🔒 WORLDVIEW: Looking for the next big thing? It’s circular and built to last.

We all love a peek into the future. So I’ve no doubt you’ll enjoy my colleague Jackie Cameron’s take on the next big thing in her excellent contribution below. A couple of ideas struck me while reading through her excellent contribution.

First, it was a reminder how the World Economic Forum manages to identify trends before they go mainstream – like its long-time profiling of Circular Economy pioneer Ellen MacArthur. And second, how the world eventually regains its common sense, in this case by falling out of love with planned obsolescence and substituting it with the old “built to last” approach.

Jackie writes: “For the past year, I have walked the dog past a shop with its shutters closed and a bolt on the door. Shermann’s Hair has been up for sale all that time, with its asking price revealed on a website of local businesses for sale in the area.

The sellers claim the business is a going concern, though I can’t imagine a single hair has been swept from the floor in all the time Shermann’s Hair has been on my radar. Like much of the UK, Scotland has an excess of hairdressers and barbers.

Ever since I interviewed Dr Graeme Philp of UK manufacturers’ organisation Gambica for a website article, I have been pondering the business opportunities that might lie in that little shop. “Think in circles,” Philp advised as he extrapolated the big trends likely to emerge from Industry 4.0, the next wave of technology.

Philp was, of course, referring to the “circular economy” in which products are made to last longer and be recyclable at the end of their lives to reduce the impact of industrial waste on the environment. Along with this, greater connectivity between machines is expected to create opportunities for manufacturers to add additional offerings to their repertoire, with cars and appliances communicating directly with workshops when it is time for a service or repairs.

The days in which we replace kettles, coffee machines and dishwashers every three to four years as they break down are numbered, said Philp. With companies discouraged from selling products with short lives, your washing machine will be built to last.

In particular, this little nugget from Philp struck a chord: “A washing machine will be more expensive and will probably be leased rather than bought, rather like a mobile phone today.” That, in turn, suggests the return of the laundromat in high density urban areas as household washing machines are priced out-of-reach of many people.

A spot like Shermann’s Hair looks ideal: It is a large and lonely shop beyond the central high street shopping district, but it is on a main road so it will easily attract attention from passers-by. And, unlike the little laundry in the town centre, it has a handy parking spot at its front door for dropping and collecting big bundles.

I’m not yet ready to become a 21st century washer woman. And while innovative UK companies are working towards deploying Industry 4.0, success will ultimately depend on a modern, efficient digital infrastructure across the country. With data links dropping on road and train journeys, the UK is still some way behind other countries in Europe, notes Dr Philp.

Nevertheless, as Industry 4.0 gathers momentum, I’ve made a mental note to look out for opportunities as the next wave of technology shakes up business.

As we all should, Jackie. In our investment – and life.