Futurist Thomas Frey: very exciting year ahead. 2012 is a year where many competing trends will collide, and through those collisions we will see new pathways emerge.
At the same time, many new trends are forming, some with enough steam to form entirely new movements, others that will run their course and splinter into other emerging ways of doing business.
The “new normal” is quickly becoming the “nothing normal,” and our daily routines, the things we use to maintain our own sanity, will need to morph and change if we hope to stay competitive in the emerging job market and even stay current in our own social circles.
With this in mine, I’d like to take you on a journey into some of the trends I’ll be watching in 2012 as the tectonic plates of change inch their way into new positions. Here is the first half of the 28 major trends to watch in 2012 and beyond.
1.) Retail 2.0 – People still like getting out of the house and being around other people, but the retail world hasn’t quite figured out what people are looking for. New ways of thinking about Retail 2.0 will form around phrases like “experiential entertainment,” “active engagement,” and “interaction with experts.”
Some of the major expenses involved in traditional retail have been maintaining inventories and shelf space. Look for a new breed of retails shops that carry no inventory, only product demonstration stations with the ability to order on the spot (and receive a discount). Most will be pay-to-play product placement stations with experts on hand to answer questions. Tech companies like Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft will be paving the way for these kinds of storefronts. I’ll be writing more on this topic in the weeks ahead. Other thoughts on this topic here.
2.) Crowdfunding – Even though some sites like Kickstarter and Quirky have been getting traction in this space, Congress’ recent effort to pass official Crowdfunding legislation will unleash an entirely new Pandora’s box full of options for entrepreneurs hoping to launch their latest ventures. Many startups are waiting on the sidelines for this new option to kick in, so look for a surge of activity to take place as an entirely new finance industry begins to take shape.
3.) The Persistent “Big Lie” Opportunity – Throughout history we have seen any number of cultural truisms spring to life that were simply not true. If something is repeated enough times, society will begin to believe it. With our ability to post and repost a novel concept, new cultural memes can be formed virtually over night. Yet at the same time, our attempts to debunk any myth with over a million mentions online often runs into a murky wall of ambivalence. For this reason, even though they have been scientifically disproven, “big lies” such as these will persist:
- “In the future everyone will have their fifteen minutes of fame”
- “You only use 10% of your brain”
- “The Internet is making us dumber”
- “The more you sweat, the more calories you burn”
- “Listening to classical music turns babies into geniuses”
- “Alcohol kills brain cells”
- “Being skinny means you’re fit and healthy
- “Your IQ is fixed and stays the same throughout your life
If you thought some of the statements above were true, you’re not alone. Many of us still do even though they have been proven false. Look for a new breed of services to appear that will offer solutions for globally debunking the persistent “big lies.”
4.) Emerging Data Marketplace – The data that you currently own can become far more valuable when you mix it with other data. As an example, if you add weather conditions to your customer data, chances are you will find some connection between weather patterns and your customers’ purchasing habits.
Acquiring datasets such as these is presently very time consuming, expensive, and generally a pain to do. Look for emerging big data marketplaces, such as Microsoft’s Azure, that will come complete with directories of the available datasets, along with counselors who can help coach you through the maze.
5.) Smartphone Peripherals – The whole mobile apps revolution began in March of 2008 when Steve Jobs announced the software developer’s kit for the Apple iPhone. When Apple’s App Store officially opened on July 11, 2008, there were a whopping 552 apps to choose from. Over 60 million apps were downloaded within the first 3 days and tech companies around the world began to sense a market shift, and we now have well over a million apps to choose from.
While apps have been getting tons of attention, the piece getting very little is the exploding field of smartphone peripherals that extend our current communication systems far beyond simple person-to-person communications. Virtual every object we come into contact with has the potential for being controlled by our smartphone, and interface designers are working overtime to make this happen.
Look for literally thousands of new peripheral devices to hit the market over the coming year or two. More details here.
6.) The Coming Age of Micro-Incomers – Twitch.tv, or “Twitch,” as it’s called by founder Justin Kan, was built as a way to make professional video gamers more mainstream. It has a partner program similar to YouTube, where the most popular gamers can make money by running commercials during their live streams. Yes, people can actually make money by playing games.
While most of them will not make full-time incomes, they will find it relatively easy to become part of the emerging “micro-incomer” crowd. Here are a few other ways people can make partial and even full-time incomes online:
- Sell stuff on eBay or Craig’s List
- Sell photos to stock photo sites
- Amazon’s Mechanical Turk
- Transcribing audio files
- Become a virtual assistant
- Interview people and sell the interview
- Enter online competitions
- Write articles on eHow.com
None of these are get-rich-quick schemes, but they can make all the difference between getting by and being destitute. Look for training centers to emerge with a “micro-incomers” kind of focus.
7.) Data Visualization Trends – “I remember seeing a terrific video on wireless power but cannot seem to find it no matter what I do.” Mental faux pax like this are all too common.
For most of us, it’s very difficult to image what information looks like, and when we save a file somewhere, its very often very difficult for us to find it again. Data visualization has been a problem plaguing the online world for years and will become even more pronounced as we move further into the cloud.
Data visualization provides tools for two primary functions – explanation and exploration. While business people might think of visualization as the end result, scientists also using forms of visualization to formulate questions, and for discovering new features of a dataset. More importantly, our ability to find and work with data needs to be so easy that average everyday people can work with it. Look for a few critical new offerings in this area to revolutionize how we store and retrieve the information that will operate and manage our future selves.
