Business Kaleidoscope 2021: Curating the best of this year’s trend reports … as we slowly emerge from the pandemic, what happens this year will define the 21st century

January 1, 2021

Have you the courage to create a better future?

What will shape your future? How will you ride the waves of change, be farsighted to turn disruption and discontinuities into innovation and impact?

Some of the best ocean surf lies just along the coast from Lisbon in Portugal. The beautiful fishing village of Cascais seems a world away from the dramatic waves, and extreme surfers who seek to catch the ultimate ride.

I remember sitting outside one of the many fish restaurants, back in early 2020. Before Covid. Enjoying calamari then seabass, a glass of vinho verde, I looked up to the imposing Citadel which towers above the small harbour. It has probably seen much change since its construction, shortly before Christopher Columbus passed below on his way to seek new lands. Yet it has remained largely unchanged.

In a similar way, despite all the turmoil of a global pandemic, many of us continue with our business as usual. We focus on getting back to where we were, recovery of the old world, based on what we used to know best, and assuming the world is unchanged. We rarely have time to pause and look for the bigger picture, the tectonic shifts that are likely to transform our world in the coming years. Particularly in the urgency of huge shake-ups. Threat or opportunity, we ignore them at our peril.

Surfing the waves of a changing world enables us to keep pace with change, to understand how the world is being shaken up right now, to see the opportunities ahead, and to prepare to embrace them.

My new book “Business Recoded” explores how you can embrace the challenges and opportunities of a changing world. Is your business fit for purpose, are you fit for the future? How will you embrace the seismic disruptions of the current world, to reimagine a better future for your business, and society?

In many ways, what happens next – how we respond to the pandemic, how we seek to emerge – will shape the decades to come, maybe the 21st century. Over the last 20 years, business has largely sought to extend and enhance the old models of success, now we need to reimagine the role and process of business more radically. The future starts now.

So let’s take a look at some of the best ideas around right now, a time of year when many organisations seek to capture the zeitgeist in trend reports and emerging insights – catalysts to create a better future:

Blackrock: Megatrends

Blackrock CEO Larry Fink was one of the first business leaders to call for a rethink of business, starting with his letter to the CEOs of all the companies he invests in, demanding them to consider their purpose before profit. Now the investment says “The traditional business cycle playbook does not apply to the pandemic. We see the shock as more akin to that of a large-scale natural disaster followed by swift economic restart. Early in the crisis, we assessed that the ultimate cumulative economic losses – what matters most for financial markets – would likely prove to be a fraction of those seen in the wake of the global financial crisis.” Before diving into detailed financial forecasts, here are Blackrock’s 5 megatrends:

The Economist: The World in 2021

“The World in 2021 will start to look beyond covid-19: to the launch of an asteroid-smashing space probe, the next step in the fight against climate change and China’s supremacy at the box office.” Here are five stories to watch out for:  00:39 – Democracy under threat 04:17 – The electric revolution revs up 06:55 – A chance to turn a corner on climate change 10:39– China v Hollywood: battle of the box offices 14:40 – Defending the planet

Ericsson: Hot Consumer Trends 2030

“Welcome to the internet of the senses …”

“You are sitting in your kitchen. As you think about having an Arabian Nights dinner party, the room starts to change. Arabic music plays softly, the plain kitchen tiles take on bright patterns and the smell of fragrant lamb stew hits your nostrils. You turn your gaze to the table, which is now covered with a rustic woven cotton cloth, flowers, lit candles and exotically decorated plates which you touch and rearrange.”

“The age of connected intelligent machines is built on ten different roles that consumers expect connected intelligent machines to take in everyday life during the coming decade … a future world of Body bots, Guardian angels, Community bots, Sustainability bots, Home officers,  Explainers, Connectivity gofers, Baddie bots, Media creators, and Bossy bots … At Ericsson Research, our vision is that advances in AI and cellular communications will enable connected intelligent machines to securely communicate across the networks of tomorrow.”

Euromonitor: 10 Global Trends 2021

Euromonitor says resilience and adaptability are the driving forces behind the top global consumer trends in 2021. The pandemic created, influenced or accelerated each of these 10 trends, forever altering consumer behaviour. Despite the hardships faced in 2020, consumers have not given up. They continue to find their voice and push forward to advocate for a better tomorrow.

