The first time I discovered how to make sense of the future, I was inside one of the world’s quirkiest museums, the three-storey Mini Bottle Gallery in Oslo. It’s the brainchild of Norwegian art collector and billionaire Christian Ringnes, who created it to display his passion — the largest collection of mini liquor bottles in the world.
Far beyond those iconic little liquor bottles given out by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines for decades, this collection includes 53,000 bottles — everything from macabre bottles with worms and mice floating in them to a “room of sin” filled with bottles collected from Amsterdam’s Red Light District.
What is most interesting, though, is not the bottles themselves, but that only about a fifth of the collection is on display at any one time.
Putting every bottle on display at once would be chaos. Selecting the best and grouping them into interesting themes is what creates a meaningful story. Like all great museums, the gallery uses curation to add meaning to isolated interesting things.
What does curation have to do with predicting the future? For the past 10 years, identifying a signal from the noise and publishing trends that explain the future has become an obsession for me. Every year, I lead the research and production of a trend report that identifies 15 global trends that will shape the world of business for the year to come.
By doing this every year, our team has amassed a collection of more than 100 trends on everything from economics and entrepreneurship to culture and human behaviour. When it comes to trends, it’s tempting to treat them as the answer to a problem of disruption. If you know a trend, why not just use it to plan for the future? This only presents half a solution. Rather than focus on a single trend, industry or discipline, it is the spaces in between where the true value lies. The best non-obvious thinkers look for ideas and trends that use intersections between industries, regions and behaviours to predict in what direction the world is heading.
If the world is changing so fast that a team of trend curators like us need to publish a new report every year, can any business truly be prepared for the future? This question is even more pressing when it relates to company directors and members of boards because they are often the ones expected to have the most long-term vision and see the opportunities (and threats) to a business far before anyone else.
What does it take to anticipate and win the future? More importantly, can anyone really learn to put those pieces together to curate trends for themselves?
For directors, it is more about staying current, sharpening your skills and keeping your radar open — without spending all day trying to do it.
Preparing for the future requires knowing current trends, but also embracing the mindset that allows you to curate and see trends when they first appear.
This mindset starts with curiosity. Curious people save ideas the way travellers collect frequent flyer miles — as momentary rewards for later redemption. The patterns linking these ideas together often emerge with time and contemplation. For example, when 3D printing became more widely available, many described it as a trend. Instead, when our team first wrote about this, it was through the lens of the “Maker’s Movement,” a phrase that was being increasingly used to describe a group of people who wanted to create their own products using the newest technology.
Just as the meaning behind a seemingly chaotic collection of mini liquor bottles only emerges with careful curation, the real key to innovation and future-proofing your business is less about the theatrical whiteboard ideation session, and more about the simple choice to embrace your own curiosity in the moments when it is most easily forgotten.
Non-obvious thinking requires the ability to embrace the art of curation... It can help connect the dots between isolated practices, divisions or product groups, and break down silos to encourage collaboration.
What emerging trends and technologies will influence your sector in the short, medium and longer term and what opportunities and risks need to be identified? The challenge is sifting relevant trends from the noise and volume of information. A good starting point is the CSIRO.
Our Future World identifies six megatrends that occur at the intersection of geopolitical, economic, environmental, social and technological change.
Australia 2030: Navigating our uncertain future explores a number of potential scenarios.
The Future Today Institute reports on major trends and provides open-source tools to help structure thinking and prioritise action. “To effectively plan for the future, organisations need to learn to swim in different lanes simultaneously, and think across a spectrum of time,” says founder Amy Webb. For any given uncertainty... whether that’s risk, opportunity or growth, leaders must think strategically about tactics, strategy, vision and systems-level change.”
Futurist Ross Dawson advises tasking board members to focus on different areas and structure regular conversations.
Rise of the trend curator
Learning how to make sense of trends may be the single most necessary business skill separating those who are able to embrace disruption and win from those who are disrupted into obsolescence.
So how can you do this for yourself and fit it into an already busy schedule without getting bogged down? Five simple habits can help:
- Curiosity — always want to know why and improve your knowledge by asking questions.
