WHAT’S NEXT: what we learned from season 2

Over the past months, eight speakers have explored what the next decade will bring. Here's the most important insights for your business.

Over the past eight months, our online show WHAT’S NEXT has been exploring the changes wrought by the pandemic, and what they will mean for business, politics and your personal life over the next decade.

Here are some of the key points we took away from our expert guest speakers:

1. Think long-term — and big

NEXT co-founder Matthias Schrader kicked off the season by telling us to think long-term. Only with a serious and detailed vision for what you want your company to be in a decade, you can decide on the combination of software and hardware that will get you there in the post-digital economy.

Oh, and make sure you’re as well-funded as you can possibly be:

“There are high-profile, well-funded failures, sure, but there are so many more failures of small and medium-sized bets,” he explained. “Money makes it much more likely you will succeed.”

2. Time for a Great Redesign

Thomas Müller, Accenture Design’s global lead, explored the four crises the world is facing simultaneously over the next decade:

  • the economy
  • the pandemic
  • the environment
  • lack of equality

We can design around and against these problems, if we have the foresight to do so, he suggested:

“Designers, you know this is our moment. This is our time. It’s no longer enough for us to dream about the future. We actually can design our futures. So, I think it’s time to do this together because this is our time.”

3. Embrace the transition, but do so responsibly

Albert Wenger, managing partner at Union Square Ventures (USV), was also keen for us to focus on long-term thinking. However, he cautioned that we’re in a liminal state: the Industrial Age is dead, but the new age has not yet been born. Time of transition after periods of stability are dangerous, and we need to take that risk more seriously:

“The industrial age expired 10 to 20 years ago,” says Wenger. “We saw huge changes in income and wealth distribution, and access to knowledge. But transition processes are dangerous.“

His solution lays in an embrace of both emerging technology, but also of regulation. And not just regulation of the tech, but of ourselves, in how we choose to use it, and the example that sets for others.

4. The next decade will change what “home” and “work” look like

Laëtitia Vitaud, an author and speaker on the future of work, explored the changes that the pandemic has accelerated in our work styles and our home lives. We need to rethink our homes, as they’re more likely to be blended spaces, in multiple ways. We’ll be blending the generations more, with extended families living together again. But we’re also bringing work officially into the home. That has implications for both:

Parenthood is clearly a big subject for companies, Vitaud suggests. You can’t declare one room in a house public and another private. In particular, there’s a role for companies to help fathers be more involved in their families.

She also explored the idea that our concept of remote work is too primitive:

Being in a remote team doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see your co-workers. Instead, ask how do you divide your time? We need both to come together to share ideas and get to know each other, and then we need to create space for deep work. The proportion for each business will vary enormously.

5. Exponential technologies change everything

Azeem Azhar, the writer of Exponential View, pointed out that we tend to try to understand emerging technologies through the lens of concepts we’re familiar with, and that often leads to us missing the point. Blockchain, for example, is more a mechanism for creating trust in a system than it is a basis for currency. Sure, it can be used for the latter, but its nature is the former.

He also picked up on Wenger’s idea of the dangers of a transitional time. They take away jobs before they recreate them, and you need to be prepared for that:

On one hand, you can be very loose and dynamic with your economy, but at moments of transition like this, there are many more people who are the candlemakers of today, than there are new jobs in emerging industries. The ability to manage transitions driven by exponential technologies will be best handled by these nations with decent state capacity to support people through the shift.

6. The next decade will bring generations together

Eliza Filby, a writer, speaker, and researcher who specialises in what she calls ‘Generational Intelligence’, picked up Vitaud’s themes of reshaped workplaces and homes. She argued that employers need to learn to value the different skills and experiences each generation brings — but so, too, do families.

The pandemic forced families into multi-generational living, and that’s likely to cause changes as we emerge from it:

This shift was already underway — the financial dependence on parents has extended into later life with each generation. But now, the younger generations might end up funding their parents’ old age. The connection between generations is staying stronger. The home has become a hub during the pandemic — you’re cooking there, not going out so much. You seek better home entertainment. That’s not going to reverse completely when the pandemic ends.

We need to shift our marketing and product perspectives if we’re to make the most of that.

7. Friction can birth innovation, so don’t make everything too easy

That sense of new ways of people working and living with each other found more depth in Kristina Bonitz’s talk. She is an innovation consultant, business designer and strategist, currently working at SinnerSchrader, and a big fan of human friction. Her argument is that friction is often the midwife of innovation. Some conflict — as long as it’s respectful — can help new ideas emerge:

“The hardest part of the innovation process is getting people working together who might not agree. The friction they generate is part of the process, but not many people enjoy it. To solve problems we have today, that have a range of impacts including environmental and social ones, we need to extend the invitation into the conversation to people with different skills who think very differently from us.”

8. Trends ain’t trendy; they’re hard work

Finally, foresight and trends expert Amy Webb brought us full circle, with insights into both how she spots trends, and how she helps people build them into their strategy. Just like Schrader, she argued that businesses need to look at the long term, and the sort of experiences they want to be delivering to their customers over the next decade.

“To do that you have to go out more than three years in your planning, but pretty much every business conflates vision and tactic with strategy,” she said. “The hard work is to define a vision non-aspirationally.”

Goals and KPIs aren’t a vision, they’re tactical tools to help you manage the next few years. A bigger picture should focus on what you want your customers to experience, and slowly work your way there:

“Think about how you want your customers to feel, what their journey will be — given that the issues of networks, connectivity, and devices will be very different in 2030. People need to get better at these truly strategic thinking, in both the short and long term. Have the vision, but make a lot of small bets along the way.”