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7 bold predictions about the future December 19, 2019

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On the eve of 2020, the nexxworks keynote speakers and thought leaders have made some bold predictions about the years the come. Have a sneak peek into the future of leadership, AI, China's (dis)connection, customer experience, curiosity and systems thinking:

Pascal Coppens: The most connected nation gets disconnected

As we look back at 2019, America shifted its focus from the war on terror to the war on China. China got labelled as untrustworthy nation, and more and more people started seeing Xi Jinping as the world’s new villain. Every attempt China made to convince the world otherwise, got lost in translation. The year 2020 will be marked by what kept the Chinese population together for the past two millennia as a united civilization: A strongly connected and more independent nation.

As the world keeps challenging China, 2020 will trigger an acceleration to build a smarter, safer and sustainable society with the massive deployment of 5G, AIoT and Blockchain. By the end of 2020, China plans for 300 cities with full 5G coverage, while 100 smart tech cities should come to live from a vast IoT network infrastructure. To ensure the smart mega-cities to stay safe and secure, China recently launched its new cyber security system and Xi Jinping endorsed blockchain for the first time. 2020 will become the ‘year of Blockchain’ in China. Whilst Europe and America debate whether to trust Chinese 5G and AI, China will see its chance to lead the adoption of the fourth industrial revolution at home. Whilst the West is convincing stakeholders to integrate blockchain as underlying technology to provide better protection, speed and transparency to everyone, Chinese entrepreneurs got a green light to drive the disruption with new blockchain usage models. It will happen, and faster than we imagine. In 2020, China is entering the age of super connectivity and comfort for all its citizens.

The State’s green light on blockchain, has made Beijing rethink how the technology could be used to revise its own monetary framework, also to the benefit of the IoT driven industrial change. Whilst the ongoing US-lead trade war may lead to a decoupling of the world's two largest economies, China is now helping that move in the same direction by being the first to launch a central bank lead digital currency (DCEP). If the past flexible attitude of China’s government towards enabling their fintech industry to bloom is any reference, the same is to be expected with this new cryptocurrency paradigm. Over time, the DCEP could even slowly replace the US Dollar, making China more self-reliant from the West and bringing it closer to the other 6 billion people of our planet. 2020 will be marked by investing heavily in technologies that enable China’s self-reliance from microchips and operating systems up to deploying their own GPS system Beidou. In 2020, China should upgrade from innovator to inventor, as they cannot fully trust the worlds’ inventions to be shared with them anymore. China went from ‘made in China’ to ‘created in China’ since 2013, and is now getting ready to embrace fully the ‘invented in China’ era.

Peter Hinssen – The decade of Trust

As we're entering a next decade, it's probably safe to say that the time of being 'surprised' by the concept of disruption is finally over. As digital became the new normal during the last ten years, we're preparing for a decade of 'Never Normal' where constant change seems to be the new modus operandi.

If I have to make a prediction about what's next, I don't think it's any novel 'technology' as such that will be the 'new new thing'. Surely new technologies will come and go, new nifty creative ideas will rise and fall, but there is an 'undertide' that I believe will surface and become clearer over the course of the next decade, and that is the concept of Trust.

Not that Trust is new. But Trust will become front and center in the narrative with customers, brands and companies. The end of this decade has seen the rise of fake news, that has disrupted politics and geopolitics, but in my opinion this was just a warmup-act. Technology allows us to generate content, images, videos and complete narratives that are throwing us off balance on what is 'true' and what is 'fake'. My personal favourite is the website: https://thispersondoesnotexist.com/ that generates a new 'face' of an individual, purely generated by A.I. using a combination of two neural networks, that display the face of a person that is incredibly lifelike, but simply does not exist in real life.

We are entering a time where distrust seems to be one of the new normals. In the West we don't trust our governments but we have all given our most intimate data like fingerprints and facial scans to companies such as Apple and Google, and are massively sharing our personal content, pictures and stories on Instagram or Facebook. In the East we see the opposite, where citizens see the advantage of a government that rules on the basis of data. But a large group of individuals seems to start to distrust both governments and corporations. Every company, every brand, every entrepreneur will have to fight in the coming years to stem this tide, and fight to earn the trust of consumers, employees and citizens. In my prediction, we're entering the decade of Trust.

Nancy Rademaker: Opening the black box of AI

Over the past few years, Artificial Intelligence has really become THE most impactful technology, mainly through the development of Deep learning, in which computer systems mimic the learning process of human brains, but much faster. Since its introduction, huge advancements have been made and every single industry has or could benefit greatly from deep learning capabilities. This is especially true for healthcare, where AI already outperforms world-leading medical experts in diagnosing diseases. It can for instance predict a person’s chances of dying within a year by looking at electrocardiogram (ECG) logs (even when this person appears to be normal to doctors) or even the onset of some psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia (which is extremely difficult for any human physician to predict).

