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10 trends to keep an eye on in 2022 and beyond Laurence Van Elegem - December 21, 2021

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In short: unpredictable catastrophes like a pandemic are deeply humbling, which in turn is a helpful mindset for coping with them as well, forcing an efficiently open perspective upon us.

10 trends to keep an eye on in 2022 and beyond

I have been doing some in-depth trend research for the past weeks - for our Radar podcast as well as our upcoming 2022 trend e-book (subscribe here to make sure you get it!) - and I wanted to share some brief insights on what I think might be@ some of the most relevant evolutions for the coming years.

When I say the most relevant, I don’t necessarily mean the most desirable ones. I want to make a clear distinction between possible scenarios on the one hand and desirable ones on the other. But what I have learned this year from Reon Brand, Senior Director Foresight, Trends and People Research at Philips Design, is that most of these trends – desirable or possible – will eventually co-emerge and form something that is different than just the sum of these separate parts.

Whatever the merged result will be, it might be wise to keep an eye out for these 10 evolutions:

1. The Great Discontent

2. “Don’t be evil” is not enough – Be good

3. Every company a healthcare company

4. Le nouveau Space Race

5. Designing the Metaverse

6. Web 3.0

7. A hybrid future of work

8. Smartest Cities

9. Quantum human relations

10. Humility as the new confidence

1. The Great Discontent

The Great Resignation is just a small blip in a larger wave of general dissatisfaction. The pandemic has accelerated our introspection, critical opinion and desire for change. Many of our systems were already broken for some time but now we are finally speaking up about their failure. We are holding governments, companies – Big Tech and others – and other large systems accountable for their mismanagement of our (mental) health, social structures and the environment. And we expect them to do better from now on. This is both a threat and an opportunity for companies. But for those who are investing time, money and talent in building a better future, there will be benefits to reap.

2. “Don’t be evil” is not enough – Be good

This changed mindset is forcing companies and governments to redefine the nature and delivery of value. And the ambitions are high. They are expected to move from the old extractive business paradigm – beyond ‘merely’ sustainability – to regenerative business models (get a first glimpse at our new “Future of Regenerative Economy Tour” here), where value is added to society, nature and economy instead of extracted. This new form of economy is both called the next great disruption (after digital) and a massive opportunity for innovation and new business models. The difficult part will be to balance the thirst for short-term revenue and growth with a longer-term vision and powerful redefinition of value.

3. Every company a healthcare company

Together with finance, healthcare will remain one of the most popular industries to enter in the coming years: not just for startups but for long(er) lived companies looking to diversify as well. Players like Ping An, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Philips and even Best Buy have been launching themselves in this market (some for a while now).

This growth of healthcare business models is a trend that started well before COVID and data is one of the reasons (though not the only one) for its success: if you sell devices or services that in any way or other gather data that is useful for (mental) health, you too could diversify into healthcare services. But it works just as much the other way around: if you add healthcare services to your offering, you’ll gather a lot of useful data about your users too. This is a trend that is here to stay. It started in traditional health but is quickly moving into mental health and wellbeing, with affective technology as a fast growing segment. To illustrate the latter: Gartner predicts that 10% of personal devices will have emotion AI capabilities, either on-device or via cloud services by 2022. This number was less than 1% in 2018.

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4. Le nouveau Space Race

Space transportation is becoming a solid commercial opportunity with players like Blue Origin (Amazon), SpaceX and Virgin Galactic at the helm. I have mixed feelings about this one. I’ve always cherished a lot of fascination about space since I was young (having watched the BBC documentary The Planets multiple times). But I also think we might have some more burning issues to solve here on earth, first. And yes, I’m aware of the fact that some people are investigating other planetary homes for humanity now that we are destroying ours. But this path will take many years and we should also very much try to concentrate on not destroying our current home.

My ethical reservation aside, this segment might offer (long term) opportunities for companies, even those that have nothing to do with transportation. Apparel companies could make special suits for commercial space travelers. Healthcare companies could investigate medicines for the discomforts of space travel (like for space adaptation syndrome (SAS), though some meds already exist for that). And should luggage be adapted to space travel? Or which types of home will we need on Mars?

5. Designing the Metaverse

Meta, Microsoft, Active Theory, Epic games and others are all building (some form or part of) the metaverse. It’s very early days and could go in any direction - good or bad (or both) - but they are basically investigating how to create an immersive parallel universe, some sort of digital twin of the ‘real’ one, with a second personal life, economy and all sorts of social structures. Big players are already investigating how they can claim a place in the Metaverse, which is still pretty much in the building phase. Nike, for instance, is building a virtual world called Nikeland on Roblox’s online gaming platform and it recently bought a virtual shoe company that makes NFTs and sneakers for the metaverse. Balenciaga offers outfits and sneakers in Fortnite. Mexican fast-food chain Chipotle opened a virtual restaurant on Roblox. And virtual land in the metaverse is apparently already selling for millions of dollars. Join Steven Van Belleghem to Los Angeles on our next Customer Experience tour, already in Q1 (March).

This could be a bubble waiting to burst, after which this trend will probably start developing in a more normal way. But above all, I’m curious to see how this could impact our own reality: could we test things out there and reduce (social and environmental) failures over here, lowering risk? Could buying new clothes for our avatars reduce our need for ‘real’ new clothes and reduce our ecological footprint. Time will tell.

Just as a side note: if we combine this trend with the one of commercial space travel, we are currently expanding our human universe with two extra spaces: a very old one which was mostly inaccessible for practical reasons (space) and one we are building from scratch but which, theoretically, has unlimited potential (metaverse). Each of these spaces has very different characteristics than our current one, and that is where many business opportunities will lie.

