A Closer Look at KO Insights 2022 Technology & Cultural Trends

Nothing changes faster than the trends you haven’t been paying attention to. But in the past few years there’s been SO MUCH OTHER STUFF to pay attention to that you’d be forgiven for taking your eye off of the zeitgeist.

That’s fundamentally why I began sharing these trends. Over the years, our savviest clients have asked for insights presentations, wanting to know the patterns I was seeing emerge from my vantage point of working across a broad range of industries for a wide variety of clients.

They’re not just any trends, though. Since I founded KO Insights, our work has been committed to improving human experiences at scale, so we’re always keeping an eye on the horizon for emerging trends that relate to that mission.

In case you’re wondering about our methodology, I’ll sum it up. Our 2022 Technology and Cultural Trend Map — which we published last week, so if you missed that, you might want to go back and download a printable copy you can keep handy as a reference — is shaped in four ways:

  1. Through the topics that have bubbled up repeatedly in direct conversations with business leaders, civic leaders, and industry thought leaders
  2. Through noticing emergent patterns in news and industry chatter
  3. Through direct research into peer-reviewed studies
  4. Through observations and insights of my own. Which is, after all, what the name of the company promises. It’s what’s on the label.

What all of the resulting topics have in common is that they’re poised to impact human experience in the next few years, and offer considerations leaders should be weighing now. They also reflect the macro themes, such as the ways the current global climate crisis is reverberating through industries and across communities everywhere.

2022 KO Insights Cultural & Technology Trend Map (small format)

This week we’ll offer a brief look at each of the trends included in the map. In weeks to come we’ll unpack them further, but be sure to let us know if you’re particularly interested in one or the other; we’ll be happy to prioritize the order somewhat based on your feedback.

The 2022 trends are:

  • The Immersive Trends
    • Always-On Economies
    • Virtual Third Spaces & Emerging Subcultures
    • Intuitive Intelligence
    • Augmented Everyday Experiences
    • Biometric Face-Off
  • The Integrative Trends
    • Making Tech Safe for Humans
    • Value Disruption
    • Food Innovation
    • Adaptive Cities
    • The Economy is People
    • Work Rework
    • Truth & Trust in Doubt
  • The Innovative Trends
    • Education Everywhere
    • Covid-to-Climate Momentum Transfer
    • Overcoming Supply Chain Chaos with Sustainability
    • Navigating the Just Transition

You can read a little more about each one below.

The Immersive Trends

Always-On Economies

Virtual work, virtual learning, virtual retail, etc

The pandemic has thrust many of us deeper into the virtual versions of the activities that occupy our days, whether that’s work, school, socializing, gaming, or the miscellany of errands and tasks we fulfill online, like shopping, banking, and even medical care. Owing to on-demand content and services, distributed user bases, and algorithmic and machine-generated experiences, these spaces have become “always-on” economies, and they are becoming more and more the norm.

This trend introduces several unique experience considerations. For example, as we live more and more in virtual worlds, our “real life” physical environments must function as shared spaces as well — shared with those with whom we live or work or play, either virtually or physically. Another side effect of such immersive technology is that it will create a growing need to protect our personal information, and how we trade it for services and products.

Virtual Third Spaces & Emerging Subcultures

Metaverse, Web3

The first spaces people spent time in online were virtual chat rooms & services like AOL’s local chat rooms, which often served subcultures that had very little interest in ever meeting face-to-face. Imagine those spaces, but on a much larger scale, and integrated with our day-to-day lives and functions.

A sub-trend here is the need for a personal avatar in the virtual third spaces to represent you. I’ve written for years about our digital selves and how to think about what they represent, but the subject keeps getting more nuanced and interesting all the time.

How do you represent yourself to others? What are the rules & expectations that surround this? These are some of the experience considerations we’ll be weighing as we examine this trend. We already see many people making their avatars look like them or someone they admire, and at times dressing them in ways that are out of the ordinary, daring, or simply unattainable in the physical world.

Intuitive Intelligence

Machine learning into human emotional expression, nuance, abstraction

Researchers are trying to detect human sentiment with machine learning, and piece together nuance and abstraction in a variety of interesting ways. These include chatbots, but also machines that play games and learn to beat human players (and do so again and again).

The capacity to do tremendous good with this kind of technology is enormous. Therapy bots are a current example that can help people who need mental health support and feel less awkward — at least initially — chatting with a bot than seeking out a human therapist. But of course the potential is there as well for these to be deployed in ways that are creepy, invasive, authoritarian, and just otherwise harmful.

The experience considerations here are vast, and will play into everything from personal privacy to public policy. Among the concerns are the fear that machines will eliminate or threaten highly-skilled human jobs; another concern is whether machines can be truly impartial when making decisions on our behalf. We’ll be looking at all of it.

Augmented Everyday Experiences

AR brings integrative entertainment, just-in-time context

I’m on record all over the place saying that augmented reality is the emerging tech I’m most excited about due to its potential to offer just-in-time contextual relevance — which is a form of meaning. Any technology that can be used to offer more meaningful human experiences is one worth exploring.

Of course, to think about the experience design and strategy considerations of augmenting everyday experiences is a bit meta, but we thrive in the land of meta. So we’ll continue to explore the implications of this trend on both a societal and personal level. This technology has the capacity to enhance or amplify experiences without replacing them fully with virtualized equivalents. So the experience design considerations will focus on how to integrate technology in ways that support our lives, not compete with them or require their wholesale reinvention.

Biometric Face-Off

Facial recognition & other biometric tech meets deployment & caution

This is an area I’ve been quoted on extensively in the past few years. There’ve been some developments in the past year, and we’ve written about some of them here at the site. But there are many still-to-come instances of this technology being rolled out in new ways, so we’ll continue to investigate what it means for personal privacy and other implications.

