Predictions for a new year is almost always a big waste of time. And they are so many, so far-fetched and so ill-informed that they make you nauseous. However, I have nevertheless decided to jump on a limb and be a bit more gung-ho about what could be playing out in 2021.
The list below is just straight from the gut and things, I have been wondering about. I take no responsibility for it beyond that. So read on if you like but take everything with a healthy dose of salt.
First of all, Covid-19 will continue to haunt us for longer than we hoped or even anticipated.
Yes, the vaccines are starting to get here, and yes, there is every reason to be extremely thankful to real science for coming up with vaccines in so little time without compromising safety.
But, and this is the big but; rollout is going to be slower than we might have thought, but that’s not going to keep people from starting to behave like they are already immune. Therefore, expect new spikes (sorry!) in people catching Covid-19 and increased fatalities as well.
The fatalities will not be evenly distributed. The ones most likely to start behaving like 2019 all over again are probably the most likely to spread it and the least likely to get really sick from it. Who said it was a fair world.
While some will be busy living life to the fullest too soon, a lot of us will continue to take precautions and will be focused more on finding innovative new ways of keeping a social distance will at the same time preserving a sense of being close to loved ones, friends and colleagues.
Expect a flurry of new cool innovation in this space. The market is HOT.
Second prediction: Education will be the new podcasting. It will be all the rage in 2021 as there is still a lot of room for innovation in content formats and delivery, while at the same time the infrastructure is fully in place to accommodate more learning on the distance.
When I say that it will be the new podcasting, I mean that everybody will be offering courses. Forget your free, bad webinars; people with real subject matter expertise but perhaps not the big techie skills will start to get out there and charge for their knowledge, experience and insights.
And we will happily pay. Because were dying to get something more than just the usual empty calories.
New teachers will be helped by technology, WYSIWYG platforms of sorts and shorter formats that takes the necessity of actually knowing a lot about how to communicate effectively out of the equation. Chefs, handy people, craftspeople, historians, guides etc. will flock online.
This will also nurture the ‘Education As You Need It’ wave, where you get new insights in the right time and place, when you need it and not in the traditional way where you learn a lot in the hope or anticipation that you will eventually use it.
This latter thing will potentially be able to hurt universities and higher education, who will need to adapt.
Meanwhile, and third on the list of predictions, podcasting will go the way of legacy media.
While one cannot say it will go away, podcasting have reached maturity with all the challenges it brings. While some have found the formula for making it a nice, lucrative business, many struggle, and most platforms struggle even more.
2021 will be the year where those who essentially have nothing different or edgy to offer will rethink whether they want to continue or just call it quits, while they still can. The same will go for platforms. They will essentially be confronted with some of the same existential issues that have plagued and still is plaguing legacy media. Thus the comparison.
The fourth prediction is one I have high hopes for: Personal health will become truly innovative and start to embrace new technologies and approaches.
A group of Danish universities have already seen this and is offering a brand new master in personal health. Not so much driven by curiosity per se but more by a realization from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic that there are true limits for the capacity of the health sector, and if we are to progress further, we need to embrace personal health.
The biggest change here is going to be with the GPs. They have traditionally been gatekeepers keeping a lot of innovative solutions at bay due to doubts about their medical evidence. Of course that matters, and it matters a lot. But GPs will have to start giving way.
This is a big opportunity for startups in the health tech and med tech space, so expect to see a flurry of new interesting companies in this space.
The fifth prediction is related to the former; that we start to value our personal health more. And act accordingly.
Covid-19 has given us both a health scare and amble time to think as well as act on that thinking. Many of us has gotten into a slower lifestyle, and with an element of stress (temporarily) removed, we actually have time to take care of ourselves. And we have just witnessed how important it is to take that responsibility seriously.
The circle is complete.
This is not to say that the path is open for every quack to come and offer God-knows-what and take advantage. Far from it. But it is to say that the opportunity is there for new and existing startups that deliver tangible value in this space.
