Trends graphic

I have been described as a futurist or a futurologist – which is a title I dislike for a simple reason. The trends I start with are not future trends – in most cases they are here today and have been for a while. I am interested in looking forward not back (although it is surprising how many of the trends and their impact have an historic analogy or parallel!). I think the most effective framework to use is that common in scenario planning which looks at 3 time horizons and thinks about the impact of the trends within each:

The actual – mainstream today which may not be fully played out. You could argue for example that we are still engaging with the financial crisis in the Eurozone – many economic or demographic trends are absolutely mainstream and will be for years to come.

The emergent – not yet mainstream but with sufficient evidence to suggest that it is highly likely that they will become so. Driverless cars are a neat example here – the debate is frequently about when we all suddenly adopt driverless cars but in reality they are already emergent and the transition to mainstream is far more likely to take the form of steady adoption – both of driverless features within new cards and of replacement of existing vehicles. Which by the way illustrates the interesting point that for any individual trend the shift from one time horizon to another can be rapid and all encompassing (mobile phones being a case in point which have become pretty much ubiquitous within a short space of time) or a smooth, longer transition as with driverless cars..

The anticipated – which is what people really mean when they say future – there may be weak signals today but in reality adoption will be a long way off and is sufficiently uncertain to make prediction difficult. A good example are some of the potential therapies available through the application of nanotechnology to health and medicine – considering how emotive the issue of GM foodstuffs has been, the ethical issues around nano health are likely to have a material impact on adoption – even when the technology solutions become robust.

And in all of this, different megatrends and subtrends are moving a very different speeds through these time horizons – most demographic trends around people are long term whereas most digital technology aspects can change in a few years or even months. The trends have been classified as slow, medium or fast (indicated by walking, riding or driving). As a rule of thumb my perspective is:

  • Slow – trends for which the 3 time horizons take 20-30 years or more to play out
  • Medium – trends where the actual – anticipated is some 5-20 years
  • Fast – where all 3 horizons will occur within 3-5 years