Consumers demand that companies care beyond revenue, and they no longer perceive businesses as profit-driven entities. Protecting the health and interest of society and the planet is the new expectation, following COVID-19, in order to Build Back Better.

Companies should help reshape the world in a more sustainable way, leading a shift from a volume- to a value-driven economy and turning the tide on social inequity and environmental damage.

“With consumers paying closer attention to companies’ actions during lockdowns, brand activism gained a new sense of social purpose. In 2020, 73% of professionals believed sustainability initiatives were considered critical to success. Businesses had to prioritise social action and help consumers achieve more sustainable lifestyles.

Chief executives openly communicated with compassion during the pandemic, taking the initiative to protect staff, customers and communities. COVID-19 has given businesses the chance to Build Back Better, develop emotional connections with consumers and stand up for the most vulnerable.”

Consumers expect brands to act with purpose beyond the pandemic, with some protective measures like more flexibility in the workplace perceived as the new normal. In August 2020, 14 senior executives from Danone, Philips, L’Oréal and Mastercard, amongst others, formed a for-benefit organisation called Leaders on Purpose. These companies signed an open letter proposing an economic roadmap to Build Back Better.

Fjord: Trends 2021

Fjord, now part of Accenture, is always a great read to make sense of changing consumers. “There has never been a more dramatic global backdrop for trends like now. When we predicted a major realignment of the fundamentals around new definitions of value as our meta-trend for 2020, the world already felt like it was at a tipping point. The events of 2020 have only accelerated the realignment we envisaged. It shed more light on the fact we still live with systems that are sometimes broken and often unequal—and consequently unfit for the challenges of the 21st century.” Key insights on which the trends are based are:

  • Consumers have a new definition of value
  • Business systems are unfit for 21st century
  • Mapping our new unexplored territories

And includes some fascinating stats

  • 64% of leading consumer brands are inspired to invest in AR, VR, 3D content and 360-degree video.
  • 80% increase in “DIY” searches on Google since March 2020.
  • 50% more businesses were created in June 2020 compared with the same month in 2019.
  • $31m raised by Mmhmm, the next generation of videoconferencing, pre-launch.
  • 80% of the 1.1 million workers who dropped out of the US workforce in September were women.
  • 75% of US customers tried different 75% stores, websites or brands during the pandemic.
  • 60% of those expect to integrate new brands or stores into their post-pandemic lives.

Forrester: Predictions 2021

“2021 will mark a turning point. The business landscape has fundamentally shifted. Success will depend on firms’ ability and willingness to harness disruption to drive meaningful change.”

Themes include

  • Consumers compelled toward escapism
  • CMOs reinvent themselves and their teams
  • CX leaders renovate, not just decorate
  • CIOs lead the bold disruptors
  • Covid-19 changes leadership and hiring practices forever
  • With more employee data comes opportunity, but also legal risk
  • Remote work drives uptick in insider threats
  • Workplace automation and AI are here to stay
  • Digital pathways bring B2B marketers closer to buyers
  • B2B sellers deepen buyer relationships with help from AI
  • Cloud takes center stage in pandemic recovery
  • Edge is the new cloud

