Five Futures for 2017

Ah, the first few days of a new year. A time when we typically wrap up the year that has ended (thank god in this case) and turn our attention to the grand possibilities of a new circle around the sun. Traditionally, this is also the time for futurists to peer into their crystal balls and share their bold and provocative predictions for the coming year.  As much fun as these often are, we know from long experience that few such predictions rarely prove prescient. This is a shame because it distracts from the real value futurists can offer. You see, the power of foresight is not in predicting the future but in arming you with the insights you need to create the best possible future for your organization, business, or community. So, instead of offering up predictions for the new year, I’d like to offer my version of five futures you might consider creating in 2017.

  1. Embrace co-creation

One of the most powerful disruptions of the digital age is the way that technology has broken down the barriers between makers and consumers. Whether it’s contributing to the millions of hours of new media being shared daily across social media channels or using tools like 3-D printing to create replicas of their favorite brands, digital natives are no longer interested in playing the role of passive consumers. For some producers, this shift represents a real challenge.  How do you retain authorship in a world where your customers expect to co-own your brand? The rules for success in this new co-creation economy are still being written, but there are plenty of opportunities for reimagining the old producer/consumer paradigm.

How can you invite your customers to create with you in new and substantive ways?

  1. Prepare your workforce for the robot revolution

If there was one consistent theme from the pundits in 2016, it was that the robots are coming and they’ll be taking all our jobs. Automation and technology have been disrupting the workplace since the beginning of the industrial age. Ultimately, these disruptions have proven to be net positive, improving conditions for workers, businesses, and society. The difference this time is that the disruptions caused by smart agents, software, artificial intelligence, and robots seem to all be arriving at the same moment. For many workers, this coming tsunami of change can seem terrifying.

Smart automation will not eliminate the need for human workers, but these technologies will radically reshape the work environment. Successful companies will be the ones that start working now to integrate the next generation of smart automation into their workforce in mindful ways. They will be the ones that both embrace new tools and make sure that their workforce is trained to excel at what humans do best- critical thinking, innovation, and imagination.

Can you imagine how you might create the hybrid workplace of the future?

  1. Rediscover your mission

Capitalism has succeeded because it encourages individuals to identify a need and profit by offering a solution.  At one time, most of these needs were basic- food, shelter, clothing, etc. Our success is providing those necessities, at least in western societies, resulted in a shift from satisfying needs to manufacturing artificial demand.  Over time, too many businesses lost sight of their original mission as they promoted consumption for consumption’s sake.

The great age of overconsumption is coming to an end. Due in part to some very real limits on traditional consumer resources, but also because we understand better the negative psychological and societal impacts of having too much stuff. Those businesses that re-embrace their original mission or discover new ones will lead the way in this transformation. Mission-driven businesses are already attracting the best employees from a younger generation demanding meaning from work. They are also discovering that purpose can help build a dedicated consumer base.

Can you imagine a future where you could profit while doing good?

  1. Transform your city into a futures lab

Cities have long been centers of innovation and experimentation. The recent movement toward increased urbanization combined with the power of digital technologies, like the Internet of Things, is sparking a new revolution in innovation in large and small cities around the globe. From green technology and alternative transportation to experimentation in economic models and social justice, local communities have more freedom to create their own futures than ever before.

This power is particularly important when we realize that the most wicked problems we face globally are best solved locally. Attacking these problems will create opportunities for economic, social, and cultural growth. Transforming your city into a futures lab opens the door for local governments, businesses, nonprofits, and citizens to benefit.

Can you imagine transforming your community into the city of tomorrow?

  1. Imagine a world of sustainable abundance

Clinging to old ways of thinking can be the biggest obstacle to creating a better future. Today, too many of us remain trapped in the industrial age mindset of scarcity economics. In this old system where production and consumption drove wealth, we were locked into a zero-sum game. If I win, you must lose. In an increasingly digital world, the old limits of scarcity no longer apply. In an economy where ideas, experiences, and relationships, are the currency of profit it is possible to reimagine a future of sustainable abundance.

The first, bold step that architects of this new future must take is to redefine abundance in a way that reflects what truly contributes to human happiness and security. We can then begin to leverage those resources- ideas, innovation, and creativity, that have no limits, for the benefit of all. This change in mindset can open up a world of new possibilities for a future filled with real abundance far surpassing anything we dreamed of during the analog industrial age.

Can you imagine your place in a world of sustainable abundance?

We live in turbulent times. It is easy to feel helpless in a world where change is happening so fast. But we all have a choice. We can sit back and watch as others decide the course of our future, or we can actively work to build our own better tomorrows.

Here’s wishing you a creative, productive, and forward looking 2017.