A sub-trend here is how facial recognition will be used in real-time by police & government authorities during protests to catalog & identify people who take part. This is already happening in some places, but it’s very likely only the beginning of what’s to come.


The Integrative Trends

Making Tech Safe for Humans

Emerging tech meets ethics, human protections, etc

In the age of algorithmic decision-making, these are the questions that will arise more and more frequently: How do we know if a machine or artificially intelligent algorithm is making decisions for human beings that are fair, just, accurate, unbiased?

What is bias in data inputs used to train machines, etc. — and how can it vary by race, gender, political affiliation, geography?

Who’s accountable for errors made by machines?

There are many related questions, of course. But the point is that ethics and human protections must be integral features of emerging technologies. If not, humanity could pay an incredibly steep price for new technology before we over-correct to “fix” what we’ve allowed to scale.

Value Disruption

DeFi, NFTs, Bitcoin, mobile payments, cryptocurrency, blockchain

There are big social issues around the speed at which these technologies and platforms are developing. Will they be used for crime and corruption and just plain greed? Sure, but then so will other technologies that don’t rely on decentralization or blockchain’s distributed nature.

We’ve written a bit about this here, but the theme is: money is getting weirder. We’ll continue to explore the innovations and risks, and follow the policy experts on what sorts of regulations might need to be implemented to protect people and use technology in positive, productive ways.

The larger question I’m interested in looking at, though, is in the relationship between disruption — or creative destruction — and meaningful human value. And what new ways might emerge to move from disruption to value-driven innovation. Because the most important part of designing new technologies is ensuring that they can make life better for humans. That means that at some level they must benefit society and the planet at large, not simply advance for technology’s sake. If they don’t, they are not helping us solve the many problems of the present to get to the future we need.

Food Innovation

Combating losses of covid & insecurity with innovations, planet-centric diets

What does the future of our food look like?

Agricultural innovation will be focused on protecting crops to better feed more people. We know that climate change is impacting crop yields, and we urgently need approaches to overcome it. Will lab-grown meat solve our issues around waste production & energy usage? Seems like the questions are more complex than the answers so far.

But as someone who’s been vegetarian for 27 years and vegan for 24, I’m delighted to see an enormous push to make plant-based proteins seem more consumer friendly. I’m especially happy to see the trend toward lab-grown meat that doesn’t require the energy and environmental impact of cattle production. But overall the emphasis is less about plant-based and more about planet-based eating. It just so happens that for now, those two ideas are rather aligned. We’ll be watching this space with interest.

Adaptive Cities

Place-by-place experiments in resilience

The Adaptive City is the global trend of cities undertaking initiatives to better prepare themselves for uncertain futures, whether due to climate change or political volatility. This is as much about major cities developing climate resilience and mitigation strategies as it is about smaller-scale community planning, with a focus on flexibility and affordability in addition to resilience.

Among the tasks cities are taking up are improving infrastructure (laying additional infrastructure underground to make up for above-ground changes) and ensuring the availability of available housing. This is a big trend for the decade to come, and given our work with cities, we will be following it closely.

The Economy is People

Local, community, collectives, mutual aid

The idea that “the economy is people” was a theme in A Future So Bright, has been the subject of quite a few of my Twitter rants, and has shown up repeatedly in research-guided work around everything from the future of work to the future of energy:

Work Rework

Great Resignation, hybrid workplaces, evolving ideas of workplace, work, team

In the pre-2019 days, there was already considerable interest in what the future of work would look like. But in light of the pandemic’s impacts, in light of the shift to remote work and hybrid workplaces, in light of the Great Resignation, in light of the ongoing clamor to wrap our minds around the future of work — we’re still in the early days of this evolution.

Truth & Trust in Doubt

Geopolitical upheaval, misinfo/disinfo, etc

The past few years have seen a deluge of issues in the crisis around trust and truth: “fake news,” suspicions of media bias, the future of democracy in the age of algorithmically-boosted misinformation and propaganda.

We’ve written about this here and we’ll continue to examine these issues.

Personally, the more I think about it, the more I see that we’ll have to work toward truth and trust from the ground up — through education and changing our perspective on what it means to be well-informed. We need tech solutions to untangle tech problems like the amplification of misinformation, but we also need media literacy, citizen literacy, and engaging one another in civil discourse.


The Innovative Trends

The KO Insights working definition of innovative is “aligned with what is going to matter.”

Education Everywhere

Zoom classrooms, just-in-time learning, resolving inequity

The future of learning and education is evolving in a time when we’re grappling with ways to help people cope with change and remain flexible, so they can participate amid public health emergencies, so they can learn at their own pace, so they can compete. It’s easy to imagine a future of learning and education that is “just in time,” ad hoc, and scalable — so people can learn on their own timeline within the constraints of our lives. But these conditions aren’t available to everyone equally, and so the future of education must also grapple with inequity and access.

Covid-to-Climate Momentum Transfer

Hopeful strategic innovation

Of course we’re paying attention to climate momentum anyway, but the rapid technological advancements and digital transformation that have accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic offers incredible opportunity to harness that momentum towards climate mitigation. Observers across industries have noted the opportunity; now it’s just a matter of leaders making the decisions that will most effectively deliver on that promise.

Overcoming Supply Chain Chaos with Sustainability

Investing in greener fleets & fuel

Corporate social responsibility, supply chain management, ESG, ethical procurement — there is growing awareness of these topics as they relate to greener fleets, supply chain chaos, and how these will be addressed in the future.

This also relates to transportation innovation as a whole. Future transport is one of the largest sectors in our series. We’re watching the evolution of electric vehicles including trucks, transportation systems for coastal communities, and more. We’re even keeping our eyes on private spaceflight, although that’s not likely to be a trend we report on here very soon.

