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Let’s face it: the trends impacting life and property/casualty and groups benefits insurance companies are real.

The industries will be disrupted by tech companies. Existing brokerage and distribution networks will be obliterated as more people buy insurance direct. Predictive analytics will shift the industry away from actuarial based historical assessment to real-time coverage. Policy niches, micro-insurance and just-in-time insurance will drive an increasing number of revenue models. The Internet of Things (IoT) and massive connectivity will provide for massive market and business model disruption. Fast paced trends involving self-driving cars, the sharing economy, blockchains, personal drones, swarmbots, smart dust, artificial intelligence and augmented reality will either mitigate, accelerate or challenge the very notion of risk assessment and underwriting! What happens when Amazon, Google or some kid in a garage decide to really change the insurance business model?

What seemed to be science fiction just a few short years ago has become a reality today, as time compresses and the future accelerates. Whichever way you look, all sectors of the insurance industry are set for an era of disruption, challenge and change! Is the industry ready for transformative change? Not really! A recent survey indicated that while 94% of Chief Strategy Officers at insurance companies agree that tech will “rapidly change their industry in 5 years,” fewer than 1 in 5 CSOs believe their companies are prepared.

Does the insurance industry have the innovation culture necessary to deal with the potential for what comes next? Maybe not.

Jim has been the keynote speaker for dozens of conferences, corporate events and association annual meetings in the insurance sector, including • Certified Professional Chartered Underwriter Association • LIMRA International • Assurant Insurance • Chubb Commercial • Lincoln Financial • GAMA International • Cigna  • Blue Cross Blue Shield  •Equitable Life Insurance Company  •RBC Life Insurance •MetLife •SwissRe •American Institute of Actuaries • American Automobile Association • FM Global and SunLife. Jim led a discussion on the future of insurance at a private meeting that included CxO’s from most major insurers, including Allianz, XL Insurance, Travelers, AIG,  Zurich Financial Services, Allstate, AXA, MetLife Auto & Home, Farmers,  CNA,  Nationwide, American Famity, Chubb, Ping An, Lloyd’s of London, Liberty Mutual, The Hartford, Generali, GEICO, State Farm, Progressive, and RSA.

Jim Carroll has been helping insurance organizations in the world understand the tsunami of change that is FinTech, the impact of mobile technology, social networks, rapid business emergence, accelerated risk, the emergence of new global competitors and heightened customer expectations.

In his keynotes he puts into perspective the real trends impacting the future of insurance, offering critical insight into the key innovation and leadership strategies in a time of disruptive change.

I’m cleaning up from some of the research that went into my recent talk for the United Soybean Board last week.

Here are some of the fascinating statistics I dug out about the productivity gains that have been achieved in US agriculture:

  • corn yields have gone from 39 bushels to 153 per acre in the last 50 years
  • farmers produce 44% more milk with 65% fewer cows than 1944
  • soil erosion is down 32% from 19282
  • today an acre of land supports one human life – that will decrease to 1/3 acre within 35 years
  • output of eggs and poultry have increased 411% from 1948 to 1994
  • this year, the US posted the longest stretch of falling food prices in 50 years, due to advances in agriculture
  • when planning each year, farmers must select from thousands of potential seed varietals, each tailored to particular geographic, soil and other characteristics
  • Farmers Business Network, Farmers Edge and other initiatives essentially crowd source information from thousands of farmer s as to the perforce of particular seeds and pesticides
  • farm jobs were 90% of all US jobs in 1790 but are less than 2% today
  • advances in science will let us grow crops that use less sunlight, in saltier areas and more arid lands
  • the average American meal travels 1,500 miles to the table – which is why there is so much interest in the field of vertical farming
  • 70% of the final cost of food comes from transportation storage and handling!
  • one acre of a vertical farm can grow 10 to 20 times that of a traditional farm acre

It’s all about less input, more output.

Farmers and agriculture are masters of optimization. I love working with agriculture keynote groups; they thrive on innovation. In the past, I’ve spoken to a wide range of groups, including • CHS • Farm Media Journal • FMC Agriculture • Texas Cattle Feeders Association • Colorado Cattle Ranchers Association • FCC Services US (Farm Credit Cooperative) • MicroBeef Technologies • Mid-America Crop Protection Association • FarmTech • AgProgress Conference • Agricorp • CropLife Canada • US Department of Agriculture • American Agriwoman Society • Syngenta • American Landscape and Nursery Association • Monsanto • and more….

