On October 12, 2016 my London teammate Jamie and I attended a full day conference with the enigmatic name of Global Futures Forum.
Held by The Future Laboratory at the Shoreditch Town Hall, the event was a leap into the next 3 to 5 years. We started by reviewing and analysing the current social, economical, political and business contexts and projecting their impact in the short & medium terms. Once the threats and windows of opportunities were established, the speakers delivered their forecasts and predictions, pushing the audience to project themselves & their business into a world with different realities.
Let’s be honest – this planet is a very different place from the one we have known growing up. Distrust, disconnect, disillusion, disorder, displacement and even disgust – we live in a dislocated world. There is an obvious vacuum between the old system, established order, traditional ways increasingly disrupted and inadequate and a new whole, pioneering model that has not yet been found. Just consider a few realities.
Income disconnection – despite a general global economical growth, only a few get to enjoy the benefits of progress and living standards of the middle class are falling. Millennials cannot afford to invest in what their parents considered being the traditional makers of success. For the first time in over 130 years living with your parents has become the most likely arrangement for young adults aged 18-34 in the US. And possibly even more shocking – it will take four Millennials to replace the spending power of one Baby Boomer in the automotive marketplace.
Automation economy - people increasingly fear losing their jobs to automation. But now – the ‘industrial manual’ jobs are not the only ones being suppressed and replaced by technology. Driver-less taxis & trains, algorithmic trading, or even the already widely spread supermarket self-checkouts – every industry could be a potential victim of progress. For instance - in the UK, about one-third of retail jobs are expected to vanish by 2025. Oh, and yes – even creative jobs are at risk, as McCann Japan added an ‘AI creative director’ to its team this year….
Uncaring economy - the rise of the ‘gig economy’ is delivering faster, cheaper and more convenient services for consumers. But it has also left many labourers who rely on digital platforms feeling volatile and insecure. Think of the overworked Amazon employees, the underpaid “Uber Slaves”, the racially profiled Airbnb guest - the gig economy is neither sharing nor collaborative. They are a handful of companies trying to make money by creating and controlling markets for our labour or our stuff, ’ says Sarah O’Connor, employment correspondent at The Financial Times.
Media fatigue - the extreme violence, abuse and injustice portrayed daily by the media in search of higher audience scores make us increasingly stressed and anxious. And as a consequence – we become more insensitive and uninterested in events that drain our emotional energy. And even social media – intended to entertain and delight – makes us sadder. Several studies showed that Facebook tends to bring down the mood of its users, making them 55% more worried, angry, jealous and depressed than non-users.
A number of other antagonising trends could be evoked – systematic political & corporate distrust, technological discord, dislocated labour, access exclusion, etc. but I think you get the point.
Now, the world is not quite over yet, so you can put down the bottle of scotch.
Where there are threats there is discomfort. Where there is discomfort there is change. And where there is change there are opportunities. So reframe the problem. The acceptance of the status quo creates immobility, which prevents evolution; but the refusal of settling for less and an optimistic outlook result in an exuberant creativity to find alternative ways of improving our condition. So to simplify:
THREATS x OPTIMISM = OPPORTUNITIES
And ultimately, that’s what the Futures Forum was about - the opportunities offered by the rapidly changing world that can inspire INNOVATION.
A few ideas that can make the future a bit less uncertain.
- Partner up creatively – network, connect, engage and leverage all your brain power so you can have access to multidisciplinary environments.
- Leverage data – nothing new here, but technology does give access to new insights, so utilise it to its' (legal & ethical) limits.
- Kill friction – don’t limit your thinking by logistical, financial or technical considerations. All of them can be overcome, as long as the vision is clear and shared.
- Enable collision – unexpected results can uncover unexpected opportunities, as long as we are able to recognise those as such.
An interesting article published in 2015 in the Harvard Business Review was supporting the above, advocating overcoming the functional fixidness. New ideas can be created from observing unintended usage, from reframing the rituals, from deconstructing systems to allow for change, evolution and even revolution in our lives.
As such, we need to equip ourselves with what can be called a “Beta Brain” and accept that innovation in the years to come will be defined by our ability to move from linear thinking towards a more fluid and flexible approach.
‘To work properly, innovation must be iterative and not assume that it knows the answers’ declared Rachel Armstrong, TED Global fellow and pioneer of Black Sky Thinking.
The demographic reality will force us to do so anyway.
Gen Z (those kids born in the late 90s, early 2000s) have all the characteristics to allow for a fairly rapid change. Digital natives, with a reduced attention span, complex identities (where real life personalities conflicts with virtual profiles), sharp, agile minds and healthy living habits – they reject the current status quo. Unsatisfied with the world they have inherited from the Baby Boomers and Millennials, they very much intend to make their own mark… for the better, in all fairness. More diverse, naturally networked, and gender fluid - they dismiss the traditional notion of national belonging. Financial success does not constitute an affirmation of self-accomplishment. They refuse to obey by the same codes that we did. And more importantly – more than any generation before – they value the human element, the genuineness, the moral and emotional energy that surrounds them and that gives these new social activists a sense of purpose.
Time to move
So what does it mean for brands? And what does it mean for innovation? Should we settle for a little performance improvement, a new app added to the interface, a new functionality added to the pack? As the guys from The Future Lab put it – ‘taking safe baby steps towards change is no longer enough. The future of innovation will require brands to take psychological and financial risks in order to make big leaps forward to keep pace with advances in technology and rising consumer expectations.’
To change the paradigm, tackle the societal tensions and overcome the generational gap, brands will need to rethink their approach to the future. Incremental innovations will not be enough to reframe the conversations. Substantial and transformational changes in the offer will need to be implemented to keep some kind of relevance in tomorrow’s world.
The brands will also have to take serious stances on societal challenges and visibly act upon it. Declarations of intent and marketing campaigns used to distract from manufacturing scandals will not fly with these kids, who have the entire World Wide Web stuck to their fingertips. Providing emotional solutions, on top of the technical innovations will be key to tackle world challenges and be adopted by these soon-to-be consumers. ‘Brands need to anticipate wider emotional and cultural responses to innovation that have little to do with how effective or useful the product itself is,’ says Baroness Greenfield, British scientist and writer.
So let’s stop fiddling around with little technological gadgets and re-think the whole brand development process. Let’s think of solutions that could give these kids a slightly brighter future than they currently face. Let’s offer them the innovations not only that we ‘can do’ but also those that we ‘should do’.
Get in touch with our team if you are working on your innovation strategy for the next 3-5 years. We will be happy to discuss ways you can deliver new alternatives to the market, helping you to engage with this new generation of consumers and offer solutions that will enlighten the world of tomorrow.
Author Evgueni Spiridonov, Client Service Director, London [m] 07833 444123