THE RE-ENTRY TANGO: NAVIGATING AN ALTERED LANDSCAPE
[*A Tango is characterised by snappy head-turns, and sharp staccato movements – “slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. Welcome to the post pandemic rhythm.]
When the pandemic hit in 2020, the concept of a fourth wave was not something we could even imagine. Nor did we imagine what the long-term effect of global lockdowns would have on businesses, global supply chains, geo-political dynamics and socio-cultural undercurrents.
But two years into The Great Staggering we are finally realising that we are going to have to learn to live with the virus, and its mutations. Like it or not, we are embarking on an on-going, unmapped journey. Think of the year ahead as a road trip: some parts will be on a highway, some parts on bumpy side roads with frequent detours and the occasional overnight stop.
It is becoming clear that this is not entirely a bad thing.
Humanity is being shown – in no uncertain terms – that there is no going back to 2019’s status quo, and those who think we are, will find themselves trapped in a cul-de-sac. The quest, and opportunity, is not simply to adapt but to rethink and reengineer a better trajectory than the one we were unceremoniously diverted from.
The two main challenges the pandemic has forced us to address are:
(1) Meeting the velocity of change which has accelerated in the past two years.
(2) Humanising business.
While the two dovetail, the latter introduces the steepest learning curve all businesses will have to embark on. “Humanising business” encompasses everything from recruitment and retention aligning with the changed priorities employees now have, the urgent reassessment of management style to customer interaction in a new contactless economy.
Company culture and brand values look vastly different in 2022 than they did in 2019. Now is the time for revival, but more importantly, reinvention.
The pace of the re-entry tango might feel disconcerting, but staccato movements are what start-up companies are used to. In a post pandemic era, all businesses now have to think and operate like a start-up.
Navigating a changed business landscape requires the “eyes of a child”.
The annual Flux Trend briefing – The State We’re In – is a highly anticipated overview (and navigation tool) of where the world is, and where it’s going.
It makes use of the acronym T.R.E.N.D.S. which represents six key trend pillars that will shape how we will live, work and connect in the coming year, Flux not only identifies pivotal trends but also delves into the undercurrents between the pillars to provide an executive summary of the winds of change that are shaping our world and affecting business.
These are the main drivers under each trend pillar:
TECHNOLOGY: Rush hour in the Metaverse: when AI, VR and gamification converge.
With Facebook rebranded as “Meta” and the Collins Dictionary recognising “NFT” as the Word of the Year for 2021, the business portals to our parallel universe were officially thrown open causing a virtual bottleneck as brands and businesses scrambled to establish a foothold in a nascent virtual economy.
With cobots now part of the workforce, AI is also quietly seeping into all aspects of our daily lives, from providing maths homework assistance to becoming an indispensable retail component, and an automated recruitment tool. This in turn is spawning a new industry, the digital bounty hunter who tracks AI bias (a growing problem with unintended consequences).
RETAIL & MARKETING: Social commerce and the tricky art of locating your lost customer
Lockdowns have upended the retail sector, rerouted customers and spawned a host of new retail business models, from live stream e-commerce to remote advisory hybrids. The main shift has been a move to social commerce adding a new layer to e-commerce.
The emergence of digital fashion last year – the evolution of buying ”skins” for online avatars – has escalated quickly. The world’s first 3D all-digital fashion collection was launched, following in the wake of pioneering digital brand The Fabricant. This virtual economy is the new playground for luxury brands – from Gucci to Rolls Royce – who are embracing gamification to attract their next generation customer. Brands ranging from Burger King and Glenfiddich are using NFTs as marketing and loyalty lures.
But immediacy and interconnectedness are making customers more impatient. As a result, the on-demand economy has been compressed into a new rapid grocery offering promising delivery in 10 minutes.
ECONOMY: The middle-class mirage, digital loan sharks and the rise of DAOs.
