It's a bad news, good news story. Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard kicked off the 2012 Annual Board of Delegates meeting with a survey of the struggling U.S. economy -- a "reset economy," in which the old rules seem to be crumbling, and where the new economy that will emerge is likely to be very different from the past. But beneath the surface, he suggested, one can still pick out things that are working and hints of the sources of growth to come.
A useful parallel, Karlgaard argued, is the 1973-74 recession. It was a period of high unemployment, a plunging stock market, political upheaval, an economy being buffeted by events outside our control, and a sense that things would never be the same again. Of course, they weren't, in large part because of the new technologies and business models that were about to power a new era of growth. We may take them for granted now, but then, new companies like Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, FedEx, Southwest Airlines, and others were just beginning to emerge, and our world would indeed never be the same. It would become better, wealthier, and more productive.
Picking tomorrows winners is never easy, but Karlgaard pointed to seven factors to watch. Companies that are winning, he suggested, have a culture of ambition and confidence. They excel in design; when technologies tend to level the playing field, excellence in design stands out. Winners constantly push themselves; they're never standing still and are not afraid to change. They "listen" to technology and try to understand and anticipate the deep trends -- trends that may fundamentally upset established business models. They exhibit great teamwork. They build great brands. And they are committed to a clear, knowable purpose.
The U.S. Grains Council is committed to a clear, knowable purpose: Developing Markets, Enabling Trade, and Improving Lives. While the current economy may be tough, the future is ours to build.