Future Tense

The business environment of the 1990’s is full of uncertainty and turmoil, a condition that affects individuals, companies, and institutions alike. Consultants Morrison and Schmid (of the Institute for the Future) argue that the stress of change can be reduced by understanding its driving forces. The future cannot be predicted, but those who think about it systematically will be better able to define opportunities and avoid threats.

This theme forms the main thrust of the book, as the first two-thirds is devoted to a discussion of what the authors call “key driving forces.” These forces of demographic, social, and economic change—the aging of the American population, growing worker insecurity, fierce business competition (domestically and globally), technological change, and others—should come as no surprise to any thoughtful businessperson. Yet the authors do a good job of summarizing trends, even though the flurry of supporting statistical graphs and charts can get distracting.

The response of the American business world to the rapidly changing environment has generally been partial and ineffective, leaving unresolved tensions between corporations and the individuals they interact with—whether as workers, consumers, or shareholders. Moves such as decentralizing and downsizing do not address long-term trends and may even make things worse. For example, U.S. firms have traditionally had a size advantage over European competitors. As American companies downsize or turn into virtual firms, however, their European counterparts are merging to catch up in size.

FUTURE TENSE concludes with a brief section summarizing the key driving forces, with some general suggestions on how individuals and organizations can best cope with change. Readers hoping for a detailed blueprint will be disappointed. The basic recommendation is to think about the patterns of change and get ready for the future, rather than just reacting to each individual change in the present.