The Future of Business

In 2010, Cecily Sommers, a local and nationally known business futurist, spoke to Minnesota Women’s Press about her futurism business, how to stamp out short-sightedness, and how to make change. At the time, just after the 2009 recession, and well before anyone envisioned the impact of a 2020 pandemic, she was asked why we are not particularly good at change.

Her reply: “We imagine the future based on our memory. We can only conceive of a future that is as big or as wide as our memory sets are. One of the things that is really critical for our ability to invent or imagine new possibilities is to actually start pouring in new memories. We have to take in new experiences, new information and new ways of seeing and thinking. It is the mash up of all those things that make for really good problem solving.”

She suggested we need to regularly apply five percent of our energy to “newing,” which she defined as “wondering and really exploring how the world works, what we should be thinking about, what are the best questions we can ask?”

After the 2020 pandemic hit Minnesota, she talked with a group at Studio/E about her projections for a business world so unstable and changing that it is difficult to know what the future looks like. As someone who studies systems and patterns of the past, she creates strategic foresight for the future.

Four Forces

Sommers sees four forces that shape the continually evolving market relationships between businesses and consumers:

  1. how are our resources used,
  2. what technological tools are involved,
  3. how are demographic needs changing, and
  4. what are the rules of cooperation.

Businesses might be created as new tools and resources emerge, and the demographics of consumers demand new products and services.

With the dramatically shifting rules of the pandemic, the relationship between businesses and consumers is even more apparent. Who is open? Who is offering online and curbside options? Who is keeping sanitizers and face masks at the ready?  

Before any governmental mandates, consumers noticed which businesses required face masks and made decisions about which policies they preferred.

Customers might feel like passive players in the marketplace, who simply choose from options delivered. However, businesses that can afford to adapt quickly to human needs — who listen and see shifts in demand — tend to thrive, compared to those who offer the same products and services in the same way every year.

Nowhere is the relationship more fine-tuned than at the Buy Local level.

As Sommers explained in the Studio/E webinar, successful, innovative business owners are curious puzzle solvers. Rather than being stuck in one place, they follow hunches and move with a Bigger Picture in mind. A pet store owner, for example, will want to know why people own their pets, and adapt its product lines and messaging to meet those needs.

What this means during the pandemic, she says, is that “we can ONLY innovate now.” With the upheaval in the way we do business now — the bottoming out of formerly reliable consumer needs — this is the time for entrepreneurs to be asking, “what now is worth maintaining?”

Many learning opportunities are going online, as another example of shift — requiring less travel time and investment, and giving access to a wider audience that did not exist before. Artists and entertainers are finding new ways to use online technologies to share creative work.

Even without the pandemic, land trusts and credit unions have been rising up to meet the needs of people who traditionally get shut out of financing options.

In a time of dislocation and loss like the past few months, suggested the Studio E moderator, it is a good time to let go of inequitable and unjust ways of doing business and to support new models.

Playing loose with ethics and tactics has led to a not harmonious world. As Sommers put it, this crisis is humbling. Traditional power can fall in the face of human nature — and nature itself.

This is a good time to rebuild the worldview of relationships between business and consumers that stabilize into a future that looks different.

In a society in which racism has been baked in, change can be motivated by social movements that have a new vision.

We have been talking to many experts for the Money & Business section, and our #MWPEcolution story-telling revolution, and would like to write more about how entrepreneurs and consumers will help Minnesota recover and rebuild from COVID-19.

Community-Based Journalism Goals

Questions we want to explore in future Money & Business articles:

  • How can young people gain access and know-how that enables them to build greater financial security?
  • How can travel adapt to needs in health and safety?
  • Do we want to have our products distributed by drone and van, or is the personal shopping experience important to us?
  • Do office environments need in-person connection to reach better decisions?
  • What new skills can be taught to workers who might otherwise be replaced by artificial intelligence? Can we remove “us/them” in marketing messages as we require corporations to adapt to diverse worldviews if they want our business?
  • Are vending machines, kiosks, and concierge service a stronger solution in the future?

Can you help us tell these stories by contributing a tax-deductible COVID-19 Local News Fund donation today?

We also are actively seeking Money & Business digital-content sponsors to help us expand our coverage. Contact to learn more.

To come:

  • Conversation with Elaine Rasmussen
  • Conversation with Lani Bana