That’s the good - or even great - news. But there’s a ‘slight’ problem, too. No one (not even the creators) knows exactly how these AI models really work and we tend to trust decision-making algorithms only when we understand how conclusions are reached. And thus, it is fair to say that the 'explainability' of AI may be a key stumbling block to its acceptance.

Next to this lack of transparency, the ethics behind algorithms has also become a hotly debated topic. Possible biases or human prejudices may very well be hidden in the training data, which will be inherited by the algorithms, potentially leading to unfair or even wrong decisions. Fortunately, this year, open-source AI bias detection and mitigation tools and resources were already released by IBM Research, with the primary goal "to encourage global collaboration around addressing bias in AI".

Since we as people are so scared of the unknown, for AI and deep learning technology to become widely accepted and adopted, opening the black box is going to be crucial in the coming years. Next to that, according to the GDPR, individuals should be able to obtain “meaningful information of the logic involved” whenever automated decisions are being made.

New algorithms are being built as we speak to have AI explain what it does. These include amongst others, having the algorithm highlight the data that contributed most to the discovered patterns, or even running the algorithm in reverse.

But will it be at all possible to have AI explain its behavior to the fullest? Can we ourselves as humans fully explain our own behavior and decision-making? I look forward to 2020 as a pivotal year for Explainable Artificial Intelligence, so we can continue– or start (in certain areas) to benefit from it for the good.

Steven Van Belleghem: Solving customer time needs, hopes and fears

For the past years, we’ve seen an exponential rise in customer expectations driven by technology. I believe this trend will only increase in the next decade, and that these expectations will crystalize themselves in 3 distinct domains which companies that want to stay relevant will need to approach: time, hopes and fears:

  1. TIME: These days, time has evolved into a scarce commodity (we all wish we had more time of it to spend) and customers expect companies help save them their precious time.
  2. HOPES: Our customers all have different personal dreams and ambitions – saving for a home, travel to the Andes, or even pay off college debts – and they expect more and more that companies help them achieve these.
  3. FEARS: But they are concerned, too: about global warming, the new ‘cold war’ between the United States and China, the volatile situation in the middle east, Brexit and many other macro-economic conflicts. An increasing number of customers expect companies to tackle these issues because they are starting to realize that “better for me” and “better for the world” are the same, in the long run.

It’s safe to say that companies are standing on the brink of an enormous challenge to answer to these huge expectations. That’s above all very exciting, because doing so will multiply your company’s impact by 10X: it’s no longer just about selling great goods and services. Or even about offering an ultrapersonal and spectacular customer experience. These are just the new minimum. In the coming years, it will be about helping consumers become who they want to be, on a planet and in a society that they want to save and cherish.

And the way I see it, there are 3 well-defined strategies you can use to answer to the modern customer’s expectations:

  1. Offer Time (by saving time) – Fully automate transactions so that they become invisible and frictionless: Walmart and Amazon’s in-home delivery are perfect examples of that.
  2. Answer Hopes – Become a true partner in the life of your customers: Give Google Home and Amazon Alexa a few years to perfect themselves and they will do just that.
  3. Solve Fears – Change the world together. I love the example of Tony’s Chocolonely: their customers come for the delicious chocolate with unique flavours and stay because they know they are not eating a product that’s tainted by slavery.

Laurence Van Elegem: From systems-thinking to systems-acting

Changes announce themselves when patterns emerge and I have seen some of these surface in the last two innovation tours that I participated in: the one in a fast rising innovation nation (China) and the other in a region that has ruled innovation for a long time (Silicon Valley). Both are looking at companies from a systemic level, in which relationships between the parts are considered just as important (if not more) as the parts (be it individual employees or departments, local divisions etc.) themselves: the one has done so for centuries and the other is doing so in an increased manner. The way I see it, almost (and I mention ‘almost’ on purpose) everything seems to be aligned for us to move to a systems-oriented approach in both our organizations and governments instead of looking at them merely as a collection of talented individuals:

  • Technology itself is becoming an almost organic system of intelligence that flows through all of our connected devices. One flaw, or bias or intentionally malicious glitch in the system can have severe consequences for the rest. The more that these undercurrents of our collective tools are connected, the more that our human systems are connected too, and on a very large scale. Managing these huge scale connected human systems can no longer be done by merely focussing on standalone parts as too many of them are continuously impacting each other.
  • We are faced with a huge number of interconnected problems - poverty, famine, climate change, migration, terrorism, and many more which all have an impact on one another – which we will not be able to alleviate without a holistic approach in which all stakeholders work together. Read more about that here.
  • Holistic cultures that have been focused for centuries upon systems and the relationships between entities rather than the entities themselves - China, Korea, Japan or India - are beginning to bypass the established and often very individualistic hubs of power when it comes to (technological) innovation and success, … and fast. Could it be that the conditions of scale and complexity that we have created for ourselves through technology, are just right for their type of disposition?
  • And, now, as I mentioned above, one of the regions that has found itself at the forefront of innovation for years, is buzzing with talk about holism, systems and flow: when I attended out Work in Progress Tour in Silicon Valley in November, Adam Gazalley (Akili), Brian Rivera (AGLX), April Rinne, Carl Edward Sanders (Adeption) and Max Shkud (Microsoft) were all talking about it.

