by Eric Garland
The Special Libraries Association has chosen, most wisely, for this year’s theme to be “Future Ready 365.” The current moment is not only the perfect time to become future-focused, but moreover, the information professionals of SLA are the perfect group to help their organizations transform their cultures to make this possible. The key is intelligence.
Let us get some terms defined. The “future” is not just an extrapolation of yesterday’s growth trends – it’s a transformative disruption, a non-linear break from the world we know. Our current economy’s success has been based on the availability of endless resources, scarce information, and stable institutions. Tomorrow’s economy will be defined by scarce resources (notably petroleum, potable water, and certain heavy metals), endless information, and unstable institutions; a complete turnaround.
Yesterday’s success was driven by rapidly expanding industrial consumerism, buoyed by a large Boomer demographic and the complete failure of Soviet Communism. Every company, every country could follow essentially the same gameplan. Expand! Merge and acquire! Advertise! Downsize! Securitize! Profitize! Given unprecedented resource constraints, tomorrow’s success will be about each company, country, region, and individual choosing a creative path to transforming how value is created and shared. What’s more, as the financial system begins to strain under the weight of its own internal contradictions, we will not even account for it in the same manner.
Yes, this is a big deal. No, nobody has the answers. I don’t; as librarians, you don’t either. You will, however, begin receiving some very interesting questions.
- What is the business model of the future?
- Who are the competitors we haven’t yet even thought of?
- Who will our customer be in ten years? Twenty? Do we even know who they are yet?
- What are the wildcards, the low-probability, high-impact events that could mean disaster — or fabulous success?
Now that we know what might shape the future, we want to be ready. This does not mean you need to predict the future, but you can very well anticipate it, prepare in advance for your actions, and to act when prompted by events. To meet this high standard, an organization must have a steady stream of intelligence. This is where librarians can be major catalysts. You can become experts in where the best information resides, which questions to ask next, and even who can help answer them. Data is worthless, analysis is king, and insight is golden. As librarians, you can help your colleagues find trend data from the least biased sources and forecasts from the world’s best subject matter experts. You can ask the follow up questions - What does this mean? What information do we need next? What scenarios are suggested by what we are finding?
Very few organizations create a culture that regularly asks these questions and provides the services that give answers. The ones who do are beating the market, indeed creating their own future. When SLA exhorts you to become future ready, it is declaring itself to be a group of leaders who truly understand what this transformation is about. Their challenge is daunting, exhilarating, and bound to make your intellectual life – and your career – an adventure for years to come.
Accept that challenge.
Author, speaker, futurist and intelligence expert Eric Garland guides leaders of all stripes through a world of chaotic transformation. He watches future trends, competition, geopolitics and everything else. He gives people ways to understand the change and make better decisions. You can read Eric Garland’s latest book, How to Predict the Future…and WIN!!!, follow him on Twitter (@ericgarland, and on the Web at www.ericgarland.co and www.competitivefutures.com.