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Trends & Fads: Could These Affect Your Business?

There are a large number of pronouncements on "the 10 most important trends" for next year, for the next decade, even some for the next century! There are some useful messages among the ones that orig...


October 1, 2000
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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There are a large number of pronouncements on “the 10 most important trends” for next year, for the next decade, even some for the next century! There are some useful messages among the ones that originate from credible sources. They may signal possible trend breaks in technology, environment or market mood that could have important implications for an organization’s business or technology strategy. The competitive advantage is

“seeing” an opportunity (or avoiding a threat) before your competitors, and taking the appropriate actions.

A scanning of the “trends literature” shows the following 10 topics that may have relevance to the forest-products sector. The topics have been chosen for their frequency in citation, and prioritized (my ranking) with respect to potential impact.

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1. Shifting societal values: A rise in holistic values, ethics and spirituality. This trend is a successor to the Information Age; the consumers’ demand for ethics in all products and services has led to many corporations adopting “Triple Bottom Line Reporting.” This trend is also related to The Dream Society theme where emotions are the new market and “stories” are the new product attribute.

2. Privacy and insecurity: Everyone is affected from corporations to individuals. This surfaces in issues from workplace espionage, cyber-crime and blackmail to personal information security. Electronic security solutions are developed as fast as new hacking technology and vice versa. Secure information is a paper medium asset that could be exploited.

3. The aging world: A demographic certainty that there are 210 million people in China over 60, Italy and Greece have more people over 60 than under 30, and we will enter a world where there are more old people than young. The seniors demographic have special needs, many of which can involve paper. In the developed world, seniors also have significant disposable income.

4. New work models: The hierarchical business management model is dying and is being replaced by self-organizing and empowered team-based structures. Moreover, these organizations are constantly shifting to meet changing business demands and opportunities, and to seeking out new and unusual alliances. Corporations are establishing nimble company-specific structures, which in some instances are considered proprietary. The culture shock is large, but new work organizations are becoming central to competitiveness.

5. Things that think: Chips, sensors and mini-computers are cheap and are being incorporated in an increasing number of unexpected objects. Levi Strauss has just introduced the world’s first “smart apparel”; appliances, buildings, transportation are also acquiring new capabilities for providing services. There is a big future for “smart homes” and building materials “that think.” Chips or sensors are appearing in magazines that provide Internet links and in packaging systems to provide security attributes. Smartness is becoming a commodity and with the advent of knowledge agents there is the prospect of knowing something without having been taught it — a new capability, electronic intuition! The emerging capability for “mass-customization” is a subset of this trend.

6. The power of now: Time is compressed; everything is speeding up, instant information. Time and speed are a critical competitive issue, but they are also a growing stress factor for individuals; humans are biological and cannot function in nanosecond time. This human-machine time mismatch will lead to an over reliance on machine-made decisions to the detriment of human reasoning.

7. Disintermediation: This is about new channels to deliver goods and services that are facilitated by the Internet economy. With multiple choices available in the legal, accounting, health care, nothing travel and similar [B2C] services, there is a counter trend of “option shock” with the consequential need for “smart agents” — paid for by the consumer! B2B models are where the big changes are being felt with huge costs being carved out of the supply and value chains.

8. Everything related to women: Women are shaking up the economies of many countries; they are a growing force in the market place; in more than 50% of US households women are the primary breadwinner. A female value system that is biased toward holistic, ecological and consensus thinking also is affecting business and consumer behavior.

9. Global and mobile: A trend toward global mobility, especially for in-demand skilled professionals. This trend is accentuated by a huge growth in entrepreneurial activity by individuals and small groups. Global forest-products companies are challenged to attract and keep needed core competencies. A shift to more contracted services to support a smaller cadre of core full-time employees is likely.

10. Becoming media peds: More and more people can take all information connect capability with them. We are moving to sensory substitution — a disconnection from what is real; there will be more things connected to the Internet than to people. The cellphone, pager, Internet device are becoming “essential” for today’s students. This trend poses a challenge for paper products, which must be promoted for what they do best.

Other worthy mentions for trends: nations of minorities; social and intellectual capital (rather than steel and concrete); personalization (and privatization) of education; genetic manipulation; water crisis; the end of reading (with voice-in / voice-out computers); Americanization of global finance; nanotechnology products; the global teenager.

Why is this important?

Group discussion of these trends will perhaps bring to the surface new insight or thinking for the parameters shaping an organization’s strategy. The list is probably incomplete; are there other perspectives out there? Readers may also debate the above list and the order in which I have placed them. Send me your thoughts by E-mail. If I get enough responses I will report on a new “consensus evaluation” of important trends that affect our industry. Have fun!

Alan R. Procter can be reached at a.r._procter@telus.net. For more information, visit www.futureviews.net