The rest of the business world would do well to learn from farmers and the world of agriculture. Rock stars of innovation!

 

 

It’s a funny job, being a futurist.

Essentially, your job is to take people out of their comfort zone, by removing them from today, and taking them into tomorrow.

Tomorrow, of course, involves challenge and change; opportunity and threat; hope and fear. Some people are ready for it; many others are not.

With 25 years and more of helping people comprehend change and what comes next, I’ve come to learn a few things, best captured by an observation I often make on stage: “some people see a trend and see a threat. Innovators see the same trend, and see an opportunity!”

threatoropportunity

Think about that phrase, and then think about three situations that just unfolded in the last several days:

  • a large global financial services organization had been looking at me to come in and focus on what they needed to do to align themselves to faster consumer, technology, business model and other disruptive change — all the things I do. I had great interactions with one of the organizers who wanted to bring me in. What happened? The decision for a keynote went to a committee, who decided to do what they’ve always done: they chose an industry expert! As my contact admitted to me, “we should look outside the box and opt for something new, novel, insightful, controversial, not by default vote for the known names, where we will hear the stuff we already know, wrapped in different package.“. But they went with what was comfortable. After the decision, he noted that “it just shows how transformation consultants are not insightful in how to continuously improve and transform themselves, once they get into the comfort zone…”
  • an association that will be heavily impacted by the emergence of smart highways, autonomous, self-driving cars, and the acceleration of the automotive industry, had been looking at me for a keynote on what they needed to do to align to this rate of change. What did they decide? They booked a motivational speaker to come in and ‘energize their group!’ (their words). Can an industry simply motivate themselves out of disruptive change? Probably not…..
  • and in the most fascinating situation, a major agricultural organization that runs a series of events for farmers shortlisted me (for the 10th year in a row). And for the 10th year, I’ve learned, they’ve gone out and selected the same national news anchor they’ve selected for the last 10 years! Who I suppose will deliver the same message, interpreting current events, and basically repeating to them what he says on the national news each and every night. Simple fact? Agriculture in 10 years will look nothing like it does today: and so how can re-interpreting current affairs help them to deal with this fact?

It’s kind of funny, if you think about it.

But it’s also a pretty poor reflection on the ability of people to confront and deal with change.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not terribly bothered by this, other than by writing this post. The fact of the matter is that nature of my business is that I do some 50 keynotes or leadership meetings each year. The number really doesn’t vary; I’ve got a limited number of dates that I make myself available for, and a limited set of time to do the intense industry research for each talk that I am known for. I’ve encountered many situations like this over the past, and regardless of what these folks are doing, I’ll end up being booked by someone else for the dates that were on the table.

I just find it remarkable that so many people live in fear of the future, and yet really aren’t prepared to do anything about it.

My job IS to make people feel uncomfortable with the future, warts and all – and yet also inspire and challenge them to discover the opportunity that comes from the reality of change. This was perhaps best captured in the brochure copy when I did a keynote for 500 mayors and civic officials in Salt Lake City for the Utah League of Cities and Towns a few years ago:

confused-utah

What a great description!

Jim Carroll’s job is to make people feel uncomfortable …. maybe even a bit confused. Just when you think you’ve got things figured out, Jim probably sees it differently. He has a knack for predicting trends and change, and helping business and government leaders see where things are going, and how they can not only adapt to change, but lead it.”

When I first saw the description in the brochure, it took me by surprise. In most cases, the client runs brochure copy past me before it goes to print, but in this case, for various logistics reasons, I didn’t see it in advance. Yet when I first read it, I thought to myself, “hmmm, does that sound right?” I thought perhaps it might put a bit of a negative spin on what I do.

Yet the more I thought about it, I realized it was a great outline of what I do!

That’s because when it comes to the future, far too many people can be complacent about the trends that are going to impact them, and avoid the type of creative ideas that they need to pursue in order to keep up with the pace of change.

If you are too comfortable right now with the future, then you probably aren’t thinking hard enough about the trends that are going to impact you. You need to be scared; nervous; prepared to accept that things are going to change, and ready for action. That’s why you should always remember the comments of Andy Grove of Intel: “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

So maybe being a little uncomfortable, dazed and confused is a good state of mind to be in!

 

For years, I’ve made the observation that 65% of children in pre-school today will work in a job or career that does not yet exist. Given the rapid emergence of new careers around us today, it’s a statistic that is bearing fruit.

