2019 Forecast – The Year for Human Centricity & Discernment

Welcome to the year of Human Centricity & Discernment. As we look to the year ahead and what’s on the horizon, it’s not a completely new view. Many of the drivers of this year’s forecast are the same as last year with some degree of progress and shifts. Yet in this age of The Fourth Industrial Revolution (e.g., AI, digital transformation, the IOT), its impact on industry and the future of work, a growing and changing population, and the uncertainty of our times, there is a strong need to bring a human-centric view into our models and solutions. And amidst continued evolution and innovation, we are no longer as naïve in accepting all the change as positive, correct, and in our best interest, especially after all of last year’s unsavory revelations. This will lead to us all bringing more Discernment into 2019, not accepting change and innovation at face value and instead questioning and evaluating them on our own unique terms, both personally and professionally.

What’s gotten us to this 2019 point-of-view?

We are living in precarious and unstable times, and people are feeling it. Ten years after the financial crisis, we are still dealing with the aftermath of its impact. Yes, the economy is strong, but that strength is not felt by all. The last year has further heightened the chaos and uncertainty in political and economic structures across the globe, from the fraying of the liberal political order, Korea’s nuclear ramp-up, the trade war with China, the uncertainty and foreboding winds of Brexit, and states under pressure from wars and migration. All of this leads to general stress and anxiety felt by us all, which results in expressions of anger and frustration.

We are dealing with rapid changes and growth across many factors from the economy and job market to the changing U.S. demographics and household make-up, including more people living alone, young people living with parents, the most diverse generations becoming more prominent (i.e., Millennials and Gen Z), and associated changing lifestyles. We will be dealing with escalating populations and the resulting impact on our planet and resources (for example, by 2050 global population is estimated to grow 33 percent, and our food supply will need to increase about 60-100 percent, which may seem off until you consider that 40 percent of food in the U.S. is wasted). It’s become hard to ignore the realities of changing weather patterns and resulting impacts from hurricanes to fires. Many are feeling the real impacts of such disasters regardless of one’s belief in human-driven global warming. Thus, amidst all this instability and change, people are seeking distraction, community, and grounding.

There is a tech backlash of sorts taking shape. Consumers recognize that tech produces effluent just as manufacturing plants did before going unchecked for environmental pollution. In this case, tech is creating societal pollution that is only starting to get unpacked. This is leading to more early dialogue about tech effects, such as bias concerns with regard to AI and facial recognition technology. Expect this to ramp up, the holding of tech companies accountable for their impact on society.

Finally, historical, embedded, hidden norms are being broken down with people and companies being exposed for ill practices. In doing so, it’s making room for some groups to find their voices and express their intent to not stand for it any longer. Thus, a broader range of stories are being told and finding outlets, which will start to shape our culture in a new direction.

It is from within this environment that we move from last year’s theme of people seeking Positivity & Pragmatic Progress to 2019 being the Year for Human Centricity & Discernment.

With this in mind, how do we create solutions and build models with humans at the center of our processes, bringing empathy and human impact into our consideration set? How do we get our heads around the new demographics and lifestyles, resulting in new needs, while taking a holistic, inclusive view of all of humanity? How do we factor and forecast an innovation’s impact on real people with foresight not hindsight? How do operate in the world and speak to consumers in ways that meet their standards? Finally, how do businesses and brands not buy into the hype, jump on the bandwagon, and instead become more discerning in their own practices to choose what’s right for their business and brands?

To move us forward, there are some models and modes of thinking that need to change and will shape the trends we see in 2019, along with the drivers noted above.

  • During such uncertain, changing, and challenging times, the world doesn’t need veiled attempts at progress. Pushing against real progress and holding onto the past only further destabilizes and weakens our position. We need bolder actions, embracing working in the grey and with complexity and getting beyond false choices to find solutions towards better progress.
  • The rapid changes and growth we are experiencing demand that we not see options as either/or and rather be open to building new models that integrate the best of opposing models to unlock new solutions.
  • We need to get beyond neoliberal views on the virtue of free-market capitalism. That doesn’t mean giving up on capitalism but instead reframing its context. It means that organizations should expand their views on relevant stakeholders, taking responsibility for their impact on society, the environment, and acting to have positive impact. Consumers are asking organizations today to take responsibility in the world and to participate, not put their head in the sand and act as if nothing negative is impacting the society in which they take part. One result of this thinking is that we are at a time when certain industries will no longer go unchecked with people accepting the trade-offs skirted for growth.
  • We need to shift from short-term thinking to long-term thinking. Yet at the same time, we need to recognize that incremental, small steps can lead to bigger changes over time. Future visions often cannot be reached in one big leap and can instead be spurred by small actions.
  • Because of big data and the Internet of Things, companies are leaning towards rationality and data for answers. But the answers won’t be found solely in data. Rather, we need to seek to understand human behavior and people’s motivations to unlock true insight and human-centric innovation. And our views of people need to be broadened. There needs to be more inclusiveness across all demographics of society.
  • There’s a shift happening and that’s needed from being centralized to decentralized. The answers to some of our biggest challenges may not be led from large, centralized, hierarchical, bureaucratic institutions. We need to look for innovation and insight in decentralized, local, smaller communities or groups that can incubate solutions specific to their needs.
  • Along these lines, organizations are needing to move from being overly planful, governed, and rigid to being agile, guided, and fluid.Today’s marketplace demands we move more quickly than past models allow. Testing such decentralization and smaller groups in large organizations is likely to unlock an ability to react more fluidly to the changing world around us.
  • We need to broaden our discussion of diversity towards one of inclusiveness. While there’s a lot of talk about diversity with regard to innovation, it’s not present within our largest companies that are leading the world’s innovation. Today’s innovation community is too homogenous. There’s an opportunity to tap into the full breadth of talent in the U.S. to generate powerful ideas that bring different races, genders, and socioeconomic levels into the innovation process to unlock hidden potential.
  • Along these lines, we are at a time when new voices and stories are meant to be heard. The old voices and models will not solve today’s problems.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll cover trends on the horizon across Economy & Industry, Consumer & Culture, and Branding & Marketing. Stay tuned!

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