The Future Laboratory: Future Forecasts 2021

“As we enter 2021, the global pandemic, climate change, politics and social movements will continue to force us to re-imagine the fabric of our societies, relationships and economies. Yet, a new collective determination and energy is emerging, one that will shape a more respectful, ethical and equal future for all.” They explore 10 sectors:
  • Beauty: recuperative living, improving people’s moods, as well as feeding into their individual identities, beliefs and values. From Ancestral Beauty that celebrates indigenous ingredients to sustainable Nature+ Beauty formulas emerging from the field of biotechnology.
  • Health: home repositioned as a wellness sanctuary, using tech to soothe anxious consumers, alongside Decentralised Care platforms that take a community approach to wellbeing. Also Urban Wellness Futures are coming to the fore, as city planners and developers zero in on inter-pandemic civic health.
  • Drink: drinks packaging, sustainability and surprising flavour combinations will advance. Material innovation will inspire premium brands to experiment with Future-proof Packaging, while brands as far afield as Australia and Mexico are toying with ingredients and provenance to produce Border-defying Spirits.
  • Food: Community mindsets will shape food supply chains, dining experiences and product innovation this year, as the industry finds its footing amid Covid-19. Urban Farm Futures will come to the fore, giving access to fresh fruit and vegetables no matter what the sociopolitical climate.  Augmented Restaurants, and new food delivery concepts.
  • Travel: The year ahead will reveal new directions in travel that rely on people’s desire for escapism through more immersive and sensory-stimulating moments. Neighbourhood Tourism in lieu of international travellers, while rooms and hotel services will be repurposed to support people adjusting to our new normal.
  • Luxury: A more considered luxury attitude will emerge, bringing new directions for retail, property and brand communications. Resilient Residences with homes centred on safety and wellbeing. Online, Luxtainment sees brands play with new paths to purchase. Heritage will also be challenged, through the lens of diversity and inclusion.
  • Fashion: rethinking supply chains to produce Agile Artisans – more connected and nimble creators from around the world; Deadstock Designers seeking to produce less waste through the repurposing of old stock and scrap fabrics;  Consumers, becoming more sustainable and ethical while enjoying a renaissance of craft and hobbies.
  • Retail: shoppers’ decisions and even their navigation will be shaped by brands’ use of Consumer Surveillance, while other retailers will embrace Augmented Retail using filters, QR codes and interactive packaging to elevate store experiences. Brands assessing their operations will ensure they are working towards key eco-goals.
  • Media: consumers will address how technology affects online lives, and future existence. Attention will turn to Low-impact Interfaces, as netizens tackle their digital carbon footprints and designers develop stripped-back UI and UX. Around the world, technology brands will invest in Research Cities,  living R&D laboratories.
  • Youth: shaped by the global pandemic and political turmoil, they are acting with agency and (un)learning behaviours in new ways. Gen Z are using digital spaces to tune into Activism Gaming to express their social, ethical and political values. Gen Alpha are getting to grips with Edu-play-tion, using analogue tools to learn and explore away from screens.

Future Today Institute: 2020 Signals

  • Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their development of the CRISPR-Cas9 genetic engineering technology, which has revolutionized biomedicine.
  • The DeepMind team (parent company is Google) solved a complex problem in biology. Its system, AlphaFold, solved the infamous “protein folding problem,” a breakthrough that will help other researchers understand disease, develop new medicines and create new biotech tools.
  • Expanded Amazon Care, its telemedicine unit, to a broad range of employees and started pitching the service to outside employers, which could start to upend the current provider/ insurer market.
  • Uber couldn’t make its own self-driving business work. So it invested $400 million in Aurora and handed the division over to it, and will license whatever technology Aurora is able to make.
  • Neuralink demonstrated a prototype of its BMI that works in pigs. Ex-employees worry the timelines are rushed.
  • TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, had 850 million MAUs in 2020. It should reach >1 billion MAUs sometime next year. TikTok is now #2 for global user spend (as of Q3 2020).
  • The Arctic’s ozone hole closed.
  • Bitcoin hit $21,000 on Dec. 16, a nearly 200% increase year-over-year. Bitcoin previously hit a high value of $19,873 in 2017.
  • Companies like Microsoft, AT&T, and Twitch have adopted bitcoin as a form of payment. PayPalannounced in October that it had launched a new service for users to buy, hold and sell cryptocurrency on the platform.

IFTF: After the Pandemic

The Institute for the Future is one of the most thoughtful platforms for big thinking. In many ways it’s not what happens next, but what happens after next … “In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we scramble to understand how the decade will unfold. We turn first to a tried-and-true futures methodology: alternative futures scenarios. We try to imagine a decade of growth or constraints. Of collapse. Or perhaps transformation. We start with four alternative scenarios—four very different visions of how the future might unfold in the wake of the crisis. Economic growth. Health constraints. Political collapse. Social transformation.”

