To the Point

The Not-Too-Distant Future

What the world may look like in 25 years.

Can you picture a robot making your favorite latté with soy milk and extra foam? What about a world where cash does not exist, or natural gas is the world’s most popular fuel?

The possibilities are real — and will likely come online in the not-too-distant future, according to experts tapped for the The Wall Street Journal’s recent 125th anniversary special edition. In celebrating the milestone, Journal editors looked to the future by asking nearly 30 leaders to share their thoughts on what we can expect from their respective fields.

Some predictions are disconcerting, including how Richard Clarke expects that government and corporate entities will collect a “growing gush” of data about every aspect of our lives. Privacy will then become a commodity that only the wealthy might acquire, according to this cyber-security adviser to three U.S. presidents. Others are more reassuring, such as chef Alice Waters’ prediction that the sustainable food movement — in reaction against fast food and Big Ag — will gain traction, bringing about more mom-and-pop restaurants and young people who are interested in farming.

As you would expect, rapid advances in technology were often mentioned. In an interesting parallel to face-to-face meetings, personalization was also a popular topic. According to Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, “Today’s mostly one-size-fits-all approach to medical care will seem as outdated to future generations as bloodletting leeches and patent-medicine potions are to us.” Rather, the availability of relatively inexpensive DNA sequencing technology will allow doctors to tailor medical care to each person’s unique genetic makeup, starting at birth.

On the education front, schools will move from grade levels based on age to an individualized model where students will be grouped according to their level of learning — and they’ll be free to move ahead when ready, according to Margaret Spellings, secretary of education from 2005–2009.

Some industries are rethinking the how and why of their products. Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., discusses how the industry can’t simply sell more automobiles, but it can succeed by rethinking how to make vehicles, as well as how people drive them. Along the same lines, Sarah Susanka, architect and author of The Not So Big House book series, says homes of the future will be smaller in square footage, but will feel larger because they are better designed to be efficient and meet the needs of today’s lifestyles.

All of these expert opinions are just that: opinions. But it’s important for any industry — including the meetings business — to keep rethinking the how and why of what they offer and to look ahead to what the future may hold. It’s especially important to keep tabs on where other industries are going as well. As the boards of PCMA and the PCMA Education Foundation prepare for a joint visioning session this month, you can be certain many of these forecasts will be top of mind.

Any Questions?

Ever feel like you have more questions than answers when you think about the future of your meetings? That’s actually a good thing. Make sure to check out this month’s cover-story interview with Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, who talks to Convene about how to harness the power of questions.

Deborah Sexton

Deborah Sexton is president and CEO of PCMA.