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Lecture by Birgit Gebhardt at Baden-‐Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University, Mannheim, th December 9 , 2011 about the future in 2034 and the expectations of young employees of today. Actually the work of Trendbüro is not prediction but observing changes, linking trends and sorting out the relevant topics. Topics for brand or communication strategies help our clients to place their fast moving consumer goods in a saturated market successfully. Here we talk about three-‐to-‐five or ten years maximum. Twenty-‐five years is different. Not only because we do not have a crystal ball and cannot see all the inventions, which are going to come and change our lives. In a connected world everything can have influences on anything. And yet -‐ the world has not become the global village -‐ at least not in a homogenous cultural nor economic way. And that is why we have to be ready for more surprises. The future has always fascinated people. We want to sense future chances and identify risks in order to be prepared. Economic crises, epidemics, wars and ecological disasters – mankind can deal with a lot, but cannot overcome most of it permanently. Aliens, robots, artificial intelligence – nowadays, many of the popular science-‐fiction clichés do not seem so extraterrestrial and unrealistic after all. On the other hand even science fiction authors admit today that it is not necessary any more to use science fiction as a meaning of dramaturgy to give an idea of a possible future. Take that quote from William Gibson: »I felt that I was trying to describe an unthinkable present and I actually feel that science fiction’s best use today is the exploration of contemporary reality rather than any attempt to predict where we are going … The best thing you can do with science today is use it to explore the present. Earth is the alien planet now.« Climate change, flows of refugees and the scarcity of resources – many of the things that are background sounds to us yet, could become guiding principles and therefore change our daily routine tomorrow. Meanwhile, our globalized world gained so much complexity, that even the present seems overstraining. Various developments work together and let Germany face difficult decisions: Aging, a two-‐class society, and the debt overload of the EU, only to name a few. At the same time, globalization, digitalization, and virtualization already influence our daily routine and sphere in a way that hints, that the networked future has already begun. The future concept that is presented here is based on four conditions: The demographic change which will manifest itself in the next 25 years; The growing gap between the poor and the rich in Germany, against the background of Europe heavily in debt;
The global perpetuation of the capitalistic economic principles; The intelligent networking and data communication between individuals, machines and systems. Connecting these four corridors of development and trying to put them into relation to each other, provides the framework for a fictional overall picture. 2037 will present us with the same challenges as today’s society: increasing feasibility through research, pressing impulses in economy, sociopolitical conflicts and cultural questions of the self-‐ conception of individuals and society. The technological progress is perceived to outrun our societal change at the moment. Connected to economic needs this trend presents the fertile soil for friction and value shifts. By principle the future will not be very different from today: Technology expands our possibilities and optimizes our daily life. Here, progress is manifested in the largest dimensions. More interesting, however, is the question how we are going to feel as individuals and part of our society in this new world. How external influences are going to interweave with our personal life and how we are going to try to keep pace or – at least temporarily – break out. The forecasts are based on capitalistic patterns of the decreasingly social market economy. One cannot presume that we will earn and distribute our prosperity according to completely different principles in 25 years. We will rather experience a relocation of financial and economic power from the USA and “Old Europe” to Asia and today’s emerging markets. One can very well expect that there will exist many small, local experimental models looking for a new form of societal satisfaction over here. Should the German federalism survive the next 25 years as well, it is imaginable that, due to empty coffers, increasing influence of the economy and growing civic participation substantial regional differences concerning education, investment, distribution of income and taxation will develop independently between the federal states. With all consequences that will follow. The question, which trend will be regarded as meaningful and how much change the consumer tolerates is part of the daily work of Trendbüro. Against the background of consultancy of clients from the automotive and consumer goods industry, we deliver a cross-‐sector perspective. For almost 20 years now, Trendbüro has been observing the developments from aroma producers through to payment transactions always focusing on the users’ perspective. Although today’s consumer demands are individual and hybrid there is one common ground: Humans, not seeing any personal or useful advantage, will reject the new. Over here, change is regarded as a threat to the obtained. Especially Germans culturally struggle to consider the unfamiliar as something positive or even neutral. The fear of changes will lead to fatal consequences for Germany in the global competition. We need to sharpen our imagination for what lies ahead to start a discourse of opportunities. Before we can cast an undisguised look into the future, we need to accept the presence. Just as the escaped ghost cannot be shoved back into the bottle, numerous temporary developments cannot be dialed back. With a perspective of the year 2037, it must be clear that even changes that appear displeasing today, are going to be routine in the future and are able to release advantages, need to be addressed. Best example for people familiarizing themselves with progress is the Internet. 20 years after its introduction we already are a society of information and communication. Today, we are even unable to efficiently organize our private as well as business life without the Internet and digital data communication. Former big brother phobias like the geolocation-‐based surveillance were superseded by GPS navigations services that conveyed us the feeling of autonomy in an increasingly complex world.
