Tis the season (or, rather, slightly past it) for all the predictions for the coming year. I’m a sucker for these articles and have collected many of them via my Twitter account (@TWgy) in recent weeks. There are so many predictions out there that I’ll break this into two parts, with a bonus section on talent management trends to go for the trifecta.
So, if you’re interested in a roundup/synthesis of 2012 forecasts that looks across various industries and ideas, this blog’s for you.
An Introduction to 2012
Let’s start with the more multi-disciplinary predictions. For my my money, The Futurist remains the best source of imaginative, general-purpose forecasts, despite a being journal that still somehow seems, style-wise, a relic of the 1970s. It’s odd that the world’s foremost form of futurist communication remains quaint and homey, but there it is.
Anyway, its Top Ten Forecasts for 2012 and Beyond tends to be focused more on “beyond” than 2012. For example, the forecast predicts that learning will become “more social and game-based” this year and into the future. I expect that’s true, but I doubt we’ll see all the text books disappear in 2012. More likely, we’ll see some serious movement into the area of ebook textbooks as tablet computers continue to drop in price (thanks, Amazon), especially at the university level.
The Futurist also points to things such as space tourism, solar power production on the moon, and the kind of nanotechnology that will restore eyesight. Very cool but don’t bank on huge lunar solar collectors this year. Heck, I’ll be happy if we can get them on a few more rooftops and maybe on a tablet computer or two.
Author: Iztok Boncina/ESO, from Wikimedia Commons
Will More Revolutions Be Tweeted?
The Futurist also published James Lee’s blog called “Thoughts on 2012 – Markets, Technology, and Society,” in which he makes forecasts on everything from the economy (“mild recession”) to technology (“wireless everything”). I’m on board with the “wireless everything” prediction but it’s too early to tell about the economy. We’re seeing some hopeful signs with the new jobs numbers and uptick in manufacturing business, but with Europe dealing with its debt issues and even China looking soft, Lee could prove to be right. More on the economy later.
Lee also notes, “With social media, people are organizing themselves and learning about things faster than ever before. ” Yep, it’ll be interesting to see if there are anymore equivalents of “Arab Springs” in 2012. Contrary to what Gladwell said, the revolution apparently will be (and was) tweeted. In fact, 2011 was a really rotten year for that particular prediction. History has a way to doing this, but it’s seldom you get your comeuppance quite that quickly.
Normal Gets New (Again)
There’s always talk about the new normal but I’ve been hearing the phrase more these days. I take it with a grain of salt because these trends often have more to do with shifting economic trends than anything else. Nonetheless, I really like JWT’s 10 Trends for 2012 Executive Summary, which starts with the notion that the new normal includes stripping down the size of many new offerings to appeal to cost-sensitive consumers even while allowing them to “live a little.” Yes, such predictions are a bit soft, but it’s not hard to put some really hard numbers to them to see how well they play out.
Of course, some JWT predictions are just statements of fact. For example, the idea that marriage will be optional in 2012 is a trend that clearly emerged in 2011.
100 Things to Watch
JWT also produced its “100 Things to Watch in 2012,” which is an A-to-Z look (literally “Access Anywhere” to “Zink”) at stuff to track this year. Some of it is obvious (proliferation of cloud-based services), some pretty superficial (75th anniversary of The Hobbit), but all of it is entertaining and worth scanning thanks to its elegant, easy-to-view setup. I particularly love the idea of the “flipped classroom” (see #23) but just had to roll my eyes at “flo-yo” (#24).
Leveraging the Likes of Slacktivism and Gerontabletification
Future studies have a certain cool factor, but how do you put them to use? That is, how can businesses leverage the nexus of social, demographic and technological trends to innovate and earn some profits? Michael Schrage has some answers in Innovative Ideas to Watch in 2012. I enjoyed the sheer ethical complexity and wit associated with an idea such as co-opting slacktivism to reach out to customers and communities. I think most of the other ideas Schrage outlines are practical ways that businesses can leverage growing trends – though I rather doubt that the fun word “gerontabletification” will catch on in a big way.
Retail 2.0 Coming to a Store Near You
I imagine it’s a form of branding and an homage to his DaVinci Institute, but I can never quite get used to the Renaissance getup of “Google’s Top Rated Futurist Speaker” Thomas Frey. I do, however, admire the constant stream of ideas, phrases and blogs that flow out of him. The man never seems to be short of notions about the future, as is illustrated by this two-part blog on 28 Major Trends for 2012 and Beyond.
