Your daily mix of foresight & futures

You can scour the Internet in search of the latest consumer trends and cultural shifts, or you can let us do it for you. T&T provides a daily snapshot of the world’s most intriguing happenings and what they mean for the marketplace tomorrow.

H5N2

H5N2 is the worst outbreak of bird flu in U.S. history. It has spread to 21 states in just six months. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa have declared a state of emergency. China and Mexico have imposed bans on U.S. poultry and eggs. Scientists are struggling to determine why the outbreak is so widespread.

As we unravel the mysteries of H5N2, a good place to start is with Confined Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs), where the vast majority of cases have surfaced. This high-density confinement has many problematic effects. Keeping animals in such close confinement increases pathogen risks and magnifies opportunities for transmission to humans. Despite these concerning implications, CAFOs have grown rapidly over the past five decades. In 1966, 57 million pigs were distributed among one million American farms. But by 2001, 57 million pigs were raised on just 80,000 farms, and over half were raised on just 5,000 CAFO facilities.

The outbreak of H5N2 serves as reminder of just how problematic our increasing dependence on CAFOs is. H5N2 came hard on the heels of 2009’s Swine Flu (H1N1) outbreak. But perhaps the sheer breadth of H5N2 could bring us to the brink of a meaningful tipping point—where consumers and businesses lead the charge towards more responsible agricultural practices. The voluntary move away from meat with antibiotics by many top food companies, including Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Cosi, Carl’s Jr, Panera, Pret a Manger, and Shake Shack, is certainly an indicator of the changing tide. Consumers are demanding healthier, more sustainable and more ethical solutions. Businesses are responding. This is exactly the direction we need to be heading in. Until regulation can catch up with reality, we—as foresight-savvy consumers and businesses—can, and should, do better.

Sources: KCUR.org, Pew Charitable Trusts

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07/02/2015

MeetPepper

Meet Pepper. An “emotional companion” designed to make you feel happy, Pepper recognizes facial expressions and tone of voice, and reacts accordingly. His personality evolves over time as he learns from his surroundings and collects data. Recently put on sale for $1,600, the stock sold out in less than a minute.

Pepper is just one of the recent innovations in Japanese robotics that are changing the way the elderly are cared for: Robear can lift and carry a 176-pound patient and Palro keeps elderly minds active with games, dances and trivia. Japanese robotics company Cyberdyne has developed hybrid-assisted limbs that act as exoskeletons to stabilize and amplify the strength of the patient, possibly even to the extent of returning their mobility.

As Japan’s population ages, robots designed to complement (or replace) some caregiver functions are gaining attention. Those in the market are already receiving widespread support from caregivers and the elderly alike. With huge government incentives and an increasing caregiver deficit, expect to see innovations in this category only accelerate.

Sources: CNN, YouTube, Japan Times, Forbes

07/01/2015

The human genome and what it means for the future

The cost of sequencing human genomes is dropping precipitously, according to FBI Futurist and Cybercrime expert Marc Goodman, who says: “Without doubt within a few years it will be a price of a cup of coffee, everyone will have their full genetic sequence.”

The tipping point came in 2008 with significant breakthroughs in genetic sequencing. The Human Genome Project spent 13 years from 1990 and $3 billion to sequence the first human genome. You can now get a full genetic sequencing for somewhere around $1,000. Companies like 23andMe offer partial genetic sequencing for just $99. According to a 2013 McKinsey study, it takes 10 months to double sequencing speed per dollar. How’s that for fast? As we move into next-gen genomics, it only gets more exciting (or frightening) with companies such as Cambrian Genomics now laser printing DNA.

So what does this all mean? Well, next-generation genomics will significantly transform life, business and the global economy. McKinsey, for example, estimates a global economic impact of $1.6 trillion by 2025. On an individual level, next-gen genomics will heavily impact personal understanding, behavior, and health/fitness. For businesses, just a few elements subject to change include communication (segmentation, target market), consumer insight (level of depth), and employee engagement. Lastly, countries will experience shifts in the environment (wildlife, agriculture), aggregate health (life expectancy, disease control, precision medicine), regulation, and on the flip side, cybercrime.

Next-gen genomics will drive high-stakes data wars, as gaining access to consumer data will provide an invaluable and ever-greater competitive advantage. The biggest beneficiaries will be the gatekeepers and those who stay ahead of this fast-moving curve with effective strategies to use genetic data to unlock new sources of growth and influence change. Will you be prepared for what’s right around the corner?

Sources: The Tim Ferriss ShowMcKinsey

06/30/2015

Human disabilities guide future tech

One of the most memorable undergrad courses I have taken is on medicine and disease in the U.S. The class cultivated a discussion around disability and the technological innovations it has inspired.

