Dean Barber

The Future: Average is Over But World Survives

In Uncategorized on January 1, 2012 at 8:17 am

Our first blog for 2012 will be about what the future portends. Now I do not claim to be a futurist with great insight. I’m not even an economist, which means I have a shot at getting something right.

No, I am just a consultant who happens to read a lot and listen to people. So beware.

It would be tempting to pronounce that “America is at the crossroads.” If you listen to the pundits, America is always at the crossroads, just as Realtors say that “now is the time to buy.” When did they not say these things?

But America in 2012 does stand in stark contrast to many preceding years. We are living in a time of high anxiety, when 20 million homeowners are in a home that is worth less than their mortgage or in peril of becoming that, or it’s in foreclosure.

And there is this nagging underlying tension that many Americans feel that they are not included in a lot of what is going on, witness the rise of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, two sides of the same coin.

Connected on Steroids

We have gone from a connected world to a hyper-connected world, according to New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Companies worldwide now have access to more cheap automation, cheap software, cheap robotics, cheap labor, and cheap genius than ever before.

Much has been written lately about an eventual resurgence of manufacturing in America. Many have predicted that a sizeable and measureable re-shoring trend will take place, from China to America, because of long and vulnerable supply lines and the rising cost of labor in China. I have been guilty of writing the very same things.

But now I wonder if I am not engaged wishful thinking. It is precisely because of the cheap robotics, the cheap automation and cheap genius that I cannot be bullish about our manufacturing sector creating more jobs for the long term. Notice I said the long term.

We will continue to make great strides in production efficiencies through technology advances, which will simply mean that fewer bodies will be needed. That’s the long-term, my friends, even at a time when manufacturers struggle to find the kind of people they do need. I hope to devote a future blog soon on why manufacturing is mirroring agriculture production in this country.

A Democratizaion of Ideas

We are also seeing the democratization of so many things, according to Friedman.

“We’re seeing the democratization of information. Everyone’s now a broadcaster. We’ve seeing the democratization of weaponry. Everyone, you know, can–is becoming super empowered. We’re seeing the democratization of innovation. Tiny groups can now take on big companies,” Friedman said recently as a panelist on Meet the Press.

“And most of all, we’re seeing the democratization of expectations. Everyone, whether you’re in Tahrir Square or in India or Israel or Wall Street, feels they’re entitled to the same rights, participation, and justice.”

Witness Time’s Person of the Year – the protester.

Average is now officially over. Kaput. To make it today in charged, hyper-linked world, we have to bring our A game, pure and simple. We have to be smarter and offer more.

’’We’ve all got to find our extra, come with something new and extra to the table,” said Friedman.

Not Mere Boobs

A super connected world with a democratization of information and innovation has created more opportunities to make big money fast. But it has also created huge income gaps. That growing disparity gnaws at the conscious of America, particularly at a time when the middle class has been essentially evaporating.

Now the word “talent” does not come to mind when I think of members of Congress. Rather, it’s more like “boob.” But the financial gap between Americans and their representatives in Congress has widened considerably, according to an analysis published last week by The Washington Post.

Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House more than doubled, according to the analysis of financial disclosures, from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted 2009 dollars, excluding home ­equity.

Over the same period, the wealth of an American family has declined slightly, with the comparable median figure sliding from $20,600 to $20,500, according to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics from the University of Michigan.

What does this mean? Well, I no longer think of Congress as populated by mere boobs. No sir, now I see them as smart, devious, even potentially corrupt boobs. Big difference.

They Were Wrong

Certainly, that sounds cynical. But we live in a cynical time, because nearly everything we’ve been told in the last five years has proved to be wrong. We were told officially that the recession was over in the spring of ’09. Oh really?

In his recent book, “The Time of Our Lives,” Tom Brokaw learned just how frightened many Americans have become.

“I write about something that I had not heard in the 50 years that I’ve been a journalist, and that would be parents and grandparents coming up to me and saying, “I don’t think my children are going to have the lives that I’ve had.” I’ve just never heard that before because that goes right to the heart of the American dream.”

Friedman says the country today is not just economically down, but it’s emotionally depressed.

“We feel like we’re children of permanently divorcing parents, and in this environment, a lot of people just are holding back.”

Given this environment of fear, Mark Sweeney, a site selection consultant based in Greenville, SC., says it is amazing that any capital investment has taken place.

“Uncertainty is the enemy of capital investment,” Sweeney recently wrote. “For companies, that will mean combined caution and exploration of alternatives that do not include new facility investment.”

But it is because we have been living in age of caution and fear, may propel us forward, according to Brokaw. The American people are simply  tired of being down and want to break out of this funk.

“I think the country is ready for yes, and not for no. We’ve been spending a lot of the last couple of years dealing only in no. ‘We’re not going to go there. We can’t do it.’ I think the country wants big, bold ideas, and they have to be rooted in the practical constraints of the economy.”

Certain ideas that have taken root in the past will find maturation and growth in 2012.

Wallets, Phones and Clouds

In keeping with the idea of hyper-connectivity and a democratization of innovation, technological advances will bring to the forefront that idea of the virtual wallet in 2012. Instead of using credit or debit cards, a device attached or built into your smartphone till allow you to pay for something instantly.

And we will all be using smartphones sooner or later and they will continue to get smarter and smarter. The explosive growth of Android phones and Apple iPhones will continue. Microsoft upped the ante with Mango, the update for its Windows 7 Phone, and watch for Facebook, which will likely go public in the spring, to launch its own smartphone.

Soon most smartphones will feature a voice operated assistant that you can talk to. Your own personal data servant. Siri, the voice-operated personal assistant app on the Apple’s iPhone 4s, was a huge technological breakthrough in terms of our connectivity.

Cloud computing will redefine what it is to own stuff. As digital information clouds continue to expand, we’ll be able to stream all of our music, TV, movies and books through subscription services. So long CD collection.

“It’s one of those frog-in-the-frying pan things where you’re unaware that you’ve changed your perception of what it means to own,’ says Stephen Abram, a leading international librarian. “It’s shifting from owning content in a physical format to owning priority personal access, and that’s going to keep happening in 2012.”

As you can see, I am not shy about relying on the thoughts of others, people smarter than me, to foresee and explain the future.

In public, I may even repeat some of these predictions and observations as if they originated with me in order to impress others that I am a deep thinker who sits and ponders away.

But you know that I am just a business consultant, a fellow who happens to read a lot and listen to people.

“Please forgive me if I talk like I know what I am talking about.”

Now that’s my idea of the consultant’s credo, although I suspect that few of my fellow consultants would subscribe to it.

My Big Prediction

December 21, 2012, is the winter solstice. That’s when the Mayan calendar reaches its end and some say the world as we know it. But now it’s my turn to make a big prediction and here it is: There will be no cataclysmic end to the world on that day.

I am not sure what else might happen on Dec. 21. But no end of the world. Remember that you heard it here first.

Need a partner in results-oriented site selection? Contact Dean Barber at 972-890-3733 or at Barber Business Advisors, LLC, is a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. Please visit our website at

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