2040’s Ideas and Innovations Newsletter, Issue 32: Eight Predictions from 2040

The Past and the Present are not Indicative of the Future

As we rush headlong into the holiday season and the end of another surprising year, it’s a good time to take stock. The learnings from the pandemic have solidified new business models, changed the context and viewpoints of individual values, and changed the direction that seemed so clear as we started the year. For some organizations seeking to align and embrace new learnings, they have placed people before short-term profits out of sheer necessity and the need for talent and curation of customers and the workforce. It is implicit that our American capitalistic system is designed to drive and reward profit, however after two years of unanticipated market flux, economic disruption, and a pervasive level of anxiety among all individuals, leaders of organizations of all sizes and purposes have taken a pause and reassessed organizational strategies and operational mandates with a new focus on the human factor. This recognition of the need for relationships with individuals representing the workforce, customers and constituencies is key to sustained success.

Predictions are always risky because you are held accountable for your forward-thinking. At 2040, we have years of experience working with clients in many industry sectors, and we can say with certainty that the only constant in life is change. So, we’re going out on a limb here and identifying eight macro trends that we believe all organizations need to pay attention to and build business practices to address these issues to ensure they anticipate the future and remain competitive. With a nod to branding expert Lapidarius, all of our predictions are framed by the reality that Covid and other new health concerns are here to stay. In our highly interconnected world, what happens in an obscure village in Africa has global ramifications as we see viruses proliferating without any regard or respect for international borders.

So, the longing to return to what was normal is a pipedream representing a desire for comfort, familiarity, and predictability. This emotional, nostalgic thinking is manifested as tension across all aspects of society in political divisiveness, conflict about health and science, and the struggle or blind determination to return to activities that were part of life pre-pandemic.

Many refuse to accept that things have changed. Many others are fearful of even more change and are unable to recognize what was lost in the transition. And many are confused about how to redefine themselves or their organizations in the new normal.

There have been so many fundamental changes in the new context in human perceptions of self, what their values mean, and what they believe is important in their lives. These changes touch every aspect of an individual’s decision-making, prioritization, and choices. To ignore what has changed in the human context will beget a disconnect with individuals that have accepted change; these individuals may comprise a workforce and an organization’s customers and base of constituents.

The new normal will be recreated continuously, aided by technology and our new reality which requires organizations to up their game with agility, pivots and taking their employees and customers seriously in terms of their evolving wants and needs.

The following eight predictions are large megatrends that affect both your customers and workforce, and all are informed by the human factor, which we believe at 2040 is the crucial element for high performance, change management and achieving transformation. We advise that being mindful of these shifts will keep organizations from being blindsided as we move into 2022 and beyond.

Prediction 1: The Sense of Self Takes Center Stage

Consider how the pandemic has affected your own sensibilities. Do you feel more isolated? Have your social skills taken a back seat? How do your employees feel juggling Zoom/Teams calls, being physically separated from their teams, and recharging innovative solutions without the in-person interactions that are believed to be so crucial to problem-solving? We have had to adjust how we communicate and behave when we can’t do it together … in the same room. The move to working from home is desirable and preferable as a result of the shifting sands of pandemic anxiety over the past two years. We are learning to benefit from what we have learned about social behaviors and practices in the office that don’t work as well in a remote setting. Despite individuals’ strength of adapting, they are still learning how to interact and collaborate — as are organizations.

There is another questionable result from this new way of working; we are exposed to less diversity and inclusivity. We can cocoon in places we consider “safe,” and interact with our preferred affinity groups. Humans by default seek to align with those who are similar to them, often defined and described as a tribal mentality. We have written on biases and in this new remote environment, there is less opportunity to socialize, interact and learn from those who aren’t similar to us.

So, how does this affect one’s sense of self? According to Lapadarius and amended by 2040, individuals are making decisions based on “feelings…seeking out what feels right for them in personal and professional situations, all of which comes from a new foundation and the striving for balance, convenience, safety, and quality of experiences.” The new sense of self is strong and results in a shift in the context through which their value systems are defined. Individuals are curating their community (work, friends, family) and how they spend time in an intentional manner. Individuals are also evolving their thought processes as they redefine themselves, what they hold important and what relationships are valuable.

