For nearly a decade, ever since I started the company that became ZEITGUIDE, I’ve been tracking cultural change. So—through the election of Barack Obama to the arrival of Donald Trump. Through the glorification of digital startups to the end of net neutrality. Through the near collapse of Wall Street to the new stock market highs. Through the denial-acceptance-denial of climate change.But 2017 was the most broadly disruptive year I’ve yet to see.
It was a great year for stock portfolios, but one filled with polarizing conversations. The vitriol of politics was its most prominent feature. But there was also the unstoppable destruction of hurricanes and wildfires—whole communities erased from the map. Not to mention the collective power of #MeToo, exposing so many workplaces as swamps of toxic sexual harassment. And technology—once our potential savior—has been revealed as a dangerous tool for fake news, hacking and possible election-tampering.
I recently reread the last six annual ZEITGUIDE books to get grounded in context, and what struck me most was how much the business cycle in recent years resembled the stages of grief. Like a death in the family, digital disruption spawned anger and denial (paralysis) followed by bargaining (deal-making) and acceptance (acquisition).
But looking back, and training my focus on legacy companies, I wonder how much the changes taking place reflect genuine innovation? All the open-concept workspaces, the internal business incubators, the enterprise social systems, the design thinking—did they really open minds and embed new ideas?
Innovation, it turns out, is not enough. Now we are entering an age of transformation. And if we want our careers and businesses to stay relevant, we also have to transform as individuals. We need to transform ourselves emotionally, spiritually and intellectually.
Emotionally, it could be painful, albeit exciting.
Spiritually, we have to accept it might be a long road ahead.
Intellectually … well, that’s the purpose of ZEITGUIDE. Always has been.
We have transformed our annual ZEITGUIDE compendium in three important ways for 2018. First, we turned it on its side. Rather than breaking chapters down, industry by industry, to examine the trends in each, we’re focusing each chapter on a cultural force causing those changes. Second, this ZEITGUIDE that you’re reading in January will be followed by three quarterly briefings—so that in April, July and October you’ll be filled in on how the leading-edge issues are panning out so far. And finally, we’ve added “Zeitguidance” sections at the end of each chapter to help you actualize what you’ve learned.
There’s much equivocation about the year to come. That’s how it is when the culture is at a crossroads. More swells of change are coming, and they will land faster and with more force. ZEITGUIDE is happy to be here to help you surf the big waves throughout the year ahead.
Wishing you a great 2018, and as we always say at ZEITGUIDE,
Founder & CEO, ZEITGUIDE
Corporate walls today are more transparent than ever. This creates an urgent need to be aware of–and responsive to–the tectonic shifts happening seemingly moment by moment in the landscape beyond. If the world outside is undergoing constant change, then the organization inside must adapt and transform–or else it risks sinking under the weight of obsolescence. The most agile companies are redefining job titles, altering workplace rules and environments, and adjusting their decision-making hierarchies. Moreover, while it used to be that companies expected a lot from their employees, today, employees expect more of their companies. For a business to succeed, it must be one of the top destinations for today’s premier talent, which means attending to the needs of its workers. In this chapter, we distill the most pressing issues facing every part of the org chart, beginning with the C-Suite.
According to a survey by KPMG, the greatest concern for CEOs in the United States is cybersecurity. A third of CEOs said it was the issue with the biggest impact on their companies today, but only half acknowledged they’re prepared for a cyber event.
And being unprepared ain’t cheap. The Equifax breach cost the company $87.5 million in the third quarter, and the lasting effect on consumer confidence has yet to be determined.
While some CEOs are investing in stronger customizable software, the smart ones are also developing a plan of action for handling the damage when it (inevitably) occurs.
Clearing the many hurdles facing business today will be a new crop of CEOs, many of them leading the country’s most recognizable companies. Here we provide you with the most notable recent appointments, what led them there and the challenges they face.
A rung down the corporate ladder from the CEO is arguably the most creative job in the C-Suite: Chief Marketing Officer. It’s also the most tenuous.
Hollywood came under an unwelcome spotlight when allegations of an industry-wide culture of sexual misconduct became the lead story for news cycle after news cycle in the fall of 2017. But the movie industry wasn’t the only one to be exposed. Social media posts using #MeToo uncovered harassment in industries including—but not limited to—tech, art, news, food, advertising, publishing, politics, hospitality and fashion.
Now a global phenomenon, that hashtag has not only helped expose the conditions women face in the workplace that make them vulnerable to abuses, it‘s also gone far in explaining why victims are unlikely to come forward.
Automation is threatening jobs everywhere from Michigan to Guangdong. In a compelling piece in The New Yorker, Sheelah Kohlhatkar described the eerie phenomenon of dark factories, where there is no need to keep the lights on when there are no human workers.
Will this phase of automation outpace new opportunities?
Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1 in 3 Americans earn income from work that doesn’t fit the traditional 9-to-5 job. An estimated 20 million people in the United States are contractors—who may or may not be working from home in their pajamas.