Navigating the Just Transition

The challenging move away from fossil fuels

As we undertake the process of moving away from fossil fuels, issues come up around fairness and justice for communities affected by changing policies and initiatives, like native people and people living in low-income neighborhoods in cities, which are often subject to the greatest climate impacts.

The future of work also ties into this topic––green jobs are growing, which is great, because we need solutions for job transitions. And while gender equity isn’t tied to climate per se, studies show the impact of climate change hitting women in developing countries hardest.

This also includes issues related to mobility justice — making sure communities have access to greener infrastructure.

But the scope of this trend actually goes farther and includes sub-topics like: collaborative movements, social impact startups, feminist economics, inclusive policy-making, radical social justice, upending power dynamics, systemic change, universal basic income, collaboration-driven initiatives, building from the ground up, and so on.


And that’s just barely scratching the surface on all of these trends. We plan to dive deeper into each of these topics in the weeks to come, but in the meantime I hope these summaries have given you food for thought in terms of how you might be thinking about your future strategy.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can answer any questions about how you might use these insights, or if you’d like to discuss booking a session to review them with your team.

I’ll leave you with just one last thought. Although it’s impossible to actually predict the future, one thing is easy to anticipate: the world will continue to need your bold and savvy leadership in the future. More than ever.

KO Insights 2022 Technology & Cultural Trend Map

When I launched this company in 2014, I chose the word “insights” with intention. I thought of it as my duty to my clients to be a keen observer of the world and to distill what I gleaned about what mattered — in other words, what is meaningful. As time has gone on and our work has developed, I have also found that paying attention to what matters also leads you to understand what is likely going to matter. For our clients, this means offering not just insight, but also strategic foresight.

That has meant honing the skill of following the trajectory of trends and casting them forward into the future to see what the likely significance is for clients.

So every new year since 2015 I have created a map, of sorts, plotting the trends I’m tracking related to the intersection of technology and humanity that seem most likely to shape the year or so ahead. In past years, I’ve only shared it with clients during consultations and keynotes. This year, in keeping with the expansive spirit of the trends themselves, I’m sharing it widely.

What are the overarching themes of 2022?

Throughout our work, there’s been a macro trend of expansion and connectedness. Those themes certainly surface in the global trends, too. And these actually complement one another, because as everything connects to everything else, everything also gets bigger and harder to make sense of. That trend helps explain the rise of certain populist themes in politics and media, as well: In times of complexity, simplicity feels like a luxury.

Overall, the recurring themes in the 2022 trends were:

  • an emphasis on human experience at scale
  • emphasis on experience innovation rather than digital transformation
  • questions of social justice and equity throughout
small image of the 2022 trend map
thumbnail image of the KO Insights 2022 Technology & Cultural Trend Map

Why do I call it a trend map?

It’s not describing a place, so why do I call this a “map”? Well, maps are a metaphor for guidance, for wayfinding in the world. One bit of wisdom about maps is that “the map is not the territory.” In other words, there is the whole of reality, and there is what you choose to represent. It’s a cousin of the idea Magritte was alluding to with his famous painting of a pipe and the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a pipe”). The map is not the territory, the painting is not the pipe, and trends are not the whole of reality. But this map is meant to be a starting reference and a useful provocation, and an essential way to view the territory that is the year — and years — ahead.

While you’re here, download a copy of the 2022 Trend Map

To help you plan your year with Strategic Optimism toward a brighter future, we’d love to offer you the KO Insights 2022 Technology & Cultural Trend Map as a letter-size PDF you can print out and pin up near your desk. Note that while we’ll ask for your email address, you can sign up for our mailing list during the process but you don’t have to if you don’t want to

We’ll be unpacking these trends one-by-one in blog posts and reports, and looking at the implications they have on future strategy in the weeks and months to come, in alignment with scheduled keynotes, upcoming episodes of The Tech Humanist Show, and programs we’re launching throughout the year. But if this raises questions right now in your leadership meetings, consider reaching out to schedule a strategy session.

In any case, I hope that even at a high level this map will help you consider what will need to happen to make your strategy more meaningful, more aligned, and more impactful in the year and years to come.

Here’s wishing you clarity and success.

Kate O signature

2020’s Trends as Insights into 2021 Possibilities

out with the old, in with the kind of new
Best wishes for a meaningful 2021 from KO Insights

Ah, 2021. The year we’ve been looking forward for the entire century that was 2020.

Rationally, we know the calendar year is an arbitrary convention, and that, compared with just a few days ago, nothing is fundamentally different about the laws of physics.

Yet after a year predominantly defined by a devastating global pandemic and its ravaging consequences, we intuitively recognize the opportunity for improvement that this year will bring. Between vaccinations, changes in leadership, and the business confidence gained from everyone starting to feel like they know what they’re doing again, 2021 could be a big year for recovery.

But what else can we expect from it?

While I am sometimes billed as a futurist, I do not typically traffic in predictions. My work, I feel, is to make sense of the trends I’ve observed, note the direction they seem to be taking us, and offer nuanced insights through my writing, speaking, and advising so that people can make strategic decisions with it.

Because of the many divergent patterns of 2020, 2021 is still a bit of a mystery. What the covid-19 pandemic laid bare, vaccines will hopefully begin to put right, but it will take time, it will require public confidence, and the “normal” we eventually return to will be markedly different in several ways.

Still, there are some emerging themes from 2020 that have already determined some of the key themes for 2021. I’ll review some of them below.

Accelerated Digital Transformation

I’ve read a range of speculations by many observers that the past year accelerated digital transformation by as much as six or seven years. If I look at my client company roadmaps, such as retailers, consumer products, and others who have had to overcome barriers to connection with customers and the marketplace as a whole, I would have to agree, at least in one part.

