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Hindsight is the journalist’s friend. We regularly demonstrate the sort of lily-livered caution in the face of uncertainty that would prevent visionaries and business pioneers getting anywhere near the boldness hall of fame.
Our wariness about forecasting is understandable. Some even declared the end of Apple in the late 1990s, and you do not have to search far for outlandish forecasts that flopped — from nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners to the all-steel home predicted by none other than Thomas Edison in 1911.
But let me shed my caution and map out where I think the next decade of bold bets will be made. There are at least eight pools of opportunity where I think business is bound to fish.
Communications. The essential human desire to be in touch is fertile ground for courageous innovators. Depending on the rapidity of development, I expect to see even more inventive applications in augmented and virtual reality — in commercial as much as in consumer products — on our shortlists.
Transport. The most grandiose forecasts of the early 20th century related to aviation. A century on, it is autonomous vehicles that present the biggest entrepreneurial opportunity and, as the list of Boldness in Business laureates, from Fiat and Toyota to Uber, suggests, it is one for established brands and disruptive newcomers.
Food. Boldness nominees and winners have sought to satisfy the world’s hunger in ways both simple (EthioChicken, a winner this year, has a mission to bring healthy, affordable eggs and meat to Ethiopian families) and scientifically complex (Impossible Foods’ synthetic burgers, nominated for 2016, come to mind). I expect plenty of new dishes will be set before the judges in the coming years.
Health, specifically genetics. Our obsession with longevity lies behind the surge in businesses seeking to improve our wellbeing, broadly defined. As genetic databases grow and meld, and our natural prudence about sharing our health data is overcome by our desire to benefit from new cures and preventive medicine, so the business opportunities will expand.
Energy and sustainability. Winners such as this year’s CATL, the Chinese battery and energy storage company, and Dong Energy (now called Orsted) in 2016, have blazed a trail for innovation. The pressure to find more sustainable solutions to global warming will continue to fuel bold ideas into the 2020s and beyond.
Development. Predictions suggest G7 countries will struggle to stay in the top 10 most powerful economies by 2030, as the largest developing countries, such as China, India, Indonesia, Brazil and Mexico, continue to expand. They — and of course Africa with its combination of rich business opportunities and acute development needs — will continue to lure the boldest businesspeople.
Finance. Say what you like about cryptocurrencies, their popularity represents not only a reminder about human greed and credulity, but also a deep-seated dissatisfaction with conventional finance. Out of the crypto-bubble will emerge new ways of organising banking and finance — not to mention promising uses of blockchain technology in other fields.
Artificial intelligence and automation. The future here is illuminated by past winners DeepMind, the Google-owned AI developer, and Preferred Technologies, which works with another Boldness gold-medallist, Fanuc, to link AI to robotics.
It is no coincidence that some of the areas to which I have pointed overlap or are fast converging. We are likely to see, for instance, more genetically modified food solutions, AI-informed transport, investment and communication systems, and plenty of business ideas at the intersection of health and development.
One other broad area stands out as a place where bold ideas should proliferate: in management itself. The growth of the networked organisation, the rise of bottom-up movements for economic and political change, facilitated by social media, the challenges to human working practices and structures that automation will bring, the increasing importance of purpose and meaning in business — all call for bold leadership and a refreshing of established models.
Forecasts tend to focus on objects — those flying cars that never seem to reach the showroom. But when I return in 2028 to examine whether I was right or wrong about the most exciting business areas of the coming decade, I forecast I will also marvel at companies and individuals that transformed the way we worked as well as the machines, systems and products we work with.