Those who want to look 25 years ahead cannot close their mind to technological possibilities and economic engines of change. 25 years can only be overcome by constructive brain exercises. Let’s enter a scenery depicting the connection of many parallel developments by reference to two protagonists. The look into the future is played by 63-‐year-‐old business consultant Geoffrey who takes on a whole new private as well as business life and 34-‐year-‐old IT expert Romina who wants to build up a second existence for herself and her Ukrainian family. Germany in the year 2037 shows extremes with high potential of conflict: old and young, rich and poor, educated and uneducated. In between, a heterogeneous middle class fights for a living standard it claims justified by education and origin. The two protagonists are all placed within this middle class; not only because it provides the biggest identification potential, but also because this group best represents the variety of life designs and their individual elaboration. For their notion of happiness, all of the characters use their private as well as their professional chances – and demand full support of their partners and families for a life course, which no one can predict anymore. When you will leave the protective surroundings of your University, you are educated for the global labor market. So let’s face a job interview, Romina, one of the characters from the book, is experiencing in the year 2037: Romina The firm had its offices in one of the tower buildings at Berliner Tor. Among three other candidates she was welcomed by an assistant in the lobby and led to an area in the back where small cabinets with polstered benches and mirrored walls offered working and relaxing space for freelancers and co-‐ workers. Each applicant had taken a seat in a booth and received an eTablet that they were supposed to use to access a recruiting game. Via an avatar they virtually controlled the department in which free capacities were advertised. Animated colleagues greeted Romina and showed her the working place and spectrum of tasks. The quality of the display of the Serious Game was so high that she temporarily believed, she has been live connected to a video conference. The co-‐workers spoke English, many looked Asian. In the middle of the game the Head of Recruitment suddenly popped up in the chat and wanted to know if she would have any further questions about her future tasks. “Is it possible to get to know the future supervisors?”, Romina asked. The head of recruitment dialed the number of a certain Jennifer and presented Romina as an applicant to her: a woman with a pony tail and barely 30 years of age appeared in a illuminated office. Romina could see the heads of the other co-‐workers through a glass wall and recognized that it was fiercely raining and that the streetlights have already been lit. The office had to be in a different country with a different time zone. For one second Jennifer looked as if she had been disturbed by the head of recruitment. Then she smiled professionally and greeted Romina with two, or three sentences of smalltalk. Before Romina was been able to ask her anything, the head of recruitment ended the interview and referred to the continuance of the game that would include all further information. That had factually proven to be true for most parts, the offered salary was considerable but emotionally, Romina remained with a big question mark. What Romina is missing is an emotional approach to her future working environment. It is not that the Serious Game or people on screens are too techy, it is, that all this seems not being embedded into a concept, where people do not only function like machines, but also inspire their working place and do fill the corporate with a certain spirit. Companies today realize, that they have to change their inner communication strategies and have to be prepared for a new generation of digital natives. These are the talents they urgently need – not only as enterprises running out of manpower, but also because this generation incarnates the new
media competences. What are these media competences you, as the next generation of employees, are introducing into the companies? What is so fancy about you? There has always been new technology and better ways for communication – computers, fax, Email… Yes. But this time it is different. First -‐ there are many channels of media to handle parallely, which leads to multichannel communication, and the way it should be practiced is not the cannibalistic way companies and retailers do today. But the second reason is much more important, because the main driver and success of these new media is their social aspect. So far, all new ways of communication derived from the business aspect (Fax, computer, eMail). But we all know, business is not running only because of technical infrastructure. The social media success is its competence of connecting people via their interests. This is crucial because this shift not only questions hierarchy positions in organigrams. It also questions the borderlines of companies towards their partners, clients and consumers. The hierarchy order constrains the free flow of information. Striving up for the information age, content becomes more relevant than control. It has never been so easy to detect content providers or experts for certain topics, nor getting a follower – no matter at what position