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Through a glass darkly, predicting the future

Futurist Eric Garland is not just elaborating on the obvious when he writes that China will "overtake the United States as the world's number one beer market" before the end of this century.

Garland freely admits in his new book, "Future Inc.," that it doesn't require a clairvoyant or a rocket scientist to figure that out.

"It's always a good idea to consider the impact of the Chinese market when considering the future of anything. When a small percentage of a country with over a billion people starts doing anything more, it can change the dynamics of that industry," Garland writes.

Another reason that the volume of beer consumed in China will before long exceed that guzzled in the United States is that beer drinking, despite heavy advertising by the beer industry, is on the decline here relative to other alcoholic beverages, Garland says.

Garland says that while overall US consumption of alcoholic beverages is steadily increasing, beer consumption is not, because many young, new drinkers are choosing other beverages such as vodka and pinot noir and other wines.

"Beer consumption among young people, once the core demographic for beer, is dropping precipitously -- market preference for beer among this group dropped from 71 percent in 1992 to 48 percent in 2005," Garland writes.

He predicts "trouble on the horizon" for the beer companies if that trend continues. To illustrate his point, Garland offers a futuristic scenario.

"Frat guys, 2021: Dude, it was so weird. My frat brother John had his wacky uncle Russ in town, and he came to our Alpha Alpha October bash. Old dude, in his 40s, but still likes to party. He actually brought an entire keg of beer to the party. Who was going to get through that? I think we all had one or two, but it doesn't mix well with vodka, so there was a ton left over. You know anybody who still drinks this stuff?"

Such scenarios are among the ways Garland suggests for companies and individuals to identify and address technological, economic, and political changes.

The other ways, Garland writes, are systems thinking, analyzing trends, evaluating forecasts, sorting out the implications of forecasts, and communicating findings and forecasts convincingly.

In making his case for the importance of looking ahead, Garland addresses many of the topics that most futurists focus on: the aging of the population; the rising power and falling price of information technology; technological advancements in healthcare, biotechnology, nanotechnology, renewable energy, ecology, and sustainability; and the exponentially expanding capacity of media.

The same method that he uses to forecast the future of beer, he writes, can be applied in all other spheres. The crucial element of that kind of "futuring," Garland writes, is thinking of everything within the context of society, technology, economics, ecology, and politics.

This book on futuring succeeds, as Garland dares to approach the subject differently than most other futurists. He shows how to envision the extraordinary developments of tomorrow by thoroughly researching and analyzing the ordinary fare of today such as beer.

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