The disruption of global supply chains has had unexpected ripple effects in many sectors and has led to a reconfiguring of supply chains. “Near shoring”, and a more prudent “just in case” business model, is replacing the once-dependable “just in time” manufacturing model. Japan has even appointed a minister of economic security to tackle supply chain disruptions.
While businesses find alternative supply chains, consumers are left to bear the brunt of shrinkflation. The pandemic has laid bare the hidden facets, and tragic impact, of inequality. Across the globe, the middle class is proving to be a mirage and the most visible signals are the increase in “payday lending” and the rise of the Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) industry. The growing presence of decentralised autonomous organisations (DAO) is another sign that people are seeking alternatives to centralised institutions. For example, the video game, Axie Infinity, which pays players cryptocurrency for fighting digital monsters is allowing developers to also act like central bankers, making adjustments to control inflation and other economic variables.
NATURAL WORLD: Climate litigation and the new carbon economy.
There is a subtle, but important language shift when it comes to “climate change”.
In major US publications like The New York Times, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal, “climate catastrophe” has been used 1.5 times more in 2021 than in 2020. In the same study of British publications like The Guardian, The Times and The Sun, the term was used three times more.
It stands to reason. Climate litigation is the new kid on the legal block, just as “climate literacy” programmes are being embraced by some corporate companies. This is in tandem with a new focus on flood insurance, and other extreme weather-related disasters. Climatarianism, whose proponents make food choices that reduce their carbon footprint, is emerging as a new lifestyle.
There is growing scientific evidence that animals are now “shape shifting” to accommodate changes in climate patterns. The term “adapt or die” has never been more apt.
DIPLOMACY: The politics of rage and polarisation 2.0
Before the pandemic hit, the original theme for the 2020 edition of The State We’re In was “The Politics of Rage and Polarisation”. Then, the growing global schism was driven by polarised ideologies, populist politics and rising economic inequality.
Two years later, the pandemic has exacerbated that sense of rage and polarisation. The politicisation of masks, vaccine nationalism, anti-vaxxers and now, looming vaccine mandates, will ensure the stage is set for a volatile 2022.
Geopolitics is becoming more cunning and murky with the escalation of grey zone warfare. New destabilisation tactics include cyber-attacks, stealing intellectual property, “lawfare”, and the manufacturing of migrant/refugee crises.
Mirroring the rising BNPL industry in the private sector is the geopolitical long game of “debt trap diplomacy” which is well under way.
COVID-19 ushered in a new age of digital diplomacy (aka e-diplomacy), but Seoul and Barbados are going one step further with the establishing of metaverse cities.
Barbados is preparing to legally declare that digital real estate is sovereign land by establishing a metaverse embassy, while Seoul is rolling out a variety of public services and cultural events in the metaverse.
SOCIO-CULTURAL: Re-entry etiquette, and the life audit impact.
After two years of living in a bubble (and echo chamber) our social skills seem to need a refresher course. The hospitality sector, already decimated by lockdowns, is experiencing a surge of rude customers, while flight attendants – used to dealing with difficult passengers – now find themselves working in a war zone.
It’s no wonder that the number of people who remain single is rising, as are people who don’t want to have children. The cost factor is a deterrent but infertility rates around the world are also rising. It’s just as well that the concept of a nuclear family shifted during the pandemic and, in New Zealand and the UK, family law now recognises and includes lockdown support bubbles.
The effect of lockdown life audits is only now starting to take shape. The anti-work movement and the idea of “time millionaires” is gaining ground, as is the four-day workweek. Our values are changing as is our perception of what is taboo and what is not. Mothers as well as business executives are micro dosing on psychedelics to help combat mental health issues. And two years ago, we thought legalising cannabis was revolutionary.
Dust off your dancing shoes. The re-entry tango is going to be tricky to master.
By: Dion Chang
To book our SWI 2022 trend briefing contact Bethea Clayton on firstname.lastname@example.org .