Tuesday, July 20, 2010
The starting point is still attractive though: Dixon segments the global change into one that will be ‘Fast, Urban and Universal’ and another that will be ‘Tribal, Radical and Ethical’. These two overarching views of the future are conflicting, but both are happening indeed –even after seven years
The problem is that Dixon uses this idea to make over 500 predictions –or expectations- which are sometimes right (‘mobile phone becomes a PC’, ‘TV on the Web’, …) but often plain wrong (‘internet will destroy traditional banking’, ‘The successful transformation of Russia into a strong, vibrant, secure country will also do much to ease reforms in China’) or obsolete (‘majority of PC screens will still use cathode ray tubes’, or his failure to predict that wages in China and India will sooner or later rise to Western standards).
The logic behind some trends is sometimes awkward at best (‘Most computers are young. Therefore the majority of big [computer] failures are around the corner. And most will hit Small and Medium sized companies hardest’ –WHY?), if not absolutely inexistent (‘expect retail chains who will increase own-brand sales from 15-20% to 30% by 2010’ … no explanation at all behind this). This gives the impression Dixon is just spitting out his gut feel on each subject that pops into his mind. This feeling is enhanced by the fact that, except for the categorization into 6 trends, there is very little structure to be found in this book.
Nevertheless, the book has its merits:
(1) The ‘Questions to management’ at the end of each chapter are certainly worthwhile food for thought for any business leaders, since they force him to think broadly about the –often not obvious- impact of trends on his business;
(2) Grouping the 500 trends into 6 themes that are ‘emotional’ (Fast, Tribal, …) rather than ‘factual’ (as for instance: ‘political’, ‘economical’, ‘social’, …) is certainly valuable since it permits a more dynamic study of the interrelated impact of each trend on different elements of society.
(3) Dixon’s 500 expectations are sometimes wrong or obsolete, but as often right and even still relevant nowadays. For instance, when he says ‘expect news gatherers of the future to be members of the public equipped with nothing other than video phones’. He might be wrong about the ‘video phone’ but surely the Flip camera’s and alike would make this possible (just bought my first one, wonderful tool: Flip UltraHD Camcorder, 120 Minutes (Black)
(4) Last but not least, many of Dixon’s thoughts would still be relevant today in that they would unleash a solid conversation about the future.
Take for instance, the finding that puberty is coming at an increasingly earlier age. According to Dixon this will drive parents to have more control over the activities of their kids. It’s worthwhile thinking further about that one, since it might drive much more changes than just monitoring Internet traffic of the kids. If this is true it would also drive the choices of living environment of the parents, their involvement in societal tasks (school) etc. In my eyes this ‘parental monitoring’ will also take the shape of a ‘partnership’ with the kids. In my immediate environment I see parents taking an increasingly active part of their puber’s life. One mother even goes to university classes with her daughter as a free student, not to control her, but just because they have the same passion for the subject.
I would’ve been ashamed at the thought when I was young. Kids now seem to take pride of it. Surely this will have an impact on the parent’s behavior (and spending patterns?) as well.
Another subject for debate is the ‘tribalism’ as one of the key shifts of the future. Dixon seems to interpret this in a limitative way, people would increasingly gather into smaller groups with a common identity. Apparently the full potential of Social Media wasn’t apparent yet at the moment Dixon wrote his book. Social media implies an ever growing size of the ‘groups’ to which we belong, driven not so much by commonalities of the group members, but rather by the way they are networked together. Same thing on the work flour: the virtualization of the Enterprise (which Dixon mentions as a trend) will make employees gather around common goals rather than around common skills or tasks.
But here lies the true value of the book: the sheer amount of ideas that it contains, even if some prove wrong, makes you think broad and deep into the trends that shape the future. All in all a worthwhile read.
Friday, July 16, 2010
First one on the list is ‘Ecological Intelligence’ by Daniel Goleman. Why start with this one? Well, no doubt the move towards sustainability and ‘green ‘behavior is a Megatrend that took shape in recent years, only to grow in the next decades, both for companies and individuals. But, apart from my own efforts in reducing my family’s carbon footprint, I must admit that I know very little about the subject.
So choosing an author who takes a psychological approach to the subject –after all he was also the author of Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ
and Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships
- would make sense. And it does, but in a way that I didn’t imagine at first.
I was expecting a roundup of new ecological ideas and trends, do’s and don’ts, examples of what works and what doesn’t. Instead I read a book about just one single idea. But what an idea !
The central theme of the book is ‘Radical Transparency’. In Goleman’s ideal world, all buyers from any goods or service would be informed about the complete impact (not only ecological, but also social and human) the good has initiated, before making his choice. This knowledge would not be limited to the impact the good has when in use, but also throughout the whole ‘life cycle’, so including in the management of the raw materials, the production process, and after the product’s ‘life’.
