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The 11 mega-trends impacting business today

For a thousand years people consulted the Oracle at Delphi in Ancient Greece in an attempt to know what the future held. 

The Oracle would answer questions put to her by visitors wishing to be guided in their future actions. The whole process was a long one, usually taking a whole day and only carried out on certain days of the year which could be highly inconvenient.

Thankfully we’ve become more sophisticated in our approach to predicting the future through the use of trends.

Trends have long fascinated those working in business – which trends are likely to impact my business? And how do I harness these to achieve commercial outcomes, competitive advantage and stay ahead of the curve?

Anticipating change is something successful businesses or entrepreneurs do (just look at Donald Trump), but not all businesses take on the challenge.

Without question, ideas are the currency of modern business. 

And never before has original thought and a point of view mattered more than in the modern business context, where disruption has become par for the course for almost every type of business – from taxis, through to content, to banking. Virtually no industry has been left untouched by the impact of technology. 

In fact, many thought leaders including Fast Company and Harvard Business Review believe that no business will be left untouched by the disruptive force of technology, with everything ultimately being disrupted (and likely a lot sooner, rather than later). Then a second stage of ‘tech eating tech’ is predicted to occur, with today’s disruptors being ousted by a new wave of disruptors, which will be fascinating to watch – Facebook’s throne toppled by the likes of a new, nimble start-up which is a network of social networks, for example.

Understanding the trends landscape is the critical part of uncovering new ideas for start-ups or established businesses – often these are the only edge businesses have today to gaining or protecting a competitive advantage.

Trends are the fault lines under which we all operate

But first, what are the different types of trends occurring today in society? At TRA we break these down into 3 distinct levels – Mega, Macro and Micro:

The importance of understanding trends in business today is that these are so fundamental and impactful, they are in essence the fault lines that run under each and every business. Without a deep awareness of them, we run the risk of serious fractures and fissures in the ground we are standing on.

TRA’s 11 mega-trends of 2016

At TRA we see 11 mega-trends (with various macro-trends contributing to each) impacting businesses today. 

These are the epicentre of trends emerging that are so fundamental, they cannot be ignored.

1.    Gender Freedom

Traditional expectations and notions of gender are being challenged, blurred, ignored and neutralised. 

At the macro-trend level, think:
•    Female force – Beyoncé killing it in Lemonade, Hillary Clinton Madame President.
•    Gender and sexual identity – interestingly a third of millennials don’t identify as fully straight or gay, Call me Caitlyn.
•    Singletons – celebrating being single in China is a phenomenon with Singles Day 11.11.

2.    Wellness Society

Wellness is being incorporated into every facet of our daily lives. 

•    Simplicity – mindfulness, Andy from Headspace.
•    Bacteria – the importance of gut health.
•    The quantified self – the rise of wearable tech.
•    The cult of happiness – resilience at work. 

3.    The Connected Self

We are becoming ever more dependent on our smartphones and technologies and its changing the way we relate as human beings. 

•    Creators & Curators – creating and curating is the norm and a path to celebrity.
•    Self-made – the constructed online identity of the self you make.
•    Now is the new normal – on-demand everything.
•    Gaming – e-gaming is now bigger than the NBA.

4.    Authenticity

There is a desire for goods and experiences with real meaning and integrity. 

•    Heritage & Craftsmanship – the rise of craft beer.
•    Simplicity – the slow food, local food movements.
•    Story-telling – Humans of New York, interviews with thousands of people on the streets of New York.

5.    Beyond

The shift to a post-materialist, experience-oriented culture, where people are increasingly seeking more meaningful ways to live life fully. 

•    Experientialism – unique travel experiences.
•    Sensoriality – Bompas & Parr who use food art to create immersive, multi-sensorial culinary events.
•    Foodieism – the cult of the chef, food as prime time and aspirational TV entertainment.

6.    Make It

The ability to learn, create, connect and source at scale enabled by tools and platforms on the Internet.

•    Mass Collaboration – Wikipedia, crowd-funding as collab tools.
•    Access economy – the sheer dominance of Air Bnb as disruptor.
•    Micro-preneurism – someone who is willing to accept the risk of starting and managing the type of business that remains small, letting them do the kind of work they want to do.

7.    Work Revolution

Re-evaluation of how we work and how we want to live our lives.

•    Nomadic workforce – co-working, Global Nomads who work from anywhere in a cloud based environment.
•    Start-up culture -the idolatry of start-ups.
•    Robots & AI – taking our jobs and potentially through machine learning, becoming smarter than us.

8.    Audacious Change

After years of being “conscious customers” people are recognising that social, environmental and economic challenges are systemic and need to be addressed as such.

•    Conscious customers – buying based on ethical and environmental values.
•    Transparency – clothing company Everlane fully discloses supply chain and costs as part of brand building.
•    Social entrepreneurship – Eat My Lunch one-for-one model as a local change maker.

9.    Compass Reset

Evolving dynamics in a new world order, changing demographics and increasingly global mindsets.

•    Superdiversity – NZ’s population is more diverse than London.
•    Global citizens – via the internet, global influences and everyday news.
•    Designing for harmony – Border City at the London Biennale offering a vision for the future of the US-Mexico border as a “binational” culture.

10.    Golden Age

Challenges and opportunities as the population ages. Increasingly older people are breaking down traditional notions of what ‘older’ or ‘retired’ looks like.

•    Advanced Style – Iris Apfel for MAC, Karen Walker’s Magic Hands campaign.
•    Encore Careers – Retiredbrains.com and Coolwork.com advertise jobs for retirees.
•    Universal design – soft knitted weights for gentle muscle-building activities.

11.    Urban Habitats

Cultivating quality of life as urban areas expand rapidly.

•    Urban wellness – more green spaces, urban bee-keeping.
•    Small spaces – IKEA PS1 furniture for small apartments.
•    Urban resilience – cities preparing for the inevitability of climate change.

The power of alchemy through trends as a crystal ball

An understanding of the trends at play within the prevailing cultural context however, is not enough. The alchemy occurs when these trends are harnessed, translated and turned into tangible ideas for businesses that they can move forward with.

One example of this type of project we were lucky to work on in the early stages was Lion’s recent launch of Tokyo Dry. We were briefed to find the ‘next big thing’ for Steinlager, facilitating direct Co-Creation between Lion and their customers. 

The Lion innovation team cleverly harnessed macro-trends around Authenticity and Compass Reset in developing a new brand story. This was built on an evolution of the Steinlager brand’s relationship with the rest of the world, and a change from seeing New Zealand ‘take on the world’ to New Zealand ‘collaborating with the world’. A best in class example of trends alchemy in action.

Harnessing trends is the true block chain technology disruptor of the ideas business. And a far better crystal ball predictor of the future than some of history’s earlier methods.

Amber Coulter is co-founder of TRA.
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