the expert is anchored in the company’s organigram. So there are many new ways for profiling. And there is finally the hope that better content leads to a better position. Still then there are next steps to take. At the moment you will be the enthusiastic newcomers. But to plan your career thoughtfully it might be helpful to imagine how you might feel one day when the next generation is coming. Imagine you are 67, have been a successful consultant in a big enterprise and all of a sudden you feel regarded as an old employee. Then you might feel like Geoffrey, the other protagonist of our scenario 2037: Geoffrey (sitting in a train, reflecting life and approaching Hamburg as a new shore) The sky gleamed in radiant blue over the landscape. The summer was hot. Haze from the water sprinklers wavered over the fields in which reflections of rainbows were caught. Drought for weeks now. Crop prices were plummeting. The agricultural giant had released a profit alert. Fields that were still sprinkled around here were already burning in southern Spain. The Train_Blu with its scaly skin of blue solar cells rushed through the Eastgerman landscape as if it was part of a surreal movie. Whole stretches of land lay wasted. Villages remained abandoned in shimmering heat. Geoffrey recognized the structures: Only 15 years ago, each community afforded a highly endowed consultant like Geoffrey, to refill their admittedly idyllic but depopulated small towns with life. Some tried new forms of autonomous self-‐sufficiency to be able to persist as village communities. Others offered their communities as test areas for experiments for the consumer goods industry or life concept tests. In the east many abandoned places were transformed into senior citizen villages with nostalgic historic districts. In the Harz area three communities had opened an Alzheimer village. However, the business with those “custody parks”, how his colleague had scournfully named the senior citizen housings, appeared to be past its best. But where neither bigger companies nor virtually connected high-‐ performance centers existed, only senior citizens, Alzheimer patients or test groups would settle. And of course the respective nursing staff that came mainly from Eastern Europe. Geoffrey’s father had spent his retirement in Braunlage. Through his contacts his son had been able to secure him a spot in Dr Barner’s art nouveau sanatorium where he had died at quite a young age, with only 85. Back then, he had been able to afford the housing for his father rather easily, but now
money was tight. Among the baby boomers and their meanwhile aging children only few would be able to afford the residence in the small town idyll with total care services. If Geoffrey would not succeed to position himself right at the top, his consultancy would have little chance for a future. The company where he was working appeared to estimate this exactly the same. Since his 60th birthday three years ago he was feeling less and less appreciated and welcomed. The digital natives had arrived in the leading positions. Faster and less complicated than it had been possible for his generation. At the beginning it had been their media competencies that made them more valuable than him. Then his company changed its structures, connected anyone with anything and pretended to follow the principle “We are one family”. In the competition for skilled personnel and to improve their external image, many large concerns had designed their inner life more relaxed, more familial and more open. Bikes hung on the walls in the hallways, there was a employee library with a fireplace where every fourth Friday salon conversations were arranged. At lunch time some prepared meals together, friends were welcome at the office’s bar at night. There were toys for kids or workshops, one could retreat in personal spaces, hop on the treadmill and take a shower or even live in the office if the current project made it necessary or external consultants from abroad were present. It was not that he cared much for this constant community feeling but for enterprises and large structures this community celebration was a precondition to win over young professionals at all. Smaller consultancies, in contrast, had totally been shifted into the network and only maintained their facilities as a physical reassurance. This decreased the cost pressure that Geoffrey noticed also in his company. It was not his fault that proposals did not heap up as they used to. He always brought that home to himself to avoid an emotional reaction whenever his younger boss spoke to him about this matter. His boss was the one who often rubbed in the better acquisitions of his colleague Leon, in his late twenties and just recently hired. The intention behind this was crystal clear: either it would challenge Geoffrey and he would deliver a better performance, or it would frustrate him and make him throw in the towel. His company could live with both solutions. Geoffrey couldn’t and the situation was not made better by the fact that Leon was embarrassed by his boss denouncing Geoffrey even though he had been the one who had introduced and trained him in the first place. And it was also not made better by Leon almost humbly excusing himself each time he successfully pulled a deal. He even wanted to pass over his last contract to Geoffrey, because the client used to be Geoffrey’s in the past. By declining this