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

The KO Insights Brighter Future Series: The Brighter Future of Education

header - brighter future education

In A Future So Bright, I wrote about the opportunity for a brighter future for education. It’s critical to ensuring we meet United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

These insights arise from my work with a wide variety of stakeholders in education at all levels, since I’ve been working with and speaking for clients like UPCEA (University Professional and Continuing Education Association), IECA (Independent Educational Consultants Association), and a whole host of other educational organizations and associations this past year, and have several more educational entities slated for next year. Amidst the backdrop of the pandemic — what it introduced in terms of disruption to education in particular and the learning loss it brought on — it seems more important than ever to dig into this as a part of our commitment at KO Insights to improving human experience at scale.

But we also cannot talk about the future of education without talking about the future of work, because intelligent automation and other market forces will continue to increase demand for reskilling and upskilling of people in many job roles, including professionals like law researchers, journalists, and more. Even exploring this topic against the backdrop of the Great Resignation, we must keep a long-range view on the trends shaping jobs and work. And we cannot talk about the future of work without talking about the future of money, because we need to understand what the future of value might look like, and the opportunities for unlinking survival from jobs, and decentralizing value.

In addition, the key points when it comes to education overall are:

  1. Invest in educating girls worldwide
  2. Actively work to remove racism from education
  3. Re-imagine the delivery methods to redress education loss from COVID-19
  4. Keep trying to improve the learning opportunity with technology
  5. Develop more adaptive curricula
  6. Teach critical media literacy and digital literacy
  7. Teach young people the human skills they need for the future workplace

In short:
We must create a technology policy of education for all.

Even though we may not be able to see the fullness of the emerging frontier for learning and teaching opportunities, it is vital that we dream and think big of what might be possible in the future when access to information is so readily available. It’s important for us to continue our commitment to building knowledge economies by supporting policies of education for all, research and development of tools to improve learning, continuing to curate our data infrastructure, and taking action against the climate crisis.

We need to continue our work in designing and using technology learning tools that incorporate the latest research about how learners learn best, and be committed to helping our next generations fully realize their potential.

Preparing Young People for a Shifting Landscape

As we look at the future of education itself, it is also important that educators continue their commitment to nudging young people’s mindsets towards an adaptable, entrepreneurial, evolving mindset.

We must reclaim education as an opportunity for empowerment, rather than rote learning of information disconnected from its application, and systems of testing that disproportionately disadvantage students with atypical learning needs.

We must be committed to exploring new methods for learning that incorporate principles from other disciplines such as improvisation, empathy, and connection-building to provide foundational skills that will continue to serve us well in the future.

We need to not only teach students how to code, but also about computational thinking and systems design, because the future will likely revolve around technology, and we need everyone to be able to contribute to it.

We must champion teaching young people to be critical thinkers by helping them to digest information from multiple angles. This includes both media literacy and digital literacy.

We need to create opportunities right now for students to learn these skills by having access to mentors in their local community who can help guide them through projects that will teach them problem-solving, creative thinking or how to work together in teams.

We need to start teaching young people the human skills they need for future workplaces now by encouraging them to develop principles of active listening and empathy.

Commitment to Lifelong Learning

All this demands a commitment to lifelong learning for teachers, administrators, librarians, and innovative thinkers in education. We must continue to build on the work being done so that all students have access to technology tools that will enhance their learning (including universal broadband), whether it’s through helping schools train teachers or providing opportunities for continuing education for today’s educators.

The skillsets our students develop through learning today will become the foundation of their lives in adulthood.

Maintaining Adult Adaptability

And speaking of learning into adulthood, we must start thinking now about ways we can maintain multiple career paths and the flexibility to adapt to new roles as an increasing number of job functions become automated.

Finally, we must not forget that the most powerful tool we have to prevent learning loss is an equitable education for all.

We must continue our commitment to building knowledge economies by supporting policies of education for all, research and development of tools to improve learning, continuing to curate our data infrastructure, and taking action against climate change.

As we do all this work, let’s not forget that education is a way to create opportunity and unlock potential for human beings to create a better world.

The weirding of the future of money

everyone’s favorite ‘stonks’ meme

You know things are weird in the financial world when there’s a stock for Pepe, when a joke Internet meme becomes a massive investment opportunity, and when billionaires use Twitter polls to determine if they’re going to sell millions of shares of stock in their companies (ok, only one billionaire is doing that so far). Oh, and of course, when teenagers are getting rich selling NFTs of pixel art for millions of dollars. As in, like, real money. Between NFTs, meme stocks, market chaos, and all sorts of other weird trends, this has been an odd and, depending on your view, either exciting or uneasy time in the world of finance.

So it’s been a lucky break for me that in the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to deliver keynotes for conferences with audiences of credit union leaders, financial regulators, asset managers, and a variety of other financial and banking professionals.

This serendipitous convergence has been an interesting opportunity to re-examine my research and writing on the future of value and money from A Future So Bright, as well as the research and writing on the future of trust and truth.

So what does this weirdness mean for you?

Well, you’re going to have to accept it because money isn’t just weird now, it will continue to get weirder. Cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are two developments you should look at to understand this “weirding.”

Together these technologies will change not only how people view assets, but how they manage those assets and their resulting wealth. What’s important about crypto and NFTs isn’t that they’re part of the future, but the effect they have on shaping that future.

older white man seated in front of a laptop with a bunch of paper currency
This guy probably just sold a bunch of NFTs

People will have to understand the importance of decentralization, as well as just what a blockchain is. They’ll need to be tech savvy enough to invest in the future without getting scammed out of what they’re worth now.

