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Meri Kirihimete from Idealog: Here’s a few big ideas we’re ruminating on for 2020

As we near the end of the decade, everything feels a little bit uncertain. The world has moved at an incredibly breakneck pace the past few years, with technological disruption, increased globalisation and confronting problems that some are in denial actually exist. Case in point: our neighbour’s home is literally scorched earth in parts, and the country’s leadership isn’t doing much to quell these fears.

In a great summary of the collective feels that many of us are feeling, Dictionary.com announced that its 2019 Word of the Year is “existential”, as in “existential crisis” or “existential dread”.

American writer, futurist and businessman Alvin Toffler predicted this very moment when he described the condition of ‘future shock’ (much like culture shock) in 1970: “Imagine not merely an individual but an entire society, an entire generation — including its weakest, least intelligent, and most irrational members —suddenly transported into this new world. The result is mass disorientation, future shock on a grand scale.”

While it can be easy to become anxious about the complexity of these global shifts, it also means we’re at a crossroads where we can ask some difficult questions about what we want for the future as a society.

Are we consuming technology in a healthy way? What is the systemic cause of this ever-increasing mental health issue, and how can we get to the root of the problem? Is capitalism a broken system? How are we going to tackle climate change?

Or as Dictionary.com says, “The philosophical underpinnings of the word existential invite us to pause, shake off any pessimism or passivity, and ask: What choices do we make in the face of our challenges?”

We have covered many of these issues this year at Idealog, from mental health in the creative industries, to the social issues CEOs were championing for 2019, to why some businesses engaged in the climate strikes, to looking at how to wield back control over your data privacy.

As I reflect on the year that was and look to the dawn of a new one, here’s a couple of big ideas I’m mulling over.

  1. Real innovation will come from looking back to see forward.

The more boldly we move towards an advanced, high-tech future, the more important it will be to draw on our past cultures, customs and ways of living that are familiar and natural to us. After all, even though we’re on the cusp of rolling out cars that drive themselves, biologically we’re still the same cave-people whose bodies and minds had nowhere near as much stimulation as we have today. Because of this, many are embracing ways of slow living to counteract the fast-paced world we’re living in.

The takeaway? Perhaps rather than shiny, pretty, new things, the real innovation will be looking at past behaviours to see where we can apply more sustainable, balanced ways of living. The question of ‘Can we?’ will begin to morph into ‘Should we?’ with each new feature of technology that we create, as we’re beginning to realise the true ramifications.

At Semipermanent Auckland earlier this year, Massive Change Network founder Bruce Mau said that nature-centric design will be the next phase to follow human-centric design, and gave the example of the ancient tradition of  indigenous people in Canada using the husk of a tree that’s been shed to build a canoe, which can then be left on the side of a river to naturally decompose, completing the circle sustainably and economically.

I also recently travelled to Tel Aviv, Israel, and one thing that struck me was the juxtaposition of the country’s rich history and present-day innovation culture. The Peres Center for Peace and Innovation is a space created by the late President of Israel, Shimon Peres, which focuses on nurturing and highlighting Israeli innovation.

On display beside a product showcase of some of the country’s most exciting current high-tech start-ups – including food waste initiatives, self-driving car sensor technology and more – are ancient relics that look primitive in comparison, but have played a pivotal role in the development of these modern-day innovations.

The lesson here? While few of the early inventors could imagine what their creations would lead to in the future, they unknowingly paved the way by creating a framework that people could draw on as the tools they had on hand got more and more sophisticated.

There is no data we have about the future – the only data we have is about the past, so we may as well use it to piece this confusing puzzle together – and question whether change is absolutely and always necessary.

2. Conscious consuming will turn to tech.

The 2010s have been a significant era for the tech sector, with social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Facebook all clocking over one billion monthly active users in 2019. Meanwhile, the number of global smartphone users surpassed three billion in November.

However, in the year to come, we will question more deeply how and why we consume this technology, just like we’ve begun questioning the way we consume goods in the retail industry and the waste it produces. We’ve already seen the tech giants take steps towards this, with Instagram removing likes and Apple introducing a feature that monitors your screen time and locks you out of certain apps if you hit your limit. Often, this technology is so new that the true consequences of it are intangible and can’t be pinpointed just yet – although social media has been linked to depression in teenage girls.

