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RIGA - For the many who gathered in Riga in early April at the World Trends Forum, it was a chance to gaze into the crystal ball for a glimpse into the future, of what business and investment opportunities may lie ahead.
The two-day conference kicked off on April 10. Guest speakers included Latvian President Andris Berzins, Wired magazine editor David Rowan, industry editor at The Economist Simon Wright, doctor of science in economics Hasan Mustafa, and others.
Opening the Forum, with an exciting and enthusiastic presentation, was futurist and best-selling author Dr. Patrick Dixon. Launching into his talk, he set out to show that it is impossible to divide current trends into separate future trajectories. This is because, he exclaimed, “all trends are related.”
In a convincing argument, he went on to demonstrate that the greatest driver of human events is emotion. In addition, it’s necessary to “look under the data, [to pay attention] to the human emotion.” Company managers too often get bogged down looking at the numbers, the statistics, without understanding what are the true motivating forces.
Management as well needs to keep all eyes open to the environment around them. “We live with massive risks, many of which are predictable,” he says. However, the best-made plans can’t take into account the unexpected. “Strategies often are overtaken by events,” he cautions.
This took Dixon to his six ‘key elements’ for business, or any group’s, success, in meeting the challenges ahead. The first of these is: ‘agility.’ Latvia’s advantage, he noted, is its smallness, which means it can react quickly to change.
Though the global economy is struggling with recovery, companies need to be ready to react to the coming boom, he suggests. This is because of the $3.4 trillion China is holding in U.S. Treasuries, and the $2.4 trillion U.S. companies are sitting on.
What’s holding this back from getting into the economy? “Emotion, confidence. Companies are just waiting for ideas,” suggests Dixon. But all this cash is ready to stimulate growth and spending.
Urban growth and demographics represent his second ‘key element.’ Though there is an exponential rise of the middle class today, Europe is dying, he warns. Companies will need to understand the dynamics of these contradictions.
Tribalism – culture, nationality, history, leadership – represents the third ‘key.’ Understanding the tribe, its behavior, will determine if efforts to deliver products and services to customers succeed. One of today’s growing marketing channels, social media, despite its attractions, has some weaknesses, including authenticity. Dixon says “Authenticity of social media is a problem.” It’s not always objective in its message. Companies will need to add credibility in the process.
On a broader scale, he warns that government and business leaders have a damaged reputation. Public trust, the basis for society, has dropped. Authorities have lost it, he says, and have to work to rebuild it.
Where are brands going? “Universalism. Scale, speed, super brands,” predicts the futurist. He expects that in retail, megastores will define consumer purchasing behavior, with mobile rapidly growing in importance. Commerce is moving to the mobile platform.
Mobile commerce will support “location marketing, with its RFID technology,” he says, which will also solve logistical problems. “Click and collect, home delivery.” It will be that simple.
Radical solutions to difficult problems make up Dixon’s fifth ‘key’ for survival in the future. For the U.S., seemingly out of nowhere shale energy has emerged, giving the economy a major boost and new sense of security.
Not surprisingly, Dixon’s last key to the future is the “ethical” element. This means not just values, but spirit, a company’s aspirations. It goes beyond compliance.
There is a tension and balance between trends which will determine the future. Companies, says Dixon, have lost their understanding of customers. They need to look through “the same glasses” as do their customers.
It also takes imagination. The future is about the technology we want, not about the technology itself. There is emotion behind a person’s purchase, and companies need to understand what drives it.
The Forum discussions continued for two days, with speakers and audiences engaged in topics ranging from current and future energy issues, environmental and cultural questions, to Europe as a destination for investment. And those attending the conference may have left with just a little better insight into what the future holds.