Given that, someone alerted me to the fact that the Dean and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Duke University delivered a convocation speech to the class of 2018 quoting my thinking on the rapid emergence of new careers.

It was in August 2014 — and he challenging the new undergrads in the room to ask themselves about the future of their own careers in the context of their future education.

whyareyouhere

A key skill of the future? ” A flexible, creative, and open mind, a mind that will continue to absorb new ideas and adapt to new ways of thinking throughout your life”

Here’s an extract:

Why you are here?’

My first reason has to do with the oft-stated and certainly accurate view that many of the jobs your generation will hold haven’t even been conceived of yet.  The futurist Jim Carroll suggests the imminent emergence of novel professions with colorful names such as “knowledge farmer,” “location intelligence professional,” and “mash manager.” If we don’t even know what a ”mash manager” is yet, how can we prepare you to excel in that job?

Moreover, how can we not only prepare you for professions that don’t yet exist, but help you be the ones who invent those jobs in the first place?

The answer is to train you not just with specific knowledge and skills, but to give you practice in maintaining a flexible, creative, and open mind, a mind that will continue to absorb new ideas and adapt to new ways of thinking throughout your life.  And to accomplish this, we do everything we can to broaden your perspective, not narrow it, from the structure of our curriculum to the ways we have you live together and to all the experiences you’ll have in between.

There is just so much in these few paragraphs that I will leave it at that, but will leave you with a phrase I coined years ago that I think is so critical when it comes to knowledge and education: the most important skill of the future is what I have come to call “just-in-time knowledge.”

I’m featured in the July/August issue of AgriSuccess, the national publication of the Farm Credit Coop of Canada. You can read the article below, or access the PDF through the image.

Sadly, they printed only a small part of the interview! I dug into my e-mail archive, and so you’ll find the ‘missing bits’ after the end of the article below!


Highlights

  • Development of Ag Ant and photonic weed detection next steps in crop management
  • Be open but cautious when looking at new technology
  • Crowd thinking making a big impact on technological change
  • Acceleration of science has profound implications for agriculture
AgSuccess

Read the PDF version of the article by clicking on the image!

Acknowledged as one of the world’s leading global futurists, Jim Carroll has an extensive list of blue chip clients and has delivered keynote addresses around the world. He has operated his own advisory firm, J.A. Carroll Consulting, since 1989.

What equipment innovations do you see for agriculture in the years ahead?
At the University of Illinois, they have developed what they call the ‘AgAnt.’ It’s a prototype for an automated robot that can assess and detect stress, disease, weeds, soil status and pests. And at Edith Cowan University, they’re working to develop a ‘photonic weed detection system.’ It aims a series of laser pulses at the field, which are reflected back. A photo-detector then analyzes the information and provides instruction to a spray cylinder and valve as to where to apply a treatment.

Science is real. Science is fast. Science is accelerating. And agriculture is science.

I find it increasingly difficult to keep on top of many trends, simply because it is happening so fast. Just five years ago, I was on stage in Las Vegas speaking about this fascinating new, future idea of ‘3D printing.’ And then, just last year, I found myself on stage in front of a group of dental professionals, talking about the fact that 3D printing of dental implants, crowns and other implants, was coming into the industry at a very fast pace. 3D printing is expected to have ramifications for agriculture too. For instance, your local equipment dealership might in some cases be able to “print” a replacement part that you need.

You’ve said there have been some stunningly bad predictions in past decades. As we consider the range of current predictions, how should we sort the good from the bad?

That’s a tough one. Maybe the best ‘worst’ predictions were the ones that rockets would never reach the moon, or Bill Gates’s comment that 640K should be enough for everyone! And yet, some people carry it to extremes suggesting we will soon have elevators that will take us to space or to the moon. How do we sort out the real from the fanciful? Be open, but cautious.

You note that aggressive indecision often kills innovation in companies. Why is this happening?

During the economic downturn in 2001-02, I noticed that many of my clients, regardless of the industry, seemed to have lost their sense of direction. Quite simply, people decided not to make decisions – and they seemed to like it.

The result is an economy in which everyone seems to be stuck in a rut, unwilling and unable to move forward.

Why is this happening? In part, fear of the unknown. And that extends into the world of agriculture. We have a lot of farmers who are afraid to make decisions because the next unforeseen event might prove to have negative consequences.

So what do you do? Do you wallow in indecision, or make aggressive moves to position for a future in which ag only has an upside? I’m in the latter camp.

