As a professor in Future Forecasting & Innovation with positions in China (Shanghai), Spain (Barcelona) and the Netherlands (several universities) during the last decade, my consistent ambition is to make my students more creative, more trends sensitive and more innovation sensitive. It is my conviction that the winners in the 21st century have to excel in these three skills. At our first meet I promise my students to make them Coolhunters. In series of master classes I present them upcoming trends and invite them to ‘hunt’ for fresh and surprising Cool Signals of next-step trend developments within their industries or branches. Then the students write blogs about their Cool Signals – and explain why they have future growth potential. We collect all the blogs in protected virtual workspaces where they are read, rated and commented by all Coolhunters. No futurist has enough scope to construct trends all by him/her self. You must collaborate – preferably with a diverse army of international young fresh minds like our Coolhunters. During the last decade I got invited at 50 universities on four continents and worked with about ten thousand of them. With them and their professors we analyze the gathered Cool Signals. The more diverse and ‘open’ the Coolhunters are, the more powerful and validated the resulting trends.
We differentiate the Coolhunts per industry or branch: the Cool ICT hunt, the Cool Fashion Hunt, the Cool Food & Agri Hunt, the Cool Hospitalities Hunt, the Cool Digital Marketing Hunt, the Cool Health Hunt, the Cool Fitness Hunt et cetera. Naturally there is overlap between the finding of each Coolhunt project. After all, each participant hunts for Cool Signals on one and the same planet. This interdisciplinary approach adds an extra layer of validation to the trends we finally work with – and present to companies.
In corona times I, like all of us, could not travel. Thanks to these challenging conditions I conducted for the first time a full series of masterclasses online. Subject: the Cool Future of Tech. I liked it better than expected. So did the Coolhunters. About one hundred of them participated, from Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Kenya, Macedonia, Belgium and the Netherlands. Almost all are between 18 to 25, representing Generation Z and the youngest Millennials. We did not include our Asian Coolhunters yet, because this is our first 100% online pilot and especially Chinese students are behind their firewall. The follow-up of the Cool Tech Hunt will be broader.
Here I present some of the leading outcomes of the Cool Tech Hunt, categorized per industry or branch. Each short chapter will be accompanied by a highlight, submitted by one of Cool Tech Hunters and rated highly by the whole group.
Tech and the Future of Work
In the ‘Tech and the Future of Work’ webinar the rise of the robots took the main part of our discussion. Will they steal our jobs, or more precise: what jobs will they ‘automate away’ firstly? Literature is (more or less) clear about the subject. Repetitious tasks will be taken over by robotic machines in the first place. Repetitiousness can be found in manual jobs – at the conveyer belt, for instance – but also in cognitive jobs – like in the works done by finance administrators but also by radiologists. All of them run the sure danger to be disrupted, even devoured, by the algorithms of increasingly AI-fueled software, incorporated in robots of any kind. In most cases not the whole job will disappear, only the repetitious parts will be taken over. It leads to disruptive transformations of many job’s contents and meanings.
Jobs that are relatively safe from a robotic take-over are those that center around human skills and characteristics like empathy, creativity, hospitality and ability to innovation. All of them are difficult to incorporate into effective algorithms. Take radiologists. Several of them are good professionals who nevertheless lack a rudimentary sense of empathy (believe me!) These are the nerdy ones who fully focus on the screens they have to scan and don’t ‘see’ the patient next to the screen. They will be forced out first, as AI-sophisticated devices are now better scanners than them – never tired nor half drunk, able to work 24/7 and superiorly accurate. The radiologist with, next his scanning capacities, more human empathic skills will hold her job longer. Laying with a gelled belly up and worried about what will be found inside you, isn’t a favorite position for most of us. An empathic radiologist will be appreciated more than the purely ‘functional’ counterpart.
While robots will take over a lot of work-as-we-know-it, new jobs appear on the horizon as well. Often they flourish on the pillars of essentially human skills and capacities. At the same time they regularly will be empowered by supporting AI software. One Coolhunter describes how recent AI and VR programs aim to improve our empathic e-performances as human beings. Another one writes about a new profession full of future growth potential: auditor of algorithmic biases. Many algorithms are less ‘value’-free than we should hope for. Detecting their bias can be best done by trained human beings.
