Wade Roush is an independent technology journalist and audio producer based in Cambridge, MA. He is the host and producer of Soonish, a podcast that asks how people shape technology, and how technology shapes the future. From 2007 to 2014, Roush covered startups, innovation, and entrepreneurship as chief correspondent and San Francisco editor for Xconomy, and in 2014-15 he was acting director of MIT’s Knight Science Journalism fellowship program. To hear more from Roush, join us at Salesforce Growth Camp in Boston on October 10. Sign up here for free. 


Q: How important is it for entrepreneurs and small business owners to think systematically and act intentionally when thinking about the future?


The most successful entrepreneurs are people who, when you meet them, seem a little like they’re visitors from the near future, and they’re just trying to get back there. They have a specific vision for how things could and should be different. But to make that vision come true, they need a realistic understanding of some deep trends, so they can try and get ahead of them.


Q: What are the biggest innovations that SMB owners should be getting ready for?


Robotics, automation, and AI have already reshaped the workforce in manufacturing, and that trend is going to ripple through the whole economy. I agree with business scholars like Erik Brynjolffson and Andrew McAfee who say that that every existing job that can be done more cheaply and efficiently by a machine will eventually be taken over by a robot or by software. But that doesn’t mean everyone is going to be out of work. It just means we’ll be doing different jobs that produce more value and that require skills beyond the reach of AI.


Q: How can SMBs prepare in advance for automation?


Now, if you keep in mind that every worker is also a consumer—that every earner is a spender—then you can see how automation is going to change the types of products and services people want and need. If I were an SMB owner I’d be thinking about three big issues. First, how to help workers make sure they will always have the skills they need to stay employable. Second, how to create beautiful premium products—call them “artisanal” if you want—that command higher prices because they’re not machine-made. Third, how to provide services with the human touch that machines will never have.  


Q: How can you ensure that you’re always pushing the envelope on innovation?


Whether you’re offering a service or building a technology, the frontier of innovation in your field is always advancing. You need to know exactly where that frontier is at any given moment, so that you can try to be there to push it forward a little more. Also, you need to understand the evolving needs and tastes of the customers you’re trying to help. You need to understand how they’re perceiving the world.


Q: What are some of the ways business owners can get a better read on technological innovations and how they might affect their businesses and their customers?


Entrepreneurs should spend more time doing what we reporters do, which is just hanging out with people. A fancy word for it would be ethnography; Steve Blank calls it “getting out of the building.” If you shadow your customers as they go through their day, you can observe what products and services they’re consuming, what devices they’re using, how they deal with their own customers, how they get back and forth between home and work, how they take care of their kids, and so on. That way you find out pretty quickly what their pain points are and what innovations they would pay for, if you could just make one part of their work or their daily lives easier.

Hear more from Wade Roush at our Boston popup Growth Camp event on October 10 at the Exchange Conference Center. Get hands-on advice for growing your business, meet with experts from Salesforce, along with partners OpFocus, Sage and more for a powerful half-day growth extravaganza. You’ll get hands-on advice for running your business, working more efficiently, and building close connections with customers. And best of all, it’s FREE. Learn more and register here.

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