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Posted: January 06, 2012

More 28 major trends for 2012 and beyond

They've already begun

Thomas Frey

Understanding trends is more of an art form than an exact science. But for those who can read the tealeaves, and make bold moves, leveraging trends can give them a serious competitive advantage.

As an example, LinkedIn just posted its annual list of top buzzwords, the ones most commonly used on their members' professional profiles. The top word people in the U.S. use to describe themselves on LinkedIn is "Creative." Last year "Creative" didn't even make it into the top 10, where "Extensive Experience" topped the list.

And it's not just the U.S. This was the most used word in Britain, Canada, Netherlands and Germany. So what business decisions will you make that tie into people's recast dreams of being "creative?"

Obviously, trends don't happen in one-year cycles. They are constantly evolving, and all of the content below is, in one way or another, already happening.  Last week we began our journey with trends 1-7 and 8-14 of the "28 Major Trends." Here are the next seven.

15.) Exploding Smartphone Industry - With a global population exceeding 7 billion people, we have seen the mobile phone industry mushroom to include over 5 billion members. Smartphones remain a small subset, owned by around 10 percent of all those with mobile phones. But not for much longer. We are about to see virtually all communication devices replaced with smartphones over the coming decade.

Leading the charge is Google with over 700,000 Android devices being activated daily. Over the past year, Google activated more than 255 million devices compared to 105 million Apple activations. Admittedly this isn't a true apples-to-apples comparison (no pun intended) because Google doesn't make their own phones and Apple does.

As smartphones and other devices evolve in this exploding market, look for a near-term push into near-field communications, 4G, and flexible bendable devices.

Critical to the growth of this mobile device market is the global supply of rare earth metals, which China currently controls 95 percent of known reserves. Looking out for its own self-interests, China has been ratcheting down exports of these metals by 12 percent per year for the past 5 years.

Their reluctance to export enough to meet global demand has touched off a world-wide hunt for new sources with promising finds being uncovered in Canada, Argentina, South Korea, and California. Look for several new mines to come online in coming years and China's stranglehold on the industry to plummet.

16.) Hyper-Local Urban Farming Going Underground - A few years ago, a study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University reported that between 1980 and 2001, the distance food traveled from farm-to-table increased 25 percent, ranging from 1,500 to 3,000 miles. Since then we have seen a strong push to localize and even hyper-localize the growing of food supplies.

The drive to make all food supplies local has touched off a number of battles to rewrite municipal codes to accommodate everything from rooftop gardens, to backyard cows and chickens, to aquaponic and aquaculture projects, to experimental vertical farms. The next shift with see crops grown underground.

Dutch-based PlantLab recently announced it has figured out how to triple plant yield in a sunless, rainless environment housed in their underground research facilities. PlantLab uses artificial light and only 10 percent of the water typically needed. Using the correct spectrum from their LED lighting system has increased photosynthesis efficiency to 12-15 percent percent from sunlight's 9 percent range.

By keeping the plants in a contained environment, PlantLab can also recycle evaporated water, which helps them grow crops using just one-tenth the water needed in traditional greenhouses. As an addition bonus, pesticides are no longer necessary. Production facilities can be built almost anywhere - from the deserts of Sahara to the icy plains of the Arctic.

17.) The Gamification of Business - Currently a huge buzzword in techy circles, gamification is moving mainstream. Simply defined, gamification involves applying game techniques such as leveling, rewards and competition, to any human experience.

Many limit their thinking about gamification to mobile apps, but it has far broader implications. Imbedded game features such as leaderboards, achievements and skill-based learning are becoming common in day-to-day business processes, driving adoption, performance and engagement.
One recent example is the Nike campaign to gamify the process of personal training. People who visit the site, enter details of their running times and the routes they were on, and compete for prizes with others around the world.

Another example is the geo-location service Foursquare provides which encourages people to use its check-in technology by giving them an incentive, when they checked in to a certain venue. Many restaurants have picked up on this and offer free cupcakes or desserts to customers who talk about their experience on Foursquare and other social networks.

It's all about adding fun to the daily tedium of living. Look for gamification to start making major inroads into college offerings as well as non-traditional K-12 educational programs.

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18.) Going Cashless - Signs of our emerging cashless society has been popping-up in small doses since 2005. And while 2012 may not be the year that consumers instantly go cashless, it will be the year that major players like Google and MasterCard roll out their cashless initiatives around the world.

For consumers, the initial attraction will be convenience, but eventually mobile payments will create an entirely new data-driven eco-system of rewards, purchase history, daily-deals and more. Key to this movement will be Near Field Communication (NFC), a technology that allows for encrypted data to be exchanged between two devices in close proximity ("near field") to each other.

Here are a few of the changes happening in this market over the past few months:

• In October 2011, the Google Wallet, a free, NFC-enabled mobile payment system became operational at select retailers across the US. Licensing MasterCard's PayPass technology, shoppers simply tap their mobile device on special terminals at points-of-sale to pay instantly.
• In June 2011, PayPal demonstrated its own mobile payment app for Android devices.
• Twitter founder Jack Dorsey's latest venture, Square, is an electronic payments service which enables users to accept credit card payments by using a portable card-reader device that plugs in to iPhone, iPad or Android devices. Both the Square card-reader and app are free, although there is a 2.75 percent charge for each payment made. In November 2011, Richard Branson and Visa became investors in Square.
• In June 2011, Sweedish-based iZettle was launched to enable consumers to accept anywhere-anytime credit card payments. The iZettle app works with iPhones and iPads. Bills can also be paid or money transferred using this service.