Digital transformation is about transforming business models and practices to align with data-centered commerce and optimization. Part of that is workplace transformation — readying the organization, infrastructure, etc to deal with remote, contract, robots, virtual, etc. We certainly saw that happen (see next section). Part is operational and supply chain transformation. We saw a lot of that, too. Another part, though, is job transformation — recognizing the evolution of roles and job scopes. I’m not sure we saw as much of that this past year, and the delay in facing those changes could mean greater displacement across human job roles.

Companies need to be thinking about re-skilling and up-skilling workers alongside their automation and digitization efforts. As I’ve written and said many times, we’re going to see companies thrive who have prioritized understanding how to lead combined teams of humans and machines. Where automation has been introduced, such as in call centers, human input often means nuanced decision making, contextual problem solving, and judgment calls that are essential to providing worthwhile customer experience. But all of this takes planning and investment.

Changes to the Workplace

A distinction I make in my work is between the future of work and the future of jobs, but increasingly, especially throughout the pandemic, I pointed out to my clients that it was worth thinking separately about the future of the workplace, as well.

There’s the workplace which is wherever you are working right now: at your home office, on your sofa, in bed — I’m not judging. And then there’s the workplace which is understood to be the center of the work, the headquarters, the office, the campus, what-have-you.

This latter workplace has a whole new set of features, related to its ability to provide for teams that need to be together, to keep people safe, to monitor their safety, to facilitate efficiency so that people may be able to show up for a meeting, get that meeting done, and leave — reducing their time of exposure to one another. 

Obviously covid-19 has forced some key changes around remote and distributed work, and many of those are permanent. So remote work will persist. But we will also want to go back to offices and physical workplaces occasionally, when it makes sense. The trick is going to be in figuring out when it makes sense.

But how will the change in our lives from coronavirus further affect how we work and what we can expect from our employers, our employees, and the workplace in general?

Thinking past this moment is critical for us to be able to begin building our businesses for the future we are now creating.

The coronavirus pandemic is a form of exponential change that has affected us all. But collectively we face several other kinds of exponential change: climate change, AI and other emerging technologies, and the fallout of geopolitical upheavals in combination with these things.

This year has also forced some existential discussions about what is “essential” work, and it isn’t necessarily the stuff that can be done remotely or in distributed teams. It isn’t necessarily knowledge work.

A lot of the functions that have been increasingly relegated to gig economy and sharing economy types of work, like delivery, are crucial when people need to maintain social distance. Whether you agree or disagree with California’s new gig economy law, the takeaway seems to be a trend toward fewer protections for this category of workers. We will have to think more holistically about the shifting ecosystem of services and protections to make the economy that’s emerging work for everyone.

Touchless/Contactless Solutions and Remote Services

Touchless goes beyond the pandemic — it’s about speed and efficiency, too.

And while these solutions distance us from each other, we need to recognize what is meaningful in these interactions. We are trading off human interaction, but investing in the ability to trust that we are safe.

Meanwhile it’s been interesting to observe the stock market’s reactions to big IPOs like DoorDash and AirBNB, but also the cycles of enthusiasm — and lack of enthusiasm — around quarantine experiences like Zoom, Peloton, etc.

The category of services that has enabled many people to work at home and work out at home isn’t going anywhere. In fact the sentiment toward them may even evolve from feeling like ‘prison’ accessories to feeling like tools of freedom once people have greater choice in whether to stay home or leave.

The Quest for the Virtual Third Place Goes On

Let’s face it: by April, we were all Zoom’ed out.

While Zoom and the other video call and virtual meeting platforms helped us do almost everything in 2020, we all got a little fatigued.

But because so many of us spent our work life and home life in the same physical space for much of this year, we are craving an opportunity to break free. And even if it has to happen in the same physical space, what people want is a third space, even virtually, that can make them feel they’ve escaped the confines of their rectangular boxes.

From concerts in Fortnite to Animal Crossing and Among Us, people tried a lot of different approaches to re-creating a third place. There were lots of effort to make virtual spaces more immersive, but they’re still not a full third place experience.

The value of immersive games like Animal Crossing and Among Us, for example, is that they simulate movement through space, and for people who are craving a release from the confines of their homes, that kinesthetic stimulation is huge.

Immersive virtual reality experiences are where most people are looking, but I tend to be more bullish about augmented reality than virtual reality. I still think AR is the most exciting tech field yet to be fully realized, and between Apple including LiDAR in its new devices and Google doubling down on AR mapping of places, I think and hope we’re on the cusp of a big wave there.

Take a look at this cool TikTok demo of what LiDAR can add to AR experiences:

Virtual Conferences/Events

We all know it isn’t ideal. But then again, since we’ve demonstrated that we can perform much of the functional requirements of a conference or event by having it online, we will continue to do so, even as conferences move back to physical venues.

As someone who makes the better part of my living from keynote speaking, the switch to all-virtual-all-the-time was a big adjustment, from a technology and equipment perspective, from a content perspective, from a presentation skills perspective, and yes, from a financial perspective. Event planners often weren’t confident they had the budget for “normal” keynote fees, because they weren’t confident attendees would pay or that sponsors would back them. But we dug in, found where we could solve problems and add value, and ended up having a pretty successful year, all things considered.

Certainly the value proposition is different with virtual-only events, or even with a virtual offering that complements an in-person event, as we’re about to see a lot of throughout the balance of 2021.

