Futurist Ross Dawson's Predictions for 2016 (Part 1)

Part one of an in-depth interview where we ask futurist Ross Dawson to elaborate on his predictions for 2016, their implications for the corporation and the individual.

Ross Dawson

Ross Dawson

Futurist Ross Dawson’s take on the future has been remarkably accurate. He predicted the rise of social networks, Twitter and personalised advertising in his 2002 book, Living Networks, long before any of them had become a ubiquitous part of our reality.

Most recently, Dawson produced a new set of predictions for 2016 including people wearing video glasses, “lifestreaming “ where we capture, store and share continuous videos, conversations and photos from our daily lives, and the next generation of “thought interfaces”.

In the first part of this in-depth interview we ask Dawson to elaborate on these predictions in a business context. We discuss the rise and rise of social media and how it impacts business, especially in the areas of brand and reputation and take a look at the changing face of the slimmed-down, decentralised corporation.

In the second part of the interview we explore the future through the perspective of the individual, looking at the pervasiveness of content and its implications for privacy. And of course no discussion of the future would be complete without exploring the melding of man and machine – an area that many of us scoffed at for years until we outsourced our memories to our Blackberries.

Many companies are still grappling with the rise in social media. Can you give us a bit of background on your Social Media Strategy framework? Is this something that can be applied to a range of different businesses and organisations?

Our Social Media Strategy Framework is not intended to be an out-of-the-box process for every organization, but rather a tool for generating relevant strategies. The framework can be applied to creating a useful and usable social media strategy, including clear objectives, specific action items, and a timeline for activities.

Social media and consumer conversations are not going to go away – this is no fad. The ability to engage with social media will increasing drive business success, so every organization needs to work out what they will do to build their capabilities in this rapidly emerging space. The sooner companies begin to engage, the better positioned they will be as this fundamental trend picks up momentum.

There’s been a tremendous amount of discussion around “old and new media” and also around the changing nature of marketing. How should marketers best navigate the new order in order to influence buyer behaviour? How should media companies move forward?

There is no simple and foolproof path to success. For marketers, one of the most important issues to deal with is the shift to the “influence economy” (see our “influence landscape” document here, in which peer and expert influence dominates decision-making. Pushing messages will not give you access to key influencers; engaging in interesting conversations will. This requires capabilities that are new for most large companies.

Every media organization is in a unique situation which requires specific strategies. However every single one must address the fundamental issue of scaling costs to revenues. In many cases, using a single set of resources to run a number of niche media properties – across industries, countries, demographics, or other sectors – is a key part of the puzzle.

The most important thing to understand is what we have in the past thought of as media – the creation and distribution of content – now relates directly to almost all economic activity, and the capabilities of media participants can be applied far more broadly than ever before. In almost every case business models must diversify from advertising and subscriptions. In the connected web a plethora of potential revenue sources are arising, many of them based on tapping the value of communities. A key variable will be the degree of social and regulatory constraints on targeted advertising, which could significantly impact the size of the media economy.

You suggest that most call-centre operations will be outsourced to computers, something that we’re already seeing happen in a rudimentary way now. How will that impact countries like Ireland, India and the Philippines?

The process of distributing work across the globe has just begun. At the same time the automation of the jobs of today is simply a continuation of what has already been happening for centuries. The specific tasks will change, but there will continue to be a massive flow of knowledge work to lower cost countries.

You talk about public measures of reputation guiding us to who we will do business with, something we already see in daily life with eBay. Reputation has always been a critical part of business success – a key part of brand. What’s different?

Our reputation precedes us as never before. In a connected and transparent world we can gain deep insights into how an individual or company is perceived by others before we interact with them. People can no longer hope that their misdeeds will remain hidden – their behaviors and past actions will be clearly visible to all.

From now on, the rapidly increasing amount of information available on people and companies will be aggregated into relevant measures that go beyond any single marketplace. These measures will guide who we choose to work with. There are many issues that will need to be deal with, including privacy, libel, accuracy, and the gaming of these systems, but the rewards in economic efficiency and social benefit will be absolutely worth it.

You talk about a slimmed down corporate machine being replaced by micro-business. Is this message as terrifying for business owners as it sounds?

Large organizations are not going to disappear. There is great value to workers building mutual trust over time through shared experience. It will still often make sense to have long-term employees who work in the same office or in collaborative teams. However even large organizations will gradually virtualize many of their functions, sometimes building enduring extended teams of independent workers.

There is no question that an increasing proportion of economic value and innovation will come from smaller organizations, ranging from individuals to entrepreneurial start-ups. One of the roles of larger companies will be to tap capital markets to buy and leverage the innovation created by small dynamic operations.

Ross Dawson is globally recognized as a leading futurist, entrepreneur, keynote speaker , strategy advisor, and bestselling author. He is Founding Chairman of four companies: international consulting and ventures firm Advanced Human Technologies, futures think-tank Future Exploration Network, leading events company The Insight Exchange, and online start-up Repyoot.

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Read part two of this interview here

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