- Observance — learn to see the small details in stories and activities that others may ignore.
- Fickleness — move from one idea to the next without becoming fixated or over-analysing in the short term.
- Thoughtfulness — take time to develop a meaningful point of view and patiently consider alternative viewpoints.
- Elegance — seek beautiful ways to describe ideas simply and understandably.
Developing these habits will help you see what others miss. The common thread is a method of thinking that is more than linear, it is circuitous, uncertain and entrepreneurial. It brings ideas from multiple categories or even industries together — and it is a method I have often described as “non-obvious”.
Non-obvious thinking requires the ability to embrace the art of curation as a skill not just useful in museums. It can help connect the dots between isolated practices, divisions or product groups, and break down silos to encourage collaboration.
In addition to any trends you might uncover for yourself, it can also be useful to consider several specific trends our research has uncovered. We anticipate the following six specific trends will be critical for company directors to understand and leverage to win the “near future” in 2019.
Definition: Traditional models of distribution get reinvented as businesses of all sizes seek more efficiency, build direct connections with consumers and rethink their own business models.
The growing shift toward the collaborative economy is leading businesses into unexpected adjacent spaces — like automakers BMW and Volvo experimenting with monthly subscription models instead of selling cars, or startups like Flexe offering warehouse space on demand in an online marketplace similar to Airbnb.
This disruptive shift in distribution is leading to two big global opportunities.
The first is to focus on the intersection between industries. Furniture retailer West Elm opening a hotel to allow customers to try products, and office supplies retailer Staples creating an open co-working space are both perfect examples of this. The second opportunity is to transform the way that you sell products and services. An Australian example of this opportunity at work is blockchain-enabled renewable energy trading company Power Ledger, which allows homeowners and commercial developments to sell surplus renewable energy back to the grid and generate their own net revenue.
2.5 quintillion bytes Amount of data generated daily worldwide. Exponential adoption of technology means that the volume of data generated is accelerating significantly.
In 2018, each minute of every day there were:
- 3.9 million Google searches
- 12.9 million texts sent
- 1111 packages shipped on Amazon
- 750,000 Spotify songs streamed
- 176,220 Skype calls
- 1389 Uber users taking rides
- 6940 Tinder users matched
Source: Domo Data Never Sleeps 6.0
Definition: In today’s marketplace teeming with thousands of products and services, a brand stands out from the clutter and attracts attention. A brand name can create and stand for loyalty, trust, faith, premium or mass-market appeal, depending on how the brand is marketed, advertised and promoted.
Amid concerning reports of the impact of climate change — emphasised in October, when the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned greenhouse gas emissions must reach zero by about 2050 in order to stop global warming at 1.5°C — and a growing range of cultural issues that are a matter of concern to consumers, there is a new imperative for brands to stand for something larger than profits. The brands that take a positive stand for what they believe are the ones that are inspiring the most trust and passionate loyalty from their customers.
In retail, the outdoor clothing and gear chain Patagonia remains a shining example with its insistence that its raw materials be sourced ethically and sustainably. But there are more smaller brands, which are following its lead and looking to the highly prominent examples of brands such as Nike that are willing to stand up for their beliefs, even when they get political and controversial — as with its ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, the football star who refused to stand for the US national anthem showing his support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The implication for boards is multifold. Companies should not back away from leaders who are willing to take stands for causes they believe in, but it works best when they embody — and demonstrate — those same values.
Definition: Organisations use the power of stories to share their heritage, mission and reason for existing with audiences to earn loyalty and position themselves as being desirable places to work.
As the marketing world has shifted towards content versus promotion, the need for storytelling has become a priority at agencies and corporate marketing teams around the world. The power of stories is certainly nothing new, but the sometimes staid and traditional world of marketing and advertising is on a collision course with the related worlds of media and entertainment.
The result is more brands like Coca-Cola or Red Bull crossing the boundaries to become as well-known for their storytelling as they are for their products. At the same time, renowned media properties like The New York Times and Condé Nast have opened in-house studios to offer their creative services to any brand seeking marketing support.
