In a world that seems uncertain and weighed down by the ongoing pandemic, Peter Schwartz, the internationally renowned futurist and business strategist, offers alternative perspectives of the future and helps develop robust strategies within it. As Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning for Salesforce, he manages the organization’s ongoing strategic conversation, while leading the Salesforce Futures LAB – a collaboration between Salesforce and its customers which centres around provocative ideas about the future.
Currently based out of Hawaii, on the premise that ‘if you’re going to do everything digitally, you might as well do it in paradise’, he takes time off to share his insights on emerging trends, the new future and opportunities that it has thrown up.
Excerpts from a conversation with Mridu Bhandari, Managing Editor, CNBC-TV18 under the banner of ‘The Future is Now’ – a joint initiative between Salesforce and CNBC-TV18…
What are the major changes that you have perceived since the pandemic erupted and how do you envisage these playing out as we go forward?
The pace of change has accelerated. Things that were options have become necessities, like working, shopping, learning, healthcare from home. Technology is accelerating around these emerging trends. We are likely to see a transformation over the next 18 months to 3 years or so, as we reinvent ways in which we do things and engage with people in entirely new ways.
The pandemic also shifted the focus to essential workers. We see the need to empower those who provide essential services so that they can become more productive, have a better life, be able to do their tasks more powerfully.
Almost 80% of the jobs of the next decade have yet to be invented. How should organisations and economies, specifically India, prepare for this tremendous change and navigate the whole skilling route for our youth?
India is in a very strong position as its population loves to learn. Fortunately, it is not a resource economy whose success depends on exporting oil or coal or forest products. India exports ideas and intelligence and its success depends on the talent, brains and hard work of its people.
New tools of education and remote learning are able to reach those billion people wherever they are. That’s going to enable them to learn faster. While we cannot predict what the jobs of the future will be, we know that for success, we have to be able to learn, unlearn and relearn really fast. My experience with India suggests that it is quite capable of doing that, probably better than others across the world.
With consumer behaviour having shifted, how can businesses deliver a ‘physical’ experience seamlessly, across channels?
The transformation of retail is a big challenge. But fundamentally, we’re going to see retail divide into two types of purchases. Commodities, which are basically routine subscription products that come on schedule, will continue to be made digitally. However, purchases of other things, which demand remarkable experiences, will go back to being physical experiences. Shopping is, eventually, a form of entertainment and a shared experience for many. So that’s not going to stop.
How can emerging technologies like AI play a role in delivering critical services to the last mile and also ensure that the nation is far more inclusive in future?
There are two aspects to it. AI can lower the cost of providing many services. But more interestingly, as India is comprised of many diverse cultures and languages AI can be used for real time translation as people go to the market or school or office. That will be one of the biggest solutions to evaporating language barriers in India.
How can technology play a significant role in managing wider stakeholders’ interests and ensuring human values are upheld?
We believe in ‘stakeholder capitalism’. While we are accountable to our shareholders and seek to give them a very good return, we are also concerned about our communities, the future, nature, the whole world and so on. Organizations must ensure transparency, by sharing information. Technology tools enable such transparency and thereby facilitate stakeholder capitalism.
What should CIOs look for to ensure quick and effective returns on investments in technology?
Ease of implementation and ability to scale will produce results faster. Having support systems that enable speed and scale are also important.
Do you also see the whole focus on health and hygiene becoming far more prominent in the future?
We are in an era of pandemics; this is not the last one. We have learned that the world is quite vulnerable and the system of airlines that we have can distribute disease very fast. So, we need to be prepared for pandemics of the future by having the ability to install safety and health measures very fast so we can quickly respond to future pandemics.
What are your top 3 tips for business leaders that can prepare them better for the future, pandemic or not, the next 5-7 years?
First of all, recognise that there is a new future as we are in a new technology world. Organisations must pivot to that new world by understanding how their industry is impacted, what technology is relevant, how their markets have changed, etc. Secondly, practice speed. Change is taking place very rapidly and if you don’t move very quickly, you will be left behind. And, finally, this is a human crisis so pay attention to people – employees, partners, customers, communities. There is a lot of suffering presently and it will continue for some time. So, it is essential, especially for business leaders, to demonstrate empathy.
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