First, look for the warning signs: a mindset that is averse to any type of risk, an absence of any new product or marketing initiatives, or an organization that is stuck in a rut, wheels spinning, and no one has decided even to call a tow truck.

Second, realize that aggressive indecision means you’ll likely have to respond to external pressures faster than ever before. That’s because while people have learned they can hold off until the very last minute, they are also learning they can still get things right. This leads to a business cycle that involves extended periods of frustrated waiting, followed by a blur of activity as organizations rush about to respond to customers’ demands for instant action.

Third, be prepared to make bold decisions. Want to test it? Find the one big decision you’ve been deferring the longest, and decide one way or the other. Right now.

Technological change has been rapid in the past two decades. Will the rate of change slow, stay the same or accelerate in the years ahead?

It’s certainly going to accelerate – that’s why my tag line has become ‘the future belongs to those who are fast.’ There are numerous reasons why it is speeding up. Certainly the idea of ‘crowd thinking’ is having a big impact. We’ve got this big, global collaborative thinking and research machine with the Internet today.

Science itself is accelerating. The new global mind generates new knowledge at furious rates. We’re going from 19 million known chemical substances today to 80 million by 2025 – and five billion by 2100. The discovery of a single chemical substance permitted Apple to miniaturize a hard disk for the first iPad, which led to the birth of a new billion-dollar market.

The acceleration of science has profound implications for agriculture, since much of ag is science-dependent. Consider bio-genomics. The cost to sequence human, animal and plant genomes is collapsing at the same pace that the cost of computer chips collapsed.

Science is real. Science is fast. Science is accelerating. And agriculture is science.


Stuff that didn’t make the cut!

In some of your presentations you talk about the rise of urban farming and jobs for vertical farm infrastructure managers. Most farmers that I know see urban farming as a quaint idea rather than something that will feed a significant number of people. What’s your take on it?

It’s simple — the simple fact is that global food production has to double in the next 30 years to keep up with population growth, and there is little new arable land coming online.

Add to that some basic realities from an international perspective: By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities. Africa is urbanizing so fast that by 2030 it will cease to be a rural continent

Those trends are already leading to the rapid growth of urban farming. I dug out research that shows that there already there are 800 million ‘city-farmers’ according to UN statistics — some 25% of population of Burkina Faso, 35% in Cameroon, 63% in Kenya, 68% in Tanzania. Consider this: 90% of the fresh vegetables in Accra, Ghana come from farming within the city! That’s why we are seeing a lot of agricultural research and innovation around the idea of vertical farming … and hence, a new profession of farmers involved in this field.

Vertical farming is just an example of the massive types of innovaton occuring throughout the global agricultural sector. That’s why futurists like me exist : our job is to remind those who are very involved in day to day realities, and who don’t have a lot of time to think about what comes next, that there is a tremendous amount of change occuring out there.

Lets’ come back to the idea of vertical farming — visit http://vertical-farming.net, which is a global initiative that brings together researchers, academics and others involved in this field. 20 years ago, we didn’t have that type of global mind, but today, we do. This provides for a lot of collaborative thinking, research and idea sharing. This accelerates the pace of innovation and discovery.

Or take a look at http://www.instructables.com/id/Vertical-Hydroponic-Farm/ . This is an example of a community where people are using low-cost computers known as “Raspberry Pi’s” ($5 to $35 per computer) to advance vertical farming concepts. Sure, it might involve hydroponics, but the fact that tech-enthusiasts can share softawre and code also accelrates technology.

Is there any risk from relying on too much leading edge technology?

There is a tremendous amount of risk — privacy, security, criminal activities, social and ethical challenges. The list goes on. That doesn’t mean the pace of technological change is going to slow down.

When I talk about this on stage, I often help people think about their discomfort with change by quoting Ogden Nash, who observed that, ‘for some people, progress is great, but its gone on way too long.’ That I think captures in a nuthsell the reality that we faced with today. Many in my generation — baby boomers — are extremely uncomfortable with the rapid change that envelopes us.

But I really believe that its going to be differen with the next generation : my sons are 21 and 23, and I really believe they are a part of a generation that has a different view with respect to technological change. They’ve already grown up in a world in which they’ve witnessed the arrival and disappearance of entire technologies: think about DVD-players. I often talk about how they view some things from my life as being ‘things from the olden days’ — 35mm film, TV guides, CD’s.

Those young people are coming into the world of agriculture today — they’re taking over the family farm, or working within large industrial or agriculture cooperatives. They’re open to new ideas, new ways of working, and paritcuularly, new technologies.

