Alvin Toffler published Future Shock in 1970, at a time of great social and economic upheaval. Toffler sought to help people make sense of what was going on around them, when many felt overwhelmed, and to help society avoid the risk of what he called "massive adaptational breakdown".
His call resonates strongly today – even if the contributory factors are somewhat different – as we move towards our own perfect storm, at the intersection of climate change, a looming energy crisis, increasing resource scarcity, and economic re-structuring.
The future looks a lot less secure, and there are few good road maps.
The future is unwritten
And at this time of year we see a flurry of articles, with predictions and trends for the coming year. Some of these are quite useful, and help us frame our responses and plans for the short-term – as we create incremental steps towards our personal or business goals.
But, given the profound nature of the shifts we are experiencing, and their lack of respect for our arbitrary calendar, it is also useful to look further ahead, to take in the bigger picture, and look at where all this could be heading.
So, here is a view of what lies ahead; less of a scientific analysis of trends, but more a mood board built on a synthesis of what could be, and how we might get there.
A new day
We will see the end of everything that is no longer fit-for-purpose in our world, and the start of everything that transforms and is sustainable; perhaps the 'fourth wave' – an era of sustainable economy.
1. Transition to the real economy
The new economy will increasingly take over from the old dysfunctional one. For many, this will mean getting back to basics, with a greater emphasis on meeting real needs, a higher purpose for business, real value generated, and real exchange.
2. The end of growth
We have reached the end of growth in the conventional sense, economically as well as ecologically. We will see a greater emphasis on wellbeing, values, shared wealth, and a different type of internal growth – not just through eco-efficient productivity gains, but also the circular economy, the sharing economy, and good old make-do-and-mend. And we will ultimately spend more money on people, and less on stuff and waste – from waste-to-wages.
3. The end of mass consumerism
Our economies will be based on real needs, rather than expensive and insatiable wants. We already know that consumerism is an empty pursuit, but we experience the lag of habit, until the twin drivers of necessity and seeing a better way, enable our awakening. People will be much more discerning, in terms of what they really need, where they get it from, and the means of exchange.
4. The end of peak retail
Even with recent shift towards online retailing, consumer spend and culture will decline. And the online phase will also come to pass, as logistics costs rise – although we will ultimately see a re-emergence of the high street, based on resilient communities, real local demand, locally met. Could humble Totnes show us the way?
5. Small really is beautiful
The more I look at it, the more I am convinced that Schumacher was right. The forces that made globalisation work are now in retreat, and we will see a shift towards more regional and local solutions and economies, with re-localised production, closer to demand. The New Anglia Green Economy Pathfinder provides a beacon, here. And this will also mean the re-shoring/on-shoring of jobs, providing purpose, hope and shared wealth in our communities.
6. Smaller, more responsive and entrepreneurial enterprise
Large institutions and organisations have always been dysfunctional; that’s why we grew an army of management consultants to continually help fix and re-organise them.
But large corporations are not resilient enough to withstand the shifts occurring. We will see the emergence of more independent, entrepreneurial, locally owned, human-scale enterprises – devoted to serving the needs of people, community and our ecosystems.
Large companies will re-structure along more local resilient models, with more shared and local ownership. The continued growth and performance of the co-operative movement will continue to offer us many insights and lessons.
7. Sustainability will become the dominant business strategic issue
Not in terms of rhetoric, but the reality of business praxis. No longer will superficial reporting or communications exercises be sufficient – which deliver little underlying change – but a greater emphasis on genuine transformation. Watch the growth of B-Corporations and other alternative models.
8. Sustainable banking practices
Banks will come increasingly to the fore. The big banks and their power will slowly wither and a fairer more sustainable money system, in support of the real economy will emerge. And perhaps alternative currencies will become the new mainstream? Watch the continued progress of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, and its member organisations.
9. Towards a renewable future
Despite the best efforts of vested interests, decentralised, renewable energy solutions will prevail and will become the dominant provider of our right-sized energy demands. Community-based solutions will increasingly become the norm.
A road less travelled
We will enter a time when new ways of thinking and doing will emerge – an awakening, with people compelled to connect, genuinely collaborate and experiment in the nursery of the new.
10. An end to short-term thinking
We will realise we can no longer put off that which finally confronts us. Short-term markets and speculation will be outlawed. Business strategy will be transformed – no longer looking for illusory quick fixes – but more about systemic, holistic, and robust long-term solutions. Business leaders will increasingly engage with the practice of mindfulness.
11. The importance of being earnest
As we get down to the necessary tasks and work on real issues, we will no longer allow ourselves to be distracted by the shiny objects that held us back for so long. The era of spin – which we all saw right through anyway – will come to pass, as we move into a time for reality, a sense of proportion, of earnest discussion, genuine debate and collaborative solutions.
The media will take on a more serious role of educating, and spreading awareness of how we can all get through this time of upheaval. Economic planning will move up a level, perhaps something similar to a wartime footing.
12. Re-skilling the workforce
Regional economies will transform, creating not only new jobs within the so called-green economy, but also through enabling the rest of the economy to become more sustainable and competitive.
We will engage with our latent workforce, re-skill and get them into real and lasting jobs – and with re-deployment programmes, for those transitioning from old economy jobs and employers in decline. Hope will spring anew.
13. We will be heroes
We will see the decline of the cult of celebrity, and a move towards real heroes; those leading the way through a turbulent time, many of whom may well be operating ‘under the radar’ in their communities and industries, but they will emerge as the conditions make their presence so necessary. Cometh the hour.
14. A time of self-discovery
The hardest part of any major life change can be the challenge of breaking out of old models, behaviours and habits. This will require us to look within; who am I really, what are my innate values and talents, how do I want to live and work, how do I connect more, live a more meaningful life, being true to myself?
We will all be making more mindful choices, following our inner wisdom, our path – and being the change we want to see.
15. But also a collaborative future
Much will be made possible through a shift from competitive to collaborative behaviours. And scale will be delivered by a different means, too – not as a function of concentrated wealth and power – but through networks, alliances and collaborations.
On a personal level we will be reconnecting, placing a greater emphasis on people, relationships and the qualities of interaction. And not ruled by, but enabled by social media.
While I paint my masterpiece
The power of the changes we are starting to experience are as irresistible as tectonic plates; we are quite literally on the edge of a new era, and a range of tipping points.
The future is about a totally different paradigm, not yet fully conceived, and which cannot be judged through a conventional lens. But one thing is for sure: People-centred approaches will be at the forefront.
But don’t take my word for it. The real point is that each of us can, and must, stand back at this time, and look ahead to describe our own story of the future – what it could look like, and our place within it.
What does your sketch of the future look like?