I think he’s more often right than wrong. And though he’s clearly looking well beyond 2012, a lot of his ideas are useful today. The term “Retail 2.0,” for example, is be a bit stale (aren’t we done with version numbering yet?) but I think Frey is dead on about the challenges facing the retail world and the need to reinvent the retail experience, creating one that is as much about entertainment and engagement as it is about stocking shelves. In the short term, however, I’m pretty dubious about “retail shops that carry no inventory.”
But I am pretty bullish on alternative payment practices in 2012, one of the foundations of a new retail model. Scott Dunlap notes in “4 payment industry predictions for 2012” that “mobile payments continue to skyrocket” and that there’s going to be a “birth of alternate commerce devices.” I think about this in terms of smart phones and electronic wallets. Dunlap writes, “I know we all can’t wait for the day that we don’t have to clip coupons and remember loyalty card numbers, and our wallet intelligently figures out how you should pay for things.”
Crowdfunding and Micro-Incomers
Some of Frey’s most compelling forecasts are of existing trends that are likely to get stronger, and I think that’s true of crowdfunding support of new business ideas, or whatever the term of art comes to be. I don’t know if Kickstarter and companies like it will be a success in reinventing the process of providing venture capital, but I’m certainly willing to bet this trend won’t go away till all the possible permutations have been checked out.
As for “micro-incomers,” well, I doubt Warren Buffet will be going this route anytime soon. Don’t expect some title wave of such folks in 2012 to get rich through their stock-photo-selling micro incomes, but it’s worth checking in on this trend every year to see how it’s advancing. That’s one of the things I like about Frey: he gives you a heads up about trends that may not change the world this year but that might just have a major impact in a decade or more.
Tech in 2012
Of course, tech is probably the number one thing people like to prognosticate about, especially in the over-exposed world of social media and smartphones/tablets. It’s impossible to stay abreast of all the details, but let’s cover some of the high points.
TV + Internet = Smart TV (or NUL)
Yes, smart TV is the most obvious tech trend of 2012, but nobody knows how it’s all going to turn out. What we do know is that it’ll be fun to watch the mad scramble. Abby Johnson writes, “In order for 2012 to be the year for Web TVs to become mainstream, consumers will have to be educated on what they are. For this to happen, the consumer electronics companies will have to use effective marketing strategies to create a need for consumers to want connected TVs.”
“Effective” is the key word here, of course. The good news is that there’s already a grass-roots movement out there. I’ve had a TV connected to the Internet for well over a year now, and I’m nowhere near the cutting edge on the geekometer. But the mainstream kickoff is at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, which just started. There may be some clear winners coming out of this, but I suspect it’ll be anarchy at the start, like the swimming portion of a triathlon. Looking forward to seeing who survives.
Black Swans in the Clouds
In Vivek Wadhwa’s “Five tech predictions for 2012,” he often sticks with some safe things that many others already suspect, such as that social media, already just another staple in our lives, “will lose its sizzle,” that there will be an explosion in the inexpensive tablet market, and that voice recognition is going mainstream. More interesting is his observation that “cloud computing is advancing faster than our ability to secure systems.” Watch for Black Swans in the clouds.
David Lavenda of Fast Company also points to security issues in his “10 Bold Tech Predictions For 2012, foreseeing, “A significant failure in a popular cloud service will set the cloud movement back.” But he sounds a bit less skeptical about social networking in general, predicting a new player emerging in the social networking space and expecting “social business” to “take off in 2012.”
Mobile But Still Snail Slow
Lavenda also predicts (boldly?) that “mobile IT will grow slowly in the enterprise.” Yeah, no kidding. Enterprises were slow with social media and are slow with mobile, even though huge swaths of their employees are on social networks and have mobile devices. It’s embarrassing but not surprising. Everything takes a lot of time inside corporations, and IT managers are reluctant to invest resources in devices or systems that may evaporate by next year. Still, I think there will be some cutting-edge companies that pioneer this area and derive a lot of employee productivity outcomes as a result.
In the meantime, employees will be investing in apps of their own and will download plenty of ebooks. I climbed on the ebook bandwagon years ago, but Lavenda predicts that in 2012, ” eBooks will dominate.”
Social Media Mania
Let’s face it, we’re all pretty burned out thinking about the future of social media, but that’s not preventing folks from writing an avalanche of prognostications. From Gini Dietrich comes “8 social media trends for 2012,” in which she discusses the coming “social TV convergence” as well as the rise of “social commerce.” Yep, I agree both of these will pick up momentum in 2012, though it’s hard to predict how soon these will become truly mainstream.