Radical enough, but is it feasible? The latter 2/3d of Goleman’s book are spent highlighting initial efforts to obtain such a Radical Transparency, through concrete examples and discussions with business and thought leaders. The most striking example is probably ‘Goodguide’, a company that is now piloting the ability for customers to scan the barcode of products in a shop with their mobile, and have immediate access to the full Life Cycle Assessment of the product and its alternatives next to it in the shop. Surely that would change customers’ behavior, at least those that are sensible to ecology, ethics or just their personal health?
How exactly does it change buying behavior?
Goleman provides some striking examples.
Would people who buy a bottle of red wine in New York better buy a Californian wine instead of a French one, based on the fact that the French wine has to travel further? Not really, the French wine is transported by boat, which emits much less CO2 than a truck, while the Californian wine would have to cross the whole country in a truck.
Should you buy your tomatoes locally for the same reason? Perhaps, but the seeds with which they were grown might as well come from a Chinese farm with less than human labor conditions.
Goleman provides plenty of such examples. What they tell us is that even a sound buying decision based on ecological, moral or health standards can completely miss the point if you are not aware of the full life cycle of the good. For sure this would change my own buying habits…
Why would that be beneficiary?
As the economist and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz showed, an economy can only be efficient if there is an equal access to information. This has not happened for the last decades, where suppliers of goods had access to much more information (sometimes keeping it secret) than the buyers. ‘Radical Transparency’ would reestablish this equilibrium.
To put it more clearly: if a sufficient amount of buyers would base their buying decisions on the same ecological, social or security parameters, and be knowledgeable of the impact of the ‘life cycle’ of the goods they buy, this would force suppliers to take these into account and adapt their behavior.
A sustainable, green, moral way of doing business cannot be imposed by government, but can only be imposed by (a sufficient amount of) buyers.
Will it make a difference?
Well obviously not every consumer would want to base their buying decision on moral or ecological arguments –price is still the major drive for most of them. But some surveys show that a little difference in price would drive a substantial amount of people towards the ‘ethical’ products. The ‘price elasticity’ of these products is not so steep after all.
As Goleman shows, a number of very promising initiatives are being taken to provide this ‘Life Cycle Assessment’ to the customers. In a way the success of the early experiments might feed itself, with a growing number of people basing their consumption patterns on this knowledge as it becomes more easily available and more easy to understand (sometimes a green or red label might do).
No doubt a trend to be tracked closely, and a book absolutely worth reading !
Monday, July 12, 2010
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
The thought was launched by an Australian scientist (Kristin Alford from Bridge 8) as a response to a presentation of the ‘Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization’ (CSIRO) on 5 megatrends they have come up with. Basically Kristin argued that each of the megatrends the CSIRO put forward would spur a counter-trend (see the examples beneath).
It provides a compelling story, since many of the ‘anti-trends’ she proposes might create a big opportunity for companies targeting a specific niche audience –remember ‘crossing the chasm’ and the ‘Blue Ocean’ strategy?
Obviously the ‘anti-trends’ don’t apply to every megatrend. The ageing society for instance is hardly something a group of people could rebel against –however hard some people try.
However, the idea applies quite well to other trends. Take the increasing ‘connectedness’ of society –through the ever increasing importance of social media, but also through the ‘internet of things’ where each object will be connected to everything else. It isn’t too far stretched to believe an increasing amount of people will ‘opt out’ of this connected world.
Which type of businesses might benefit from this anti-trend? Well, firstly the local craftsmen, but also the manufacturers of ‘old-fashioned’ quality products with no embedded technology at all.
Another example –one from the list beneath- is the ‘customization’ of products and services. Everything seems to be ‘tailor made’ nowadays. Any buyer has to deal with an increasing number of choices and options. This doesn’t apply to all products and services, of course, but it is clearly a trend everyone experiences is daily life.
It’s not unrealistic to imagine a growing amount of people will not want to have the choice between so many options, who will grow tired of having to decide on every feature and gadget. What will they go for? Products that are basic and uncomplicated. Products that are just made to fulfill the basic need.
If you recently bought a car you will know what I mean. Tata have clearly seen an opportunity in the ‘anti-trend’ by building a simple, ‘one size fits all’ car. Okay, their purpose was to build a car as cheap as possible for the Indian market, but I’m sure many European consumers are dreaming of such a ‘fuzz-less’ car as well.
My key takeaway from the trend/anti-trend idea is not to take things for granted. When studying the impact of megatrends in your company, always think about which counter-trends they might create, and which opportunity this generates for your business.
(thanks to Tim Harper who mentioned this debate on his Blog)