They’re sitting in the combine with an iPad, an iPhone, and are eager to utilize rapidly evolving precision farming technoogies to achieve that year over year yield increase.

And when it comes to the risk of rapidly evolving technologies, I think they will deal with it in very different ways.

At least, I hope so. As a futurist, I have to stay relentlessly optimistic!

The National Watermelon Association recently ran a blog post, with some succinct coverage of my thoughts on the future of agriculture, and the opportunities that come from innovation. It seemed like a good read, so I’ll repost it here!


watermelons-by-morguefile

“….drone technology, vertical farming practices, and robotics will play a larger role…”

I know that I’m ‘singing to the choir’ when I write that the real innovators of the 21 century are farmers. We just returned from the National Watermelon Convention in New Orleans, where over 500 members of the watermelon industry gathered to hear what is new in the industry. During a morning impact session, our growers were introduced to a variety of new innovations in agriculture, including the use of drones and precision technology, bee pollination services, and revolutionary nematode control.

Jim Carroll, a futurist and trend and innovation expert, points out that the multigenerational nature of agriculture, blending the experience of older farmers with technologically eager younger farmers, creates an opportunity for innovation and success. In his post, ’10 Big Trends in Agriculture,’ Carroll shows us how farmers are poised to meet the demands that are just around the corner. He states that the growth in the world population, an increase of over 45% by 2050, will inevitably create a huge demand for food and potential in the marketplace. Limited arable land will motivate those in agriculture to become more efficient. Perhaps drone technology, vertical farming practices, and robotics will play a larger role.

Carroll notes that new methods to improve crop yield as well as intelligent packaging are the direct result of rapidly developing chemical substances. Emerging methodologies, practices and partnerships will continue to rise as those in agriculture focus on growth, efficiency, and ingestion of new science.

Trends that encourage a focus on health and convenience have created a surge in fresh-cut produce as snack alternatives at home and in schools. Concern over food safety has inspired greater relationships between producer and consumer. Jim Carroll is convinced that, “…an increasing number of partnerships between growers and advisers, suppliers, buyers, retailers and just about everyone else,” will continue to increase in order to , “… deal with the massive complexities that emerge from rapid change and innovation.”

The most impactful trend that Mr. Carroll notices is that of generational transformation – he is convinced that the as the younger generation of farmers take over the family business a “sea-change in the rate by which new ideas in the world of agriculture are accepted,” will take place. No doubt change is already taking place.

The National Watermelon Association is preparing for this tidal wave by embracing its future farm leaders. During the convention, four Future Watermelon Farm Leaders were recognized as rising leaders who will ride the wave of transformational innovation.

Nicole Schrader

"Agriculture is an industry that is ripe for massive change and disruption — and the year 2045 might happen by 2025, if not sooner"

“Agriculture is an industry that is ripe for massive change and disruption — and the year 2045 might happen by 2025, if not sooner”

Farm & Dairy Magazine interviewed me a few months back, and have since published an article with some of my thoughts about the future of agriculture. It’s a good read!

Can’t ignore the trends in agriculture
Farm & Dairy, by Susan Crowell
January 2016

I must’ve read at least 10 “top trends for 2016” articles at the beginning of the year. Most of them were related to food or farming, but there was an interesting twist proffered by one of the grand dames of futuring, Faith Popcorn. Popcorn talked about “fear,” her word for 2016.

Fear — think Ebola, ISIS, terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino — escalated during 2015. We’re all just a little bit more worried that something bad could happen. Witness the entire stock market shaking on tremors emanating from China. Will the giant’s economic house of cards collapse this year, we wonder in the wake. It’s not just paranoia; bad things are happening all around us.

I think Popcorn gets a little extreme and says people are also looking for ways to “cocoon” and forget the outside world. They’ll look for an escape through virtual reality or seek protection programs, like armored school buses. But she says people are also looking for things to create memories of happiness and peace.

To me, that screams agritourism or bringing people together around the farm table. After all, you can’t have comfort food without farmers.

Here’s the thing about futurists and trend spotters: We don’t live in their world and often think their projections are wacky and “out there.” While they might not be spot on, however, there are kernels of truth in their outlooks, and that’s why we need to pay attention to them.

Another futurist, Jim Carroll, says there are three types of people: those who make things happen; those who watch things happen; and those who say, “Whoa, dude, what happened?”

