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"Volatility is the new normal"

I recently keynoted the Furniture Today 2005 Leadership conference in Miami. This article reports on my talk.

Futurist: Changes will present new opportunities
Furniture Today, 12/14/2005
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MIAMI — If you aren’t comfortable with change, you probably won’t like Jim Carroll’s vision of the future.

“Everything is changing so fast, you don’t know what is going to happen next,” he told the Furniture/Today Leadership Conference here. “Volatility is the new normal.”

Carroll should know. The “futurist” has observed trends for nearly 20 years. He can’t predict exactly what will happen, but understands how quickly things are changing and how that could affect business.

Technology and ease of communication are among the key factors influencing the spread of new ideas and products. For instance, there are now 19 million known chemical substances, he said. Thanks to online capabilities that allow scientists to share information quickly, this number is expected to grow to 80 million by 2025 and 5 billion by 2100.

Carroll cited a study that said 65% of today’s preschool children will work in jobs that don’t exist now. And half of what students learn in their freshman year about science and technology is obsolete by their senior year.

Such rapid change, he said, will have broad impact on the furniture industry. “The way ideas are generated has changed in a fundamental way,” he said. “All ideas are shared faster than ever before, and that is what is impacting your industry.”

Carroll wants people to embrace change, the future and the opportunities they present. “Most people approach the future as something to be feared,” he said. “To me, the future is full of opportunity.”

Aging baby boomers are one opportunity as they seek home health care service, a factor that will influence the type of furniture in peoples’ homes, he said.

“Dealing with the future with the right mindset is critical,” Carroll said. “When we are bemoaning the challenges, we need to think of the next waves of opportunity.”

He urged his audience to better understand customers in the context of a rapidly changing world. Customer expectations and needs are changing rapidly, and many are more demanding, he said, and brand or product loyalty “tends to go out the window with customer empowerment.” Also, customers view more and more products as commodities, which influences buying decisions.

He advised furniture companies to remain focused on core areas such as style, selection and service to best serve a demanding customer, and suggested they partner with industries such as electronics and health care to deliver in all three areas.

Most importantly, Carroll urged his listeners to keep an open mind to what is happening around them and the possibilities that presents for their businesses.

“You can become your own futurists,” he said. “You can discover your own trends simply by looking at what’s happening in the world.”

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