The calendar flips forward to the year 2019, and as entrepreneurs, we tend to look more to the future than to the past. The unknown possibilities of what lies ahead excite and motivate us, where the past has been already accomplished and is finite. This isn’t just an axiom of business, but of society in general. The Spanish philosopher Santayana knew all too well that if you do not know history, you are doomed to repeat it. (That is history in the context of old. The majority of high school students in the U.S. today do not know that the state in which they live has two United States senators…)
It really is a sad scenario for the American labor market, or perhaps not. Depending upon your need for labor, particularly unskilled, conscious knowledge of the past will not matter. Our proles (proletariat) will prophesize the Newspeak of 1984 when the language is boiled down to less than 2,000 words, just enough to perform the rote tasks of production. Mathematics, for the most part, will be a thing of the past, with very few proles able to question the new math of 2 + 2 makes 5. So there you have the future of unskilled labor.
But I digress. Oh, yes, business trends in 2019.
2018 has been a very good one for innovation. We’ve seen the blockchain boom, the increase in low-code and no-code app development, the start of the rollout of 5G technology and AI and AR. Since 1980 when colleges, research institutes and non-profits could patent any of their government-funded innovations, it is no wonder the new generation of the best and brightest can be found in colleges and universities across the country. From Gatorade to Facebook, examples of this collaboration are everywhere. In fact, according to an infographic from AUTM, from 1996 to 2015, tech transfer supported 4.3 million jobs, forming 11,000-plus startups. Pretty impressive.
The evolution of technology has ostensibly made many facets of our lives better. According to Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of Consumer Technology Association, “Consumer enthusiasm is growing just as quickly as companies can bring their innovations to market.” However, one must not be naïve about how these advances will affect society at large. Experts have warned that technology, from telephones to televisions to the internet to social media, will be the cause of all manner of ills.
There is a paradox that pundits point to regarding social media, which is in a time when we are more connected to each other than ever in history, we are also more alone. According to a recent Cigna health report loneliness is as potent a health risk as smoking and obesity. Incredible. These are the unforeseen consequences of unbridled growth. The doublespeak exemplified in agoraphobia has always been a mental health issue, where now it has become the desired outcome of technological advance. Why leave your home if you don’t have to? This could easily be folded into the norm of tomorrow. Cynics will say that this isolation is also the cause of the rise of hate and distrust. This is poignantly displayed in Ben Sasse’s book Them, which also suggests that the fabric that once tied us together is frayed.
The new paradigm of the workplace will be the non-workplace. Technology and worker preference in a tight labor market will move the needle more toward work from home or anywhere other than a cubicle. No offense to those in cubicles. This will allow start-ups to decrease expenses and increase employee satisfaction.
Higher education as we know it has reached its pinnacle and is now in a downward spiral. The rise of coding boot camps and other intensive programs that provide students with skills that are immediately applicable for the workspace will replace Russian Literature and Gender and Sexuality as key components of the new-collar workforce. President Trump’s reduction in regulation and the financial community’s neophyte regulation of cryptocurrencies all will continue to evolve in 2019. As entrepreneurs look to the year ahead, innovation, evolution and regulation will serve as three major themes to carry small businesses and startups forward into 2019.
Editor’s note: The debate as to whether technology is good or bad has been raging for over a hundred years. If you want to mull over the philosophy of technology your might try Jacques Ellul’s “The Technology Bluff” and of course Ray Kurzweil’s “The Age of Spiritual Machines” which cover nearly opposite points of view. In my own opinion, Ellul is too pessimistic (intricate, and often difficult to read) and Kurzweil is optimitistic (to the point of dangerous naivete).