You don’t want to be blind to a trend that could bring massive changes to your farm or ag business. You also don’t want to ignore changes that are already happening.

What’s already happening?

  • Consumers care more about how their foods are produced and sourced — and that’s impacting the entire food chain from your farm to the store or restaurant. Transparency, transparency, transparency. Information, information, information.
  • Local food is no longer a fad. Consumers want to support local farms, local businesses. Some are willing to pay, some are not.
  • Environmental responsibility and conservation.
  • The smartphone. It can purchase; it can find deals; it can suggest recipes; it can share nutrition information; it can pay; it can connect farmers with retailers, farmers with restaurants, farmers with their input suppliers, farmers with consumers.
  • Stronger links between health and food (and also convenience); stronger emphasis on “clean eating” — think back to basics, or products that are minimally processed. People want “real food.”
  • Food safety and traceability.
  • Minimizing food waste — which speaks to the processing chain, as well as finding new uses for previously undesirable meat cuts or products.
  • Water everything. (Ever hear of water footprint analysts? They’re already in demand.)
  • Longer life spans. The typical baby born in the U.S. today will live to be 100. What does that mean for family farm structures and transitions and retirement planning and real estate and housing?
  • New faces in farming. Carroll cites U.N. statistics that say there are 800 million practicing urban agriculture. More colleges beyond the traditional land grant universities are offering agriculture degrees. Embrace them all.

Yes, the current climate for traditional agriculture is challenging, so it’s hard to look at these trends and see how they play a role in your farm’s future, when you’re just trying to scrape by in 2016. (Ask yourself what each input costs relative to its contribution to yield. If you don’t what it contributes, get busy.)

Carroll, who does numerous, high-profile keynotes within agriculture, writes, “agriculture is an industry that is ripe for massive change and disruption — and the year 2045 might happen by 2025, if not sooner.”

And that’s one futurist’s prediction we can’t ignore.
By Susan Crowell

MosaicCollege

I’m honored to be one of the keynote speakers at the 2016 Mosaic AgCollege in Orlando in January.

It’s an annual event held by the Mosaic Company, the world’s leading producer of concentrated phosphate and potash, nitrogen fertilizers and feed ingredients for the agriculture industry, for their key clients.

My focus? The future of agriculture!

Big Trends In Agriculture: What Ag Will Look Like In 2045
Jim Carroll, an agriculture futurist and innovation expert, will look into his crystal ball and predict what agriculture will be like in 2045. Whether it’s driverless tractors, weed-zapping robots or data-transmitting crops, Jim will forecast what farms might be like 30 years from now, and encourage the industry to embrace high-velocity innovation. Jim is recognized worldwide as a “thought leader” and authority on global trends, rapid business model change, business transformation in a period of economic uncertainty, and the necessity for fast-paced innovation. You will not want to miss his predictions.

I do numerous keynotes throughout the agriculture industry, with a lot of detailed insight — so much so that after one talk, an audience member asked how long I had been a farmer!

Just this weekend, I was the closing keynote speaker for a dealer meeting for Reinke, the manufacturer of those large irrigation systems you see on farms all over North America.

As in every sector and industry, agriculture is an industry that is ripe for massive change and disruption — and the year 2045 might happen by 2025, if not sooner. We will certainly see a lot of autonomous vehicles, region specific plant varietals based on genomic science, rapid advances in precision farming, irrigation and big data technology, and more.

Spend some time in the agriculture section of my Web site for more insight — and stay tuned! I’ll report on my Mosaic AgCollege keynote in January!

I just remembered about this article; Real Estate Australia (the national association for realtors) interviewed me about future real estate trends. You can find the original article here.

6 ways the real estate game will be different in 2045
by REA , 26 JUN 2014

future

If you view the current trends towards technology, private sales, and other disruptors as a threat, you are in the wrong frame of mind. Some people see a trend and consider it a threat. Innovators see the same trend and see an opportunity.

Close your eyes for a minute and just imagine how modern life, and modern real estate would look like to your old boss in 1985… (That is if you had a boss in the ‘80s, or were even born…)

While this new world of connectivity makes perfect sense now, much of the way we live, and the way we buy things for example, would have seemed absurd back then. Considering we’re still living in an age of paper rental applications, the real estate industry is often a late adopter when it comes to new technology. Sure, we’ve made some fundamental reforms over the last decade, with agencies embracing online profiles, mobile apps, and online lead generation. However, the industry is expected to undergo some major shifts in coming years.

