Some of my forecasts and predictions from over 10 years ago
David A. smith
Futurist, Strategist, Keynote Speaker
Here are just a few of the many forecasts I’ve made in the past 10 years extracted from speeches I’ve given from 2007 to 2011. This isn’t an exercise in self-glorification, rather it is an exercise in appreciating the value of foresight and forward thinking.
I’ve added below a film we made way back in 2000, 20 years ago, looking at financial services (FS) in 2020. It won media awards at the time but how much more reward it should have proved to FS!
The forecasts are arranged in the typical way we work as Futurists – PESTLE. In this case I’ve focused on the PEST and also added work as a separate topic.
Democracy but not as we know it - Prior to the successful web campaigns of both President Trump in his election and Vote Leave in the UK, not to mention increased forms of online civic participation, David told the Terex conference of 2011 that ‘the way democracies work has to change; as people get wealthier they get more demanding. You can expect a lot of change in how democracies operate...for example...our governments will need to adapt to integrate with the fast-growing internet population. To expect more plebiscites (referendum) as people want more granular input on big decisions.’
The end of Globalisation – To Shirlaws conference in 2010, David foretold the rise of ‘Globalisation 2.0,’ in essence ‘multi-regionalisation and it doesn’t necessarily involve Europe. This is the first time we have reconfigured the world since we were born.’
The imminent influence of non-western markets, David argued, would have a ‘profound impact on the psyche of consumers in the west. The feeling of ‘irrelevance,’ combined with a marked shift by emerging ambient technology would reconfigure attitudes at pace.’ The political imprint of this as much as the economic impact has been felt in the period to 2020.
The end of the Washington consensus – Delving into how changing political dynamics could reshape globalisation, David predicted in 2010 that ‘China will set the agenda for world governance and political governance. The old global leaders are being replaced by the new global leaders in terms of trajectory and dynamics - you can expect quite a lot of difficulty in world trade and trade bodies as old powers worry about losing power and influence, and new powers try to gain them.’ This prediction, delivered to Shirlaws, has manifested in multiple ways, perhaps most evidently the U.S-China trade war and the decline in trust of democratic institutions throughout the world
Mash-up economy – At numerous times in the 2007-2011 period David asserted that ‘barriers to entrance across many industries will decline because of global capital flows, tech flows and skills flows.’ The insertion of Bigtech into finance, insurance and a host of other markets has proven that barriers to entry have been redrawn, and with it the service or product offered changed slightly. Echoing Bill Gates in a speech in 2010 speech in Finland, David noted that while we need banking we don’t need banks – a belief subsequently echoed by PwC and others in the decade to 2020.
The journey east – Throughout talks in the 2008-2010 period, David noted that the rise of emerging markets would not just change how we do things but what we do. ‘Launch markets will become increasingly eastern focused,’ he correctly noted. He also asked the question of ‘what would you design differently if our secondary markets become our primary markets?’ A host of retailers already reflect the rising supremacy of Asian markets including the automotive market where car grills have become outsized in recent years on the back of Chinese preference.
Halal economics – David has long been interested in how the cultural norms and aspirations of dominant religions – whether practiced or not - form the basis for what we accept as the norm. To a wide range of clients, including Microsoft, consultants and tech companies, David foretold that the rise of Muslim markets (70% of global population growth) would see the rise of ‘different value sets, beliefs and even new standards. In 2010 you can throw a product at it – tomorrow you better make sure you have sharia banking capital behind it, are insured with takaful and have approaches aligned to that halal value set. Right now, it’s a product issue: as a supply chain issue, it becomes more complex.’ The booming halal market have validated his prediction, passing the trillion dollar mark shortly after his speeches and in 2018 predicted to account for over $12 trillion by 2024[i].
The market of me - In 2007 research, David cited stats from YouGov and CEBR that ‘online sales accounted for just 2 percent of total retail spending in 2002 in the UK...expected to rise to 15 percent by the end of 2007 and 40 percent by 2020.’ This, combined with emerging big data, analytics and incipient social media (in Jan 2007, Facebook had 30M users, LinkedIn 11.5M users) led David to forecast that we were on the cusp of a fully integrated and personalised era of entertainment, information and communication, a message he repeated at numerous venues, from Mannheim to Cannes.
Biotech economy - In a 2010 speech David explained that ‘biotech will massively impact food supply chains, with biopharma and bio-agricultural products possessing enormous potential for growth.’ The alternative meat industry, fast-tracked to the point of commercial viability, stands as testament to this.
Retail experience - To Microsoft in 2011 David declared that ‘the days of going out to shop are gone and shopping whilst out are here - it's going to increasingly be the in-store experience that will attract consumers to travel to the shops, whilst the rapid delivery of goods bought online, increasingly from more local distribution centres, will meet the commodity needs of the consumer.’ Fast forward to 2020 and a report from Westfield that cites 75 percent of UK consumers expecting more than half of all retail space to be given over to experiences by 2027[i].
