Part of choosing what to do is about selecting the field in which you would like to work. When I first started advising people on what to do with their professional lives, I referred to this part of the framework as sector or industry. Ten or fifteen years ago, this was the best way to describe an area of activity such as automotive, financial services, consumer goods, etc.
The reason to start with this idea is that the professional world has been organized by activities for thousands of years. In medieval times the craftsmen of Europe were organized into guilds for the different trades and professions. Likewise, the great cities of the Middle East had specific districts for the metalworkers, carpet makers, fruit sellers, etc. and you can still get a feel for what that was like in the old city of Marrakesh.
Choosing one of these areas is a good idea for a number of reasons but perhaps the most significant is that people who work in a similar or related area identify with one another and often know each other in a specific geography. They congregate at the same events and often have similar problems to overcome. They may even share a worldview or way of looking at things.
Over the last few years, however, the idea of an industry or sector has been losing its value as the lines between traditional industry sectors are blurring and overlapping. Even the standard codes used to describe the economy such as SIC or NAICS appear to be out of step with where things are going.
Automotive, for example, is rapidly evolving into what people are calling mobility. The companies that design, manufacture and distribute cars are changing as new forms of car ownership and getting from place to place are emerging. Mobility includes driver information, the ride-hailing businesses, Uber and Lyft, as well as ride-sharing apps, rental companies, car subscription plans, and even electric scooters and bicycles.
To reflect this complexity, I prefer to use the word space as it goes beyond industry and is broad enough to cover most fields. Using this language, the mobility space is broader than the automotive sector.
When I speak about blurring lines, I also mean that it is increasingly difficult to tell one business from another. One of the main reasons for this is how different technologies are beginning to overlap with each other. This trend is normally called technological convergence and is particularly evident in the impact of computers and digitalization in many sectors of the economy.
In addition to technological convergence, the lines between industries are also blurring as consumers become accustomed to features they experience in one business that they then demand from others. Amazon and Amazon Prime, for example, have taught us that we can get basically anything delivered to our homes in a short time so now more and more products and services are being delivered often at the touch of an app.
Some people use the term eco-system, which has its roots in biology, to get at the idea of the larger space. All the plants, fish, and creatures in a tide pool, for example, belong to the same ecosystem. The term is often applied to the digital world as it casts a relatively large net (pun intended) and can include all kinds of actual and potential players.
In the first place, organizations that are suppliers, customers, or competitors of each other could be said to occupy the same ecosystem. There are however other companies that might be able to satisfy some or all of a customer’s wants and needs and might do so from a starting point that is not, at first glance, very obvious.
While I use the ecosystem idea for developing business strategy, I find it potentially too broad for choosing what to do. The digital economy, for example, is much too broad a definition and while you may want to be part of that overall ecosystem, I think a more concrete definition of space is needed.
So what are some of the spaces that might be relevant over the next 10-20 years and how might they be defined? Here is a list of ten spaces that I personally think are interesting as examples of how this idea can be brought to life. They are based on a combination of my own reading of the tea leaves and the things which strike my attention.
- Clean Energy
- Health Care & Wellness
- Clean mobility
- Manufacturing 4.0
- Sustainable consumption
- Digital commerce, fulfillment, and the future of retail
- Gaming and entertainment
- Cyber – Security
- Aerospace and defense
- Smart Cities & Resilience
Please do not be concerned if the space you are interested in does not appear in my top 10. The point of sharing some thoughts on these is to stimulate your own ideas about how to define a space that appeals to you and how it may evolve in the future. These spaces also overlap in some ways which go back to the point that space is what you define it to be and the test is whether you can explain it to other people.
To dig deeper into a specific space, please go to the forum section of the website. There, I have made some comments on these 10 spaces but I invite you to add the one you are most interested in and start up a conversation about it.