Another year, another set of forecasts for the year ahead — only this time the pace of change seems almost out of control. It’s a function of the seismic shock of COVID-19, still unwinding, on how we organize our work and social lives. Most accounts suggest that the world we will inhabit in 2022 is one that would have happened organically but in many years ahead.
Self-proclaimed futurist and influencer Bernard Marr has grappled with the issue and penned eight trends he sees impacting on business in the year ahead.
So here they are:
If nothing else, COP26 drove climate change to the top of news agendas, and awareness of its urgency means companies can no longer pay lip service to the sustainability and get away with it.
“Every organization must seek to eliminate or reduce the environmental costs of doing business,” says Marr. “Decarbonizing the supply chain is a sensible place to start, but forward-thinking businesses are looking beyond the supply chain to improve sustainability across all business operations. Any business that ignores sustainability is unlikely to do well in this age of conscious consumption.”
2. Human Workers and Intelligent Robots
Automation will affect every industry, so business leaders must prepare their organizations — and their employees — for the changing nature of work. This leaves employers with some key questions, poses Marr. How do we find the balance between intelligent machines and human intelligence? What roles should be given over to machines? Which roles are best suited to humans?
3. The Shifting Talent Pool
The way we work is evolving, with more younger people entering the workforce, more gig workers, and more remote workers. Marr thinks traditional full-time employment will be a thing of the past, as organizations shift to hiring people on a contract basis — with those contractors working remotely. What this means for worker rights versus capitalism is not debated here but is clearly a source of potential friction as is any attempt to automate jobs from the workforce without providing new forms of human employment.
4. Flatter, More Agile Organizations
In part a response to the changing nature of work — particularly the proliferation of freelance and remote workers — more organizations will shift from being rigidly hierarchical in their structures to one that is “flatter, more agile” to allow the business to quickly reorganize teams and respond to change.
That also chimes with the underlying technologies of many media organizations which is shifting from monolithic hardware to software run on commodity machines that can be scaled up and customized at will.
We’ve a lot this year about how the most successful content creators have a greater degree of integrity with their fan base than ‘influencers’ which are deemed to be inauthentic marketing outlets. Marr thinks such authenticity helps to foster human connections — “because, as humans, we like to see brands (and business leaders) display important human qualities like honesty, reliability, empathy, compassion, humility, and maybe even a bit of vulnerability and fear. We want brands (and leaders) to care about issues and stand for more than just turning a profit.”
That’s as may be, but I’m not sure it holds true given the rise of political leaders, sustained by the vast base who vote for them, who don’t give a damn about science and don’t fear being held to account for lying.
6. Purposeful Business
Linked to authenticity, this trend, is all about ensuring an organization exists to serve a meaningful purpose — and not just serve up profits to shareholders.
“Purpose defines why the organization exists,” Marr says. “Importantly, a strong purpose has the promise of transformation or striving for something better — be it a better world, a better way to do something, or whatever is important to your organization.”
What, then, is Meta’s purpose, we might ask?
7. Co-opetition and Integration
If it weren’t evident already the continuing global shortages of semiconductors, supply chain delays from the grounding of the Ever Given and sky-high energy prices the world has never been so integrated. Marr, ever the optimist, thinks this is a good thing “because the need to work together to solve key business challenges (not to mention humanity’s biggest challenges) is great.”
In future, he thinks, it will become increasingly difficult to succeed without really close partnerships with other organizations. In practice, this means greater supply chain integration, more data integration and sharing of data between organizations, and even cooperation between competitors.
Let’s see if that crosses the geopolitical boundaries of EU and Russia, the Gulf states on climate change and if business dealings with China demand any sanction on intervention in Taiwan.
8. New Forms of Funding
Marr’s final trend is a key one. With physical currencies being slowly phased out and crypto being phased in, the economics of just about anything is undergoing fundamental change. Historically, this is not perhaps something to be afraid of. Cultures have bartered with shells among other forms of currency, of which notes and coins are merely another token having no intrinsic value in and of itself. Marr sees only upsides:
“New platforms and mechanisms have sprung up to connect businesses with investors and donors – think crowdfunding, initial coin offerings and tokenization. Many of these new methods are driven by the decentralized finance movement, in which financial services like borrowing and trading take place in a peer-to-peer network, via a public decentralized blockchain network.”
Some convincing will be needed of people who believe that hording physical notes under the mattress is safer than having all their savings locked away on a blockchain.