Systems-thinking is truly on the rise. But there’s just one glitch: though the scale and complexity of our human structures and their problems necessitate systems-oriented action, the citizens, employees and consumers of many of the leading nations in the world are still very much focused on their individual needs rather than the greater good. There’s this huge tension between how technology has empowered the individual and pushed him/her towards expectations of extreme personalization and what the world needs now. We will need to find a way to resolve this tension in the coming years if we will want to survive e. We will need to transition from systems-thinking (what Silicon Valley is talking about, which is a good first step) to systems-acting (as China has done so for centuries). And the most difficult will obviously be to do so with respect for human rights. Because collectivistic idealisms and governments are ironically often far from democratic.

Julie Vens-De Vos: Why we’re entering the era of the vulnerable leader

The evolutions of the last decades have opened up the world, allowing people to find each other, but they also unleashed the paradox of choice. What are the bets you want to make? How will you keep focus in the abundance of value that’s there to build? How will you - however small or big - lead your purpose forward? The world has shown us in 2019 how polarities arise about what type of value we’d actually want to pursue: be it on a macro geopolitical level where global powers are placing their bets, be it the paradox of individuals, not daring to voice their doubts about their job or your expectations or that newly announced technology. Technology has become the elephant in the room, everybody knows it’s there, yet we often find it very difficult to ask small or big questions about it. Whether we want to create value for the world, our companies, or ourselves, if we won’t share and collectively embed this value, we will fail.

That’s where true leaders will play in 2020 and beyond. Not at the top of the pyramid, but in the midst of the crowd. If you happen to be functioning above or inside a pyramid system, then I wish you to be that rockstar that builds a different narrative. One where you invite your environment to be curious, challenge them to be creative and one where you are bold enough to be vulnerable to embrace the ambiguity that 2020 will hold.

Long story short - we’ve been living in a VUCA world for some time now (Velocity, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity). But now we have moved into what Jamais Cascio (Institute For The Future) called a ‘BANI world’.

  • B = BRITTLE = strong systems breaking down, hard but likely to break easily
  • A = ANXIOUS = feeling there are no good options
  • N = NON-LINEARITY = strong differential cause-effect
  • I = INCOMPREHENSIBLE = too complex for the human to understand, at least at the present or without augmentation

Leaders won’t thrive in this environment if they only try to solve and unwire linear problems. Like I said, they will need to embrace the ambiguity and admit that they don’t have all the answers, but will try to experiment with their entire team to improve the situation. This (wrongly) perceived type of vulnerability is exactly what will make them and their team stronger. I believe that if they do so, they will arrive on 2020’s stage with resilience, empathy, flexibility and good old intuition in order to light the room on fire and have a great party.

Rik Vera: The year that companies will start to measure their Net Curiosity Score

In the rear view mirror the 21st century can be easily summarized. The first decade was ‘The Brewing of the Perfect Storm’. The second was ‘The Tipping Point’. When in 2018 Mark Zuckerberg spoke the historic words ‘Senator, we run ads’, we should have realised that the naive internet dream of a hyper connected world in which authority was equality distributed, was discretely being killed. People now connect on social media that run algorithms to lock people up in echo chambers to sell them to advertisers. As a perverse result of this, people are more tribal and divided than ever before. Yet at the same time, industries are no longer content to stay in their lane (Apple and Amazon entering healthcare or Alibaba in finance to name but a few) and they will all melt down into one boiling red ocean: all companies will fight each other over the same customer data trying to create hyper personal customer experiences.

And now, we are entering the third decade, which I call The Twilight Zone. If you’ve never seen this cult series, here’s a fragment of its opening theme to help you understand: “You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension - a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone!".

Stay hungry. Stay foolish. But above all: stay curious.

I believe that that “key of imagination” is exactly what we need to guide our society and our businesses through this zone. Knowledge and experience won’t get us there. We need to create new patterns just like a child creates order in the chaos of the world it was born in. What drives a child is a basic talent: curiosity. We are all born passionately curious but most of us trade that curiosity for patterns and assumptions when we grow up and so do companies.

If we want to re-invent our society and if we want to create new business models in the next decade, we urgently need to develop a brand new KPI: the #NCS or the Net Curiosity Score. Why? Because where we are going, no one has ever gone before. We’ll need to question the current path and imagine and build a new one as we are walking. That’s why curiosity is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal. All the famous innovators of all times share it. Never accept the obvious but always look deeper and more thoroughly at a problem. Curiosity reveals the opportunities we would have never even seen if we just accepted the facts and would have never asked “why?”. It is the fuel of our future, and we need to get really serious about this. So don’t wait. Start to measure the level of curiosity of your company and people now. Start to think about how you can promote that curiosity, how you should create a curious culture, how you can reward curiosity and you could use that curiosity to create new patterns.

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