Strategies To Face Our Future

By Ennio Vita-Finzi

Many years ago a literary competition in a British newspaper asked readers to submit a short description of the state of the world in 10 words or less. In typical British understatement the winning entry read: “Past: imperfect – Present: tense – Future: conditional”. While that pithy description has since been attributed to many others, it clearly describes our current situation.

We are all reeling from a large portion of the media’s relentlessly gloomy discussions about what may happen during the next four years as a result of the U.S. election. Canadian executives are being forced to reconsider their long-established relationships with American customers and traditional sources of supply, as the possibility of a renegotiated NAFTA agreement may well affect them.

Strategy: This writer has long preached the importance of broadening one’s list of clients and suppliers to include other countries, in spite of the natural appeal of only relying on the easily accessible and insatiable US market. As anyone knows who has ever lost his biggest customer, relying on ONE source (of income or supply) is not a wise move. The only way to face the spectre of increased American protectionism is to do business with a diversified list of relationships in other countries.

A recent summit organized by Singularity University in California and an article by Udo Gollub, a German author and entrepreneur highlighted trends and events that will affect us all in the foreseeable future. Artificial intelligence, health, cars, education, printing, agriculture and jobs will soon change drastically in what has been identified as the “Exponential Age”.

Our status quo and many of our established beliefs and routines are already being affected. For example, the biggest taxi company in the world (Uber) does not own any cars. Airbnb is now the biggest hotel company in the world and yet does not own any properties. IBM Watson provides 90% accurate legal advice in seconds and is four times more accurate in diagnosing cancer than human nurses, thus making the study of law or nursing questionable.

Probably by 2020 the automotive industry will start to be disrupted because people will not need to own a car any more. Soon a phone call will deliver a self-driving car to your doorstep to take you to your destination. This will mean fewer cars in large cities, a major drop in car accidents and, on a personal basis, no need for a driver’s license, no monthly car payments or insurance, and no parking worries. Tech companies will build computers on wheels (Tesla, Apple and Google) and unless traditional car companies evolve, many will go bankrupt.

Strategy: There is no one individual strategy that will prepare anyone for the changes that are coming except to be aware of their inexorable arrival. In order to better adjust to these forthcoming changes with less stress, it is important to understand and accept that regardless of their disruptive effect on our daily life, change is inevitable. As a survival exercise on how to face this, write the word CHALLENGE on a piece of paper. Take out the middle letters L, L, and E and make them part of your personal action goals.

Our near future is changing exponentially in comparison to our recent past. We are not only facing a different world of commerce, but also have to re-evaluate how to survive personal changes in our daily lives. We have to reinvent ourselves; at no time in our lives has the expression “think out of the box” been more appropriate.

Strategy: Instead of simply using our smartphones to take photos for our Facebook page or just listen to music, why not use them to search for new international contacts, and then PHONE them? Earlier this year a close friend gave himself the target to talk to five foreign contacts in a month – he believed that at worst he might have a few embarrassing moments, there might be no synergy with the stranger, and he would have lost a few minutes of time and the cost of an international call. He felt however, that the gamble would have started a personal network of international contacts that would one day become the basis for future activities. He calls it the Spidernetwork Franchise.

He identifies people in other locations whose activities could complement his in some way. He makes a cold call and offers them the opportunity to establish a relationship, offering his location, his business know-how, his network of contacts, his expertise in the North American market and a willingness to discover if there is some synergy that would be useful and interesting to both parties. He encourages them to do the same and create their own Spidernetwork and as a result of this willingness to explore any possibility, 90% of the contacts he makes are open to building a relationship with him and soon report that they are taking similar steps.

Since we are facing changes that we cannot control, at least let’s make our own future conditional on managing our own personal activities. Why not start now Why not get ahead of the curve and establish contact with people in other countries to see what opportunities might be uncovered? Why not offer your know-how, contacts and experience to others on the assumption that there will eventually be a return of some sort? Why not stop thinking in terms of today’s profit but rather managing your own future based on sharing ideas, knowing that by “paying it forward” you will help and benefit another individual… and more than likely yourself?

At the very least we will feel that we are somehow managing our own future.

Ennio Vita-Finzi was appointed as Ontario’s Trade Commissioner in Europe, Latin America and the U.S., was President of the Canadian Council for the Americas during NAFTA negotiations and then qualified as a Certified International Trade Professional (CITP). He is now a College lecturer and keynote speaker in Montreal.