Predicting The Future Of Your Business [Opinion]

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Richard JonesI stumbled across a fascinating video a few years ago. It was from a BBC TV show from the mid 1960s and featured Arthur C. Clarke, the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey and other science fiction classics. On the broadcast, he talked about the difficulty of making predictions about what the future will bring.

“Trying to predict the future is a discouraging and hazardous occupation,” Clarke said. “If a prophet’s predictions sound at all reasonable, you can be sure that in 20 or at most 50 years, the progress of science and technology will have made him seem ridiculously conservative. On the other hand, if, by some miracle, a prophet could describe the future exactly as it was going to take place, his predictions would sound so absurd, so far-fetched, that everybody would laugh him to scorn.”

Clarke then predicted that developments like the transistor and communications satellites would allow people in the year 2000 to be in instant communication at all times, “wherever we may be on Earth, even if we don’t know their actual physical location. It will be possible in that age, perhaps only 50 years from now, for a man to conduct business from Tahiti or Bali just as well as he could from London. One day we may have brain surgeons in Edinburgh operating on patients in New Zealand. People will no longer commute. They will communicate.”

Pretty amazing stuff. I’m sure it sounded fantastical to a lot of people in 1964, but, of course, much of what he described is our everyday reality in 2013.

Predicting the future is exactly what we’re doing in this special 30th Anniversary Issue of Greenhouse Grower, and a lot of legwork has gone into the project in the last 12 months. Our editors used this anniversary year to take stock of where the market is in 2013 with a series of “State Of…” special reports covering numerous aspects of the business, including (among others) the supply chain, production and the head grower.

But now begins the tough part: What’s next? Where is our industry headed in the next 30 years? More importantly, where should we be headed? What steps do we need to take to ensure we get there not just in one piece, but as a thriving and profitable industry?

Our hope is that the pages that follow begin to lay some groundwork. We talked to a lot of very smart people over the last several months to develop these ideas about the future of your business. And we asked a lot of questions about the next 30 years:

  • What will the consumer customer be like and what will they want?
  • Where will we be selling our product?
  • What types of plants and flowers will be available to grow?
  • What type of facilities will you be growing in?
  • What new production and crop protection techniques and products will you have available?
  • What new technologies will develop for the greenhouse?

You’ll find our takes on all of these topics and more in this issue. Hopefully some of those opinions will challenge your expectations or at least your imagination.

Of course, it’s one thing to say, “This is where we need to go.” It’s another thing altogether to get there. Doing that often takes the courage to step away from the comfort and familiarity of the things that have worked for us in the past. In this issue, we are sharing what we believe are the best next steps, the lofty-but-realistic goals we need to set as a group to ensure floriculture continues to be a thriving, profitable business for growers and remains a valuable part of the lives of everyone around us.

We developed these ideas by seeking out the opinions not just of seasoned industry veterans, but also of the younger leaders among growers, suppliers and those allied to the industry. Their voices are the ones that will be leading all of us over the next 30 years. And they won’t just be maintaining the businesses and the industry earlier generations built. We believe they will be bringing fresh new perspectives, using tools we’ve barely begun to imagine, to help these businesses evolve to best serve the world around us and continue to support growers and their families.

Oh, one more thing about predicting the future. It’s tougher than it sounds. In that BBC video, Arthur C. Clarke should have stopped after his amazingly accurate prediction of satellite technology and cell phones. He went on to say that by the year 2000, we would solve labor problems by using our knowledge of animal psychology and genetics to bioengineer “intelligent and useful servants from the other animals on our planet, including the great apes, dolphins and whales.”

In 30 years, future Greenhouse Grower readers — hopefully many of you — may look back and smile at a couple of “helper monkey”-type ideas  that didn’t quite work out the way we expected. But that’s okay. To be successful, you have to take a few risks along the way. We hope you’re willing to join us and do the same.

Richard Jones is the group editor for Greenhouse Grower and Today's Garden Center magazines.
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