Automated retail – In multiple speeches in 2009 and 2010, David suggested that the incipient IoT could easily morph into a form of automated retail – via the fridge – around 5 years before Amazon Dash pioneered automatic replenishment. Now, some 63 percent globally say they would permit home sensors to automatically order household goods as needed[ii]. SAP suggests such ‘background shopping will be so convenient, sophisticated and attuned to our lives that we’ll barely have to think about it[iii].'
Increasing pace of change - In 2010, David noted in an address to Shirlaws, that ‘...more is changing, in more areas of our lives and commercial activity, faster than ever before - making prediction increasingly problematic. Consumers, not just technology, were – and still are – the primary change agents.’ Today, only 8 percent per cent of CEOs believe their business model will survive the current levels of large-scale digital disruption[i].
The end of ageing - Although seen as controversial at the time, at the MIDEM Cannes conference of 2010 and in Finland, David posited that ‘ageing is curable.’ Hence people could live to 500 or longer. Only in 2020 did we see a ‘mainstream’ source acknowledge ageing to be a disease[ii] that could in theory be cured.
Sustainability as a KPI / Flysgkam - In 2010, David suggested that ‘tomorrow we will be judged by those consequences for the decisions we make today.’ At least in terms of consumer preference for sustainable products and services where possible, this prediction has largely verified but there remains scope for it to solidify in terms of investor importance. He also asked, well in advance of the concept of flight-shame, whether ‘people (are) going to be challenged by the environmental impact and stop flying?’
Entertain me - In 2011 David painted his vision for the future of content for Microsoft. ‘Eventually you’ll get any content you want, at anytime and anywhere at your convenience. TV channels are dead. They are irrelevant and will be utterly confusing to anyone who has grown up digitally native; we want granular content. The future is video and we will have it everywhere.’ In the UK, the number of subscribers to streaming services (15.4 million) overtook the number of people who use traditional satellite or cable television services (15.1 million) in 2018[iii].
Pandemic - In 2011 speaking to Terex in Germany, David noted the role of wildcards in our planning stating that ‘we are well overdue, statistically, for a large-scale pandemic. We should expect an outbreak that could kill 100 to 200 million people. We know that we will have to face one.’ In early March 2019, forecasts for up to 90 million global deaths in a worst case COVID-19 scenario were made.
Sustainable travel - On the back of a burgeoning ethical consumer market we surmised that more ethical forms of tourism could prosper. At the time of David’s prediction, in 2007, holidays falling under the responsible or sustainable labels comprised just one percent of foreign trips. By 2012, 75 percent of British travellers wanted a more responsible vacation. A 2018 Booking.com survey found that 87 percent of global travellers said they wanted to travel sustainably[iv].
Rise of the MOOCs – In 2011 speaking to Terex in Germany, David stated that ‘whatever we learn changes so rapidly nowadays that distance learning is inevitable unless we always want 30% of our staff to be away at university.’ Online learning is now a standard at almost all corporations and is increasingly available to small businesses and is a key plank in allowing the reorientation of linear life stages into life ‘cycles.’
Data economy – David noted the key role data was to play in the coming decade and beyond, telling a Microsoft conference in 2011 that ‘Data analytics is the big industry for the future, making sense of that information in a contextual, meaningful and fast way. Extracting meaning and understanding from unstructured data will be central to future data efforts.’ He noted that instant analytics across everything in your network will change how you work and what you do, a prediction verified by the rise of autonomous analytics.
Knowledge tsunami – In 2010 David warned the AWA 2020 Vision programme that the rate of data growth will mean ‘we are overwhelmed with all this knowledge,’ which could lead us to make some sub-optimal decisions regarding access to the data. David highlighted the practical need to ‘protect the data, not the medium by which it moves,’ warning that organisations risked clamping down in the wrong areas and thus limiting the benefits of being data-driven.
The limits of digital transformation – At MIDEM, Cannes in 2010 David noted the limits of considering digital transformation as a project to be completed. ‘The future,’ noted David, ‘is not a project however, it doesn’t have a start or an end. We are very poor at seeing new horizons, as we are too project oriented.’ This conception of digital transformation has slowly become accepted over the decade to 2020 as a key way of structuring and envisaging strategic change.
Work is not a place – To the Basware conference in Finland in 2010, David predicted that ‘it is very unlikely we will travel to do regular, repetitive work that we can do elsewhere.’ To Microsoft a year later, David noted that ‘PC based video conferencing will become huge, and then in turn will virtual reality worlds. Beyond that, holograms will then allow us to be in many places at once.’ The rate of remote work uptake was significant prior to COVID-19, but now it seems the new normal.