Google CEO Larry Page sees himself as the next great visionary, following in the footsteps of Steve Jobs, Nikola Tesla, and Thomas Edison, as he attempts to rewrite the rules for major industries by pushing initiatives like driverless vehicles, wireless power, and a cashless society. With our hero-based culture, look for Larry Page to emerge as the heart and soul of the movement to turn virtually every electronic device into a payment device.

19.) Ending the Dream of Home Ownership - If you had to choose between starting your own company, traveling around the world, or owning your own home, which would you choose?

Attitudes among Gen X and Gen Y are increasingly shifting towards creating a full life experience rather than settling down and building a nest egg.
Home ownership in the U.S. dropped to 66.9 percent last year from a high of 70 percent in 2005, and some are forecasting it will drop as low as 62 percent, a level not seen since the Census began tracking this data in 1963, as the hurdles to owning a home increase.

Naturally, this begs the question: Is a 62 percent home ownership rate so bad? It's still far higher than in most European countries. And, more importantly, why is it assumed we need to own our own homes?

Trillions of dollars have been spent propping up the American Dream of owning our own home. But the dream is shifting, so look for Congress to quit spending money on it. Instead, look for new experimental approached for redefining the relationship between people and the places they're living in. The stage has been set, it only a matter of time before a new paradigm unfolds.

20.) Accomplishment-Based Education - Writing a book, receiving a patent, or starting a business are all symbols of achievement in today's world. But being the author of a book that sells 10,000 copies, or inventing a product that 100,000 people buy, or building a business that grosses over $1 million in annual sales are all significant accomplishments that are far more meaningful than their symbolic starting points.

Much of what happens in today's colleges and universities is based on "symbols of achievement," not actual accomplishments.

Students who enter a classroom will typically find themselves immersed in an academic competition, a competition that pits students against each other to produce results that best match the teacher's expectations. Only rarely will the work product of a student in a classroom rise to any notable level of significance. Completing a class is nothing more than a symbol of achievement.

Look for this to change quickly as the tools for creating and managing "accomplishments" remotely become more pervasive.

21.) Driverless Cars and Autonomous Vehicles - The next revolution in transportation will be here soon, and it won't be streetcars, monorails, Segway's, or electric vehicles. It will be self-driving cars, and the adoption of this technology will change virtually everything in the field of transportation planning.

The idea of jumping into a vehicle and having it shuttle you to your destination without anyone "driving" it may sound like pure fantasy to some, but it's far closer than most of us think.

• Google's self-driving car project has already racked up over 200,000 driverless miles on highways. Google reports these cars have required intervention by a human co-pilot only about once every 1,000 miles and the goal is to reduce this rate to once in 1,000,000 miles.
• In 2010 VisLab ran VIAC (VisLab Intercontinental Autonomous Challenge), a 13,000 km test run of autonomous vehicles. In this competition, 4 driverless electric vans successfully drove from Italy to China, arriving at the Shanghai Expo on October 28, 2010. This was the first intercontinental trip ever completed by an autonomous vehicle.
• Many car companies including General Motors, Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, and Volvo have begun early testing of driverless car systems.
• General Motors has stated that they will have a driverless model ready for final testing by 2015, going on sale officially in 2018.

Even though car companies are making plans for the transition, planning departments are not. Most local and regional transportation departments are working with models that assume 20 years from now transportation systems will be basically the same, with only slight variations around the edges.
Driverless cars will be far safer. Human-based foibles like speeding, inattention, inexperience, impairment and fatigue all contribute to road accidents. Driverless cars will remove the human variable from the system. Along with fewer accidents will come the eventual elimination of traffic cops, traffic courts, stoplights, and parking lots.

Look for rapid advancement in this area and for Google to make a play to design an Android-like operating system for all driverless cars.
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Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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Readers Respond

I would like a cashless society, especially if it means I do not have to spend my cash. In the near future you may see the $100, $50, and possibly the $20 bills go away but we will still need cash because it is so useful over cards. Driver-less cars, great idea, can they retro fit my 1991 car? Otherwise if they want me to buy a new car, I am will to pay something, but they will not like the amount. Cell/smart phones. when they are unlimited and as cheap as my land line, then it will be a trend. By TFC on 2012 01 07
Thanks, Tom, for your usual great insight into the future. Tony, the attraction of a driverless car is an end to DUIs, dramatic reduction in traffic accidents and deaths and property damage, etc., etc. Our "freedom" is not and should not be absolute. The valid concerns of society have got to take precedence over the cult of absolute individual freedom. And the cult of home ownership is a good deal of what produced the crash of 2007-2008. Not everyone SHOULD own a home, nor does everyone want to. People who pay their rent on time and take good care of their rented property are just as responsible as those who own their own homes. If you have the finances and desire to own a home, more power to you. If not, then there is no shame in being a responsible tenant. By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2012 01 07
I agree that most of these things will eventually happen - but I don't think they are all uniformly good things. Home ownership changes a person from one who lives according to someone else's rules (the landlord) into one with power over their environment. Driving your car where you want to, when you want to, via the route you want to take, is a uniquely American experience, which we take for granted. Yes, you can work, play games, or socialize on your smartphone if you ride the bus or have a driverless car to take you places - but both of these require you to bend to the will of the RTD or the inevitable traffic planner's control over your car. This might be more desirable in places where the traffic is horrific, but here in the wide open west, I don't see the attraction. By Tony Grieder on 2012 01 06
Thomas, thank you for your profound insights and stimulating my creativity (apparently, creativity has heightened importance these days)! By TC North on 2012 01 06

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