduct business effectively, collaborate with colleagues and attend meetings anywhere in the world without incurring the time or cost of travel.

Let’s step back now from the perspective of the knowledge worker and look at how the business environment for corporations has changed in 2015. In the early 2000s, large corporations that were once hierarchical end-to-end business enterprises began shedding everything that was not deemed ëcore competencyí, in some cases to the point where the only things left were business acumen, market knowledge, experience, decision-making ability, brand name, and aggregation skills. This ‘hollowing out’ allowed multinationals to achieve enormous leverage and margin. It also made them enormously vulnerable and potentially dispensable.

As outsourcing accelerated, some small companies discovered how to exploit this very vulnerability. When, for example, they identified North American manufacturers outsourcing domestic production to third world plants in the interest of ‘increasing productivity’, they went directly to the third world manufacturers, offered them a bit more, and then went directly to the North American retailers, and offered to charge them less. The expensive outsourcers quickly found themselves unnecessary middlemen. Now in 2015, the result is what Doc Searls and Dave Weinberger, two Internet experts, have called a World of Ends — which in its business application means a disintermediated world where specialized businesses contract directly with each other to bring the benefits of globalization and the free market to consumers. The large corporations, having shed everything they thought was non ‘core competency’, learned to their chagrin that in the connected, information economy, the value of their core competency was much less than the inflated value of their stock, and they have lost much of their market share to new federations of small entrepreneurial businesses.
A number of other factors contributed to the demise of many large multi-national corporations by 2015, and the explosion of a new entrepreneurial economy. As predicted by the economic think-tanks of the early 21st century, and by demographic and cyclical forecasts like Boom Bust and Echo and The Fourth Turning, the economy of 2015 had been further transformed by these events:

  • The crushing debt load of citizens and governments, especially the turn of the century US government, led to a spike in interest rates and a collapse in the value of Western currencies, stock markets, and housing. As a result, consumers in 2015 are much more careful in their spending and much more price-conscious. Those that can afford to, primarily the baby boom generation, are buying fewer, longer lasting, premium quality goods and keeping them much longer.
  • The realization that globalization and ëfreeí trade are devastating for Western employment and our environment have led to a backlash against imported goods, the cancellation of free trade agreements, and strong ëbuy localí campaigns and consumer preferences.
  • A steady stream of corporate scandals, and the perceived propensity of many large corporations to lie to, threaten and even sue their customers, has severely eroded the value of brand names. Where the youth of 2004 prided themselves on wearing the latest brand clothing, the youth of 2015 pride themselves on wearing clothes they made themselves, using computerized tools attached to their laptops. They’re also making much of their own music, movies, software and books, and distributing them to the world for next to no cost, forcing the commercial distributors of entertainment products to slash their prices to stay in business.
  • A large proportion of the population in 2015 is self-employed, with lower disposable income but more time than the previous generation. As a result they do more of their own home repairs, renovations, landscaping, and even growing their own food. Home and automobile energy conservation have become very fashionable. With the continuation of food scares and a reaction against conditions in factory farms, the proportion of vegetarians in the population has grown rapidly.
  • Health, more than anything else, is driving the economy, with an older, more health-conscious population. There has been a shift from treatment to prevention of illness, and from reliance on health professionals to self-diagnosis and self-therapy.

As a result of these changes, the economy of 2015 is vastly different in some key ways from the economy of 2004:

2004 2015
Critical Business Skill Enterprise Management New Enterprise Formation
Critical Competitive Advantage Intellectual Assets & Brand Agility & Innovation
Hot Topic at Learning Institutions Outsourcing Entrepreneurialism 101
What Keeps CEOs Awake Cost & Risk Management Reputation

What are the implications of this to those of us in, or looking for, careers in tomorrow’s business?

  • Your networks are critical: Your success will depend on who you know, but not necessarily who you know well. Because of a phenomenon known as ‘the strength of weak links’, your future employer, employees, customers and business partners are all likely to be two or three degrees of separation away from those you know personally. Who your associates know is probably more important, therefore, than who you know directly.
  • You need to know how to run a business, from start-up to dissolution. Not the sheltered academic skills of large corporate administration, but the down-and-dirty skills of entrepreneurship, where every decision is make-or-break. Your network can help here, too. You’re probably three times as likely to be self-employed or unemployed in 2015, as you are to be an employee of someone else, so you’ll need these skills.
  • You need to be extremely focused on customers and well tuned into customers’ needs. Computer databases of compiled customer intelligence will be valuable, but the personal intelligence you can get customers to voluntarily give you access to will be even more valuable. That will require reciprocity and building trust, a difficult challenge in an age of consumer cynicism and concern for privacy.
  • Your product or service will need to strike a delicate balance between quality, price, durability and upgradability. Customers will demand and expect all of these things, and will be much more careful shoppers than today’s. And they’ll have a lot more choice and a lot more information for competitive shopping as well. An earned reputation for quality, responsiveness and responsibility, not brand name, will allow you to command a premium price for a premium product. Your company will need to be socially and environmentally responsible, not because corporate charters will have changed, but because citizen and consumer groups will call you to account if you’re not.
  • No industry is going to be immune to these changes and demands. Today’s oligopolies will give way to a much more open and diverse competitive environment. The scare that companies like ING Direct have given the banks, discount brokers have given the majors, and small regional carriers have given the debt-ridden big-name airlines, is just a taste of what’s to come.

It’s always fun to predict the future, and I hope you’ve found my prognostications interesting. I’d like to thank my weblog readers for helping me qualify these ideas and make this presentation more informative and credible than it might otherwise have been. [Conclusion & Questions].

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  1. Robin Good says:

    David, thanks for this excellent periscoping into the future. I personally find your analysis accurate and true to the overall macro and micro happenings unaccounted for by the “propaganda-based” mainstream media.I find your key outline of future implications to be right on target and to fully represent the vision that I work toward in my daily efforts.I personally doubt that the time needed to get there is 11 years and I also hold personal opinions that major revolutionary changes to our planet/society as we know it may take place before then. (I would have probably avoided myself making this evident as it would have made much less effective the sharing and spreading of your basic fundamental ideas).I must truly thank you for this wonderful hard work of yours and for the pure pleasure I receive in seeing how dedicate and passionate your mission of sharing your intellectual explorations is.Robin

  2. Jon Husband says:

    Great stuff, Dave – and I would like to sincerely and solidly second Robin’s thanks and pleasure.

  3. Paul says:

    Does this mean we’ll have to wait until 2015 to get that “super address book” you mentioned?

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    Paul: Only if you wait for Microsoft to develop it ;-) Seriously, it’s an important need that’s getting a lot of traction in business circles, and wouldn’t be hard to develop, so I’d bet you’ll see it within a couple of years. We’re all sick of the lack of compatibility and interoperability of the existing commercial address books.

  5. Mohammad Meysam Rahgozar says:

    A very interesting article, I believe it is not very far fetched as one may think. The only point I am sceptical of is the suggested inability by the dominant players to stop/slow-down the movement towards entrepreneurial networks.

  6. goog news !!! A very interesting article.

  7. Panagiotis Michalopoulos says:

    I found your views most interesting to read, that

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