Tech and the Future of Sports & Fitness
Eliud Kipchoge is the first sportsman to run a full marathon sub 2 hours. Kipchoge performance proves the superior body qualities of the celebrated hero. Yet, there is more involved in this unparalleled event than an excellent body: technology. Nike constructed a fully customized shoe for the athlete. The Nike Air Zoom AlphaFly Next% has revolutionary improved carbon fiber inserts, extremely thick soles and innovative air pods, together culminating in maximal running efficiency in the service of Kipchoge’s feet. During his run Kipchoge also was supported by a team of 41 ‘pace-makers’, all fine long-distance runners who flanked Kipchoge in specially designed aerodynamic formations, based on sophisticated wind tunnel research. An electric car in front of the runners beamed fluorescent green laser signs indicating each runner’s exact wind-shielding position. All this doesn’t diminish Kipchoge’s magnificence, but it shows how intimately sports and tech are intertwined.
The cradle of the fitness industry as we now know it stood in the eighties of the last century. Schwarzenegger made body building great. Jane Fonda did the same for aerobics. In the four following decades the industry boomed and differentiated beyond recognition, with international chains, online gyms and outdoors, with an ever-expanding scale of fitness machines and training concepts, with apps and wearables. Especially the latter ones are creating an electric, second skin around our bodies, monitoring each of our performances in growing details, in the future even enriching them with data about food-intake, sleeping patterns and neurobiological dynamics. Of course, top athletes are in the front rows of this monitoring revolution – FC Barcelona’s Innovation Hub University is worldwide leading. But the revolution will increasingly trickle down, until each and every one of us can work on their performances, including: health, with more perfection than even before, simply by measuring all dimensions of bodily functioning meticulously and constantly. The monitoring revolution as the king’s road to let the ‘Brand Called You’ shine optimally.
Fitness industry nowadays is impressively sophisticated – with established brands, celebrity trainers and AI-fueled recruitment and loyalty programs. During corona time though many of these programs couldn’t avoid clients ending their subscriptions, leaving their clubs. It turns out that the AI behind many of the programs too heavily focuses on calculating how to recruit and retain clients, in the meanwhile neglecting the importance of ‘softer, intangible, human’ factors like enriching the experience of bonding with the club, like reinforcing a solid sense of community, like enhancing the emotional attachment and commitment to the fitness brand. Just like in ‘Tech and the Future of Work’ many nerdy coders’ penchant to focus on the quantitative sides of matters and neglect the more elusive but very human sides, can lead to one-dimensional, and therefore suboptimal algorithms.
Tech and The Future of Food
The Future of Food will oscillate between three poles, difficult to reconcile. First pole: collective consciousness is growing that much of the food we eat is less healthy than we were invited to believe during the last decades. Especially processed food receives a bad press. (Don’t eat what your grandma wouldn’t recognize as food!) Sociologically speaking, this non-healthy claim can look counterintuitive: aren’t we getting older than ever before? That’s true. But our benign old age has less to do with the food we eat and much more with superior health care (think penicillin!) and the fact that we don’t crash each other’s heads on a regular basis, like in prehistoric times. Excavations of the remnants of ancient hunter-gatherers show that they have 40% more microbiome diversity in their guts than we have: contemporary lack of it is linked to the preponderance of obesity and type2 diabetes in our affluent societies. This knowledge is spreading and will cause a plethora of healthy food ideologies and practices to rise – amongst the young, well-educated and better-off in the first place. The second pole: collective consciousness is also on the rise regarding the deep unsustainability of contemporary food industry, how it exhausts our planet, how it destroys bio-diversity and stimulates animal cruelty. Also here youthful cohorts are taking the lead: Greta Thunberg is vegan. Environmental worries are exceptionally high amongst Generation Z and young Millennials, which is not surprising since they have longer lives to live on our endangered planet.
It is the third pole that makes the future of food really complicated. In spite of increasing health issues and sustainability worries regarding our food, in the near future we will have to feed nine billion mouths. Common opinion considers this only possible when we stick to the paradigms of food production as we know it – and avoid thinking too much about its ruining potentials. Yet, simply muddling through within a broken system direction planet exhaustion, doesn’t sound attractive and inspiring. According to our ‘Tech & Future Food’ Coolhunters there are more clever & Cool solutions. They document three directions with future growth potential that enthuse them.
