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Here’s some of the key trends that I see unfolding through 2012 and beyond.

My unique job allows me the opportunity to see and hear what a lot of CEO’s and senior executives in a lot of organizations are thinking about. The  nature of my keynotes and small board / leadership meetings allows me to understand what folks are focused on. The research I do, whether for a major manufacturing conference in Las Vegas or a small corporate meeting with an ice cream company allows me to see the key trends that are unfolding right now.

And so given this unique perch, here’s some of the most important trends which will play out in the year to come.

  •  Biz competes again. North American and Western European companies have lived with constant fear, with the rapid rise of China, the BRIC countries and the N11 on the world  stage. And yet, we’re now witnessing a scene from the movie 2010: “HAL-9000 – ‘What’s going to happen?’ DAVE – ‘Something wonderful.‘ My sense is that a wide variety of industries, from agriculture to manufacturing to industrial design have been going through a renaissance of thinking in the last few years, and have learned what they need to do to re-innovate, grow again, and aggressively return to local and global markets. Read my “Build-America” blog post for some of what I’m thinking here — and stayed tuned!
  • The rise of the tinkering economy. The future is once again being built in the garage next door. But this time, it’s the hyper-connected, innovation oriented tinkering economy which is driving things forward. Get used to phrases like “micro factories,” “hobby designers” and”personal factories.”  The future of design, business and manufacturing is being reinvented at collaborative idea factories such as Ponoko, Etsy and  eMachineShop.com. There’s a revolution underway which is being driven by a globally connected, creatively driven new generation of hobbyists, and the impact is going to be massive!
  • Relationships change. Everywhere around us, the relationship that we have in our lives with the things that surround is, well, changing. Our relationship with food is changing as mobile technologies come to influence what we buy, how we shop,  and how we track our food intake. Our relationship with our body is undergoing a change as we come to use those same mobile technologies to monitor our diet, track our blood pressure another vital signs. Our relationship with clothing is changing as embedded technology becomes a part of what we wear — think about GPS enabled shoes for Alzheimers patients and Zephyr’s smart-clothing — which can be used by athletes to track their performance. When relationships change, everything changes, and opportunities for growth and innovative thinking abound!
  • Generational re-generation: everywhere we look, there’s a massive generational turnover underway, with a change in ownership of organizations from slow moving change adverse baby-boomers to a younger generation that inhales change as a form of innovation oxygen. As family farms and ranches are passed on from father to son and daughter, the rate of adoption of new farming and herd management ideas takes on a greater degree of speed.  As older doctors and nurses who were weaned on the paper-heavy patient file head into retirement, they being replaced by new medical residents who are arriving in the clinic, operating room and by the hospital bed with their iPads, ready to plug in! A shift from change-aversion to change-is-the-greatest-drug is a trend that speeds up our world even more!
  • Revenue reinvention. Every company is coming to face the reality that they have to become just like Apple in order to survive. The fact that Apple generates over 60% of its revenue from products that didn’t exist 4 years ago might today be an aberration, but given the increasing velocity of business cycles, product innovation, the arrival of new business models, changing customer expectations, the impact of social networks and a series of other trends, and soon every organization will find itself in a reality in which constant, relentless reinvention of its product or service line will the crucial to future success.
  • The Dominance of Design. We’re on the edge of a massive new era of creativity, with a trend that we might even call the ‘IPad-ization of Life.’ All one has to do is look at the new Nest thermostat to realize that a new generation of brilliant creativity is about to remake our world. We’re not doomed to a future in which everything around us in the future is going to look just like it did in the past – Apple’s design influence is quickly going to impact everything around us – from the cars we drive to the lamps we use to the fridges we open, to the buses we catch. Clean, simple, easy interfaces and crisp, cool lines, But it’s not just the looks — its the fact that with this new era of design comes intelligence. Our future is going to look great , intelligent and interactive!
  • Chip-velocity! Moore’s law used to apply only to the computer industry. Yet the rule that the processing power of a computer chip doubles every year while its cost cuts in half is taking on new meaning, as your phone becomes a credit card, your car watches how well you drive on behalf of your insurance company, and your clothing talks to your doctor! All of a sudden, in the era of relentless, pervasive connectivity, innovation in every single industry speeds up when Silicon Valley takes over the innovation agenda!
  • Life beyond politics. While the US Presidential election and political turmoil will dominate the headlines for 2012, a new generation of leaders are focused on BIG THINKING, BIG IDEAS, and BOLD MOVES. There’s a realization that political gridlock is the new normal, whether its the Democrats and Republications staring each other down, or France and Germany looking at Italy and Greece with a mystified sense of stunned confusion. So while politicians fail to get things done, innovative organizations are casting their mind to the future trends which will really provide opportunity in the future. It’s fascinating — the future is back in vogue again! And the thinking that is driving it is that we aren’t going to fix the problems of the future by doing what we’ve done in the past. And if we do things differently with those problems – that’s how we’ll discover the next big opportunity. This is the new mindset driving activities in the world of energy, the environment and healthcare!
  • Leading locally. There’s something odd going on — as the world gets global, we’re all going local.  We’re seeing it with sustainability  and local foods; angst and anger at banks and moves to credit unions; and a new volunteerism – as unemployment grew to 7.6%, volunteer service grew by 16%! We’re seeing it with local business – a University of Pennsylvania study found that areas with small, locally owned business (<100 employees) had greater per capita income growth than those with the presence of larger, nonlocal firms! There’s a new focus on local co-ops — with more than 100 million people employed worldwide in some type of local co-op. Thats’ why its fitting that 2012 is the International Year of the Cooperatives, a business model that has stood the test of time for over 150 years. Where-ever you look, while we are thinking global, we’re acting local!
  • Strategy re-dos. The impact of all these trends? Executives quickly coming to realize that what they’ve been doing in the past isn’t to hold them forward into the future. It’s time to throw out all the old assumptions and try things that are new!

Here’s to 2012!

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