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What to Watch out for in 2011

30th December 2010

The future is fast-approaching and there are constant reports that things are changing more quickly than ever before...but perhaps it always feel like this. As Marina GorbisExecutive Director of thinktank The Institute for the Future – says, "We know more, we have access to more information but if you lived during the period of electrification or the building of railroads, I'm sure you really felt the pace of change too. It's all relative." 

Marina spoke at the TEDxSoMa conference this year and has been looking at the rise of robots over the next decade.  Iron Man may be closer than we think... Marina is sure that robots will become increasingly dominant in our lives.  The US military are already developing pack-carrying robots and air robot drones.  They are currently being used to assist teachers in South Korea and as ‘workers’ in Amazon and Zappos warehouses in the States, and they will start playing more of a role in our work and domestic lives.

The technology involved is impressive and just the beginning of the robotic presence but the consequent unemployment will undoubtedly prove controversial.  For Marina, "We are in transition. It is similar to when we mechanised agriculture. After that we went through a period of high unemployment as people transitioned to new kinds of jobs. People learned to do other things... There is potential for a huge backlash...but once a technology is invented, it is very rare that it disappears. You can delay the introduction but it is going to be used. If someone can produce something cheaper and faster, you are competing in that environment."

Such trends come at a time when technology is becoming increasingly prominent in our work lives and communication in business with everything from social networking to social publishing and social feedback.  As the Wikileaks story has shown transparency is becoming more and more inevitable and the companies who thrive will be those who embrace working with consumers to edit their processes and services, rather than simply telling consumers what they need.  Listening to the consumer and embracing change and constant adaptation in line with demands is key.  The online outcry about Gap’s new logo this year led to a swift abandoning of the new graphic, despite the considerable cost and outlay involved.  The public expressed their views online and Gap had to respond.

Whenever there is a burst of technology talk there is also a swing of the pendulum back to a craving for the human touch so balance is essential.  As computing technology increases futurist Richard Watson is also aware of the desire for ‘random acts of kindness’ - be it picking up the tab or sending a surprise gift to a client.  Emailing is incredibly important but the overuse of this leads to an increasing demand for talking and face-to-face contact.  It will be interesting to see how this balances out in the coming year.

Emerging markets are also always on the tip of the tongue when it comes to the future.  The rising markets of Africa and China in particular are forging ahead at in incredible pace.  Western brands are increasingly focusing on products for these markets. In most countries you can see the limit of the market potential but in China there is currently no such thing...  The spending on luxury goods alone is something to behold.

So as we move into the future an increasing awareness of the upcoming changes – wherever possible – can be incredibly useful.  We look forward to observing the movements in our work and home lives over the coming year and wish you all the very best for 2011!

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