On a trip to Boston last fall for the SIGMA annual meeting, I was introduced to the future by my son-in-law, Austin. As four of us waited for a cab to take us to the North End to get our fill of great Italian food, Austin asked if we wanted to “Uber” it. Uber is now a noun, a verb, and an adjective. I had heard about it, read about and talked about it, but I had never Ubered. I was a little out of my comfort zone, but I said, “Sure, why not?”
He picked up his phone, opened the Uber app and pushed the button. Within seconds, we had a pickup time (4 minutes), a picture of the driver, the make of the car (a Nissan Altima) and the license plate number. Less than four minutes later, our car arrived and we were off. When we were in transit, I offered to pay, but Austin said it was already taken care of through the app. No money traded hands. This was getting better and better.
For the rest of the weekend, we Ubered here and we Ubered there. We Ubered in the dark and in the rain. We did not need the local train.
Sci-Fi or Sci-Fact?
A week later, my wife, Cathy, and I found ourselves in Phoenix heading to CSP’s Outlook Leadership conference. It is an Uber-friendly town. We Ubered to and from the airport and to our dinners each night. It was cheaper, quicker, cleaner and safer than taking a taxi. This was a future that I wanted to be a part of.
It was a great conference, filled with thought-provoking speakers, one of whom was Thom Blischok, chief retail strategist of Strategy&. In my opinion, Blischok is the mad scientist of retail strategy. His role, as I understand it, is to look into the future and predict new trends that will affect our lives.
What a job! He entertained us with thoughts of Ubers and robots and drones, oh my! We were not in Kansas anymore. We were in the future. It was a crazy future until it happens—and then it is just reality. It was very Orwellian.
This all happened close to “Back to the Future” day (Oct. 21, 2015, as seen in the series’ second film), so people were talking about how much Marty McFly and Doc Brown got right. Quite a bit, as it turns out.
One of Blischok’s predictions was that convenience stores by 2035 will become fly-and-drive centers—retail and technology-enabled distribution centers complete with a rooftop-landing pad for drones and 10 to 12 driverless vehicles for delivery.
How much will Thom get right? Hard to tell, but his comments on Uber seemed like the present, with deliveries of Amazon, groceries, and prescriptions already a reality. In Thom’s world, Uber may have been painted on the side of a drone. It all sounded like “The Fifth Element” meets “The Jetsons.”
On my most recent trip back from the airport, my trusty Uber picked me up, and we had a great conversation on the way home. He was a former convenience-store owner who had sold his business and was now happily Ubering for a living. He talked about the screening he went through and the safety measures that are in place as technology and the marketplace become fully aligned.
Look to the Future
How does this all affect your future and mine?
I don’t know for sure. I am certainly no Thom Blischok. What I do know is that the sands of time will continue to flow and that the most successful people are those who look for opportunities in every change. We may not invent Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Uber, but we can certainly use them to make our lives better.
In your business, how are you preparing for the future? I picture Thom, in the lotus position, incense smoking, green tea ready,
with Gregorian chants in the background as he predicts the future. For me, it’s a La-Z-Boy recliner, a good cigar smoking, a spicy cabernet breathing and some Eagles playing in the background. However you get to your Zen place, go there and just dream a little. It’s a lot of fun.
Thom definitely opened my eyes to a new and different future. He may be right on only 50% of his ideas, but that makes him better than the local weatherman at predicting the future. What his message did was encourage me to open my mind to new opportunities and embrace the future.
Austin opened my eyes to Uber, and I thank him for that. I will Uber in the light and in the dark, to the airport or to the park. I will Uber here or there, I will Uber everywhere.
Thank you, Dr. Seuss.