THE BLOG

To Find Future Jobs You Have to Look Back

11/08/2013 12:37 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

To see what's ahead; sometimes you have to look back, especially when it comes to future jobs and career opportunities.

As the 1990s came to a close, IT departments were concerned about the Y2K scare, investors and Silicon Valley were cheering the dotcom boom and Apple computer appeared to be on the ropes.

So much so that Apple CEO Steve Jobs declared an amnesty with arch enemy Microsoft in 1997 and announced a $150 million investment by Microsoft into Apple.

"The era of setting this up as a competition between Apple and Microsoft is over as far as I'm concerned," Jobs said. Apple computer lovers around the world groaned, some wept, over Jobs apparently throwing in the towel against Darth Vader and the Empire headquartered in Redmond.

But Jobs had no such intention. As a visionary, he decided that the personal computer business wasn't the only -- or even biggest -- opportunity for Apple and he'd use his light sabre to cut a swath into some pretty lucrative markets against unsuspecting new competitors.

At the time, things seemed rosy for companies like Sony, the leader in the portable music device marketplace, and Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson and other big players in the cellular phone market.

None of them were thinking about Apple. After all, Apple was in a different business. If they had their eyes on anyone new, it was probably Research in Motion, a mere Canadian upstart.

Fast forward to today and Apple dominates the smartphone -- a combination of the former portable music and mobile phone markets -- tablet markets. Today, Apple fluctuates with Exxon as the world's largest corporation based on market capitalization.

And both Sony and Nokia are just shadows of their former selves. Like a meteor, RIM lit up the sky but has flamed out, in large part because it failed to adapt to changes it ignited in the first place.

The industries of the future won't be defined in the same way as industries of the past. Enabled by new technology or business models, industries that never existed before are springing up out of nowhere. Existing industries are shrinking, disappearing or converging and firms that aren't quick on their feet will be left in the dust. Nothing is sacred.

The obvious question for each of us is what industries do we work in and compete in today and which ones will we be in tomorrow?

Ontario colleges have a terrific marketing campaign "Your Future Starts Here" about acquiring skills for jobs in industries that didn't exist only a decade or two ago. The T.V. ad campaign is effective and when paired with the new education phenomena of MOOC's (massively online open courseware) such as Khan Academy or Coursera it becomes clear that the question isn't if traditional education will be disrupted but when. How will the incumbents respond?

A decade ago, UPS was a dominant package delivery company and Amazon a nascent online bookseller. Today both are technology companies at their core.

IBM defines themselves as a 'globally integrated technology and consulting company' and General Electric has historically been thought of as an industrial giant. Nevertheless GE's recent focus on the Industrial Internet has put them squarely into competition with IBM.

The pharmaceutical and the food industries historically had little in common but with the rise of 'functional foods' are now competing in a fast growing new market. Will you take a pill to address that stomach upset or have a bowel of probiotic yogurt?

Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook are dipping their toes into the energy business.

Similarly, Apple, Google and Microsoft have come under pressure for accumulating immense hoards of cash at the same time that many banks are undercapitalized and digital payment alternatives are starting to be real. Bank of Google anyone? How will Citibank, HSBC or RBC compete?

Just yesterday, Rogers Communications Inc., in tandem with CIBC, unveiled its plans for the first mobile wallet in Canada.

In poker it's often said that you should look around the table and try to identify who the sucker is. If you can't find him, then it's probably you.

Similarly, before your career or your company is disrupted by aggressive new start-ups or the convergence of dominant players from adjacent industries, you should probably look around the table. Don't just look for opportunities in your existing industry. Define and refine your skills to fit into industries that just might be around the corner, not simply down the street.