6. All things crypto & Web 3.0

One of the consequences of the Great Discontent is our growing distrust of control and the growing power of some overly manipulative centralized systems. Web 3.0 could represent a paradigm shift for the internet — towards a decentralized, user-focused, and immersive online experience.

For those of you not familiar with Web 3.0, here’s an ultrashort history lesson. The internet’s first chapter - Web 1.0 – consisted of the creation of websites and blogs, which allowed the launch of companies like Yahoo, eBay or Amazon. It was mostly a passive place, where content was mostly consumed. Web 2.0, then, was defined by social media and user generated content on sites like Facebook and YouTube. This iteration was participatory and social, and highly centralized, with power and control in the hands of a few. Web 3.0, finally, runs on blockchain technology and functions much the way a cooperative works, operated collectively by users rather than a corporation. It is decentralized and is thought to eliminate the big middlemen on the internet. (Though ironically, middlemen like Twitter are already investigating how they could integrate Web 3.0 features.) Where users were in many ways the product in Web 2.0, they would be taking back control in Web 3.0.

Image source: https://textinart.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/whats-the-difference-between-web-1-0-web-2-0-and-web-3-0/

The new Web 3.0 paradigm is still mostly theoretical, but I’m always sceptical of stories that are way too optimistic. Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 were also believed to change society for the better and that turned out completely different. Whatever the case, companies ought to investigate what decentralization and data ownership by users will mean for their marketing and data-monetization.

We are planning an open program on this topic in Q2 of 2022, stay tuned via our newsletter.

7. A hybrid future of work

We’ve talked so much about this trend that it has (almost) become boring. But I keep it on the list because of just that reason: we’ve mostly talked about it, and are still investigating how to pivot our work strategy to this forced transition. Work became hybrid because we had no choice, but we’ve also just switched channels and still need to redesign our leadership, culture and offices to develop a working environment that, well, works.

It’s not about channels, but about hiring the right people, offering personalization (everyone’s ideal working environment and regime is different), stimulating self-leadership and autonomy, driving balance, redesigning offices for interactions and serendipity and even watching out for bias (new research confirms a strong bias against remote workers). Deciding how many days you “expect people in the office” is not the same as designing a hybrid work strategy. Keep an eye on our newsletter for our next Future of Leadership tour with Peter Hinssen in Q3 of 2022.

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8. Smartest Cities

It’s easier to build a smart city from scratch to fit the changing needs of society and business than to adapt an ‘old’ one. And so enter highly ambitious greenfield projects like Toyota’s Woven City, Neom Saudi Arabia or Marc Lore’s (founder of Jet.com and later head of Walmart’s e-commerce efforts) new model for society.

Amidst all our enthusiasm about these exciting human laboratories, we must not underestimate the negative effects of building artificial structures where there used to be forests or mountains and other natural structures. I’m curious to see which approach will win. The new smart cities are basically R & D labs for their developers. But the question is: will these labs work, is the data they are gathering in such an artificial environment not highly biased (to measure is to influence) and why would we destroy nature because of them? Perhaps testing out these theoretical cities might happen in the Metaverse in the future?

9. Quantum human relations

Quantum physics describes the physical properties of nature at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles. It surfaced when classical physics - describing many aspects of nature at an ordinary (macroscopic) scale - proved insufficient for explaining how small (atomic and subatomic) objects function. Both disciplines have operated next to each other for a long time, but recently quite a few academics and authors have been theorizing that some of the (quite weird) characteristics of the quantum world - like entanglement, superposition and particle-wave duality - might also be driving human relations, society and even consciousness. Jeremy Lent (The Web of Meaning, 2021), Carlo Rovelli (Helgoland, 2021), Alexander Wendt (Quantum mind and social science, 2015) and the seminal “Quantum society” by Danah Zohar and Ian Marschall (1994) have all tackled this question in some form or other.

Steve Jobs once told us that “The design is how it works”. Understanding how human relations are designed on a scientific, physics level could help us understand better how any type of social structure works: from society and global relations to organizations of all types. This would be especially relevant in our post-pandemic times, where our isolation has left us starving for human relations.

10. Humility is the new confidence

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s how vulnerable we humans are against unpredictable (natural) forces. That is perhaps the reason why I noticed an increased amount of content on the topic of humility these past few months. Being (intellectually) humble and mindful of our vulnerability, is not just an efficient remedy against polarization, it stimulates the sort of openness that is necessary for creativity and innovation, which are crucial assets in an uncertain and unpredictable world. Paradoxically, those wo are more intellectually humble, are able to learn more and thus to know more as they are more receptive to new information and open to opposing opinions. It’s a quality that is beneficial to leaders, innovators, customer service experts, HR managers and everyone else in charge of future thinking, innovation, strategy and basically anything human-related.

No wonder that some of the contributors of our upcoming 2022 trend e-book (subscribe here to make sure you get it) referred to it in some way or another. AI expert Mieke De Ketelaere warned us to “be more humble and less arrogant about our human intelligence”. While Celine Schillinger advocated for “a new, humbler type of leadership: leadership understood as a collective and relational capacity”. And let’s not forget Jan Rotmans’ and Mischa Verheijden’s assessment that humility (about for instance your career) is also crucial for personal transition.

To help us cope with unpredictability and uncertainty, many are promoting resilience and agility. Yet few understand that intellectual humility is actually the basis of the former two: you can’t adapt and change your mind or way of working if you’re not open to accepting that what you do or think was wrong (for the new situation). In short: unpredictable catastrophes like a pandemic are deeply humbling, which in turn is a helpful mindset for coping with them as well, forcing an efficiently open perspective upon us.

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Laurence
Laurence Van Elegem

Laurence has more than 10 years of experience in marketing, communications and disruptive innovation. Passionately curious, she is fascinated by the impact of technology and...