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There’s been a fair amount of trend report bashing in the recent months. Some complain that there are so many reports that it invalidates and commoditizes the practice. While it’s true there are a growing number of trend reports each year, some good and some not as good, it is still a helpful look at distilling a busy noisy, often chaotic world into salient focused ideas.

Further, when done well trends draw on movement and evolution in the culture, using the context necessary to identity a shift in thinking or behavior, and direct attention to meaningful change and opportunity. As with every past year this report will identify some of the themes and forces moving people, citizens, communities, and companies forward.

James Webb NASA
NASA James Webb Telescope image of the planet Uranus NASA James Webb Telescope

1. Giant Leaps For Humankind  

Technological innovations have continued to amaze and alarm us.

–       AI and Gen AI: This transformational technology and its outsize impact is inevitable but equity and significant safety concerns abound here. Even so “human skills will be essential for the integration of AI.” Expect global regulations and keeping customer values in mind when implementing these new tools.

–       Space exploration has had a thrilling year. NASA announced its own streaming service and The James Webb Telescope continues to send back extraordinary images. “With the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024.” Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos continue to lead the privatization of space as a survival alternative in the event of a global disaster.

–       Health: Washington Post reported on scientific breakthroughs ona malaria vaccine, a treatment for post-partum depression, therapies for sickle cell disease, and advancements in understanding dementia and memory loss.

What This Means For Business

Innovation and progress can be exciting and worrisome.

–       Breakthroughs in other categories can energize teams and inspire new thinking for new products or services.

–       Transparency is an antidote to the fear of unknowns around some innovations. Include employees and the public in celebrating your company’s or other company’s big leaps.

happy balloons-Hybrid-437269-unsplash
Silver linings and happiness Hybrid-437269-unsplash

2.. Bright Spots

The pandemic hangover, polarizing politics and a recovering economy have been a drag on everything including the national state of mind, but according to experts things are taking a welcomed and positive turn.

–       Mood: Ipsos says “optimism is on the rise as more think next year will be better. Seventy per cent think next year will be a better year than this one. This is an increase of 5pp on last year’s figure.”

–       Economy: Inflation is slowing, and experts predict that the rate hikes are over and may drop mid-2024. Axios reports that “the ’24 economy is on track to be described with a word that hasn’t been applicable yet this decade: normal.

–       COVID: According to The World Health Organization “the number of new deaths decreased by 8% as compared to the previous 28-day period, with over 3000 new fatalities reported.”

–       Joy: Researchers tell us that experiencing happiness is within our reach with “micro-acts of joy.” The team found that “daily micro-acts of joy, like making a gratitude list or practicing positive reframing, helped participants experience a 25% increase in emotional well-being, 34% boost in levels of coping perception, and 12% jump in self-reported sleep quality over the course of a week.”

What This Means For Business

Positive developments lift all boats.

–       Businesses that focus on positive change create a constructive workplace culture, an attractive corporate image, and an environment conducive for innovation and consumer growth.

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It seems we all have something to say. Sometimes it’s loud. Jason Rosewell-ASKeuOZqhYU-unsplash

3.. Taking Sides 

It seems like we are arguing about everything these days. Granted, we live in an uncertain time with political polarization, extreme weather, conflicts in Ukraine and Israel, cybercrime, higher mortgage rates, deep fakes—the list is long and it’s stressful. But we’re taking sides on everything from team Depp v team Amber, to dressing versus stuffing, to serious issues like vaccine vs no vaccine, and is AI safe or will it destroy humanity.  Fights recently erupted on social media over scooped bagels versus regular bagels and over dog training techniques. The “force-free” or positive reinforcement technique was attacked as woke idiots versus the “balanced training” technique as “projecting colonial, capitalist, or patriarchal concepts” onto a dog. Wait, what?

Is taking sides a way to expel stress and anxiety over something with no consequences? Is it a way to establish and project identity in a noisy crowded world? In a report from CBS, Dr. Lisa Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University said, “The world that we live in isn’t just filled with uncertainty that gets us worked up, it’s also filled with easy answers about who is the cause of that unpleasantness.”

