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Top 3 Trends for 2012

Guest blog from Richard Worzel

Leading forecaster and futurist Richard Worzel challenges organizations to examine the future and plan for the dizzying changes to come. Worzel can equip your organization with the ability to understand the changes to be faced in the years ahead, and the tools to leverage those changes to revolutionize and dominate your industry. A Chartered Financial Analyst, he is also a best-selling author and frequent media commentator on business and economic trends.

The year ahead is going to be a tumultuous one, challenging in political, economic, and financial terms. Despite this, there are opportunities for those prepared to take advantage of them, because uncertain times mean that market share is up for grabs.

1)    Yes, China’s influence will continue to rise, but…  Napoleon famously said, “China is a sleeping giant. Let it sleep.” Well, China’s very much awake now, and throwing her weight around – although cautiously. If I were (God forbid) Emperor of China, I would require my minions to tread cautiously, to smile a lot at our trading partners and neighbors, and to make our gains slowly, one salami slice at a time, never appearing too greedy or overreaching. I would practice soft diplomacy, offering aid and comfort where I could do so cheaply, loudly proclaiming our respect for other countries’ internal policies, taking leadership positions in things, like climate change, where I knew I was going to have to make changes anyway, and generally trying to look like a good global citizen. I would act, in short, as if time were on my side, and I was going to be the next Big Thing.

And generally speaking, that is precisely what China is doing – except that every once in a while the mask slips, and the avarice and aggression shows, as with the boundary disputes with other countries, especially as related to the South “China” Sea, which China (the nation) seems to be trying to interpret literally as being a Chinese lake.

But China has an Achilles’ heel – several of them, in fact – and does not have (much) time on its side. Its biggest weakness is that it is aging faster than any other significant country on Earth. Because of its One Child policy, China’s population is expected to peak, and begin declining, sometime around 2020 – within the next 10 years. And its labor force is already in decline, even as the demands for higher wages push its cost structures higher.

Meanwhile, although there is a great deal of pride in China’s new affluence among the Chinese, that affluence is not evenly spread, and there is unrest among those who remain poor. Add to this the widespread corruption of Chinese officials at all levels, which often provokes revolts, like the one in Wukan, which leads to simmering dissatisfaction among many Chinese.

This will further be exacerbated by the fact that China’s factories are automating almost as quickly as those of the developed world, which threatens to slow the rate of job creation, productivity, and affluence markedly over the next 10 years. Yet, China dare not automate; to do so would mean a loss of competitiveness, which would produce even worse results as industries would move elsewhere.
So, with that in mind, what would I, as self-appointed Emperor of China, do? Worry about a future I couldn’t control, and for which I could not see a clear path forward. The next 10 years will mark the beginning of the end of China’s ascension, and if I were Emperor, I’d think about retiring to some warm, cushy haven before the revolution came. Chinese Spring, anyone?

The implications are for China to step up its attempts to increase power and influence, and throw its weight around even more actively before that power starts to wane, but as quietly as possible. Look for China to try to make this the China Decade, especially in finance, trade, and geopolitics, as it attempts to pull in as much as it can while it can.

2) Haggling returns to North American retailing. Smart retailers are recognizing that it’s no longer enough to post a sign saying “10% off” to attract consumers, but that consumers are more demanding now, and are moving away from the traditional “no haggle” approach to buying. Moreover, haggling offers two additional benefits to consumers: it’s become somewhat of a game where they can enjoy the thrill of the hunt; and it offers bragging rights when talking with their friends. As a result, haggling has been emerging in two different ways, one passive, and the other active.

The passive form of haggling is to wait for sales. You can witness this almost anywhere when consumers see an item they like in a store, and ask if it’s on sale. When they’re told that it’s not, they turn up their noses, and say they’ll wait until it is. This might be described as “temporal haggling”, where the consumer is saying, “I’ll wait until you lower the price before I buy it. And if you don’t lower it enough, I won’t buy it.” Smart stores are responding in creative ways. Some salespeople say, “No, that’s not on sale, but it will be starting next week,” which amounts to a counter-offer. A smart consumer will reply by saying, “Can you put it aside for me until then?”, implicitly offering to buy it if they do. Some salespeople say no, others say “Sure.” The net result is that store and consumer have haggled over the price to agree on a sale/purchase. Yet the smart retailer actually has an advantage in this exchange: they get to name the sale price in temporal haggling.

By comparison, in active, more traditional haggling the consumer takes the initiative, saying something like “What’s your best price on this widget?” If the salesperson replies with the sticker price, the haggle is over and the consumer leaves. If the salesperson names a price, the consumer responds dismissively, and says, “I wouldn’t pay a nickel over $X for that”, and the salesperson can choose to respond or not. This is, as I say, traditional marketplace haggling.

If a retailer wants to capitalize on the re-emergence of haggling into the North American marketplace, they need to anticipate it, and come up with a range of responses. One might be to say, “We can’t discount this item today, but it is going on sale next week. Would you like to put a deposit on it to hold it until then?” The retailer regains the initiative this way, and moves towards a close. Or better still, the retailer should look for a way to add value rather than cut price by making a counter-offer like, “No, I’m sorry, we can’t discount that item. But we can offer you a 50% discount on a matching accessory if you buy it.”

Regardless of approach, though, retailers should be prepared to return to marketplace haggling, and have a range of responses ready to deal with it. Consumers, as always, should decide what they want, and what their bottom line is in getting it.

3) Health care magic blossoms. Putting aside the issue of cost, which concerns everyone, the ability of health care to solve problems is beginning to move at computer speeds, in part because IT is increasingly being used by doctors, nurses, hospitals – and patients – to manage health care, and in part because research is increasingly being done using smart, powerful computer tools to perform research and execute treatments. Among the changes in the immediate future of health care are:

  • The rapidly rising ability to repair failing hearts and minds (or at least brains) and other organs with stem cells. Stem cell treatments are starting to move out of the laboratory and into the operating room, and 2012 will see hundreds of people receiving this kind of therapy.
  • Similarly, 3D printers, which have been in development for roughly 20 years, are now good enough that they are starting to be used to create replacement organs from a patient’s own tissue. This will gradually move into mainstream medicine, with replacement hearts, livers, and kidneys being at the top of the list.
  • Quadriplegics will increasingly be able to interact with the world through prosthetics controlled by thought alone, either through electrodes that interpret brain wave patterns, or implanted chips which interpret specific thought-impulses.
  • Retinal implants are starting to emerge that can help blind people discern light, shapes, and some objects. The implication is that we may be able to help aging boomers improve their failing eyesight as they age – one of the biggest complaints of old age!
  • Health care is increasingly falling into the hands of the patient – literally. Smartphones, which are fundamentally wearable computers with all the capabilities of what used to be called “supercomputers”, can now work with Bluetooth-enabled sensors to monitor various aspects of health, from the vigor of your workout, to the health of your heart, to the level of your blood sugar. This will lead to a revolution in health management, with consumers sometimes way out in front of practitioner.
  • Likewise, as patients become more and more comfortable with researching medical conditions and treatments online; they are demanding an increasing role in their own diagnosis and treatment; becoming active, important advocates for fund-raising and acceptance of treatments; and blunt critics of health care practitioners through social media and word of mouth. Smart practitioners are accepting this trend and rolling with it. Old school practitioners are resisting, but may wind up steamrolled by it.
  • Crowdsourcing of tough diagnoses, and novel solutions to the medical and financial problems of health care promise to open yet another front in the health care revolution. This follows on with the success of crowdsourcing in helping leading-edge research scientists in astronomy ( and protein research (Foldit game softwear).
  • Sequencing your genome gets cheap. Sequencing the first genome cost billions of dollars and took decades to perform (culminating in the Human Genome Project). Today it costs about $1,000 (although analysis costs significantly more). Within 10 years, it will cost $100, and analysis will cost about $500 more, and will provide you a complete run-down of where your vulnerabilities lie, and what you can do to forestall future health problems. For 2012, we will see incremental advances towards that goal, with major diseases identified, and a short list of things you do – and don’t – want to do or eat prescribed. This is the true beginning of personalized medicine, and it will revolutionize health care.