This couldn’t have come at a better time, considering creativity is listed by the World Economic Forum as one of the top three skills needed for the future of work. Inspiration is one thing, but do your best creative ideas really come from browsing what everyone else is doing on social feeds such as this one? For me personally, my best ideas come to me when I’m driving or walking, not giving one of my most valuable assets – my attention – to what other people are doing on a screen. I hope we become more sustainable with our tech time.

3. Traditional power systems will begin to be questioned and possibly even restructured.

New Zealand business Perpetual Guardian made headlines around the world this year when it introduced the concept of a four-day working week, with its 240 employees showing unprecedented levels of productivity. You can read a Q&A with the co-founders here. Meanwhile, Timely CEO Ryan Baker shared in Idealog why his company doesn’t do timesheets.

“When I tell people about this I often get the same question: “So, how do you know they’re working?” I dislike this question. If you’ve hired people that you don’t trust, you have a bigger problem than their working hours. Here’s a different one: “How do you know that your team aren’t unworking?” Someone being physically present and putting in hours doesn’t mean they’re productive. They might be unworking. Would you know and would they tell you?” Baker wrote.

People are time poor in this day and age, which means time will be one of the luxuries workers want the most. The structures of corporate life are changing and come 2020, this will spread into more areas of business. Take the venture capital model. Instead of the power being in the hands of a select few who are looking for those unicorns, this year I’ve been introduced to the awesome organisation that is SheEO. It’s turning the venture capital model on its head by allowing its hundreds of members – who all pay an annual fee that is loaned to the businesses chosen – to pick who should get this money. It’s the power of the crowd, rather than a select few. I recommend this podcast with SheEO founder Vicki Saunders and Joy Anderson about the power structures that can hinder finance. After all, the story of WeWork’s demise this year should prove a cautionary tale about the danger of a good story, and what we deem success to look like.

As we head into a new decade, more people will begin to question these systems in place. Just because something is the way we’ve always done it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only way.

4. Mental health will continue to be at the forefront of conversations.

Despite increased discourse around mental health in 2019, there still isn’t an adequate or big enough response to tackling what is both a national and global issue. New Zealand’s suicide rates are at their highest this year since the records began, while the World Health Organisation reports that depression and anxiety alone cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity every year.

In 2020, we will transition from the sentiment that it’s okay not to be okay into a more questions being asked about why this is so widespread, particularly throughout the younger generations, and what can be changed structurally – be it our workplaces, our schools or culturally within our societies – to get to the root of this issue. You can read my feature on mental health in New Zealand’s creative industries earlier this year here. I also recommend Jennifer Young’s piece on what three workplaces are already doing to tackle this issue – read it here.

5. Vegetarianism or meat-free days of the week will become more mainstream.

If I had a dollar for every person I’d heard that had gone vegetarian or introduced vegetarian days to their week after watched the Netflix documentary Gamechangers, I’d be on a plane over to Europe currently. Perhaps I’m in an urban bubble in Auckland’s CBD, but the number of friends and family who’ve been influenced by it is verging on a bit ridiculous. Despite criticisms about the facts portrayed in the documentary and one the producer giving a pretty terrible interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast, it’s clear the film pierced the public consciousness at just the right time. There are concerns about the sustainability of farming and global warming swarming, and people are almost obsessively attuned to how to reach greater levels of wellness.

If it were a study in marketing, I’d say what Gamechangers did right that previous documentaries highlighting the animal cruelty of the meat industry did not is it motivated people to change their diet through inspiration, rather than fear and guilt. People are prone to turning a blind eye to things that make them uncomfortable or upset – it’s selfish, but it’s true. But if you persuade the masses with the thought that they’ll become a better, stronger and more optimum human if they turn to plant-based foods, the message spreads like wildfire.

With the arrival of cultured meat that is grown in labs from animal cells without slaughter in the next 10 years, this conversation is bound to get more heated – and more interesting. I’m sure New Zealand’s primary industries will be watching closely.

These are a few that grabbed my attention, but what will you be watching in the year ahead?

Meri Kirihimete to all, and thank you to those who’ve supported Idealog over 2019. We’ll be back mid-January – see you in the new year.

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