The point is, agents need to be not only keeping up with tech trends but staying ahead of them. We speak to one of the world’s most famous futurists Jim Carroll and ask what the industry should expect over the next 30 years? Prepare to suspend your disbelief and your sense of what is possible…

1. Agents in jeopardy?

When asked whether the role of the real estate agent was in jeopardy, Carroll remains non-committal. “Will more clients opt to use private means of purchasing and selling property? Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on the agent.” Adaptation is the name of the game, with Carroll saying: “If you view the current trends towards technology, private sales, and other disruptors as a threat, you are in the wrong frame of mind. Some people see a trend and consider it a threat. Innovators see the same trend and see an opportunity. Your frame of mind on how the business is changing will define how you will reinvent yourself to turn it into opportunity.”

2. Farms in the sky?

The way future cities are developed (i.e. increasing urbanisation, higher density housing) will affect the real estate game, and Carroll brings up one of the major trends he perceives affecting real estate in the future: “Vertical Farming. My research tells me that 21st century farming infrastructure will involve towers – 25, 50, 100 storeys – that are dedicated to crop production. Why? Year-round crop production and increased productivity – 1 indoor acre is equivalent to 4-6 outdoor acres or more, there are no crop failures, and it adds energy back into the grid. Already there are 800 million practicing urban agriculture called ‘city-farmers’ according to UN statistics. So yes, cities are going to change. And real estate agents should be ready to sell farming listings in the middle of a city.”

3. Your patch of dirt?

Carroll denies that property ownership will become an unaffordable fantasy for much of the middle class in 2045. “A patio, a cold beer, and kids: It’s a dream for everyone. It always will be. People aspire to space. The space may change, the method to buy it, but the fantasy won’t.”

4. Suburgatory?

What will become of suburbs – will they continue to expand, or fall into slow decline, much like many shopping malls? “I heard this question 20 years ago. People change, design changes, and right now, there is some kid in a garage somewhere defining the suburb of the future. I have no idea what that kid is thinking, other than that her mind is wired unlike mine. She’s grown up in a world with Internet 24 hours a day. They will reshape the world – and their neighborhood – in their image.”

5. Senior housing?

In residential real estate, Carroll argues senior housing will be “one of the dominant trends”. “People are living longer,” he says. “The typical baby born in western society today will live to be 100. Longevity for a part of the population is one of the challenges of our time. Society won’t be able to build all the seniors homes required; and so they will live at home. Technology will lead to “bio-connectivity. Hospitals going virtual – a doctor will be able to monitor non critical care senior patients from afar using connected medical devices.”

6. The constants?

It’s easy to look around and wonder what elements of the business will disappear or lose relevance. Will open for inspections, auctions, or cold calling go the way of the fax machine? Carroll argues that while the minutiae of the business will undoubtedly change, the core elements will remain unchanged. In other words, “People matter. People will always matter. Trust, reliance, reputation. Keep that, and you’ve got what matters. But only if you are open to the future.”

There was an interesting article in the New York Times on Feb 18: “Careers: ‘Board Doctors,’ to Supervise the Supervisors — More companies bring in experts to scrutinize effectiveness of directors, creating a growth business.” (read the article)

board_of_directors

Sadly, with all the current focus on “compliance,” I’ve come to believe that there is a critical lack of future planning on many other corporate boards around the world — Jim Carroll

The article opens with the observation: “Amid unprecedented pressure from investors, more boards are tapping outside experts so they can monitor management better and clean their own house. The legion of advisers — which some dub “board doctors” — scrutinize boards’ inner workings and prescribe cures for such ills as an entrenched chief executive, 800-page briefing books, or even a director who plays Sudoku during management presentations. The experts often enable board members to make tough choices they are too squeamish to do on their own.”

Essentially, the gist of the article boiled down to three key points:

  • boards are becoming less effective at making ‘hard decisions’
  • the result is a trend in which there is more outside (hired) scrutiny of the effectiveness of board performance
  • the scrutiny adds in assessment of the effectiveness of individual board members

In an amusing point, the article comments on one director who was known to regularly play Sudoku during board meetings.

The article is a good read, and a great outline of some of the problems facing the world of corporate governance today. But from my perspective, it missed a key point that I’ve been raising in many of my sessions with Boards through the years — most boards are not structured to deal with issues of future strategic direction.

