Monday, April 18, 2011

40 Years? Are You Kidding?

     "The best way to predict the future is to create it."
                                                   Peter Drucker

In 1920, the Great War (the War to End All Wars) had ended. Germany was utterly vanquished and in disarray. Few would have predicted that, 20 years hence, Europe would again be plunged into war and that Germany would occupy all of Europe from the Pyrenees to the Russian border. But, that's what happened.

Germany lost that war, of course, by virtue of being forced to fight on two fronts with the US from the west and the Soviets in the east. How many people would have predicted that by the time another 20 years passed, the US and the Soviet Union would be locked in an epic struggle called the Cold War -- spending vast amounts of sovereign capital on a nuclear arms race and a space race?

By the time another 30 years had passed, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Not too many people would have predicted that either.

All of this came to mind recently when I was asked back for the third time to give my lecture titled "How to Choose a Career for the Next 40 Years" to undergraduate business students at Johnson & Wales University in N. Miami. The topic first came up extemporaneously when I was asked a question during my first visit to the class. By the second visit, I had turned it into a prepared lecture; however, many of the students challenged my “facts” which, I must confess, came straight out of my middle-aged memory.

So, in preparation for this latest visit, I did my homework. I pulled data from the Congressional Budget Office, the US State Department, the World Bank and even the economic development bureau of the Russian Federation. I won’t recount it all here but here are few of the highlights:

Basic economics: I needed to give these kids some context. So, I started with a little Econ. 101. After laying out the formula for GDP, I gave them the formula for GDP growth. It’s the sum of population growth and productivity improvement. That’s the definition not an economic theory. So, to see where the jobs are, you need to understand both demographics and what drives productivity improvement.

Demographics. The Baby Boom has been a key driver of the economy since the end of WWII. And, so it will be for the next 20 years. But, then what?

The birth rates of the industrialized countries have slowed to a rate that will not sustain their populations. This will result in GDP shrinkage. Within 20 years, we will be competing for immigrants.

Technology. Tech of any kind will be the place to be. How do you improve productivity? Technology, that’s how. Any kind of technology: infotech, biotech, nanotech, aerospace tech, etc. Especially, aerospace tech.

But, the students of J&W are not the big brains who will invent the next Segway or send a man to Mars. They are the ‘B’ students -- the future working stiffs. Dilbert Cartoonist, Scott Adams, wrote a great column in the Wall Street Journal called "How to Get a Real Education" aimed at these students. Use your college experience to learn how to be an entrepreneur. That’s his advice.

Healthcare… NOT! The growth of healthcare spending will not continue at the same rate. Baby Boomers may cause their own boom in expenditures in the near term but before this crop of college graduates experiences their mid-life crisis, the rate of growth will slow. The industry will do what all industries do when the market growth slows. They will consolidate. And, consolidation causes layoffs.

Go Global. If you want a great job, learn to speak Portuguese and move to Brazil. Latin America is growing three times faster than the US, as are Russia, China and India. If you don’t want to move overseas, work for a global company based in the US. The Global 2000 have been investing in the infrastructure of developing countries for 20 years. Now is the time to reap the rewards.

Keep an eye on DARPA. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration has been the source of disruptive inventions since the 1950’s. The silicon chip, email, the internet and GPS all originated in their labs. In other words, everything on your iPhone came from DARPA. What are they working on now? Alternative energy to reduce the military’s dependence on oil.

Countries to Watch. Turkey will be a major player. Their economy is humming and their government and business institutions are productive. Their most recent rejection by the EU will cause them to turn eastward to Iran and Russia for both economic and security cooperation.

Poland will become more important to the US as a bulwark between Russia and Western Europe and a counterbalance to Turkey. Oh, and keep an eye on Mexico. Today’s 17th largest economy will eventually get past its drug war (as Colombia did) and become a growing economic power.

Countries whose influence will decline over the next couple of decades – Russia, Germany, Japan and China.

The world will be as different 40 years from now as it was 40 years ago. Remember 1971?

And, so it goes……

1 comment:

  1. There was a common trend that began to emerge about halfway through the 19th century. It was the threat former colonial possessions posed to European economic superiority. In an attempt to alleviate these threats, many European powers began a process of neocolonialism. This process consisted of economic control, along with a downgraded militaristic presence within their Former colonies. However, after these colonies broke free of these “Spheres of influence”, the governments had the tools and skills needed to strengthen their economies. India, China, Brazil, Egypt, and Japan, are all examples. However, they all still require Western nations to survive, as they have a relatively small consumer base compared to that of most western nations. I agree that the nation’s you mentioned will decline in international importance, but they will most likely develop into high consumption nations, similar to the United States.