Ipsos: Consumers after the pandemic

Around the world, people yearn for significant change rather than a return to a “pre-COVID normal” … The survey of more than 21,000 adults from 27 countries finds that 72% would prefer their life to change significantly rather than go back to how it was before the COVID-19 crisis started. Further, 86% would prefer to see the world change significantly – and become more sustainable and equitable – rather than revert to the status quo ante. Ipsos also reflected on 2020, A Disrupted Year in Perspective

Gartner: Technology trends for 2021

Tech is not really the trend, but the enabler of trends. I think Gartner gets this (check out its regular hype cycles!), although lots of people are still obsessed by the tech more than the application … “Distributed cloud, AI engineering, cybersecurity mesh and composable business will drive some of the top trends for 2021.”  The Internet of Behaviours (IoB) is one of Gartner’s nine strategic technology trends that will enable the plasticity or flexibility that resilient businesses require in the significant upheaval driven by Covid-19 and the current economic state of the world.

Goldman Sachs: Economic Outlook

“With the US election largely settled, Goldman Sachs Research has updated its economic outlook for 2021. Watch to see why we expect above-consensus growth in most major countries in 2021.”

Marian Salzman: Zoomsday Predictions

Salzman is one of a number of futurists, some prone to getting a little too surreal, but at the same time, without the hidden agendas to sell consulting projects or IT implementations, like many of the report publishers. She certainly has the best report name – Zoomsday. I love the idea of Zooming in and Zooming out (see my TED Talk video from a few years ago!). Salzman calls her trade “future sighting”. And starts “Just as the wearing of face masks in public became common in some East Asian countries post-SARS, the practice will linger in parts of the world post-COVID-19. Now that we have come to regard public transit and crowded stores as petri dishes for all sorts of disease, it will be hard for some of us to return to our old, unprotected ways.”

McKinsey: The Next Normal Arrives

“2021 will be the year of transition. Barring any unexpected catastrophes, individuals, businesses, and society can start to look forward to shaping their futures rather than just grinding through the present.”  They focus on 4 upbeat themes

  • The return of confidence unleashes a consumer rebound
  • Leisure travel bounces back but business travel lags
  • The crisis sparks a wave of innovation and launches a generation of entrepreneurs
  • Digitally enabled productivity gains accelerate the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Mintel: Consumer Reports 2021

Surprisingly Mintel, which I always regarded as one of the world’s leading consumer research platforms, struggles to tell a big picture story. Maybe that’s because there is no big picture, but instead a fractured and polarised, complex and confused, world? Consumers are much more individual, categories much more different, geographies much more distinct. Stereotypes and generalisations just don’t work?

New Consumer: Consumer Trends 2021

“This was a year like none other. The Covid-19 pandemic flipped everything upside down, accelerating a bunch of trends and flattening others. You don’t need me to tell you that people bought a lot of toilet paper and pizza. But which of the 2020 consumer behaviors are going to stick?”

NTT: Future Disrupted Tech Trends

“The gravity of the Covid-19 pandemic and its widespread impact over the course of 2020 hasn’t been witnessed in most people’s lifetimes. But while for us, it’s an unprecedented situation, history tells us that it will spawn a transformation of society. NTT believe that technology will be the core enabler of this metamorphosis.”

Richard Watson: Post-Pandemic Scenarios

Famous for his future maps, Richard’s Now and Next blog is always a great read, including his Trends for 2021 which sound a little gloomy but real, and still areas of opportunity to support people:

  • Fatigue
  • Empathy
  • Purpose
  • In-person interactions
  • Disconnection
  • Localisation
  • Automation
  • Religion

He followed this up on a more positive with 10 reasons why things are better than many people think which builds on some of Hans Rosling’s great statistics and upbeat message, including:

  • Life expectancy: During the first industrial revolution, people in Europe generally died before they were 40 years old. Now the average is around 70 rising to 80+ in some nations.
  • Infant mortality: 100 years ago, childbirth was a hugely risky undertaking. Even 50 years ago, 2 in 3 parents had a child die before its 5th birthday.
  • Income inequality and poverty: There is still much work to be done here, however in 2000 the UN pledged to halve extreme poverty by 2015. The goal was achieved early, in 2010.
  • Democracy. There are challenges, not only in China and Russia, but in countries such as Hungary and Poland too. However around 50% of us now live in real democracies.
  • The world is a safer place. Over the last 100-years, it’s become 96% safer to travel in a car, 95% safer to go to work and it’s 89% less likely to be a victim of a natural disaster.