One upshot of the gig economy? It has created a hot market for co-working spaces. WeWork is now in 58 cities throughout the world, with a $20 billion valuation—making it the fourth most valuable U.S. startup.
There’s an arms race to build headquarters that will impress and awe the public, while giving employees something to humblebrag about on Instagram. Anonymous office parks with good cafeterias are no longer enough: the more influential the company, the more dramatic the architectural statement.
Which tech behemoths are making a lasting mark on design?
EX will become more and more important in a competitive landscape for premier talent.
It’s not just about ping pong tables and kegged cold-brew coffee. It’s about operating with transparency and cooperation. It’s about giving employees the skills to navigate the new processes of the future, and helping them in a transformed labor market. It’s about being in an organization that not only rewards them for work, but enables them to have work-life harmony.
We are at a crossroads: how do we get the most from technology, without losing what it is that makes us human?
Make no mistake—digital will continue to transform the business and cultural landscape at twitch speed. However, we are right now seeing a change in the public’s perception of digital technology’s impact on society. Just as the Industrial Revolution brought labor unrest, income inequality, and environmental distress, the tech revolution is grappling with its own litany of negative consequences.
This section will discuss the conversations swirling around Big Tech, what other companies are doing to stay competitive and the next wave of technology that will determine who dominates the business landscape—that is to say, who will redefine our culture and behavior?
The Big Five—Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook—take the top spots for market capitalization. Most are new faces. Of the top five from the start of the 21st century—GE, Microsoft, Exxon, Citibank and Walmart—only Microsoft is a holdover. Our transformation into a tech-dependent society now realized, we’re left to consider the consequences.
But now the Big Five are losing some of the public’s trust. “The technologies we were most excited about 10 years ago are now implicated in just about every catastrophe of the day,” wrote technology journalist and New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo. Have they become what Manjoo calls the “Frightful Five?”
The skepticism of Big Tech makes sense, but other developments show that the industry giants don’t have total ownership of our lives just yet.
Could titanic-scale mergers and acquisitions among telecom, media and content companies give Big Tech a run for its money?
While workers grapple with if—or when—automation will replace their jobs, companies continue to invest in artificial intelligence as a competitive imperative.
Here are some examples of how AI is being developed across industries.
Bitcoin and its competitors (covered below) utilize a technology called blockchain that enables digital exchanges outside the system of central banks, governments or other traditional institutions. This means you can make a purchase with anonymity, and without fees.
Yet the jury is still out on the soundness of investing in cryptocurrencies.
In addition to Bitcoin, everyone’s talking about blockchain, mainly because blockchain is the very technology that Bitcoin is run on.
What exactly is blockchain?
Today’s business-to-consumer connection has been optimized for smartphones, laptops and tablets. But the future of the consumer experience won’t be on a screen. It will be all around us.
The first major step towards this future is voice technology, exemplified through the release and rapid adoption of home speaker devices.
We are in the midst of a tectonic shift that is upending the order of the commercial establishment. In the pre-digital era, consumer-facing businesses not only shaped the buying behavior of the public, they influenced the culture at large—what was good for General Motors was good for America.
Not anymore. Today, the impact of social media gives the consumer more of a voice—and more control. Now it’s the buying public that shapes a company, impacting not only the products that are created and how they’re brought to market, but the very values that form a corporate identity. Consumers have power, and they’re not afraid to leverage it.
They can even direct how the business leader responds to world events. Consumers now are loud, fickle and impressionable, and if one well-voiced opinion rings true it will be repeated and amplified with alarming speed.
Success is more of a challenge when your audience is that demanding. But there’s good news too. The very technology that created this landscape also provides the means to navigate it.
Digital provides a direct conduit between companies and consumers: it accelerates discovery, transactions, delivery and service, enabling brands to cut through the clutter and target consumers with more precision. Just as important, that conduit permits a point of contact—it creates a personal touch.
Today, the value of your product and how you perform in the marketplace is tied to how well you know your consumers. If you have any chance of keeping them, you must show them that you value them.
Every industry has seen new entrants to the market quickly outpace legacy brands through their canny use of digital technology. If there’s no entrenched way of doing things, the costs are lower. And when the barriers to entry are lower, the upstarts can rapidly respond to the needs of the market. But the greatest advantage they have is using digital technology to circumvent the middleman and form a direct connection with consumers.
This readymade access enables a seamless, frictionless experience for consumers—they can get what they want, when they want it. It also allows businesses to collect real-time data on their consumers, providing an understanding not only of who they are, but what their needs are—and how those needs are likely to evolve. In other words, digital technology makes the consumer the star.
Who is the leader of what’s called “customer-centric” tactics?
Digital technology enables the collection of vast amounts of data about the consumer. At the same time, businesses are creating more descriptive data for the content and products they offer. Better consumer data and better product data are making it easier to match an individual consumer with what he or she wants and needs.
Who is winning the eyes, ears and hearts of consumers today? Here are the changing consumer media habits to note from the year that was.
