20/20 Hindsight – Lessons from the Great Staggering
Rethink. Reassess. Recalibrate.
The State We’re In is the annual Flux Trends overview of where the world is and where it’s going, using the acronym T.R.E.N.D.S. which represents six key trend pillars that are shaping how we will live, work and connect in the coming year.
Flux delves into the undercurrents between the pillars to provide an executive summary of global disruptions and winds of change that are shaping our world.
It’s quite possible that 2020 will in future be referred to as “the year we don’t talk about”. Not only did it feel endless but the monotony of staring into a screen – for work, entertainment, retail therapy and human connection – will ensure we won’t remember much of it.
Wiped from our memories are the many issues that had reached a tipping point in 2019: geopolitical posturing, widespread civil unrest, social justice issues and sustainability. These issues have either brewed quietly to become more toxic or have been laid bare by the pandemic. Either way, they emerge in 2021 as game changers or deal breakers.
A year of introspection while in self-isolation has provided us with the opportunity to rethink and reassess. 2019 is not a state of being that we would want to return to.
In the words of author Milan Kundera, “We go through the present blindfolded… Only later, when the blindfold is removed and we examine the past, do we realise what we’ve been through and understand what it means”.
Here are our six key trend pillars.
TECHNOLOGY: The 5 -year acceleration
The global pandemic has fast-tracked systems and technologies which were ready and available and forced businesses that were hesitant or reluctant, to take the plunge – like digitising their business to accommodate remote working or embracing e-commerce.
It’s as if we’ve accelerated five years forward in one year and matching the velocity of change has become the survive-or-thrive factor. Ingenious, leapfrogging innovation happens when people are panicked, worried, or when the consequences of not acting quickly are disastrous.
That was 2020 in a nutshell.
Robotics (or automation) are suddenly more common and less of a sci-fi concept. There are now even robotic dolphins that will ensure ethical water parks.
Driverless car technology and the prospect of urban air mobility have shortened timelines. In China a new expressway, which opens in June 2021, has several lanes dedicated to autonomous cars. It was also built by robots.
Urban air mobility systems are being tested by various countries. “Flying taxi services” will appear in Spain in 2022, in Japan in 2023 and in South Korea by 2025.
It can be said of tech trends, “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear“.
The bellwether: Orlando, USA has been given the go-ahead to build the first “vertiport” to accommodate commercial “flying taxis” by 2025.
RETAIL & MARKETING: Closing the “Green Gap”
Psychologists say it takes 21 days to form a new habit which means that for many, online grocery shopping is now a default. Sustainability issues are also becoming entrenched in consumers’ minds.
The Financial Times wrote during lockdown, “Many companies have little choice but to begin some revamping of their business models: the pandemic has made sure that either their customers are no longer where they were or have no need of what they are selling”.
The madness and unsustainability of the fast fashion cycle has been exposed which resulted in many companies exploring circular economies as a new business model. Global supply chains solely reliant on China have been reassessed and there is hope that in many countries local SMEs will benefit from this re-routing.
“Micro-fulfilment centres”, to appease the impatience of on-demand customers, is the new buzzword in commercial property, as are electric or manual bicycles for delivery. “Sustainability” is no longer just a consumer issue and becomes the responsibility of retailers and manufacturers as every link of the supply chain is scrutinised.
The bellwether: H&M has installed a circular economy machine in a store in Stockholm and invites customers to bring a garment they want to discard, watch it get broken down and then rewoven into a new item.
ECONOMY: Regionalism and Humanising Business
The economic war between America and China that started in 2019 gave rise to murmurs of deglobalisation, regionalism and the spectre of “tech nationalism”. In 2021 a gradual retreat from global economic integration will be felt.
Regionalism is becoming more entrenched with the Asia Pacific Trade Deal (the world’s largest regional free-trade agreement) and there is talk of a Silicon Quadrilateral between Seoul, Beijing, Singapore, and New Delhi as an Asian tech hub.
The pandemic spawned a contactless economy and all business owners should ask themselves how this affects them as it not only a challenge for consumer-centred businesses but also for corporates who now need to integrate remote working into their operating systems.
The WFH ripple effect will be game changing as familial considerations are prioritised and the call for “humanising business” grows louder. As Wired magazine observes, the reorganisation of businesses “may well be as much a change in ethos, in values and approach, as it is a shift to online retailing, trade and business”.
