New webs of relationships

This year's trend report from Fjord is all about the relationships that form the fabric of our life. It's time to design new systems.

The internet and the digital revolution have changed the world around many of us in manifold ways. They have rewritten huge parts of our lives, our work, our leisure, our shopping, and our relationships. The source code of our existence has changed, and the pandemic has accelerated the change, further disrupting the old ways.

Our societies are webs of relationships, social systems, or perhaps even ecosystems. And how those relationships start, form, develop, and end is constantly changing. The double whammy of digital and pandemic disruption has forever altered these webs. Or, to borrow a phrase from this year’s Fjord Trends:

We’ve had two years of disruption to the systems on which society is run, and it’s taking its toll. There are challenging times ahead, but we believe there are also great opportunities to design new systems, and new ways of being. 

Here at NEXT, we came to the conclusion early on that a great redesign was necessary, and we even published a book about it. It’s clear that we need to design ecosystems, since everything is interconnected, including our crises. Everything is up in the air, and our relationships with the world and in the world are shifting. There is no such thing as nature as a distinct entity from us. All beings are interdependent.

The Fjord Trends 2022 report spells out, as it always does, these shifts in different areas:

  • work and the workplace
  • supply chains, sustainability, and the return of scarcity
  • the metaverse as the next frontier
  • trust, truth, and values
  • care beyond the health industry

Let’s have a closer look at each of them.

Work and the workplace

Work used to be quite formal, and there was a hard boundary between business and private life. It has become much more fluid. The dominant model of employment we inherited from the industrial era, which reduces the employee to an interchangeable component, is crumbling. People are expressing more of their personalities at work; the workforce is humanising. That’s a return to some aspects of pre-industrial ways of working.

The pandemic has opened Pandora’s box. Fjord sees an “era of post-traumatic growth” taking shape:

Post-traumatic growth manifests itself in many people in many ways, including the development of deeper relationships, openness to new possibilities, a greater sense of personal strength, a stronger sense of spirituality, and a more profound appreciation for life.

There is a lot of movement of people going on, including staff quitting their jobs or changing employers. The war for talent has entered a new round. The web of relationships around work is shifting.

Supply chains, sustainability, and the return of scarcity

From the earliest days of the pandemic, we saw supply chains under disruptive pressure. In Western consumer societies, we long took for granted that almost everything would be pretty much immediately available, thanks to the industrial era.

This era is over.

Besides the short-term issues in supply chains, the long-term sustainability of many, if not most, businesses is in question. Climate change is part of the picture as well, and we’ll see scarcity returning to many saturated, wealthy parts of our world.

According to the Fjord Trends, this is an opportunity to create and design a more circular economy:

We forecast a growing momentum towards “regenerative business” that replaces the traditional “take, make, dispose” model with a more circular approach. This means exploring new practices such as dynamic pricing, micro-factories, and hyper-localized manufacturing.

The metaverse as the next frontier

Now, this is a trend no report can afford to miss this year. Roughly every dozen years, there’s a major shift in the digital economy, taking place through a combination of new technology and behaviour change. After the Web in the nineties and Web 2.0/Mobile in the noughties, the time is ripe for Web3 and the metaverse. It brings with it the notion of place, which has existed in some form since the early days (remember cyberspace?). But now, there’s an imminent breakthrough on the horizon:

Significant cultural shifts tend to start in a place—like Renaissance Florence, Vienna in the 1900s, and the Swinging Sixties in London. The location for the next one is the metaverse. It will affect how people experience art, music, movies and brands that take part in, (or at least mirror), the phenomenon. We can’t predict exactly what shape it will take, but we know it’s coming. 

Currently, the software seems to lead, while hardware is still lagging. But this can change overnight, as we saw with the iPhone launch on January 9, 2007 – a mere fifteen years ago.

Trust, truth, and values

Trust is critical for the fabric of relationships woven around us. And we’ve seen how eroding trust in our institutions can damage our capabilities to cope with challenges like the pandemic. Closely related to trust is truth, however precarious the concept may be in a post-truth era. Misinformation can spread like wildfire and damage not only trust, but also public health. Distrust can destroy a lot of value.

And then, there is the rise of values as a driver of consumption. In the words of Fjord:

A brand is a bundle of promises, and customers want more details about those promises than ever before. Customers expect brands to deliver against each of their commitments at the right time, and in the right way. They want to be able to get answers at moments of interaction with the product or service they’re considering buying, and at the point of purchase. 

Brands need to design entirely new layers of information around their products and services to gain trust.

Care beyond the health industry

Beyond the obvious focus on healthcare, both self-care and care for others have risen in importance. There is paid care, but also caring provided inside of all kinds of relationships, including the workplace. Technology plays a role here, too.

The focus of care is expanding beyond the health industry, as traditionally non-health businesses and services are finding new ways to show care to customers. Self-care, taking care of others, and taking care of carers has become an important focus.  

Care has become more visible. Again, this is a trend towards humanisation. If we believe Fjord, it’s time to design care into systems.

Check out the full Fjord Trends 2022 report. Fjord is part of Accenture Interactive which hosts this blog and the annual NEXT Conference.