Still, at a fundamental level, the challenge is much the same as it is across industries this year: The overarching theme of 2020-2021 is “solve a problem of actual value.” Attendees need to know that this experience will be different from the hours they already spend on video calls. No one wants to pay a registration fee just to sit at their desk and be bored. And sponsors especially need to see ROI, which can be challenging in a virtual format — despite some of the more creative attempts I’ve seen to make virtual show floors and have sponsors available to book virtual demos with attendees. There needs to be a better way to involve attendees in reviewing the sponsorships and fostering sales opportunities when it makes sense.

Across the board, it’s going to take going back to that old chestnut: creativity. We need to rethink the value pipeline, and savvy sponsors will have already started. Whether that means creating a wrapper around the entire experience so that the ROI is less contingent on showroom demos or facilitating some sort of immersive content that speaks with targeted relevance to the attendees, the best results will come from good old fashioned marketing strategy and experience design.

Stories and Ephemeral Content

Last year we got “stories” on every platform. What does this trend towards ephemeral content mean? Philosophically perhaps it gives us a chance to think about what time means in the human experience. Meanwhile, strategically it means acknowledging the difference between content of durable substance and content that is of a shorter-term, more whimsical, more time-sensitive, promotional nature.

Trust, Truth, and What Happens Now

One of the projects I’ve been embarking on is a deep dive into the nature of trust and truth, how they relate to human experience, how they shape our relationship with technology, and what happens when truth is questioned and trust is eroded. In an era characterized by disagreement over basic facts, where algorithmically-optimized social media platforms show us the truths we most want to see, the roles of truth and trust in ethics, in systems design, and in human experience strategy are critically important for us to understand. 

I’ll leave this section brief because I’ll be writing much more on this topic very soon (watch this space) but in the meantime, it’s worth taking this question back to your own work and asking some probing questions about how these shifting dynamics affect your products, services, and interactions.

Commitment to Climate Mitigation Needed

The pandemic was the big story, but over and over we kept hearing how we had the opportunity to turn the momentum we gained from temporary carbon reductions during lockdown into real climate progress. But those reductions often reversed whenever restrictions were lifted, and a late 2020 UN report showed that the world is still heading for a temperature increase this century in excess of 3°C.

It’s clear that we need commitments from governments, industry, and all stakeholders to make substantial impacts while we can. Sustainability must become intrinsic to strategy, and operations must follow.

Social Justice and Reform

No review of 2020’s overarching themes would be complete without acknowledging the push for social justice, and how that showed up in efforts that brands and platforms made — whether that was to perform wokeness, or to strive for real relevance, to genuinely try to amplify BIPOC voices, and to begin to redress disparities in representation and leadership. The opportunity in 2021 will be to put real resources behind these efforts, because as I pointed out in “Tech Humanist“:

“Diversity of backgrounds on a team not only feels good and is the right direction to pursue, but it leads to significant improvements to the bottom line. Diverse firms have been shown to be more innovative, with more diverse companies 45 percent more likely to enjoy growth in market share and 70 percent more likely to break into new markets. A 2009 study also showed that companies with more racial diversity had fifteen times more sales revenue than those with low racial diversity.

— Tech Humanist: How You Can Make Technology Better for Business and Better for Humans
by Kate O’Neill
https://a.co/4slIpoC

There’s more, but let’s leave it there for now, because that’s a lot.

We’re at a critical moment for action across much of our existence. In the Sustainable Development Goals framework established by the United Nations, we are now in the “decade of action.” In the year and years ahead, it’s critical that we make progress on climate mitigation, AI ethics, a plan for human workers displaced by automation, and much more — not to mention, of course, overcoming the current pandemic and preparing for one in the future. It’s going to take big-picture thinking that centers humanity. It’s going to take a strategic sort of optimism. For businesses, the right investments in human-centric digital transformation will pay dividends. For cities, the right investments in meaningful human experiences will be worthwhile. For all of us, it’s an opportunity to focus on what matters, and what is going to matter.

We’ll be right here. Let us know how we can help.

Here’s wishing you all the best for 2021 and beyond.

Goodbye to 2019, hello to our uncertain future

Our emerging tech panel at UN COP25 in Madrid

This time of year is my absolute favorite because for me it’s so much about relaxed reflection and setting intentions for the year — or even the decade! — ahead. And this year, with Christmas and New Years Day falling mid-week, all normal work schedules seem disrupted, creating extra space throughout these final weeks and over the weekend between them to reflect and plan.

It’s also a good time to think about the future in general.

One of the characteristics about the way we tend to think about the future now, though, is with more uncertainty than ever.

Yet as I wrote in Tech Humanist:

Here’s what I want to offer you: To me, the idea that the future is never fixed or certain is actually encouraging. Truly, it fills me with hope. I think of the future largely as something we continuously alter, shape, or at least influence with what we do today.

That thought also fills me with a sense of duty because it means there are always many possible futures that depend on me and you and everyone else doing our parts in the whole. It means our everyday actions have more power to shape outcomes than we are often comfortable admitting.

from Tech Humanist: How You Can Make Technology Better for Business and Better for Humans

Planning your own future

My friend and one of the organizers of House of Beautiful Business, Tim Leberecht, has written a lovely guide to help us all do just that. His process will help you have a productive and insightful “time between the years,” as Tim calls it, and a brilliantly successful 2020:

>> How to Make the Most of the Time Between the Years
(written by Tim Leberecht for Psychology Today)

Some of the questions I like to ask myself and encourage my clients and audiences to ask are:

  • What kind of future do you personally want to have?
  • What kind of future do you want for everyone on the planet?
  • What are you working on building?
  • What are you trying to achieve at scale?

By the way, all of this reflection and planning pairs well with another piece about getting better at training your brain what to retain and what to let go of. Hint: it comes down to the discipline of spending time thinking about what you most want to be thinking about.