If you understand how boards work, there are two key issues:

  • it’s a very insular club ; still, globally, very much an ‘old boys network’ (although gender diversity is a key issue that many national Director associations are working hard to solve)
  • the board ‘skills matrix’ — that is, the type of people that boards seek to recruit — generally consists of finance/accounting; legal; executive compensation; IT; human resources; and specific industry experience. Few seem to have expanded their matrix to include “future strategic insight.”

A few years ago, I thought it might be interesting to apply my skill of anticipating and outlining future trends by actively seeking involvement in a few boards. I took a director education course at the University of Rotman. It was a fascinating world to immerse myself in. Sadly, since then, I’ve had few opportunities (probably, to be honest, because I don’t network with the board world as most other folks do.)

What’s the looming crisis? I outlined this back in a post in 2007, “The Future of Governance.” Essentially, there are numerous boards who do not take on the responsibility of actively and regularly assessing trends for future threats and opportunities, and include this assessment in their evaluation of the effectivness of the CEO (which is one of their key responsibilities.)

I’ll repost the 2007 post in fulll below; it still makes what I believe is a useful and powerful read.

I’m not sure much has changed since I wrote it; consider, for example, the recent security/hacking issues with Sony. Should they not have had a high level Board member who would be asking tough questions as to what structure the CEO had in place to deal with an obvious looming security infrastructure challenge. You can lay the Sony debacle at the door of the CEO. You can also lay blame directly against the Board of Directors.

Have a look at the article, and then consider if the Board you participate on has a significant ‘future oriented challenge.’

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I was in Colorado Springs yesterday, as the opening keynote of the Leadership Institute for Directors for FCCServices — they’re the business services arm of the US federal Farm Credit System.

In attendance were members of the Boards of Directors for a wide variety of state and community farm credit co-ops; these folks are the backbone of the US farm lending infrastructure. The Directors are local farmers, community leaders and business executives, and hence, need to be aware of the trends impacting the local and global agricultural industries, so that they can plan accordingly, assess risk, and make sound business decisions with respect to their co-ops.

My keynote took a look at “what comes next in the agricultural sector” – it’s one of many talks I do within the industry. And agriculture is certainly subject to high velocity change: there’s rapid evolution in science (bio-crops); new markets (bio-fuel) ; rapidly changing skills; new direct to consumer market opportunities; globalization (current food production must double in the next 30 years to keep up with global population growth.) All of which could spell opportunity if approached correctly — or turmoil and challenge if ignored.

The intent of the talk — and the overall theme of the leadership conference — was to ensure that these folks have the insight to direct their organizations into the future. That’s an important and critical role for Boards; and FCC Services is an example of an organization that has made sure that the “future” is closely linked to the issue of “governance.”

I think there are too many organizations that don’t do this. Sadly, with all the current focus on “compliance,” I’ve come to believe that there is a critical lack of future planning on many other corporate boards around the world. The result is that potential risks are often ignored; then things go wrong; then the company gets sued for significant sums of money. Is this Board negligence? That’s an interesting question, isn’t it!

Here’s an example: years ago, I wrote an article indicating that one of the critical CEO/Board level issues that must be addressed had to do with network security; certainly, everyone knows that organizations should properly secure their information assets. Yet in the article, I suggested that I believe that many Boards aren’t dealing with the issue, and that it was an area ripe for future exposure, noting that: “If I were a tort lawyer, I’d be licking my lips in anticipation of the opportunities to come in the next few years.”

Boards and CEO’s should ensure — as they are required to do with financial controls — that the information assets of the organization are properly locked down. They must understand obvious future trends, and ensure that management has planned accordingly. I strongly believe this to be the next wave in Board responsibility.

Do many Boards of Directors ensure that the organization is properly preparing for the rapidity of trends? Not many. Witness the shenanigans with the TJX Group, which had its corporate network hacked and millions of credit card numbers stolen. (The company runs HomeGoods, Marshalls, A.J. Wright, Bob’s Stores and The Maxx stores; in Canada the chain consists of Winners and HomeSense.) Now comes news that a group of banks want to sue the company with respect to the issue.

I can only imagine the questions that the Board of TJX is now asking!

Currently, much of the focus of board governance has to do with “compliance” — how well are boards, and the companies they are responsible for, dealing with the new realities of the post-Enron era.

I believe that within the next decade, we will see Board responsibility quickly evolve into a new and much more complex era than simply making sure that “i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.’ All we need are a few savvy lawyers to launch a few negligence suits against a few public companies, alleging that a Board failed to develop a plan for and respond to obvious future trends.

It’s a trend worth watching.

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