While many predict a pending “retailpocalypse,” brick-and-mortar store traffic fell by less than 1% compared with Black Friday’s 2016 numbers. But with retail’s growth happening online and on mobile, and store visits flat or facing small declines, smart retailers are continuing to rethink how best to use their physical space.
We see efforts to make retail spaces must-attend destinations through a blend of emerging technology and entertainment. Here are a few of our favorite recent examples of store tech and entertainment, as put together with ZEITGUIDE collaborator Pam Kaufman, CMO and Global President of Consumer products at Nickelodeon.
The most encouraging sign for conventional retail may be that highly successful online retailers continue to leverage what they learn about consumers online to move into brick-and-mortar territory.
Millennials were the generation that came into the workforce during the digital revolution. Currently, the focus is shifting to Gen Z, whose entire conception of what it means to be social has been shaped by smartphones and social media. The next age group to enter the lexicon is Gen Alpha.
The New Weed Consumer
Acceptance of marijuana use is growing steadily. So who is the new weed consumer? Definitely no longer the pot-buyer stereotype of a High Times-reading, Grateful Dead-loving, tie-dye-wearing pothead.
The Luxury Buyer
The traditional essence of luxury was exclusivity. Whether set apart by status or price or scarcity, luxuries were by definition unattainable by the masses.
And yet here we are in an age when everyone can hire a private driver via Uber, when designer fashions find their way to Marshall’s and eBay, when fine art can be bought online. Digital connectivity has disrupted exclusivity.
The Health-Conscious Consumer
Your new organic shopper isn’t a crusty vegan, it’s a mom in ballet flats.
The number of Chinese Millennials alone (some 415 million) is greater than the entire population of the United States. That’s an unbelievable market opportunity, and smart businesses will make an effort to better understand this demographic.
Companies are on a journey to take note of every taste, every desire, every habit and every purchase of each consumer. The approach isn’t to reach Millennials, or even Chinese Millennials, for that matter: It’s to describe the individual by the micro-detail.
Even a quick scan of international affairs will provide plenty of reasons for concern. Each day brings a new development somewhere on the planet that could imperil and completely reshape the established order.
These issues are no longer limited to the portfolios of presidents and politicians. Corporate leaders have a responsibility to understand the global shifts taking place, and shareholders, employees, and community stakeholders increasingly expect them to be prepared to respond to political events.
“More than ever, you need intelligence and contingency plans for political developments, even as it becomes more overwhelming to keep track of it all,” says political scientist DJ Peterson, president of Longview Global Advisers, who is ZEITGUIDE’s external partner on geopolitical issues that concern our clients.
Having a solid point of view and a plan is a daunting task, especially when facing a seemingly endless number of global issues. To guide you along, here’s a quick tour of what we believe will shape the coming year as well as the conversations among investors, leaders working abroad and all our clients whose title contains the word “global.”
The Trump presidency’s “America First” approach to international affairs is a catchy tagline which helped win an election. It’s less effective at communicating a position of global leadership.
Hurricanes. Wild fires. This past year was besieged by so-called once-in-a-century natural disasters. We get the hint: cataclysmic events may become yearly events.
Can we innovate our way out of the disasters heading towards us? Emerging technologies offer hope. Here are some initiatives and investments being made by industry leaders.
There’s strong debate as to whether AI and automation will unlock new levels of human productivity and creativity, or simply put a significant part of the labor force out of work. Should the latter prove correct, the question becomes then what?
With the guidance of our geopolitical thought-partner, DJ Peterson, here’s a quick tour of countries most likely to be talked about in 2018, and why they matter to business.
Today, the heavens are crowded with satellites launched by China, North Korea, Iran, Russia and the EU. Yet there are few rules dictating these operations.
Despite all these global disruptions, what is the overarching business backstory for 2017?
What worked culturally and financially in 2017? Here are ZEITGUIDE’s picks of some of the successes that resonated most with fans and critics alike, as well as some of the inevitable missteps and flops.
With ZEITGUIDE 2018, you will stay on top of everything you need to know to succeed during the year ahead! It is the secret weapon the C-Suite, creatives, cultural leaders and top executives use to navigate the chaos of our constantly changing culture.
“Zeitguide is a powerful and provocative tool that promotes relevance in the most dynamic era of our time.”
– Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company
Web and PDF versions of ZEITGUIDE 2018. Print orders will also receive the limited edition hard copy.
Three digital briefings at the start of each fiscal quarter updating you on how business & culture have continued to transform throughout 2018.
Weekly ZEITGUIDE Deep Dive that focuses on a distinct need-to-know subject emailed every Sunday.
#Ripouts by ZEITGUIDE, a weekly selection of “must-read,” “must-see” and “must-hear” items.
Tax, shipping and handling included in purchase. Digital access will be immediately available. All print orders will ship within one week of purchase.
Contact us to learn about enterprise orders of ZEITGUIDE 2018 and to have ZEITGUIDE CEO Brad Grossman come speak to your group