Foresight is growing in importance – and it is great to see leaders focused here. In this world of complexity, uncertainty, and rapid pace, generating foresight is not easy. It is a moving target, with change dynamics altering even the safest predictions. We need look no further than the impact of COVID-19 on the pictures of possible futures we were painting just 18 months ago. As difficult as it is, we are fortunate to have people like Alexandra Whittington around to help. She recently tweeted a pandemic influenced view of the future of population, work, and lifestyles.
In some cases, COVID-19 exacerbated trends that already existed. For example, birthrates were already dropping around the world, a phenomenon that grew more acute in the past 18 months. Africa was viewed as the outlier, contributing to future population growth even in the face of declining fertility rates. If the 2020 Oxfam study referenced in the visual below is accurate, a reversing of family planning gains could drive more growth.
Reductions in population growth (slowest U.S. growth in over 100 years) have broad implications. Aging and dropping fertility rates combine to drive a fall in working age population – thereby impacting productivity. That in turns drives an acceleration of automation and an interesting immigration discussion. An emerging middle class and associated increased consumption have implications on sustainability and resource scarcity. Yet the visual points to a shrinking middle class due to COVID. Predictions of mass urbanization are challenged by people relocating (10% of U.S. adults), remote work, and reverse migration. Importantly, the pandemic drove behavioral change, which a consumer trends report indicates that people prefer.
The pandemic points to the types of catalysts that change our views of possible futures – and these catalysts will happen with increasing frequency. This fact alone underscores the need for ongoing, continuous, and iterative foresight analysis – what I like to view as future thinking.