In short, people are going to have to deal with a lot of weird stuff — which is why it’s so important for business leaders to look at the emerging trends now, for people to familiarize ourselves with the shifting landscape, and for social justice issues to be factored into that future.

In case you haven’t been tracking closely enough, here are a few key trends that may be showing up on your radar screen:

meme stocks – these are digital assets issued for companies that are based on memes and viral content.

cryptocurrencies and blockchain protocols – while some people view cryptos as the key to decentralization, others see them more like a payment method or commodity. Cryptocurrencies are likely to continue to play a key role in how people do digital transactions, but they won’t be the end-all, be-all for money or assets.

People also need to understand what a blockchain protocol is if they want to invest in the future of money and value. Blockchains are the decentralized ledgers that record transactions and timestamps on a network, and they were first introduced as part of Bitcoin (BTC). Those protocols will increasingly impact other industries outside of finance, but there’s work to do first in terms of educating people about their potential impact. (And that includes their ecological impact, as I wrote about in A Future So Bright.)

NFTs – these are the digital tokens that have created a new kind of asset class. They represent ownership, whether it’s decentralized or centrally managed, and they can be fungible (like cryptos) or non-fungible (unique like art).

Enthusiasts see NFTs as the key to decentralization, because they take people out of the center where their worth is defined by institutions.

digital scarcity – We tend to think of tangible goods as scarce and digital assets as freely reproducible, but NFTs limit the supply of a digital asset and create inherent value without institutions or centralization.

If none of that helped clear anything up, just understand this: every day, the future of money is getting weirder than ever before, but with that weirdness comes opportunity. If you’re not thinking about what that means for your business and industry today, you may be missing out on the chance to create new value and experiences. And you may be surprised when someone comes out with, say, a blockchain protocol that makes your business obsolete. You need to understand how this “weirding” will impact your space.

Remember: The Economy is People

I’ve made this point repeatedly, but it’s more important than ever to remember that the economy isn’t just an abstract concept of money and digital assets — it’s people. It’s about people and their well-being, how well they can provide for themselves, and what they want for themselves and their families. It’s also about who will be dis-empowered if we don’t work now to secure our digital rights.

The importance of financing climate resilience

We’re already seeing the impacts of climate change; it’s going to be a key factor in our ongoing future. Left unresolved, the effects of climate change will have devastating impacts on human populations around the world. Because of its severity, we need to address this global crisis now, and there’s an opportunity here: finance innovation can help us better prepare for the worst of possible futures.

It’s about making sure that communities can survive when things get worse. It’s about allocating capital to projects that will help them thrive in the face of climate change. And it’s about investing in new technologies that will help people adapt to a changing world.

The future will always bring surprises, so we’d better prepare for those as well. It’s about laying plans for the best possible outcomes, while also being prepared to adapt to the worst, or just anything that comes next.

The future may be weird, but it can also be bright if we make empowered decisions today to invest in a better tomorrow.

The Most Interesting Things About Pokemon Go Have Nothing to do With the Game. (CEOs, I’m talking to you.)

Rather, the most interesting things about Pokemon Go have to do with connected experiences, and the sweeping changes these are bringing: new marketing models, opportunities with augmented reality, location-based marketing, and all the assorted issues with data privacy and security. The most interesting things about the Pokemon Go phenomenon have nothing to do with the game itself and everything to do with how different things are starting to be and are going to continue to be.

(These, by the way, are all part of what I examine in my forthcoming book Pixels and Place: Designing Human Experience Across Physical and Digital Spaces. Available in print and Kindle versions on September 1st, but you can pre-order a Kindle copy now.)

Connected Experiences Bring New Marketing Models

Marketing models are poised to be overhauled now that an online interaction can be credibly and consistently traced to offline visits in stores. See McDonald’s deal with Pokemon Go to make all 3,000 of its Japanese stores “gyms” in the game. The full details of their deal haven’t been disclosed, but one option this presents is an incredible opportunity for cost per visit modeling.

Connected Experiences and Social Interaction

The social experiences are different with augmented reality, when interacting with a digital experience doesn’t automatically mean being oblivious to the world around you (although obviously it still can – see, for example, the guys who fell off a cliff while playing, or the person who drove into a cop car).

But since you can engage with the game through a camera view of what’s ahead of you, it’s actually possible to walk and play and still be at least somewhat connected to your surroundings.

Connected Experiences… and Your Business Strategy?

This is only the beginning of what’s to come.

On social media, people have been laughing at the businesses who are developing Pokemon Go strategies (and well, it does sound absurd), but honestly if they’re starting now even these are a little late to the biggest opportunity. The gold rush was this past two weeks, when everything was novel and players were entertained by the outreach. Even if the game’s popularity continues to grow, players will likely begin to be put off by overt attempts to capitalize on the game from late entrants. And if your business is still laughing, you’re missing out on time to think about how augmented reality and connected experiences stand to change the status quo.

Of course then there’s this:

So I’m not saying to rush out and do something specific to Pokemon Go that has no alignment with your customers’ motivations or your brand. (Although if you have an idea for an experience that aligns and integrates your customers’ experience with the game in an organic, authentic, and/or memorable way, by all means do it, measure it, and publish a case study about it.) This is a call for strategic action about a macro trend, not mindless reaction to a micro trend. Trying to capitalize on the trend without strategy will probably come across to people like an attempt to manipulate the moment.

You need strategic planning (and do please note: I offer strategy workshops) that sets you up for success as the physical and digital worlds increasingly converge. There’s enough transformation taking place that there will be a relevant, meaningful way to make these opportunities align with your brand and your customers. Your job is to try to catch it.

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!