>> Your Brain Has A “Delete” Button–Here’s How To Use It
(by Judah Pollack and Olivia Fox Cabane for Fast Company)

What are some other questions that help you clarify your purpose? What are some other exercises you engage in to help you reflect and plan?

Goodbye to my wild 2019

For me, 2019 was a whirlwind of unprecedented life opportunities, but also a time for increasing clarity and commitment to what I see as my mission.

To recap: In January, just a few months after my book Tech Humanist came out, it was featured on the CES stage. The following week, I had a tweet go viral and a follow-up in WIRED that also went viral, and I appeared on just about every major news outlet from BBC to NPR to Marketplace to talk about facial recognition (and to pivot the conversation to the larger issue of how technology is changing our human experiences). The next week, I spoke at the United Nations about innovation and humanity.

Then in June, a few days after delivering a keynote on Tech Humanism at a conference in Mumbai, India, I guest lectured at the University of Cambridge. Yes, the same one Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, and Stephen Hawking are all associated with. That University of Cambridge. I know, I couldn’t believe it either.

In the second half of the year I keynoted Etsy‘s Engineering Day in Brooklyn, a Google team offsite in Lake Tahoe, the P2P Transformation Summit in London, DevLearn in Las Vegas, UX Australia in Sydney, the Boston CIO Summit, and presented versions of my Tech Humanist talk at INBOUND, Content Marketing World, the Inc. CEO Summit, Mind the Product in London, House of Beautiful Business in Lisbon, and more.

Our emerging tech panel at UN COP25 in Madrid
Our emerging tech panel at UN COP25 in Madrid

Finally in December, after speaking once again at the United Nations headquarters, this time on AI and youth skills, I closed out my work year at the UN COP25 climate change conference in Madrid where I led a panel on the final day about the challenges and opportunities of leveraging emerging technologies to fight climate change.

Oh, and over the course of the year I added representation from Washington Speakers Bureau and Leading Authorities speakers bureau. That’s exciting personally and professionally but in addition it should help make bookings easier for many large company clients, which means there may be even more of those audiences in 2020 and beyond.

I’m telling you this to say: I think all of this activity proves there’s hope. I think my year has been wild because a lot of people see the potential for technology to diminish the humanity in the world, and a lot of people want to see to it that that doesn’t happen. If my experience this year indicates anything, I think it’s that people are determined to make the best of our tech-driven future

So what’s in store for all of us for 2020?

You’ll see many articles with predictions for 2020, and some will be more outlandish than others. I’m including just a few here that will likely affect you and your business more than others:

Expect to see more facial recognition in use everywhere and to hear more debate about it. Governments, law enforcement agencies, and high-traffic facilities like airports see tremendous opportunities and conveniences in deploying this technology, while civil liberties advocates see many privacy risks and challenges. Personally, I’m on Team Ban Facial Recognition Until We Have Better Protections In Place, but I’ll continue to follow all the developments and report on them (as I did in WIRED earlier this year).

Expect to have to grapple with privacy debates inside and outside your organization. The major push for companies to meet GDPR compliance in time for the May 2018 enforcement deadline is only the beginning of such regulatory efforts; the CCPA is due to be fully enforced as of January 1, 2020, and you can bet more regulations will be coming as time goes on. Your best bet to dealing with these is to get ahead of them: enact human-friendly data collection and usage practices such as not collecting more data than you need or than is relevant to the context of the interaction. (I spoke about this topic extensively at House of Beautiful Business in Lisbon, as well as at many other events throughout the year.)

The push for digital transformation isn’t over yet (no matter how tired of hearing about it you may be). Most companies, organizations, and cities are very much just catching up, still sorting out how, for example, the data from their front-end services can inform back-end operations and vice versa. Meanwhile, upstart data-rich apps and services are still disrupting industry after industry, so we’ll still be talking about that for a while. (This was the focus of many of my keynotes to executive audiences, such as the Boston CIO Summit, and more.)

You may also be tired of hearing about AI, but we’ve only scratched the surface of that conversation. While some folks debate the semantics of whether simple machine learning processes really constitute “artificial intelligence,” the advancements within that space progress daily, with both challenges and opportunities aplenty. (Part of my focus throughout 2019 and into 2020 has been on how machine learning and automated intelligence can help with addressing climate change. Stay tuned for more on that.)

Speaking of which, perhaps the biggest and most urgent trend of all will be facing the scale and scope of climate change, and using whatever technologies and tools we can to remediate against its effects.

Looking into the future for me and for us all

Above all, what is ahead in our future is increasing interconnectedness of our experiences. It’s the perfect time to adopt the mindset that in many respects what I do does affect you just as what you do affects me, and that we’re in this together. We need to accept our futures as wholly connected: connected through data, connected to each other, connected to the planet, connected to our collective destinies.

That connectedness shows in the work I’m lined up to do. To prepare for the bookings I have for 2020 so far, for example, I will be examining more deeply the future of jobs and work, the future of privacy, the future of trust, the future of the climate, and more. All of these topics have a through-line: the future of human experiences will depend heavily on our wise use of technology, collectively and individually.

Speaking of my bookings in 2020, I have talks booked throughout the U.S. — and in Budapest for the first time! If you happen to be able to attend any of these events, be sure to come up and say hi — I’d love to see you. And of course you can always book me to speak at your company or event.

And! I’ve begun to work on my next book. More on that to come, but you can be sure it will follow along these themes.

But for now the big question is:

What will you do with the future for you and for us all?

Here’s hoping you find the quiet reflection you need in these last days of 2019 to set the kinds of intentions that will guide you to achieve what you most want to achieve, for your own good and for the good of humanity.


If this theme resonates with the conversations your company, organization, or city has been having and you’d like to hire me as a keynote speaker at an event in 2020, please do reach out. Here’s to a meaningful year for us all. 