Having tracked the evolution of cochlear implants (for hearing disabilities) and prosthetic limbs, I’ve noticed that these innovations also propagate the development of technologies for mainstream society. For example, the Doppler, a set of wireless earbuds launched on Kickstarter, enables individuals to control and curate their environment’s sounds. No longer are hearing enhancements only for the disabled: they are also for the violinist who augments her hearing as she practices in a sleeping household, or for the writer who works best in a muted environment.

Artificial limbs have likewise been adapted for the mainstream. In 2011, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency made a breakthrough in prosthetics by enabling a patient to control his bionic limb with his mind. And last year, the MIT researchers further tested the connection between body and machine by creating wearable robot arms that can assist with installation tasks.

These devices inspired by disabilities have been absorbed by mainstream culture. It’s not difficult to imagine that the application of disability technologies for the average individual is a trend that will become more widespread as we seek to assist others with physiological limitations and to simultaneously challenge our own biological constraints.

Sources: Kickstarter, Popular Mechanics, Gizmag

06/29/2015

processedfood

Earlier this month, several QSR megabrands, including Subway, Panera, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, announced commitments to remove artificial ingredients from their food. While unlikely to shock industry observers, given rising consumer demand for “real” and “clean” food, the announcements are noteworthy nonetheless. If these businesses and those planning to follow succeed in their stated aims (in the eyes of consumers, of course), this may emerge as a watershed moment for QSRs and processed foods: when making food that is good for people shifted from a niche interest into a source of real competitive advantage for mainstream food companies.

Not that success for these companies will be easy; they are certain to hit stumbling blocks at every step. They will fake and fudge, they will mislead or deceive outright, they will overpromise and underdeliver, experience will suffer and prices will rise. All this has happened before. But make no mistake, these are necessary growing pains for an industry that has prospered for too long by feeding our desires rather than our needs. There will be winners and losers, and for the first time in the modern history of the industry, the winners will be those that are genuine in their desire to serve human need and catalyze positive change.

Source: QSR

06/26/2015

Ikea: Brand of Fantasies

IKEA’s success lies in its providing good, simple design at low prices. But I would argue that something else deeper is at play. IKEA sells not only furniture but also middle-class fantasies, achieved through use of space in their stores. IKEA creates domestic tableaux and scenes from a home life we imagine living. As customers move through the store, they tour a variety of domestic visions, each ready to be experienced.

Even if you do not invest in the complete package fantasy (such as the entire bedroom set or a new kitchen), souvenirs to commemorate the visit allow you to continue the fantasy at home. Unable to purchase that couch? The scatter pillows on it might look good at home and allow you to keep a small piece of the vision.

People visit IKEA to experience something exotic and, at the same time, familiar. Through use of the exotic appeal of Swedish design and the incessant fantasy of domestic reinvention, IKEA engages creativity. Their catalogues and showroom sets allow visitors to imagine what it would be like to live in a small, hip city apartment, entertain guests in a spacious suburban home, or nestle by a fire in a countryside cottage.

These fantasies of new living are crucial for emerging global powers like China, India and Brazil who all have rising middle classes. Global MONITOR expects that by 2020, 51% of people in China will reach middle-class status, compared to just 10% in 2010. Indeed, China has become the company’s fastest-growing market and boasts eight of IKEA’s 10 largest stores.

Even more interesting is that IKEA is popular worldwide, with its minimalism translating fluidly across cultures. Why? First, functional, simple furniture appeals because it maintains an aura of instant chic while preserving practicality. Second, consumers may find Sweden appealing on a political or ideological level. Scandinavia is arguably one of the least controversial and simultaneously most progressive areas in the world. IKEA fills a void for consumers who want the Western fantasy without Western controversy. Third, the nation actively helps IKEA to grow as a brand. For instance, Princess Victoria of Sweden famously missed the wedding of Charles and Camilla because she was opening an IKEA store in Japan. Priorities!

Questions about how Global MONITOR can inform your business? Contact Head of Global MONITOR, Michelle Singer.

Sources: The Guardian, Global MONITOR

06/23/2015

Crying Hotels

First, Japan gave us cat cafés (now adopted in America) where individuals can enjoy a latte or juice while stroking a cat. Rabbit, owl and bird cafés have since joined that list, and now the newest addition: crying hotels. The Mitsui Garden Yotsuya hotel, in Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward, is offering women special “crying rooms” to help them combat stress. The rooms, which can be booked for ¥10,000 (~$80/£50) per day, contain tissues “as soft as cashmere,” warm sheets and eye masks. Women can also watch tearjerker films such as Forrest Gump, or read sad novels, all graded by their ability to induce tears. Interestingly, the rooms are available only to women, which raises questions about Japan’s crying culture and the need for women to cry in private.

Source: The Telegraph

06/08/2015

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