Now more than ever, business models focused solely on shareholder primacy and pursuing the bottom line above all, are fast becoming outdated.
The bellwether: Unexpected health problems affecting COVID-19 “long haulers” is starting to impede their ability to work. Public health officials and medical researchers are pushing for the condition to be officially recognised as a syndrome, as the long-term impact on economies could be devastating.
NATURAL WORLD: Zoonotics and Fossil Fuel Pariahs
The planet seemed to be venting its fury on the human race in 2020 with runaway bushfires, locust plagues, floods, landslides and a global pandemic.
The realisation that Zoonosis is becoming increasingly problematic for the human race is sinking in, especially after millions of mink were culled in Denmark as a precautionary measure after the coronavirus mutated. New global hotspots for the next pandemic are already being mapped and predicted.
Like technology, sustainability issues have been fast tracked. A Lancet report is urging that climate change be recognised as a public health risk, while 14 countries signed an agreement to pursue a “sustainable ocean economy”.
Interestingly, investment firms are now feeling the heat of climate change as more clients question the funding of polluting businesses, specifically fossil fuel companies. In South Africa, Standard Bank unveiled a new fossil fuel funding policy, while in the UK a PR collaborative is pushing other PR firms to ditch fossil fuel clients. The Guardian became the first global publishing house to refuse any advertising from companies that extract fossil fuels, while old diesel cars are being banned in various countries.
The bellwether: An Australian man successfully sued a superfund for failing to manage the risks of climate change in his investment portfolio.
DIPLOMACY: Vaccine Nationalism and Security Alliances.
The talk of “vaccine diplomacy” which surfaced during the lockdown, quickly disintegrated into “vaccine nationalism” as the first certified vaccines started to be administered.
Mirroring the rise of “tech nationalism”, vaccine nationalism is set to increase already tense geopolitical dynamics around the globe. As with the formation of regional trade alliances, so too are political security clusters forming.
The “Quad Alliance” is a rebranded security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan and the USA, ostensibly to monitor and combat China’s foreign influence. The “Five Eyes intelligence partnership” (comprising the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK) has evolved beyond intelligence cooperation to weigh in on geopolitical issues, like Beijing’s handling of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 global vaccine alliance, known as COVAX, has grown to a network of 184 countries to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines, especially for low- and middle-income economies.
The bellwether: Immunity passports, used to allow entry to a country or establishment, are being debated. The document would require vaccine certification or proof of recovery from the disease. The reality of increased discrimination and the marginalisation of the poor in favour of the privileged, will become a human rights issue.
SOCIO-CULTURAL: Existential Crises and Life in the Metaverse
Humanity experienced an existential crisis of sorts while in lockdown. The realisation that work and the place of work, are not necessarily synonymous triggered a deeply introspective lifestyle audit. But the blurring of boundaries between our physical lives and our – now entrenched – virtual lives complicates things further.
In the corporate world, the call to humanise businesses has manifested in a strange way, the emergence of “corporate clergy” – or spiritual business consultant – tasked with bringing spiritual depth to callous corporates.
This intervention is timeous. The impact of the pandemic on mental wellbeing was brutal, and the forced migration into the metaverse unexpectedly resulted in digital assistants and chatbots becoming preferred entities people turned to for advice. A survey found that 80% of respondents are happy having a robot as a therapist.
Musician Lil Nas X blurred entertainment boundaries by moving his performances into the virtual gaming world of Roblox. His avatar performed four shows over two days and garnered 33 million views.
Students at Curro schools in South Africa moved into the metaverse when playing physical sports was prohibited during lockdown. They turned to esports and created the “Curro Clash Minecraft Esport League”.
The gaming world has also emerged as a lucrative parallel universe. Not only can you buy a virtual $9 500 digital dress for your avatar but you can also hire interior designers to remodel your digital penthouse.
Forget e-commerce, v-commerce is the new frontier.
The bellwether: Warner Bros. announced it will stream all 17 of its films planned for 2021 on HBO Max, as well as in theatres, simultaneously.
By Dion Chang
The full 2021 “State We’re In”, trend briefing will take place on the 2nd of February 2021.