And what these will find is that when it comes to personal health, loyalty is at an all time high; if you can deliver and do so consistently to leave your customer in a better health, they will most likely never churn.
That’s a good business to get into.
Speaking of a good business to get into, we get to prediction number six: Mental health is going to be a big, big digital business.
If anything Covid-19 has taught us all just how fragile we are, especially mentally. Even those of us who would otherwise consider ourselves mentally strong have been strained by the uncertainty of uncharted territory and social isolation. That feeling is not going to go away.
Mental health has been engulfed in taboo forever. Now that so many of us have experienced – and are experiencing – issues at the same time, its a good time for that taboo to be eliminated and for new, innovation digital solutions for mental support – not treatment – to step into the limelight.
My prediction is that those kinds of services will become just as ubiquitous as all sorts of other fitness, health and diet related digital products and people will be willing to invest in staying mentally fit.
And the issue of mental fitness brings me on to prediction number seven:
Mental surplus exemplified in internal deep trust among coworkers will become the main competitive differentiator among organizations working in a similar space with similar kinds of solutions.
Covid-19 has forced most organizations to try to find a way of functioning on the distance using work-from-home methodologies and tools, i.e. virtual meetings. And while a lot of low hanging fruits could be harvested through better monitoring and reporting, the time for productivity gains using those means have now passed.
We need something more now. Those where it has been enough to just be able to check of items on the to do list to maintain a sense of productivity will start to run into trouble and start to face challenges to generate new meaningful to do lists in an environment where you don’t have people in the room and can use good ol’ ‘command-and-conquer’ management techniques.
Meanwhile those organizations where co-workers have fostered a deep sense of internal trust will be free to figure out how to be truly innovative and break new ground while on the distance. Doing that takes trust in one another and that no-one is going to go AWOL because things may become too hard or complicated.
When these trusting organizations work this out they will be able to leapfrog their competitors who will still be struggling to compile their new checklists. And thus will have gotten a competitive advantage.
Naturally this sort of selection among organizations will transfer to both a personal and a political level, and this brings me to prediction number eight:
The public debate climate will become even more extreme.
The analysis here is really simpel: As more and more people will figure out that the way forward is through collaboration, trust and empathy, those who feed from all the opposites will need to go more extreme in order to have any change of being heard.
So expect a lot of – in former US President George W. Bush’s undying words from the Donald Trump inauguration in 2017 – “weird shit” out there.
Of course politicians will try to counter this in some sort. And prediction number nine is that the most efficient tool they will find in their tool box is the set of tools used to break up Big Tech.
The political analysis will be flawed in the sense that politicians will think that the way to combat the evil is to break up the evil empires. I think what will most likely happen instead is that the evil will move to the fringes into more closed communities where it will be harder to keep oversight on.
Quite frankly, I don’t think that will be a move forward for us all. Rather the opposite actually. I think it will risk driving us further apart and in the end cut the last lines of communication that we have left.
Say what you will about Facebook et el, but it could still be considered lines of communication. And even nation states at odds with each other always take great precaution in making sure that there are some sort of channels for communication that always remain open no matter what.
The answer may very well be to introduce some sort of ‘Facebook police’ as the Danish government is already suggesting. Of course that comes with a huge set of controversial issues related to freedom of speech, democracy etc in itself, but it just goes to show how big and complicated problem this has become.
And while all of the above will be playing out, the final prediction for 2021 will pan out. And it’s perhaps the one I am most certain about:
‘Free’ money will continue to flow endlessly towards anyone with just the resemblance of a good idea. There is no indication that the interest rates are going up anytime soon, so in search of a return, investors will be flocking to try to get anything in return for their money.
And there will be more than enough interesting opportunities to invest in, if you peruse the above predictions.
NB: The picture doesn’t show a crystal ball but a somewhat more fragile soap bobble. Treat the above with the same kind of fragility ;-).