How do you prepare for an uncertain future?

This is taken from an article I had published as an opinion piece in the Scotsman as part of their 200th anniversary celebrations. The original article was published in the Scotsman on 24th May 2017, but seems to have disappeared from their on-line site.  fortunately things never really disappear on the Internet, so here it is on Pressreader.

Recently, I visited the former Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Offices in Govan. These famous Clyde based companies traded throughout the world and provided livelihoods for generations of local people. The history of Govan tells of a rapid growth in population, from 9,000 in the 1860’s to over 90,000 in the 1910’s – a tenfold increase in just 50 years. The people who lived through the rapid growth of that once massive industry probably never anticipated how quickly it could all collapse.

If the rate of growth in the industrial West of Scotland seemed remarkable in its day, its nothing to what parts of the world are experiencing now. For example, Shenzhen in China, which in 1955 had a population smaller than that of Govan 100 years before, has experienced a growth rate of over 6,000% in just 30 years and now that one city has a population twice the size of Scotland.

Fifty years ago Gordon Moore, the founder of Intel, stated that computer power would double every two years and today the pace of change in technology still shows no signs of slowing. Just as the pace of technological change has contributed to the decline of traditional jobs, it has also created many opportunities. People are now employed in roles and in industries that simply did not exist just ten years ago, and can expect to experience several career changes in their working lives.

So how can we prepare our students here in Scotland for a future that we cannot predict, in a world of rapid change? Traditional education provides an essential foundation of technical knowledge, but with such a fast pace of change that is not enough. According to the World Economic Forum, the skills we need today are entrepreneurial; complex problem solving abilities, creativity, cognitive flexibility. Our young people need to learn new ways to work, and we need to support them by giving them the opportunities to shape the future. For some that will be by starting their own businesses, but for many it will be using these skills and outlook to change the way all organisations work.

Let’s go back to where this article started, to the Fairfield Shipyard offices. The local community refused to let the heritage of the area die. They took over the buildings left behind from the old industries and created something new. Smart young people working in small, creative high technology businesses moved in and are reinvigorating the space that fell into decline at the end of the last century. They are located in the former drawing offices where their talented predecessors produced the blueprints for the great ships that crossed the world. It’s the start of the fourth industrial revolution, new businesses with a global outlook, taking advantage of new technologies and transforming and regenerating the area. These collaborative technology hubs are starting up all over the country. Some businesses will stay small; some will grow into the large employers of the future. All will need innovative employees in order to keep up with the modern pace of change. It’s a new way of working, and it’s working well.


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Pitching – a judge’s perspective


I’ve sat on a lot of judging panels, and so I thought it would be useful to give you some insights into what matters to the judges.

Every competition is different, but there are a few things that judges always look for.

Focus on the customer

Most importantly, you need to focus on the customer or end user, and the problem you are solving for them.

You need to explain why they need your idea.

What product or service do your potential customers use now, and why would they use yours? What makes your idea better?

What makes you qualified to deliver it? Your skills, your passion, your inspiration?

– Never say you don’t have any competition, there’s always a different option for customers.

Keep it simple

Your technology may be really great, but don’t spend too much time talking about it.

Keep it simple, explain it in a way that your non-techy friends and family understand it, use analogies that are familiar to them, if you can.

Know your numbers! 

How much money do you need? What is it for? What will your sales be in year 1, year 2, year 3? When will you make a profit?

What size is the market, more importantly, how fast is it growing?

– be realistic about your share of the market, build the numbers up from what you can make, not down from the size of the market.

Some general tips

Don’t rely on technology as it might fail.

Be prepared to talk without slides, as you might have to.  It may be a good idea to have some notes written on cards so you can refer to them if you need them.

The Q&A

Will the judges be able to ask you questions at the end? If so, you can save some of the details for the Q&A.

You can learn a lot from the questions the judges ask you – you may not agree with them but respond thoughtfully.  Be honest if you don’t know the answer.  You can explain your assumptions, but judges can always tell if you are making things up!


It’s OK to be nervous, but it’s not OK to be underprepared, so practice, practice, practice.

Don’t worry if you hesitate or forget something.

You are human and the judges are too. Just stay calm and move on.

Good luck!!

Posted in Communicating, Entrepreneurial, Go for it! | Tagged , , | Leave a comment