There was also David Armano’s “Six Social Media Trends for 2012,” which points to what he calls “convergence emergence,” a trend that touches on “trans-media” experiences. That is, everything converges: entertainment, shopping, marketing, social media communication, travel, etc. I don’t see why not. Our mobile devices make it increasingly possible and product managers are looking for every advantage they can get.
Gamification and Its Discontents
Armano also refers to “Gamification Nation.” Yes, games are all around now: our devices, our TVs, and increasingly in the school system itself. It’ll probably wear out its welcome as some point (I still have nightmares of a social studies teacher who wanted to teach everything to us via buzzer games), but this trend is still in the upswing for now.
It isn’t just about video games. Armano writes, “From levels, to leaderboards, to badges or points, rewards for participation abound.”
Similarly, Mark Schaefer states in his blog “The anti-prediction of 2012 social media predictions” that we “ain’t seen nothing yet” in the area of so-called social scoring. The king of this particular hill is apparently Klout. This is still a pretty new concept to me and I know some people hate the whole idea (or the way it’s executed), but it seems to fit into the gamification trend. The basic idea is to measure a user’s influence across their social network. I rather doubt we’ll be able to duck this trend, so I guess we’ll have to live it.
I also stumbled on a video called “8 Digital Trends Shaping the Future of Media.” To be honest, I hate most online video for the purposes of looking at trends. I can read an article in a few minutes but a video can’t be hurried along. I wish they all came with transcripts. Nonetheless, there’s some good stuff here, including (ironically enough) some nice updates on online news publishing.
Curing Health Care via “OnStar for Your Body”?
Oy, there are few subjects that dishearten me more than the high cost, inefficiency, bizarre funding and inequity of U.S. health care. Having said that, I keep hope alive that the U.S. will find a way cure its many healthcare ills. Maybe technology will help, if you believe TechCrunch‘s “6 Big HealthTech Ideas That Will Change Medicine In 2012.” Josh Constine notes that artificial intelligence will be increasingly assisting with diagnostics and decision support, and he also points to the fact that we’re able to get “more and more [health-related] data at lower and lower price points.”
Being an analytics geek, I particularly love this part:
I think we need to make smart dashboards like they have for fighter pilots. They would piece together data from ubiquitous sensors, like those made by GreenGoose, and Microsoft Kinect that can measure your activity around the house. It would be like the OnStar for your body that could give you clues about when you’re about to get in trouble, and it could call for help or guide you to appropriate therapy.
He also points to mobile devices that can monitor certain health indicators in real time.
As cool as all this is, however, don’t get hopes up too high for 2012. Forbes has some gloomy predictions, such as that “medical devices will face an even tougher environment” and that “health information technology will stall.” Ah yes, that’s the system we’re all familiar with. But there is a bit of good news: the prediction that India will finally rid itself of polio.
Watson Did My Homework, But Siri Presented It
Education technology is an increasingly large topic that can’t be done justice here, especially with MIT expanding its free online courses and even promising to offer certificates in areas where people demonstrate mastery. But “IT Trends to Watch in 2012” is a good place to start if you’re looking for how educational tech might change in 2012. Among the subjects covered are alternative academic publishing via online systems, the application of augmented reality in education, and the topic of gamification yet again.
One particularly interesting subject is plagiarism. John Moravec is quoted as saying:
Advancements in intelligent applications (such as Siri) and artificial intelligence (such as IBM’s Watson) are leading to a near future where software can automatically research and generate original academic works and suggest questions for future research. We will need to rethink plagiarism and academic ethics as we reconsider our relationships with technologies that augment how we think.
This could be especially fascinating, not just as we consider what is and isn’t plagiarism but what is and isn’t creativity, research, and even academic thinking.
Yep, There’s an App for Your Bot
I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea of robot apps, but Frank Tobe wonders if this is their year. In “Is 2012 The Year That Robot Applications Take Root?,” he states, “At present there are three significantly different approaches to an app store for robots (although additional ‘stores’ are in the planning stage and many existing stores are making arrangements to expand beyond their own boundaries…”
This is a trend that is still incubating and seems directed mostly at developers, but it widens your expectations about the nature of apps and the kinds of consumer machines that may be humming under your Christmas tree in a few years.
Lightbulb as Killer App in 2012 – “And Beyond”
Speaking of apps, one Scientific American piece calls 2012 the “Year of the Lightbulb,” a golden era when “lightbulbs will be required to meet new energy efficiency standards ..[s]o the old 100-watt lightbulb will have to produce the same light using just 72 watts.”