Preparing for the Next 10+ Years: Data After the #10YearChallenge Data Sharing Discussion

I’ve been fortunate enough to make my living writing, speaking, and advising about the impact of technology on humanity for quite a few years now. Most commonly, though, my audiences tend to be business leaders, and what I write and speak and advise about most often is how they can adopt a digital transformation strategy that helps the company succeed while keeping the human in focus and respecting human data.

So the massive mainstream media reaction to my viral #10YearChallenge tweet and subsequent piece in WIRED was in some ways a switch in perspective: from talking to businesses about human data, to talking to humans about business use of their data. And it gave me the chance to address a far more universal audience than usual — on BBC World News, Marketplace, and NPR Weekend Edition, among many other outlets — in a cultural moment so widely discussed, it was referenced in the top article on the Reddit homepage and mentioned on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. My goal through it all was to spark greater awareness about how much data we share without realizing it, and how we can manage our data wisely. Just as the goal of my work is to help amplify the meaning in the experiences businesses create for the humans they do business with, my hope in connecting with a mainstream audience was to encourage people to participate in experiences meaningfully and mindfully. People all over the world gave me an overwhelming amount of feedback: some worried, some praising, some critical. I listened as openly as I could to everything I could.

With all that listening, I know that some common questions remain. I see many of the same recurring themes in comments on Twitter and elsewhere. So I’m using this opportunity here, at home on my own company’s site without the time limits and fleeting news cycles of a major news channel, to address a few of them, and I hope they will, in their own small way, be part of the conversation we carry forward.

Let’s get this one out of the way first, since it’s been the biggest misunderstanding throughout this whole deal:

“Facebook says they didn’t have any part in the meme. Didn’t you say they designed the whole #10YearChallenge meme to gather user data to train their facial recognition algorithm?”

It’s funny: I didn’t say Facebook did it, and quite frankly, it wouldn’t matter. I was musing on the fact that the meme was creating a rich data set, and pondering aloud what that data set could theoretically be used for. In any case, it was a thought experiment, not an accusation. In my WIRED article I expanded on the thought experiment and did not accuse Facebook of having engineered it. In fact, more importantly, as I wrote there:

The broader message, removed from the specifics of any one meme or even any one social platform, is that humans are the richest data sources for most of the technology emerging in the world. We should know this, and proceed with due diligence and sophistication.

— excerpt from my article in WIRED

That said, though, I wouldn’t have made any definitive statements from the beginning claiming that Facebook didn’t or wouldn’t have done something like this. I’m sure there are plenty of well-meaning people in the company’s leadership, but between psychological experiments, Cambridge Analytica, and various leaks and breaches, there have been too many missteps, lapses, and outright errors in judgment on Facebook’s part for them to be above suspicion when it comes to violations of data security and trust.

Nonetheless, although it was a very common misconception, I genuinely don’t suspect that the meme began with Facebook — and I don’t believe that matters. What matters is that we use these discussions to deepen our thinking about personal data, privacy, and trust.

“How can people who’ve taken your message to heart and now recognize the importance of this topic learn to manage their data more wisely?”

If you think of your data as money, you may have a better instinct for why you need to manage it well, and take care not to spend it loosely or foolishly. I’m not a fan of the idea of data as currency (partly because I think the human experience is more dimensional than a monetary metaphor conveys), but just this once I think it may be a helpful comparison. And as long as you know you’re safe, not getting lied to or ripped off, this “data is money” comparison may help illustrate why it can be worth it to spend it on experiences that matter to you.

In terms of actionable steps, here are a few helpful resources:

Personally, one easy step I take is to use the On This Day feature on Facebook to go through my posting archive day by day. I may change the permissions on old content, or delete a post completely if it seems like it no longer serves me or anyone else to have it out there.

I also have recurring reminders on my calendar to do reviews and audits of my online presence. I do what I call a weekly glance, a quarterly review, and an annual audit. For the weekly session, you can assign yourself one platform each week, and review your security settings and old content to make sure there isn’t anything out there that you no longer want to share. The quarterly review and annual audit may entail different activities for you, but for me they also involve updating old bios and links in various places, so it becomes a strategic review as well as a security check.

“What about Apple Pay and unlocking your phone with your face, or accessing your bank account with your face? Or paying for your meal with your face? What about other biometric data like fingerprints?”

All of this is relevant, and I’ll unpack some of these issues more in future articles. The short answer, though, is that with some of these uses, such as Apple Pay, you take an educated guess that the company collecting your data will safeguard it, because the company bears some risk if they screw up. But not all data sharing carries proportional risk on both sides, so think critically before using these services.

At least for now, pay for your fried chicken with cash, not your face.

“What about 23andme and other DNA/genetic data issues?”

That’s a whole other article. (I will say I personally haven’t done a commercial DNA test because bad outcomes always seemed possible.) The topic does relate to the rest of this, and it does matter that we’re 1) cautious of using commercial services like this, and that 2) we hold companies accountable to adhere to the uses we agreed to, and not to overstep what we understood to be our contract.

“What about data tracking in smart home systems?”

The standards and precedents are not yet well defined for the use and protections on data collected by smart home devices like smart speakers listening passively for a command. The safest thing to do is hold off on using them, and the second-safest thing is to turn them off when not in use.

While I did address some of the issues and opportunities with smart home automation and devices in Tech Humanist, this is again a topic I’ll dig into more in future articles.

“What about regulations on data? What about regulations on facial recognition, or on AI in general?”

The vast amount of personal data transmitted and collected by business, government, and institutional entities is what powers algorithmic decision making, from ecommerce recommendations to law enforcement. And this vast data and broad algorithmic decision-making is also where machine learning and artificial intelligence takes root. Artificial intelligence, broadly, has the chance to improve human life in many ways. It could help address problems associated with world poverty and hunger; it could improve global transportation logistics in ways that reduce emissions and improve the environment; it could help detect disease and extend healthy human life.

