Are You Ready For the Certainty of the Unknown?

One prediction: Businesses need to learn how to improvise.

There are few absolute certainties in this world, but Benn R. Konsynski has a new one for you: you can be absolutely certain that the job that you will have 5 years from now doesn’t exist today.

The same goes for companies and markets when it comes to serving customers: the models that will be standard in 5 years are difficult to imagine right now, in 2015.

Konsynski isn’t a fortuneteller or a futurist, but in his role as the George S. Craft Distinguished University Professor of Information Systems and Operations Management at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, he does a lot of thinking about the intersection of technologies, customer expectations and new possibilities. He has been a consultant to organizations that include IBM, AT&T, UPS, Bank of Montreal and the U.S. Army.

In a conversation with Gerald C. (Jerry) Kane, associate professor of information systems at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, guest editor for MIT Sloan Management Review’s Social Business Big Idea Initiative (and a one-time student of Konsynski’s at Emory), Konsynski describes how both the McCormick spice company and UPS are shaping their futures, and what companies, whether large or small, old or new, can do to keep ahead.

Let’s start with the big picture: analytics, mobile, wearable, cloud computing. What do you think the big digital trends are going to be in the next couple of years?

Well, the first thing that comes to mind is — all those things you mentioned are, to me, attrition warfare. It’s where we’re at going forward. I think the exciting things are going to be the leapfrog things that will leap further into the horizon for us. It is interdiction warfare that is more interesting. It is the acceleration that is more exciting than the velocity — how change is changing.

A part of that means I start to work backward, not forward — the future is best seen with a running start.