How does this affect organizations? They need empathy, high-level listening and communication skills and genuine appreciation to attract and retain employees and customers who are asserting their sense of self with rigorous expectations and even demands from their employers to treat them as individuals and not merely workers and as consumers, strongly defining the relationship they seek from organizations they seek to align with.

Prediction 2: Trust and Loyalty at Risk

As a corollary to a heightened sense of self comes a retreat from trust in institutions, political systems, large corporations — as well as the media. The fog of uncertainty from the pandemic and enforced change has imprinted trust in organizations, and therefore loyalty. Fragmentation and polarization have become commonplace, and that can be a death knell to organizations. It is virtually impossible to please everyone, therefore you have to be extremely clear about your organizational values, intentions, who your stakeholders are and how you serve them.

Our concept of trust in each other has also fundamentally changed. How we built trust with others in the past was majorly based on physical interaction, observations and interpretation of physical cues, gestures and actions. Building trust through virtual experiences requires new interpersonal skills and patience with ourselves and others. Time is the currency that will help us navigate this new reality.

How do organizations navigate this level of mistrust and skepticism? Identify your tribes and authentically and transparently cater to them, seeking their input and collaboration in developing new products and services. Your key is to form a Market Orientation that truly understands customers and represents a shared organizational purpose. Don’t assume you know best, and your stakeholders think the same way you do. This is an open invitation to shed any inherent conscious or unconscious bias to build, rebuild and strengthen your base of loyalty by being contextual and relevant.

Prediction 3: Mandate for Speed and Convenience

Amazon hasn’t changed just the retail industry. Their technology and strategies have basically changed how consumers think and behave, to experience instant gratification through the discovery, acquisition and delivery of goods and services when, where and how they want them delivered. This set of expectations applies to any organization today, and it’s not just delivering your solutions to customers, it’s creating a workplace culture that can pivot and respond quickly to employees’ concerns. This mandate for speed and convenience has resulted in a lack of patience.

With stakeholders setting the direction for organizations to speed it up, next gens are going to make this demand even more dramatic. “Younger customers expect organizations to be more than a product or service, to meet their emotional, social, and even political needs,” according to Lapadarius. This focus on meaning aligns with their personal expectations and values. The paradigm is made even more complex as there is less compulsion for consumers to align with a brand solely for its glitz and glam factor.

Next gens are clearly pragmatic in their choices, which makes it tough for organizations to walk the fine line between pleasing shareholders and also staying true to stakeholders (customers, employees, constituents). Pleasing is seeking out those who align with the same beliefs and values. Staying true is different and requires following that North Star in delivering results that balance people and profits.

Organizations can manage the mandate for speed and convenience by being transparent about what is being delivered, whether it is a product, member benefits or thought leadership. Evergreen authentic benefits are value-oriented, focused on quality and delivered in personalized and customized ways. Consider your organizational experience from your customers’ perspectives, form around a market orientation, and rebuild your model to stay true to your shared purpose and mission — and at the same time retain and grow your customer base.

Prediction 4: Meaning Is the New Consumption Model

The meaning of status is in transition. For example, the new luxury is sustainably made products. That idea appeals to young consumers who are passing through the life stage where they have more disposable income to make conscious choices in their consumption of products and services. According to Lapadrius, “Status-driven choices are likely to diminish because of economic hardship, changes in attitude from outwardness and a rejection of surface-level things to the embrace of real depth and meaning.” These are large assumptions, supported by what is trending with customer demands for organizations to be transparent and authentic. The assumptions are based in current reality as individuals redefine themselves and reset what is important to them.

Organizations should heed this early warning signal that they can’t grow their organization based on status, the lack of competitors, scarcity of what they offer, or even past success. We may sound repetitive but running an organization today requires transcending traditional and legacy principles to identifying what is meaningful about your organization and communicating it to stakeholders in personalized ways to reinforce your relevance to them.

Prediction 5: A New Work Ethic

The business world is full of chatter about how to redesign the workplace culture. The rising tide among office workers is a permanent shift away from the traditional five-day, 40-hour workweek. This is exacerbated by the wave of employees who have resigned from organizations that do not recognize, appreciate, and pay them well. The new sense of self has triggered a re-evaluation of the nature of work; employees are questioning work that is repetitive, defined by outdated legacy standards and, often, feels meaningless. Organizations are grappling with creating a workplace culture that combines performance and the achievement of goals with empathy and a humane approach that values each worker. Remote work has revealed that many teams don’t want to work full-time. This is creating labor insecurity for both employers and the workforce. The heavy lifting is on the shoulders of organizations that must redesign their office experiences to retain talented employees and attract fast-track performers.