This focus on storytelling is driven by a fundamental truth about consumers that is unlikely to change anytime soon — that they are more engaged and will actually give you their attention when you have something valuable or interesting to share.
Definition: Meditation, yoga and quiet contemplation overcome their incense-burning reputations to become powerful tools for individuals and companies to improve performance, motivation and retention.
Mindfulness is a term that describes the idea of adopting exercises or habits that allow you to be more aware of your surroundings (and yourself) to improve your performance by gaining more focus, calm and energy. And it is going mainstream.
Big brands like Google, GE and Target, as well as many new startups in the space, have propelled the mindfulness industry to break the billion-dollar mark. There are conferences like Wisdom 2.0 dedicated to the topic, and some of the most forward-thinking leaders in business are publicly advocating for more focus on it within organisations — from General Mills’ Janice Marturano to Harvard Business School senior fellow Bill George.
Yet mindfulness is about more than lunchtime meditation or joining a yoga class. It is about getting a new perspective on the things you do by developing daily habits that allow you to combine powerful introspection with a more open mindset. Plenty of large organisations, from LinkedIn to Google, are investing heavily in bringing mindfulness training to their internal teams. Increasingly, it also demonstrates a softer side to the organisation that embraces more of the millennial mindset and allows a company to better retain and inspire its workforce, no matter what their ages.
4.3m YouTube videos are watched every minute
326m Active Twitter users each month
50% of Australian GPs surveyed for the 2018 National Health report said mental health was the issue causing them the most concern for the future, ahead of obesity (45%)
Definition: Media, data analytics, and advertising are combining forces to create a perpetual stream of noise intended to incite rage and illicit angry reactions on social media and in real life.
In a world filled with increasingly outrageous tweets from America’s reality show president, the game of manipulation is high stakes and seemingly practised by everyone. As we see media reports designed to make us angry, social media posts filled with indignation and a daily stream of the ridiculous and rage-inducing, it is hard to know what to do with all of this emotion.
More than anything else, the trend describes the widespread exhaustion many are feeling from all this outrage and the dangerous need to find an outlet for it. Although Trump may be an instigator who makes it all worse, the problem is that the outrage is spilling over into other aspects of people’s lives.
How do you prepare to do business with people who start any interaction from a place of anger and sometimes misplaced outrage? What does it take to be trusted in a time when business itself is so widely distrusted? On a board level, what role will you play in helping to foster this trust and ensure the senior executive members of your organisations understand how important it is? One way is to encourage the leadership teams to conduct deeper trust surveys to truly understand the perception and trust around their brand. Then they can start to strategise fixing or improving in areas that seem like they need work.
Definition: Shifting definitions of traditional gender roles are leading some brands to reject the notion of gender completely, while others aim to de-gender their products, experiences and even their own identities.
One of the fastest-growing audiences for Harley-Davidson are female motorcycle riders. Barbie dolls are featuring boys in their advertising for the first time ever. Brawny, an iconic American brand of paper towels, long known for featuring lumberjacks in plaid shirts on their packaging, recently launched a marketing campaign with the hashtag #strengthhasnogender, featuring women dressed in the signature shirt.
Over the past year, we have encountered ungendered emojis, an evolving description of gender fuelled by Facebook’s addition of an open field for anyone to write anything to describe their gender, and a growing number of countries — including Australia, New Zealand, India and Canada — that allow for a Gender “X” (non-binary) option on their citizens’ international passports.
Added to this complexity is the rising role of women in the global business environment described in our trend report last year with the term “fierce femininity.” That idea was about women increasingly reclaiming leadership roles, becoming more prominent, demanding fairer wages and being increasingly represented as company directors and on corporate boards.
As our traditional understanding of gender continues to shift, it will raise fundamental questions for businesses that have traditionally used gender not only to segment their audiences, but also as a selector to allocate attention. What happens when gender is no longer the first demographic lens through which advertising is bought and sold? In an age of explosive #metoo revelations and women demanding equal treatment and reparations for past injustices, how will the future of business welcome and integrate these newly empowered women? For boards, how will this diversity play out, not only on the board itself, but in the organisations you are working to serve?