Posts filed under ‘trends’

Introducing Trend and Tonic

Christina Linden-Hill writes:

One of the good things about working at The Futures Company is the opportunity to try out new things, to experiment.  When a few of us started thinking about creating a content curation site for the company, we were greeted with encouragement to “do it” and “see what happens”.

We spend much of our working days thinking about trends, and about the future, but sometimes struggle to share our thoughts and opinions outside our project teams, because of constraints of time and geography. To get round these, we decided to create a central site for fresh content, lightly salted with our opinion, which everyone can share, inside and outside of the company. The result is the newly launched Trend and Tonic section on the website – “a daily mix of foresight and futures.”

The new site includes a number of authors from The Futures Company contributing to the site daily; each author writes in their own style about topics that interest them. The intention is to highlight potential cultural shifts across the globe, and where we think these might lead, and to do this concisely.

The posts are categorised by subject,which should make the site easy to navigate, and there is space to comment and to contact the author. Thinking about the future is essential to good strategy, innovation, and risk management. It’s early days, but we hope that Trend and Tonic will be a quick way for people to keep track of the changing landscape.

15 March 2012 at 9:38 am Leave a comment

Working women

Pen Stuart writes:

It’s international women’s day, and the question of women’s work is top of mind – internationally women perform 66% of the world’s work, but earn only 10% of global income. For many, work is unavoidable, a burden rather than a right – the International Labour Organisation notes that in China and India there is falling female workforce participation among some groups, as more affluent families take pride in the fact that the women in the household can focus on childcare, homemaking, and informal social support for the whole family. Something similar happened in Britain in the 19th century, when the middle classes were glad to show their ‘superiority’ over the working classes, where women had to do manual labour.

It is also reflected in shifts in Pew Global Attitudes data: while 86% of the Chinese sample in 2002 felt the most satisfying kind of marriage is one where both husband and wife have jobs, this had fallen to 78% in 2010. Yet agreement with this statement rose in other emerging markets like Mexico and Russia, showing that you cannot take a ‘one-size fits all’ view of women’s empowerment.

Meanwhile in affluent markets, where work has become a central part of many women’s identity, this is becoming a luxury for some. Women in the US and the UK are actually being forced out of paid work by the rising cost of childcare – in the UK alone 30,000 women have left paid work since last year for this reason.

This challenges traditional understandings of the evolving female market – both in terms of spending power and how they see their identity – and therefore of how you should communicate with them. Women want to be talked to about expanding opportunities, and want more ability to choose their own direction in life – both of which are being squeezed by austerity. But in some markets, those who are no longer single, or feel that they have been squeezed out of the labour market, may not be striving for ‘having it all‘, but for a proper celebration of the work of being a home-maker, wife or mother.

The still from The Homemaker (1925) is from the archive at Stanford University, and is used with thanks.  The film is an early role-reversal movie: the wife goes out to work when the husband loses his job.

8 March 2012 at 2:43 pm Leave a comment

Library futures

Andrew Curry and Victoria Ward write:

Last week Francine Houben of Mecanoo Architecten talked about their design of Birmingham’s future library as a “living room for the city”. More than just storage, a dynamic space for movement, openness and exchange. In a blog she calls libraries “the cathedrals of our millennia”, which seemed a useful precursor to Saturday’s National Libraries Day

The future of the library is, in some ways, a paradox. So many long term trends are running against it that it is easy to assume that is an anachronism of the 19th and 20th centuries. Such trends include the rise of digital technologies, and the accompanying rise of audio-visual culture; the long wave of individualism since the late 1960s; the shift from public provision to personal provision; the pressures on public expenditure; the emergence of the e-book and the digitisation of books generally. It seems only a matter of time before the library withers away.

But look again, and some other, emerging, trends come into focus. Rising oil prices and greater work flexibility increase the value of the local; the rise of digital rights management fuels campaigns around openness; the number of books published every year continues to rise; issues of access and equity – and affordability – come into sharper focus as one austere year rolls into another; the relationship between the tangible and the digital object becomes increasingly complex; new attitudes to ownership (using, not having) make the library appear as a pioneer.