But machines are only as good as the human values encoded into them. And where values aren’t clear or aren’t in alignment with the best and safest outcomes for humanity, regulations can be helpful.

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, that went fully into place in May 2018 is for now the most comprehensive set of regulatory guidelines protecting individuals’ data. And American tech companies have to play by these rules: just this week, Google got hit with a 50 million euro fine for violating the term that requires companies to produce clear disclosure on the data they collect from consumers.

Meanwhile, for many Americans it’s tough to imagine what entity in the United States would be responsible for enforcing any set of regulations pertaining to data and AI.

In the meantime, just as with climate change, we need efforts on the macro and micro scale: the experts tell us that for any kind of real reduction in impact on the environment we need big movement from commercial and industrial entities which produce the lion’s share of emissions, but that doesn’t mean that, say, you shouldn’t put your soda bottle in the recycling bin, not the trash. We’re learning more and more how important it is for us to be mindful of our ecological footprint; we also need to learn how to be mindful of our digital footprint.

“Should I turn off facial recognition image tagging in Facebook?”

I would advise doing so, yes.

the Facebook settings screen where you can disable automatic face recognition

“Are you saying I can’t have any fun online?”

Oh, heck no. By all means, I am very pro-fun. Even when it comes to digital interactions.

It’s easier to have fun when you know you’re reasonably safe, though, right? The biggest takeaway from this discussion about the possible side effects of the #10YearChallenge should be to remember that when any meme or game is encouraging you — and large groups of other people — to share specific information about yourself, it’s worth pausing before you participate. It’s relevant to wonder who might be collecting the data, but it’s far more important to think what the collected data can do.

But share the meaningful parts of your life online with friends and family, and enjoy being able to follow their updates about the meaningful parts of their lives. That has certainly been the most wonderful benefit of social media.

Not only am I pro-fun, I am also very pro-technology. I love tech, and I genuinely think emerging technologies like AI, automation, and the Internet of Things — all largely driven by human data — have the chance to make our lives better. (As I wrote in Tech Humanist, I believe we have the chance to create the best futures for the most people.) But to achieve that, we need to be very mindful about how they can make our lives worse, and put measures in place — in our government, in our businesses, and in our own behavior — to help ensure the best outcomes.

Trends and Insights for 2015 and “Minimum Viable Opportunities”

By now it seems everyone and their dog has shared their predictions and observations about the the trends of 2015, so it may seem I’m a little late to the party. But I was holding off because I knew I was scheduled to present on the topic 13 days into the year. That happened yesterday — I was the keynote speaker at the Franchise Business Network annual kickoff meeting — so I can break my silence, such as it is. Anyway, I spoke about the major trends affecting business that I see taking shape, particularly around data and technology, heading into 2015. And today, before we get any further into the year, I thought I’d share some of what I presented last night with readers here.

slide from 2015 Trends talk
slide from 2015 Trends talk – meaningful patterns

Bear in mind that this audience was primarily franchisers and franchisees, along with service providers to those businesses, and with a healthy sprinkling of high-potential startup founders in the mix. So I introduced the subject by talking about relevance and meaningfulness, and that I had tried to narrow the scope of the talk to those emerging topics that seemed like they could have the most meaningful impact on their businesses this year. I talked about six major trends:

  • Right-sizing big data
  • Ongoing channel shakeup
  • Rental crowding out the ownership model
  • Deeper and blurrier integrations of the ideas of “online” and “offline”
  • Disruption of payments: mobile payments, crypocurrency
  • Evolving ideas of “work,” “team,” and “leader”

I went into more detail for each trend, of course, but more importantly, I tried to summarize each trend with a “minimum viable opportunity,” repurposing the idea from the “minimum viable product” in the Lean Startup methodology. In case you’re not familiar with the notion of an “MVP,” as it’s called, a minimum viable product is a scaled-down first-stage version of your offering that you can produce with minimal resources to validate the overall direction and gain initial customers. My repurposing of the idea is to suggest that for each of these trends, there could be a scaled-down first-stage approach smaller businesses can take to implement them so that they can determine the trend’s potential impact on their business.

For “right-sizing big data,” for example, I said that although big data is not a new concept, it’s something there’s a growing awareness of, and its ongoing and increasing impact on business can’t be overstated. But I suggested that small businesses and startups can sometimes get bigger impact from being strategic with smaller data. So the minimum viable opportunity, perhaps, is to work on building processes that use the customer and marketing data already present in a business effectively before trying to tackle large-scale data mining or analysis projects. As small and growing businesses become more sophisticated about making data-informed decisions, they can potentially tackle more complex data sets to inform those decisions with a greater likelihood of effectiveness.

For “ongoing channel shakeup,” after covering some of the changes in the digital marketing landscape brought on by new advertising opportunities, algorithm changes, and so on, I talked about the opportunity, as I often do, for marketing to start from empathy and an understanding of customers’ motivations in a segmented and meaningful way so that they can craft relevant messages and experiences and test them in relevant channels. It’s increasingly an experience-aware world.

I won’t rehash the entire talk here (although if you’d like to have me come present to your company or organization, please reach out) — I’ll just offer that when you go back and skim the lists and roundups of 2015 trends, you might want to borrow this idea of the “minimum viable opportunity” for your business. What small change could you experiment with that might help shine light on where your next investments need to be? Bring in me or another strategic facilitator if you have to; we can help guide the brainstorming and identification of opportunities. However you approach it, I hope you do it with an intention to learn. Good luck, and may 2015 be full of maximum opportunities for you. Cheers!