offer he in turn had snubbed Leon. Now, he could not expect much collegiality of him anymore. Working there used to be more fun. Unimaginable that this consulting work once had completed him. That it had been more important to him than his family in retrospective. Fortunately, for one year now, he was feeling enough anger to not accept this as the end of his career. A consulted personality in one of these fancy new recruitment agencies put Geoffrey back on track. He had voluntarily applied for the “Job freh-‐up for best agers” and it had succeeded. For both sides. Geoffrey had booked the unbelievably expensive elite regeneration program and the human resources consultant had managed to motivate him for new tasks. He refelt the restlessness tingle in his body: Now he would give his life the impulse into the right direction that was long overdue. He would get himself in shape for the mature labor market with this elite training and find a new interesting job. Buoyed by the idea of a professional re-‐start he decided to redesign his personal life as well: He finally wanted to move out from home. For years now his wife and his 26-‐year-‐old-‐daughter lived in a kind of modern flat share in which he did not feel welcome at all. The confiding habit that had made him stay with his family was turned into something almost pathaelogical against the background of his fresh-‐up. It was high time for drawing a line. Thus, Geoffrey also opened up for a restart in his love life and he hoped that it would
entail a few more surprises than the professional make over. In the lower visual range, where the silicate windows of the Train_Blu were transparent and not shaded in a dark blue, bridges and traces, refineries and industry facilities, then cranes and containers, finally lofts, hypermarkets and DIY stores as well as creative agencies pushed into view. Geoffrey stared outside and smiled gently. Would his second puberty feel as fiery and stirring as his first one? A schizophrenic fluctuation between external and internal comparison, between cool haughtiness and wavelike insecurities? Exactly this tattered he had also felt during the interview with the HR-‐consultant of Job-‐Fresh-‐up: The smug twenty-‐something had actually thought he could advise him in his fragile life and job situation! Geoffrey smirked thinking back to the coaching. He had not been able to conceal his initial condescendence towards the young whippersnapper. “Have you already carried out the driver’s license refreshment test?” he had asked. What did this stripling think? He wasn’t 75! He should take the test rather early, the guy had said. Requesting an itemized data analysis concerning vision and hearing ability, nimblicity, flexibility, technical handling of the board equipment and ability of communication with other traffic participants, would not only be extremely important for the traffic admission but also for the classification in the professional life. “If you plan on becoming a freelancer, you should additionally book the complete health check with DNA-‐analysis. Your bank advisor will be demand the result for your credit classification for people over 65 at the latest. Any proactive initiative of presenting good values as a reference towards potential employers or financial service providers will be absolutely necessary”, the geled curl had snarled. He had a point and this still rankled Geoffrey. To build him up again the coach had lured old Geoffrey with some sugar cubes: “The lack of skilled personnel, the comparatively lower education and of course the low experience of the young work for you.” Furthermore, you can collect points for regular trainings – domestically and abroad – and improve your business competence value despite your advanced age”, the HR-‐consultant had trotted out his program. Nevertheless, up to that point Geoffrey didn’t want to surrender: “Couldn’t you, for a change, point out an advantage of an older employee for a company? Experience for example?” “That, certainly, is an important fact, but on the other hand, everything is changing rapidly…”, the trained whippersnapper had dismissed the generous approval. “Even the knowledge of projects within the company, that was regarded as dinosaur-‐like knowledge advantage for a long time, is now openly shared among the employees and put in the cloud via digital activity-‐streams, easily trackabale by everyone at any time. With the help of the input giving employee, or without.” Geoffrey knew this kind of linked communication from his own company. Although, due to the German data protection laws, it was not allowed to display employee activities, the company found a way to work around that problem by getting the allowance within the different teams. Documents, films and other media was communicated via a microblogging-‐interface, which keyworded and assigned to the project related files automatically. That way, back then, Geoffrey had been able to smoothly take over the project of his forerunner, since he had access to all the related documents and could reconstruct every single step. The same way, through even the smallest entries, he provided his “dinosaur-‐like knowledge” to every one of his co-‐workers and made it easy for every potential successor to take his place. The knowledge remained in the system, and even Geoffrey himself, had a daily benefit from the transparent know-‐how – also provided by the well networked youngsters.