Look again, and you can start to think that if libraries did not exist, it would be necessary to invent them. But what sort of library would we invent?

(more…)

8 February 2012 at 9:28 am Leave a comment

The new normal is still here, and here to stay

Eleanor Cooksey writes:

“I’ve found the cost of living has gone up substantially and it has had a huge impact on my life. I am not buying luxuries as often and I will change the way I deal with my finances.”

This sobering quote comes from a Scottish man we spoke to as part of our fifth in-depth review of how UK consumers are responding to the current economic situation. In our breakfast briefing held in London last week to launch this review, we highlighted four themes which describe the current environment:

  1. The New Normal is firmly embedded: Reflecting the broader economic uncertainty, individuals feel the outlook is gloomy: 25% feel the UK economy is going very badly these days, an increase of 10% compared to when the survey was last carried out six months ago. People are even less optimistic about their personal financial situation with almost half thinking they will be worse off over the next 12 months. The message is clear: no one expects things to go back to how they were and we are learning how to cope.
  2. Rising prices are hurting:Though inflation has recently dropped a fraction, our data showed levels of anxiety about rising prices similar to those seen in 2008. Many of the people we spoke to were highly sensitive to these changes, whether this was about an increase in the cost of petrol or bell peppers.
  3. Savvy shopping matters to consumers: 43% of consumers have had to dip into savings to make ends meet and they are trying hard to make their money going further. Deals and special offers are still very much part of this, but consumers are doing more than that: they are giving serious thought to what they really need and what they really don’t. One lady in Staines realised she didn’t have to spend £70 every six weeks at the hairdresser and could use a £3.50 home dye kit instead. However, she wasn’t going to cut back on her expensive make-up and perfume.
  4. It’s a constant struggle to stay on top of things: In our last survey, we identified three groups who represent the various responses to the current financial downturn, and this time round, ‘All Hands on Deck’ were the only group which had increased in size. Though people in this group feel the struggle to make ends meet most acutely, making the most of your budget is relevant to everyone, even for the relatively unaffected ‘Plain Sailing’ group. All want to feel they can loosen their belt without losing it.

I’ll finish with a quote from a young woman in Sheffield which sums up the dilemma the New Normal presents for some:
“I could lose my job tomorrow, so I should plan to protect myself against that – but then again, I could lose my job tomorrow…so why not live for the moment?”.

There are limited places available for a repeat of this breakfast briefing on 12th May. To find out more please contact Karen Kidson.

20 April 2011 at 2:09 pm 1 comment

The World in 2020

Andrew Curry writes:

I’ve been working on a Futures Company report on The World in 2020 for the last couple of months, and since I’ve end up doing much of the work in the evening I’m delighted to say that we’ve just published the summary edition, and the full version has just gone into production. The summary edition can be downloaded from our website, although registration is required.

The World in 2020 is the first in a series of ‘Futures Perspectives’ reports which we’re publishing over the next few months.

It takes a high level view of the big drivers which are shaping the world, and looks at some of the innovation spaces which may emerge as a result. Here’s are a couple of extracts:

The financial crisis of 2008 represented an ending, but not a beginning. We are in a liminal moment, betwixt and between, when there are more questions than answers, but when, increasingly, our assumptions about how the world works are open to challenge and interrogation. … Liminal moments such as this one can last a decade or more, before opinion coalesces around a new set of operating assumptions about how the world works.

Over the next decade, we’ll see much tougher resource constraints – energy, food and water, and resources will all be under pressure – as well as the continuing long economic shift towards Asia. Issues involving technology and inequality will also be influential. It will be harder to make money in the coming decade. As a result, businesses will have to rethink their approach:

The changing economic environment creates the dilemma of new yet alternative prospects for different types of customers. The emerging middle class across much of Asia and Latin America will be very different from the debt constrained consumers of Europe and the United States. Globally, the
costs of basics such as food and energy are likely to rise over the next decade, so discretionary income will be lower than some project. In the richer countries, the experience of recession will create demands for more social behavior from businesses.