Doesn’t sound too sexy, perhaps, but this article also made me think of a Harald Haas and his vision of having wireless data stream from every light bulb. Yes, weird, like a magic trick. And this is one time when it pays to watch the video. So, expect to see a serious gain in lighting efficiency in 2012 but, in the beyond, be on the lookout for wireless data from your lighting fixtures, adding a whole other twist to the notion of home improvement.
A Little Further Out
Looking a little beyond 2012, Chris Ciaccia wrote about “5 Tech Trends for the Next 5 Years: IBM.” I just like to think about the products and concepts others are currently working on, including people-powered devices (sometimes integrated with clothing), using biometric data for online security, sensors that can “read the mind,” and junk mail that is so (frighteningly?) personalized that it’s no longer junk to you.
Science in 2012
Are You There, Higgs?
We could speculate about new scientific developments at length but let’s get down to the real question of 2012. Will we or won’t locate the elusive Higgs particle? As Ann Finkbeiner writes in “Predictions for 2012: Now or Never for the Standard Model of Physics,”
As they collide more and more particles, and detect more and more promising signatures, physicists will become increasingly sure that they’ve detected a Higgs. By this summer, they will be 95 percent confident, but for physicists that’s not good enough. By the end of this year, they will be dead certain one way or the other.
So, if they don’t find it, our view of the universe will be altered and become even more mysterious than it already is. Stay tuned.
Life on Mars? Another Earth?
It’s hard to top the Higgs to-exist-or-not-to-exist drama, but some other cool things will be happening as well 2012, and at least one may give Higgs a run for its money. The Nature article by Richard Van Noorden called “New year, new science” covers a few of them, including the arrival of the methane-sniffing vehicle Curiosity on Mars. It just might be able to tell us if the methane there is coming from geological processes from microbial martian life. Discovery of life on another planet? Yep, that would top Higgs in a few circles. Van Hoordon also raises the specter of finding “a true extrasolar twin for Earth, with just the right size and orbit around a Sun-like star to be habitable.”
The First Frankenstein Genome
You can argue that the first Frankenstein genome was already created in 2010 when the first synthetic genome was created. But that was a duplicate of an existing genome. This time around, they could make something truly original, something that isn’t a copy and has never existed until we created it from scratch. “Sweet mystery of life,” indeed.
Talent Management in 2012
I’ve spent the majority of my working life as a subject matter expert in areas related to talent management, but I’ve also stepped away from it for a while, partly just to get some perspective on the field. I’m going to give it short shrift here but expect to come back soon with a blog focused solely on talent management in 2012.
By far my favorite report on talent management in 2012 is Bersin’s “Strategic Human Resources and Talent Management: Predictions for 2012 – Driving Organizational Performance Amidst an Imbalanced Global Workforce.” You can get the whole report as a free download, but it was also pretty well covered in a shorter piece called “Looking to 2012: 14 HR Predictions, and Balancing the Global Workforce.”
Engagement Sure Loves Hogging the Limelight
Some of the Bersin trends are deja vu all over again, including “Employee engagement takes center stage.” If you’ve been in this business, you know that engagement just won’t get off the damned stage over the last few years. Even worse, employees don’t seem to be any more engaged than they were. Something’s wrong with this picture, but we’ll address it in a future blog.
Split Personalities and Going Glocal
A newer trend is what Josh Bersin has called the global workforce imbalance in the area of talent acquisitions. That is, it’s been tough to retain employees in high-growth countries like China and India, but it’s been easier in the US and Europe where growth has been slow or nil. Global corporations are simultaneously dealing with wildly different challenges in the recruitment function today, and they’ve got to figure out good ways of managing this split personality.
How to deal? Well, there’s always going glocal, a word and concept that has been around a while but remains major challenge: “Organizations have to think about their workforces in a global way, build global tools and best practices, yet empower local managers and HR teams to act locally.” Easier said than done, my friend. But no less important for being difficult.
Shared Headaches for Recruiters
If they’re scarce in the U.S., they’re really scarce. So one thing that recruiters the world over might have in common this year is the search for software engineers, Web developers, experts in creative design and user experience, product managers, marketers, and analytics gurus. At least, that’s what I’m getting out of “The 5 Hardest Jobs to Fill in 2012,” and most of these make sense based on anecdotes I’ve heard.
Of course, such predictions are almost sure to simultaneously reassure and to piss off folks who have been unemployed in those areas for months at a time. If you’re one them, sorry. The truth is, there’s almost no job security for anyone anymore. At least in the U.S., that’s a trend that hardly needs mentioning.
Look for Part II a little later on, when I’ll cover marketing and customers, geopolitics, economics, popular culture, and companies to follow in 2012. If you’d like me to look for forecasts in other areas, please just leave a comment or shoot me a note. Thanks!