Disruptive Technologies Are Keeping CEOs on Their Toes

Nowadays, it doesn’t matter what the business or industry, new and rising technologies can turn them upside down in a year—or a day.

Here are examples of disruptive technologies companies can and should take advantage of, and either get in front of or risk being disrupted themselves. This list is from a book by two McKinsey directors, No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Global Forces Breaking All the Trends, and was recently cataloged in Fortune.

“The Obama administration has devoted a significant chunk of its manufacturing-development budget to encouraging the development of new materials.”

1. Energy storage. Tesla isn’t building a “gigafactory” to make batteries in Nevada for no reason. The price of lithium-ion battery packs will fall by a third in the next 10 years, some experts say, with major repercussions for transportation, power generation and energy production industries.

2. Genomics. As supercomputers continue to refine the process of genetic analysis, McKinsey foresees a world in which “genomic-based diagnoses and treatments will extend patients’ lives by between six months and two years in 2025.”

3. Advanced materials. The development of “nanomaterials” is transforming everything from bike design to doughnuts. New substances that can be manipulated on a molecular level will produce materials that are self-cleaning, self-healing and remember their original shape. The Obama administration has devoted a significant chunk of its manufacturing-development budget to encouraging the development of new materials.

4. Autonomous vehicles. The “driverless revolution” should be here within the next decade as both Silicon Valley firms and automakers race to develop and control self-driving technologies and to win a pole position in the market. Google and Apple are players, as well as most car companies. Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW just jointly bought the mapping operation of Nokia to boost their skin in the game.

5. Renewable energy. This technology has had a hard time becoming economically competitive, although it seems ecologically desirable, but McKinsey predicts that better energy storage (see above) will help change that status quo and make sun and wind more important fuels. Plus, the Obama administration keeps giving renewables a boost in terms of funding and incentives, to the detriment of other energy forms such as coal and even natural gas.

6. Advanced robotics. Although they won’t be taking over as in the movies, robots—mainly the industrial kind—are starting to make their mark. And as they get less expensive, they’ll spread into more substitutions for human labor in fields such as maintenance, cleaning and even surgery, as well as manufacturing.

7. 3D printing. An oft-cited disrupter, “additive” manufacturing has yet to replace the old-fashioned kind, but systems are getting cheaper, smarter—and more capable—and will begin redefining the sale and distribution of physical goods. Local Motors, for instance, an Arizona-based startup, recently said that it plans to have a street-legal, two-seat coupe ready for sale by late 2017 and sitting on a 3D-printed body, while Boeing is already mass-producing some parts using 3D. Mobile Internet. This pretty much already has disrupted everything, but the authors say that Internet-related expenditures will only continue to grow through mobile apps. All CEOs should be continually asking their department heads how their offerings can become more mobile.

8. Automation of knowledge work. Computers will be able to do the work of 140 million knowledge workers by 2025, McKinsey says, ranging from legal discovery to sports reporting. IBM’s Watson winning Jeopardy! a few years ago was just a taste of what is to come.

9. Internet of things. The “IoT” already has proven to be disruptive in several industries. The number of IoT-connected devices is expected to reach 39 billion by 2020, up from 13 billion this year, according to Juniper Research, as sensors collect information on everything from the health of machinery to the structural integrity of bridges and even the temperature in ovens.

10. Cloud technology. With it, startups and small companies will be able to take advantage of information-technology capabilities and back-office services that, not too long ago, were only available to larger firms and were very expensive.

11. Advanced oil and gas exploration and discovery. Fracking and hydraulic drilling already have helped slash gasoline prices over the last year and boosted the U.S. economy, and they’ll help make the United States the world’s largest oil producer by 2020.

No doubt the disruptive technologies of the future will include some that aren’t even being tested yet. But if CEOs can center themselves on these 12, they may be able to keep their companies ahead of the game.

Dale Buss :Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other business publications. He lives in Michigan.