Business critic Umair Haque talks of the “meaning organization” that builds “authentic prosperity.” As he writes in a blog post, “An isolated notion of ’profit’ is obsolete: it’s an arid industrial-age conception of a currency-focused construct that’s built to trivialize everything but what a firm owes its ’owners’.

14 March 2011 at 9:16 am 3 comments

Spreading the love

Pen Stuart writes:

We are in love. Or more precisely we were on Monday morning, soaking ourselves in the warmth of a topical subject that doesn’t always feature high on client priorities, even as it leads personal ones. And in true Futures Company fashion, we wanted to know what’s happening next in the heady world of love. So began a session mapping the trajectory of this ideal, trying to understand how core emotions have been shaped to construct the Hallmark ideas that are all around, especially in the run-up to Valentine’s Day.

Paradigms of love are often at odds with realities. Take for example the 1950s ‘golden age’ of housebound wives who expressed their love by presiding over a newly close family. In practice, with household consumerism an essential ingredient of this ideal home, it was possible only because women were entering the paid workforce.

Yet it was these (misleading) ideals that captured the public imagination, and became a crucial way for brands to connect with consumers. In turn this was overthrown by a new ideal that fitted better with people’s hopes and dreams for equality of opportunity, providing new zeitgeisty opportunities for brands. Many commentators say that love today is in crisis, pointing to family dissolutions and the rise of single-parent households, but a narrow focus on demographic trends misses out the continuity of love, warmth and feeling within shifting families. And millennials, who will shape the future, are increasingly interested in the pursuit of happiness, which they associate strongly with, you’ve guessed it, “love”. If love isn’t dead, it’s worth mapping how meanings of this might change.

So we delved through themes such as the joys and sorrows of work, which has been re-interpreted and re-negotiated as women come to influence it more strongly, as a place of emotional fulfilment. The broader economic context looks set to make divorce – said to cost £25,000 – a luxury consumer good.

Add to this a pinch of escalating expectations, a dash of ageing populations, and a liberal sprinkling of new scientific claims and technological possibilities and we came to a few scenarios for the new shape of love. Ranging from ‘pursued perfection’ to new spaces of tolerance and ‘flexi-ships’, the heartening thing was the hope and exciting possibilities that remained. But enough! I must go and spread the love.

The image at the top is ‘A love for the arts by Delacor‘, published here under a Wikimedia Commons licence.

17 February 2011 at 9:03 am Leave a comment

After the floodtide of prosperity

Andrew Curry writes:

Our chairman, J Walker Smith, was one of the experts invited to contribute by Marketing to its ‘Forward Thinking‘ essays this year. His theme: that we’ve reached the end of “the floodtide of prosperity”, which is changing consumer behaviour, and that marketing will have to follow suit.

But, as he writes in his contribution, this is about more than just the aftermath of the financial crisis:

Three major cycles are coming to a close nowadays, only one of which is economic. One is technological; one is demographic. All three are opening onto something new in the face of unprecedented resource constraints. … Based on where we see these three dynamics headed, the macro consumer trend to watch will be the emergence of lifestyles reflecting an overarching outlook of ingenuity.

And this is made more necessary by the emerging environmental constraints we face, which include a whole range of scarcities – from water to fish to timber – as well as climate change. The result is that we’re moving into a new world in which the new consumer assets are ‘vigilance’ and ‘resourcefulness’.

Consumers are being forced back onto their own skills and smartness. There are no ready answers about what to do in a world in which economic risk is top of mind, technological engagement is ubiquitous, generational priorities are upended, and resource limits necessitate temperance.

All of the ‘Forward Thinking’ essays can be found here.

24 January 2011 at 9:17 am Leave a comment

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