First, there are the Cool Signal blogs that invite us to grow food ourselves – a trend already visible and accelerating in the UK and the USA. Do not only think in terms of traditional gardening. Farmshelf is an indoor farming business from Brooklyn that offers plug & play indoor mini-farms that don’t require soil or even natural lightning. More companies like this are on the rise. All are considered Cool. Though these initiatives are modest and probably won’t feed the whole future population, they are Cool Signals indicating a mentality shift and the desire to leave a broken food system. On a more industrial scale our Coolhunters point to the rise of vertical farm boats – prototypes already exist in the agricultural Netherlands.
Second, Coolhunters’ blogs focus on the rise of zero-food-waste lifestyles. About one third of the food we produce worldwide is wasted. Food trackers and Internet of Things refrigerators warning us when food is on the brink of expiring, are not only Cool but also have massive future growth potential. Here the monitoring revolution, already mentioned above regarding sports and fitness, takes a turn direction future of food. From this zero-waste-lifestyle perspective our Coolhunters also write about the rise of artificially designed food, often 3D printed.
Third, there are blogs about new Cool ways to produce food in large quantities. Think 3D printed vegan steaks. Think insect-based chocolate. Think air-based meat created from elements found in the air we breathe, so being produced without the traditional land, water and weather requirements. All of this, is not available on a large scale yet. But well, we asked our Coolhunters to reach out for Cool Signals regarding the future, not the present.
Tech and The Future of Fashion
Both the Coolhunt webinar on Tech and Future Fashion and the blogs by the Coolhunters revolve around fashion’s dirty little secret – and how to solve it. The secret isn’t that much of a secret anymore. It went viral on the social media several times – but still is as dirty as ever. It is all about the immense polluting power of the fashion industry – the manufacturing of one white t-shirts pollutes several thousand liters of water. Add to this the dire exploitation of workers in fashion’s globalized factories plus high fashion’s routine preference of burning last year’s leftover stocks above brand-harming sales, and you smell the secret. Fashion’s dirty little secret is against the grain of what Generation Z and the Youngest Millennials stand for. Our Tech & Fashion Coolhunters reveal three inroads indicating chances for a healthier fashion system.
First, substantial amounts of (female) hunters consider wearing second-hand vintage clothes; not as a demeaning alternative to the real thing, but as a superiorly Cool and sustainable one. Sites like rent-the-runway, where you can rent clothes, return them when you want and put fresh outfits on – are now iconic Cool amongst a broad avantgarde of (urban) Millennial fashion lovers. According to the company itself: “Our stores have turned into extensions of our customer’s own closets. We are closets in the cloud for them”. Even more so now that the number of drop-off places grows and the clothes come to you impeccably clean.
Second, our Cool Fashion hunters bet on the rise of new fabrics and materials. Meet the shirt that is built from pulped eucalyptus and beech out of sustainably managed forests and combined with algae grown in bioreactors. (Quote: “You can think of algae as a space age material that happens to be 15 billion years old.”) As the original source of all plant life, your shirt then consumes carbon dioxide and produces oxygen, playing the sustainability card. Also, at a slightly different corner, meet algae-based textiles that converts carbon dioxide to oxygen while you are wearing it. The claim is that this “photosynthesis on your body” improves your health – and our planet’s quality.
Third, revolutionary new needles are now capable of weaving electronics through more traditional garments. This will make the clothes we wear part of the Internet of Things and the monitoring revolution – mentioned twice above already, indicating we are talking here about a solid validated trend. The clothes will signal how you feel, not only physically, but further in the future also mentally. “What If Your Clothes Spoke?”, wonders one of our Coolhunters, stressing it is not a fantasy but a future social fact.
Last but not least, several Fashion Coolhunters describe how avatar fashion will show important growth. Ridiculous? I agree. But that probably proves that you are, just like me, say over thirty. Generation Z and the youngest Millennials though belong to age cohorts born on the social media. There, more than any other generation, they have learnt the importance of photoshopped impression management. When you want to look Cool, the avatars that represent you in the virtual universe should look equally Cool. A-brands, from Gucci over Balmain to Louis Vuitton are jumping on this colorful avatar-clothing bandwagon. Don’t write the trend of because you are old 😉.
To end with
These are some of the trends and tendencies we have been detected from our first series of webinar masterclasses on the Cool Future of Tech. We will continue with a second series, focusing on Tech & Hospitality, Tech & Digital Marketing, Tech & Health, and last but not least: Tech & the subject you prefer or even want to sponsor. Feel free to contact us at [email protected] Also when you want to join the webinars.