8.) Regionalization of the Internet – In the 1990s the Internet was greeted as the New New Thing: It would erase national borders, give rise to communal societies that invented their own rules, and undermine the power of governments. But not so fast!
Even though the Internet began as a utopian dream of a unified world without government intervention, today’s Internet is moving towards the opposite end of the spectrum. In many cases, Internet companies not only welcome governmental restrictions; they are being used as agents of government policy.
The future Internet will see a move towards even more border sensitivity, with hyper-location based services to both improve relevancy of the user experience, and also put themselves in good standing for regional business and government contracts. More details here.
9.) The End of an Era – Faster than Ever – When Dell announced it would no longer be selling netbook computers, it foretold the end of an era. The cute little laptops surged in popularity and came crashing back to earth in a timeframe best measured in months, not decades. Tablet computers, starting with the Apple iPad, made them instantly obsolete.
Our increased awareness of what’s hot and what’s not gives us instant ability to turn our backs on “the old” and to begin embracing “the new.” When Netflix announce they were changing their business model, they instantly got the cold shoulder and had to reverse course. RIM’s Blackberries, once the hottest product in the connected business marketplace, got blindsided by the iPhone and Android and has been plummeting ever since.
The speed with which new companies can emerge, is also the speed with which they can become dismantled. Today’s hotness can become tomorrow’s coldness in a matter of months. So take a close look at the top 100 emerging new companies and know that less than 20% will still be around five years from now. (By the way, I just made that statistic up. Soon to be another one of the Big Lies.)
10.) Poor Lifestyles Hurting Long-term Health – In the past three or so decades, women have increased their calorie intake by 22% and men by 10%, with carbohydrates and sugar-sweetened beverages being major sources of the unnecessary calories.
The inevitable result is that more than two-thirds of U.S. adults and about one-third of children are over the ideal body weight, with the extra layers of fat putting a major strain on people’s hearts. The trend is particularly concerning in children. Today, about 20% of U.S. kids are obese, compared with just 4% thirty years ago.
Neither adults nor children are exercising enough and about 21% of men and 18% of women still smoke. About 20% of high school students also have taken up the smoking habit. This means that 94% of U.S. adults, and that’s almost everyone, have heightened risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.
However, as always, every problem creates an opportunity, and every one of the identifiable risk factors will become a focal point of activity until each of the problems has become a thing of the past.
11.) Reversing the Obesity Trends – New research documents a 5.5% drop in the number of obese kids in K-8 classes in New York City’s public schools from 2006-2007 to 2010-1011.
It’s no secret that reversing the childhood obesity epidemic in the U.S. will require a long-term effort. Since 1970, the rate of childhood obesity in the U.S. has tripled. There have been hints that these rates were leveling off in New York City in recent years, but the new study reports an actual decrease. The bad part is that no one knows exactly why it’s happening.
Look for a trend where researchers flock to every new community that shows progress, to uncover the clues. Also look for the answers to be different than what “the experts” have been telling us in the past.
12.) Fast-Niche Online Universities – We are seeing more and more niche professions without a clear path for getting there. At least not through any traditional University programs. These include everything from social networking experts, to product evangelists, to drone operators, to business colony managers.
Through projects like Khan Academy, MIT OpenCourseWare, and iTunesU, the Internet has made it easier for anyone to be a student. Now it’s also making it easier for anyone to become a teacher. Several platforms have launched within the last couple years that democratize teaching.
Online universities such as Udemy, Learnable, Tildee, Skillshare, and Sophia are beginning to capture market share. Look for large associations and businesses, as the early adopters, to start creating their own path-to-profession courseware to fill the demand for rebooting skills in a short timeframe.
13.) Teaching Entrepreneurship and the Rise of the Accelerator – Can you teach entrepreneurship? People like Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup,” think so. He also thinks that entrepreneurship must be taught to far more people if the American economy is to successfully pivot towards a post-manufacturing era.
But as people who have started a business know, is very difficult to teach the emotional side of business, and startups invariably become extremely emotional at one time or another. And the only good counseling for a person going through the trials of getting a business off the ground are other well-seasoned entrepreneurs. That’s why accelerators like Techstars and Y-Combinator have been gaining so much attention.
With their rapid incubation processes, Techstars and Y-Combinator have quickly becoming a natural farm club for VCs in the high tech arena. Look for a variety of other vertical niche accelerators, in fields like healthcare, education, finance, and other sectors, to materialize.
14.) Information Doesn’t Want to be Free – In 1984 at a Hackers Conference, Silicon Valley futurist Stuart Brand was the first to use the phrase “Information wants to be free” in response to a point made by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak but continued, “On the other hand, information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life.”
John Perry Barlow, lyricist for the Grateful Dead, keyed in on the first half of the phrase, “Information wants to be free” in a keynote speech at an Open Source Internet Symposium in 1992. This set the stage for an entirely new era of free-thinking “free” advocates. This became another one of society’s “big lies.”
There is always a cost to “free.” While it may not extract a payment from your bank account, there is always a “time” cost involved. Without some amount of friction, the volume of information you have to sift through skyrockets and even with good search technology, your time-costs climb dramatically.
The days of “free” thinking are numbered. Look for this mindset to shift over the coming years. More details here.
Coming Next Week
Please come back next week for the second half of this series on “28 Major Trends in 2012 and Beyond.”
Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything