It’s tempting to start with ‘in the future…’ but the reality is that even future is not what it used to be. Anticipation of a distant time and place seems to be less, well, ‘anticipatory’. It’s hard to get surprised any more. In fact we increasingly talk about the future in negative terms. We expect miracles; just as our predecessors decades and centuries ago did. I think it’s still worth maintaining a sense of wonder as to what the future may bring. World peace would be a good start, followed by breakfast for every child in the world. Or, the other way around.
To me, the future matters in its relevance to collaboration as a driving force for creating new consumer tastes and trends. Collaboration is a new genre of business ethics. Sure, many would, and will, find a way around it. But this will not change simple facts on the ground. As we see increases in global population, with intensification of the challenges we face both globally and in our own neighbourhoods, collaboration is becoming a way of mitigating of some of these obstacles. The shared or collaborative economy is real. The tastes and attitudes of consumers globally is increasingly similar to those a generation ago when people simply refused to buy goods that were produced by, for example, slave labour, or at a great environmental cost to local and global communities.
The real subtle thing here is this: collaboration is a social language; the language of the 21st century.
In the future people will be compelled to buy products, not because they need them for their own utility, but because of the compelling story of how they are produced. The story of value creation is what will be attractive. This may mean that we will like to connect with interesting people and enterprises because we seek to identify with the ‘right’ group. The product or service on offer will be secondary. Now, the point here is not to make this a ‘yes-no’ proposition. Rather, it is a slightly ambiguous position that will be contested in different markets. Let’s be real, in some parts of the world people go to bed hungry and the unfortunate reality is that there is little evidence to suggest any major changes in the future. But, overall and specifically in the context of the western style world (democracies and economies), we are significantly shifting away from values that made us rich, and towards values that are about ‘enriching our lives’ by means other than new cars, endless travelling around the world in search of authentic connections and new gadgets to keep us away from ourselves. Recent research confirms what we may intuitively know too well: silence and quietude are only a small step removed from self-torture.
The real insight for me is the way consumers worldwide respond to goods that are produced collaboratively. Show business is a good example. The production and sale of all kinds of things, from music to film, shoes and watches, are now often made possible through collaboration between two or more artists or production companies. In the 1970s, the movie Jaws was an early example of what is now known as a blockbuster. Compare that to Guardians of the Galaxy which is this year’s profit machine. One clear observation is the degree of collaboration in the latter example. And, people are responding to it.
Let’s not be fooled by a view that collaboration is good for profit in the film industry, because it is about entertainment and not about curing cancer. The same consumer is also going to be more likely to appreciate other offerings if they are also a product of collaboration. The real subtle thing here is this: collaboration is a social language; the language of the 21st century.