Many resistors believe that our current experience is going to be short-lived. Everyone will come to their senses and return to the past where there is comfort and safety. Sorry, that ship has sailed. The changes are here to stay.

Organizations can rethink the workplace experience with the collaboration and input of their employees. Instead of making decisions from the top-down, make the workforce a part of the solution with suggestions and recommendations. Find common ground and design a new model that meets expectations. Be forewarned, you will have to innovate, be flexible and basically put yourself out there with new ideas that may make you feel uncomfortable.

Prediction 6: You Can’t Dodge Your Core Values

The pandemic put many organizations on the firing line. Customers and members abandoned organizations that became irrelevant. Employees bailed from organizations that did not value their contributions. The savvy organizations turned to their values for guidance. “Where there is no data, no playbook, no predictive power, and no confidence: enter values. Usually, stakeholders are blissfully unaware of what it takes to run the organizations they align to and love. But they can tell when an organization is trying to do right by them. Covid revealed that people will not stop looking beyond, behind, below and above to see if you have good values and if you put them to work,” says Lapadarius.

Organizations are compelled to reassess what they stand for beyond the profit motive and connect with stakeholders authentically with core values whenever possible. Remember organizations function, change, and transform best when there is alignment and reiteration of a shared purpose that grows from shared values with one’s market and constituents.

Prediction 7: Flexibility and Agility, you need to change something, fast.

Flexibility is a new normal. Hybrid remote work models. Innovation and pivots. Pragmatism is balanced with keeping an organization operating on an even keel. We have learned over the past two years that flexibility is the only way to cope with crises as they occur and still stay in business. This concept is more than a mental attitude, it needs to permeate an organization to be on ready alert to anticipate future scenarios with investments in flexibility “across your supply and demand chains (aka your entire value network) to withstand inevitable future crises,” says Lapardarius.

High-performing organizations are on nonstop sprints making decisions based on current circumstances with an eye toward what might happen. We cannot predict the future, but we can seek to gracefully grow into it by removing our personal perceptions and instead of forming a solid understanding based in facts. Assume crises (health, supply chain, customer behavior, economic disruption, next-gen demands) are constants and then redesign a flexible operating model that has contingencies and options that are continuously updated in the context of external and internal pressures which are inspired by an organization’s shared purpose.

Prediction Eight: Ambiguity is Here to Stay

The past two years across politics, societal norms and values, and the expansion and integration of technology in day-to-day life have taught us that change is indeed constant and predicting the future is hard. Through unprecedented times we have continued to innovate, seeking to take advantage of our technological prowess and fundamentally altering how we live our lives at home, work, or engaging with society. Life remains ambiguous for many reasons. For some who refuse to accept that society has changed and want to return to the normal that existed in the past, life will take on high levels of ambiguity. For those who have embraced change full-on, living with others who are resistant to facts, science and accountabilities of social justice, the world is not just ambiguous, it is baffling.

Organizations must embrace ambiguity and recognize the importance of understanding, addressing and aligning to the human factor — in its many forms and belief systems. Technology can be an enabler. Science can be a guide. Data analytics can be revealing. All these objective systems can clarify ambiguity, but they are not silver bullets to “fix” society, markets, and a workforce. That responsibility remains with each individual, organization and institution. One true thing is to face up to ambiguity and neither flee nor fear it.

2022 and Beyond

At 2040 we are as focused on the present as we are on the future. We help our clients see the big pictures as well as master the day-to-day operations that will give them a competitive edge. Reach out to us to get an assessment of the macrotrends that will affect your business and the micro trends that will guide you through 2022 and beyond.

Get in touch with us!

Read this issue and past issues on 2040’s website>

2040 helps organizations navigate the sea changes of finding their new normal. We offer actionable expertise in the strategy and operations of digital growth and engagement, empowering an empathetic workplace culture, strengthening your value proposition and driving revenues. We’ve been in your shoes and we know what impedes transformation … and what unlocks it.

Onward and upward from the 2040 Team

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Kevin Novak

Kevin Novak

4X webby winner, CEO and Chief Strategy Officer @2040 Digital (www.2040digital.com), IADAS Member, Speaker, Author, Science Nut