What This Means For Business

Following category related arguments helps in taking the cultural temperature. What are people passionate about and why?

–       This current climate is a good reminder that companies and brands need to pay attention to the impact debates, on many subjects, may have on brand image, employee mood, and shareholder concerns.

–       Active listening and analytic studies will help monitor discussions online and course correct if necessary.
Writers Guild Strike went on for weeks. Fabebk and

4.. Empowerment of the Masses

Protests, strikes and boycotts never go out of style, but they ebb and flow with the changing levels of inequality, oppression, conflict, and economic security. This year AI posed a new threat to worker prospects and equity. The formation and growth of unions and the number of strikes was dramatic and consequential. UAW, WGA, SAG-AFTRA, nurses, pilots, student strikes all had a wide-ranging impact on people, businesses, institutions, and the economy.

–       Less high profile was the Reddit moderator strike shutting down thousands of discussion boards over whether “third-party app developers should be charged to hook into Reddit’s back end.”

–       Quartz reported on how the community slapped back at the condescending corporate takeover execs.

–       Etsy sellers in the U.K. threatened a boycott over the payment system that withholds funds. The U.S. based Etsy has taken note.

What This Means For Business

Recent strikes and protests have put a spotlight on all workplace discussions of labor practices, environmental conditions, impact of new technologies on livelihoods, and restrictions like NDAs.

–       Employees feel empowered to raise these issues and will use the strength and numbers of social media to make themselves heard.

woman single work from home-Andrew Neel-QLqNalPe0RA-unsplash
There are more single person households than ever before. Andrew Neel-QLqNalPe0RA-unsplash.

5.. Change Is Inevitable 

The still evolving adjustments we made during the pandemic along with natural demographic shifts have kept change in motion.  

Home: Many activities concentrated at home during the pandemic that were assumed to be temporary are morphing into permanent choices. Cooking rather than eating out, home schooling, at-home personal devices, and workspaces are redefining schedules, social lives, and floorplans. And the configuration of households continues to change.

–       Living alone is on the rise. “As of the end of 2022, nearly 38 million American households were comprised of just single people. They form 29% of all US households—a record, and way up from the corresponding figure of 13% in 1960.”

–       “In 2022, there were an estimated 4.8 million multigenerational households in the US — homes with three or more generations living under one roof — equal to 3.7% of all households in the country. Those households contain 26 million people, or 8.1% of the US population.”

Jobs and success: The impact of the Great Resignation and then quiet quitting have left workers questioning the choice of jobs, the quality of workplaces and bosses, and generally what success means. Gartner reports that “employees seek personal value and purpose at work” and that “employees expect deeper relationships, a strong sense of community and purpose-driven work.”

Aging and Retirement: “Every day in the U.S., 10,000 people turn 65, and the number of older adults will more than double over the next several decades to top 88 million people and represent over 20 percent of the population by 2050.”

 Naturally a lot of people are thinking about what comes next. Defining a sense of purpose in retirement has become an industry with books, conferences, coaches, and videos suggesting that people rethink aging and retirement. Consider The Rolling Stones in their 70s and 80s on a new tour sponsored by AARP.

Health: Experts are putting the spotlight on the effects of chronic noise, drinking, climate change, and AI’s cognitive burden of distinguishing real from fake. Taboos around loneliness, anxiety, and depression continue to fall.

–       Axios reported recently that Mental health has turned into a defining social, medical, and workplace issue, especially for young Americans. “I’ve been asked over time whether companies’ interest in mental health would wane post-COVID, and the headline is, we’ve never had more companies asking us how to get involved,” said Project Healthy Minds founder Phillip Schermer.

What This Means For Business

Even though the pandemic is largely in the past, most people are still in the midst of some sort of change, whether by choice or circumstances.

–       Business needs to be flexible to adapt to changing personal, environmental, economic and technological evolution.

–       Seek to understand consumers and employees needs for new products, work life strategies, and leadership practices that align with the changing culture.