Richard is also a great exponent of scenario thinking, and with a great sense of humour too. In his blog he usefully describes the building blocks towards a scenario planning activity for your business. He also explores the influence of nature, society, politics, economics, culture, and technology in what he calls “The 12 Apostles of Change”:

  • Natural systems change (organic/disruptive)
  • Generational views toward the environment (organic/disruptive)
  • Social orientation (me vs. we)
  • Dynamics of community relationships (physical/virtual)
  • Growth of surveillance states (high/low)
  • Trust in politicians/experts/media/elections (high/low)
  • Focus on Economic Growth vs Social Wellbeing (high/low)
  • Dynamics of the economy (physical/virtual)
  • Social orientation (empathy v antipathy)
  • Consumerism (self-centred/convenience vs sustainable)
  • Impact of AI on the workplace (job substitution/job expansion)
  • Human longevity (organic/disruptive)

Take a few minutes to read his Now and Next blog including these recent articles


Ross Dawson: Accelerating past to future

“The crucible of 2020 has transformed us, not into a “post-pandemic” future, but one which has accelerated and amplified many existing trends of the pre-2020 world, flipping us into a new era for humanity which we will forever see as forged by the intense fire of 2020. The announcement of multiple COVID-19 vaccines has given hope to populations besieged by the virus, but coronavirus is highly unlikely to be fully vanquished for the foreseeable future, with delays in rollouts, many vaccine sceptics, and stiff containment measures in response to even limited outbreaks leading to an irregular rhythm in and out of lockdowns and optimism in cities and nations around the world.”

  • “Although it is impossible to predict when the next pandemic might occur, its occurrence is considered inevitable.” (Global Influenza Strategy 2019-2030, World Health Organisation)
  • 42% of Americans and 13% of Australians say they will NOT get a COVID-19 vaccine. (Gallup, October 2020; Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, November 2020)
  • U.S. plant-based sales are growing 14 times faster than total food sales. (Good Food Institute, September 2020)
  • 41% of Americans reported an adverse health mental condition related to COVID-19 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, June 2020)
  • 69% of U.S. manufacturing and industrial companies “are likely to bring manufacturing production and sourcing back to North America”.  (Thomas, August 2020)
  • In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, 32% of Americans gave directly and 48% gave indirectly by supporting local community. (Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Indiana University)
  • 87% of office workers want the ability to choose whether to work from home or office, and manage their hours, even when offices open up. (Cisco Workforce of the Future Survey, September 2020)
  • In December 2020 Greece established a digital nomad visa that seeks to attract remote workers by halving their income tax.
  • International travel revenue in 2020 will be $191 billion, less than a third of revenue in 2019, with the airline industry losing $118 billion this year. (IATA)
  • In 2020 three missions to Mars were launched: NASA’s Mars 2020, China National Space Administration’s Tianwen-1, and UAE’s Emirates Mars Mission, while Elon Musk’s SpaceX aims to send a Starship to Mars in 2024.
  • 45% of Americans would support a Universal Basic Income, including 69% of those under 30. (Pew Research Center)
  • Globally, High Net Worth Individuals plan to allocate 46% of their portfolio to sustainable investing by 2021. (CapGemini World Wealth Report 2020)

Trendhunter: Top 18 Trends

Jeremy Gutsche loves gadgets, so not quite trends – as in the pathways to the future – but more symbols of fringe, fun and futuristic behaviours which people love to marvel at. You’ll need to interpret the trends from the hype, including 20. Gen Z Creative – 0:10 19. Modern Beekeeping – 0:43 18. Model-Free Runway – 1:15 17. eSports Nutrition – 1:43 16, Dark Stores – 2:09 15. Smart Testing – 2:38 14. Skin Hunger – 3:02 13. Milkman Model- 3:30 12. Millennial Move – 4:02 11. Home Professional – 4:40 10. Bio Furnishings – 5:05 9. Un-Isolated Senior – 5:30 8. Post Hospitality – 6:00 7. Robot Retail – 6:25 6. Non-Binary Tech – 6:54 5. Black-Owned Support – 7:12 4. P2P Support – 7:36 3. Distance Design 8:06 2. Distance Design – 8:23 1. Environmental Community – 8:57

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