Networked business – In talks from Cannes to Tampere, David in 2010 foresaw the role that networked business would play, exemplified by open innovation, in driving future value. He noted that while the predominant theme of internal collaboration was important ‘the external network will provide enormous value to your business: in fact, external networks could provide more value than internal networks. We are entering a period of new collaborative models. The users have the power in many of these emerging models.’ Today in 2020 Harvard Business Review and Sloan MIT have both authored articles noting the blurring boundary between customer, employee and supply chain. Many businesses are yet to fully internalise what this means for them however,
Networks of networks – At the AWA 2020 Vision programme of April 2010, David stressed that digital capacity plus a network mentality would change the environment in which companies operate. ‘If you can’t see how your company is a network, then you have a lot of change coming. We have networked for the wrong reasons – not agility or creativity, but cost reduction. Co-creation will become massively important.’ The role and power of platforms and ecosystems has become well established and key to a number of incumbents’ model shift (Philips health for example) as well as with BigTech offerings (smart home offerings, for example)
Beyond freemium – David noted in numerous speeches and articles that when technology becomes cheap, we tend to give it away. This, he asserted, would give rise to non-traditional but digitally enabled competitors. This has largely proven true, even in hitherto protected industries - even 21 percent of law firms admit that they are threatened by clients using technological solutions to what was previously chargeable legal advice[i].
Vulnerable supply chains – Following on from exploring his vision of networks of networks at AWA, David predicted some of the impacts on the practical level. ‘Supply chains are going to be increasingly impacted, not just by storms, flooding or the cost of fuel, but also because we will be competing with networks of supply chains against other networks of supply chains.’ In the period to 2020, the notion of platforms driving a winner vs the rest outcome has proliferated in many markets, highlighting the notion of networks of networks.
Work with a purpose – With talent a hot topic up to and then after the GFC, David had long stated – as with Shirlaws in 2010 - that ‘talent is going to have a choice which organisations to align themselves with. A great differentiation in the labour market could be the ability to demonstrable a track record or policies that appeal to Gen Y to want to work for you.’ It took almost a decade for the implications of these to be fully felt by HR leaders, by 2019 some 97 percent of HR leaders agreed that employee expectations of their work experience are changing[ii].
Flexible CRE - David posited to Terex in 2011 that the surge in entrepreneurialism that would follow the GFC would tax our physical building stock and that ‘our stock of flexible, start-up, offices may be woefully inadequate.’ Thus it has proved, with co-working take-up in the UK’s largest cities outside of London jumping from 2 to 7.5 percent of all leases in 2017, powered by growth of WeWork and Spaces. Central London saw 2.5m sq ft leased to flexible workspace providers in 2017, a 190 percent increase on 2016[iii].
Insurance changes business models - For over a decade, across numerous countries, David has passionately stressed the need for general insurance to move from pooled risk to individually priced risk and from compensation for loss to prevention. With insurers exploring the use of the IoT and other technologies to shift the nature towards prevention, this vision is slowly, if definitively, forming in the insurance market.
Ambient intelligence – Prior to the widespread use of chatbots, the IoT and machine learning, David suggested that ‘robots as a communication channel are one of the key things we are going to have to get used to.’ To the AWA 2020 Vision programme in April 2010, and pre Alexa et al, he affirmed that ‘avatars sitting on top of A.I interrogated knowledge bases will be able to replace much customer service work by 2020-2023 if you want it to.’
Automation compels us to do different things – In numerous speeches covering the 2009-2011 period and prior to the seminal Oxford Martin piece on automation, David asserted that ‘the sort of work we do will become more complex and non-routine – the tasks we do today will be automated. What will be left is the hard stuff. Automation will do the day to day stuff – our human interactions will be incredibly valuable and rich, when we have them.’ With LegalTech having automated swathes of manual work in legal services to name just one area, this prediction has fast come true.
Ambient activities – Having witnessed changes in the IT function over the 80’s and 90’s David realised what the advent of the smartphone meant for consumers. In speeches to both AWA and Microsoft in 2010 and 2011 he foresaw that ‘your smartphone is likely to evolve into your bank, retail centre and allow you to do different things rather than just do things differently. The web is going to get smarter and more contextual.’ In the period since, the how, when, and where of much retail space has been fundamentally redrawn while even pre COVID forecasts had online banking set to overtake UK branch visits by 2021[i].
Big Brother - In advance of facial recognition, predictive policing and similar issues, David told the Basware conference in 2010 that ‘we will be surrounded by tech that knows where it is, who its next to, knows where you are and where you are going next, knows what you bought as we will use our devices for commerce, and able to identify patterns of behaviour even by the gait of your walk.’ From context-specific insurance policy offers in Japan to DARPA tech that can identify an individual’s heartbeat, context has become king.
Smart cities are digital cities - Between 2007 and 2010 David looked at how changes in demographics and other social indices could impact cities. To an IT conference in Finland he noted that ‘a 600 percent increase in urbanisation will compel our future cities to be more self-sustaining with regards to waste, food, transport and communications. Tech advances in particular,’ would ‘...enable ‘smart infrastructure (that) will enable us to share knowledge, content and capabilities across the world.’ Singapore’s digital twin project is now enabling the creation of a smart city using these very concepts.