The world is not getting any simpler. Our daily lives are more fluid and less routine than ever before, while we struggle to meet the demand of both work and leisure. Technology access connects us to so much information that we can counter facts with alternative facts. Progress on social values mean our definitions of gender, sexuality, age and ethnic identity are changing.

In 2017 the world will continue to become more complex. We stand on the brink of genuinely astounding developments in science and technology, all of which prompt serious questions and ethical debates.

  • Automation and robotics will usher in the 4th industrial revolution, necessitating an wholesale rethink of our workforce, social welfare, our economy and taxation.
  • Advances in predictive diagnostics will revolutionise the way we think about our health, diets and lifestyles. What does this mean for NHS spending priorities, or dietary advice? Have the ethical consequences of this been properly considered?
  • Our digital identities are increasingly rich, and unlike us, not mortal. What considerations do we need to apply to our posthumous identities?

All these are essential, urgent debates that we need to be having. And they all seem a little too complex for the status quo, which is currently set on viewing the world though a veneer of simplicity.

For consumers, this simplicity plays out in lower trust, disintermediated services, rejection of ‘fake’ authenticity and a wholesale death of deference. This is a new – and perhaps newly hostile – climate for organisations, where what was once a health cynicism about authority and institutions is replaced by front page attacks on previously off-limits subjects (such as judges and the civil service). Steve Bell’s cartoon in The Guardian last week is a fine example of this; whether it has your personal political sympathies or not, it is difficult to imagine a President and Prime Minister being depicted in quite this way before.

Some of the more difficult questions we asked last year were answered with simple rhetoric. Brexit and Trump were shocks to those without their eye on fragmented populations and heavily polarised economic growth, and represent a demand for simplicity and authenticity by a slice of the electorate with no stake in the status quo and no time for a world that is changing more quickly than ever before. The New Morality trend we first identified during the economic downturn continues to turn concerns inwards – away from complex global issues and on to the local or parochial.

In 2017, complex debates about the past, present and future will be viewed through a lens of simplicity. But in order to meet the challenges – and grasp the opportunities – of the future we need to remember their complexity, and perhaps even learn to start trusting experts again.

January Trends Breakfast Presentation – The World in 2017

The world asked some big questions in 2016 and got some simple answers. But simplicity isn’t always the right answer, especially if it is masking greater complexity, fragmentation and polarisation than ever before. This presentation is our annual look at the year ahead, where we go beyond the superficial simplicity to uncover the challenges, threats and opportunities that 2017 has in store.

The pdf. of January’s presentation can be found here.