It’s hard to see history when it’s happening around you. But for all of us right now, the world around us is dramatically, if almost invisibly, changing, turned on its head by technology.
In just a few decades, we can expect our everyday lives to be significantly different from now, in ways that would be incomprehensible to those who laid the foundations for the modern world through the 19th century breakthroughs in how we used coal, made metal and generated power.
Those breakthroughs shaped what became the Industrial Revolution. In the 20th century, a second revolution occurred, led by more centralized electricity distribution, new forms of mass communication (phone, radio and TV) and cheap oil.
Now, we’re entering what’s increasingly being called the Third industrial Revolution, whose consequences will be just as far-reaching and fundamental as were those of the first two. This latest revolution will be driven by the digital economy, new sources of energy and improvements in productivity. Those factors will likely reduce the cost of producing some goods and services virtually to zero. At the same time, the "Internet of Things" (IoE) will integrate countless everyday objects, devices and machines even as they monitor themselves through sensors.
An estimated 100 trillion such sensors will be out there by 2030, contributing to the big data we will use, in turn, to reveal previously unseen patterns, trends and associations in the information at our disposal.
For entrepreneurs "plugged in’ to this new Industrial Revolution, all manner of new, exciting opportunities will arise. So how can you prepare yourself for what’s about to happen? Here are eight ideas.
1. Embrace the revolution.
The EU is working on "Digital Europe," its plan for bringing together 500 million people into one integrated market over the next five years. And China has already made it plain that it sees the Internet of Things as the platform that will take that country to new heights.
2. Expand your knowledge now.
While general background research will give you an idea of what’s happening, you also need specific insights into what these digital chances mean for your particular industry. The implications of this revolution are going to be felt nearly everywhere, so professionals with quality knowledge will be needed across every sector to help create a new 21st century infrastructure.
3. Invest in yourself.
The skills needed for the Third Industrial Revolution are likely to be constantly changing and increasingly different from the ones that have got you to where you are. So, even if you aren’t particularly technically minded, you still need to know something about such things as big data, analytics, social media and even artificial intelligence. If you don’t find the time to keep your skills up to date, you will be left behind. And this will occur whether you run a business or work for someone else.
4. Find opportunities in the sharing economy.
If you are looking for new business opportunities, look at new areas of the economy, particularly at what's called the sharing economy, in which access to products, services and experience is more important than ownership of them. Think Airbnb and Zipcar as examples of businesses that are already inhabiting this space. And, given that 62 percent of gen X and millennials love the sharing concept, it’s the way in which the markets are sure to go. Perhaps not surprisingly, Time magazine has listed such "collaborative consumption" as one of the ten ideas that will change the world.
5. Focus on customization and personalization.
Already, mass markets are becoming a thing of the past, as technology enables the creation of more and more niche businesses. That trend will grow as businesses increasingly gain more and more detailed information about those they do business with; new technologies, like 3D printing, meanwhile, will allow the creation, at very little additional cost, of exactly what customers want.
6. Reach your customers directly, not through mass advertising.
By building their own digital marketplace, companies can constantly reach out to those they do business with, responding to their needs and introducing them to new products and services. This will mean that the marginal cost of marketing will fall to virtually nothing, and there won’t be a need to use radio, TV or magazines for your advertising, because you can do it all digitally.
7. Be aware of new threats.
The Third Industrial Revolution is going to have a worldwide impact, and while it will open up new opportunities, it will also expose you to new threats. So, don’t think that just because you live in a developed country, you will have a head start over competitors in countries and regions that in the past you didn't see as competition. When it comes to infrastructure, building from scratch rather than improving what already exists is often easier and cheaper. But taking that route may mean that you could be the one left out.
8. Don’t fear change; embrace it.
Your marketplace and the way that you do business more than likely will be radically disrupted in years to come. That means frequent change is sure to become the norm. Get used to it; don’t cling to the past. There is only one way, and that is forward.
Of course, talking of this new revolution may seem somewhat fantastical at the moment. But just think, it’s been only 26 years since Tim Berners-Lee devised the World Wide Web -- which we now call the internet. Think how that has changed everything. Looked at in that context, the Third Industrial Revolution and what it will bring about doesn’t seem so strange after all. So, be open, remain curious, take action.