The coach had continued already: “The point is: forget the seniors! Among them you come off well and you are not interested in those old people job anyway, are you? You have to compete with the young people, they are the ones you fight for projects. They are the ones who are internationally trained and qualified digitally and who companies and headhunters are drooling over. The thing is, there are not enough of them and that’s where you come into the picture – as long as you provide the qualifications looked for in the job advertisements for the young professionals. That, exactly, is your challenge. It is not enough to be a comparatively good old professional, you have to be as good as a young one in order to stay in interesting positions and projects.” Hot and cold. Geoffrey could not recall the last time someone had spoken with him that frankly. Meanwhile the train was moving much slower. Geoffrey’s view wandered around the non subdivided passenger compartment to the energy scale, which showed that the Train_Blu received his electricity supply solely through braking and solar energy at this low speed rate. On the scale he could see, that the passengers in coach seven were burning the highest amount of energy and that their contingent was almost exhausted. He rummaged around in his bag for his notes. Sunlight was reflected by the residential and office buildings on the other side of the wharf. The windows of the train darkened temporarily and he looked over the Hafencity. The exemplary urban district has been left to its own devices, due to the lack of financial means. Symptoms of old age were visible on many buildings, but it was the shortage of corrective maintenance around streets and public grounds, that gave the once modern district the patina of self-‐ evidence. Why did visible signs of aging increase the acceptance of a city quarter among the citizens, Geoffrey thought, while they had negative effects on people? Was it our own negligence that made us look old? He remembered that the consultant had coughed up some practical tips in the end: the date of birth could be excluded from your CV due to discriminative reasons. A regularly updated web profile with interesting contacts and topics would be more interesting than any vitae after all. The lad was really well trained. In the end Geoffrey had received an ambitious to-‐do list and was so acquainted with the coach that curly boy’s last snide remark presented with a friendly smile had hit home and really offended him: He would advise him to dye his hair and possible facelift his emerging lacrimal sacks and his hanging chin. He wouldn’t believe the sensational effects such microinvasice procedures would have on his potential on the global market. After this comment Geoffrey’s eyes and chins had tightened all by themselves. The conversation had left thousands of burning microinvasice marks. Do you feel empathy for Geoffrey? This societal image shows a possible consequence of previous developments. The facts so far already set the switches, but the shape and consequence in their implementation is malleable. However, for this undertaking we are in need for people who do not fear the future, who believe in a shared future and who are willing to take responsibility to design our future. Honestly an overaged Europe is not given credit for succeeding in this. I wish all of us that these young people here will find their very individual approach in contributing to our future. Never before the world was as open to talents as today in times of lack of skilled personnel. One expects them to tackle today’s problems and proceed the structural change that has already started. Much of what Geoffrey told here about his work placement can be noticed even today: the clash between generation is widened by the differences in media usage but also by a new sovereignty of the young professionals on the one hand and fragility of the elderly on the other hand. For the first
time young employees are lucky to meet a high demand for employees giving them the possibility to choose among offers. In contrast the older feel left behind or left out at the working place they have had for years. The comprehension of a generation that needed to fight hard for their achievements facing now questions about work-‐life balance, parental leave for fathers or a value-‐driven corporate culture is low. It would question their own life so far. Nevertheless I would like to encourage all of you to choose your own life concept. You as high educated potentials are part of a generation that is not dependent on your job anymore. Neither of you needs to starve from hunger -‐ like the intellectual Russian writes still had to a hundred years ago. No man needs to think anymore that he is solely responsible to earn the living for his family. To the contrary, for the first time each woman is clearly jointly responsible for the alimony of her family. And thus not only due to the new divorce law… It got about that women are as well suited as their male colleagues to competently hold higher positions. In most cases it is not a question of gender when the journey to the top appears burdensome. Men are not willing to let other men pass either. It needs a lot of perseverance. Even in the times of lack of skilled personnel highly endowed jobs are not served on the silver platter. And it is right that the person who wants to earn an executive position needs to prove himself with contextual competence as well as strong assertiveness. For she or he will need exactly those skills to lead his team or company to great success. So both of you think about how to pursue your career and share your family life. Still today we are far off from the compatibility of family and career. And be sure that nobody in the near future will solve this problem for you. In the end it needs to be negotiated individually. These debates are necessary and promising in our tolerant society, to anchor the change in our society (and our institutions) on a long-‐term basis. When you start your job career, do not abide by your ideal model and wiggle your way out! Do not use children as an excuse to dodge responsibilities. If your job does not excite you, change it! You are privileged: Neither of you needs to feel unhappy at their job! Anybody who suffers from burn out today has long lost sight on his goals and has been too weak to draw personal consequences for a long time. In the book we call this self-‐image of the future “life entrepreneurs”. You are life entrepreneurs. Your burden is that you are responsible for yourself. Do not wait for the government, for free child care or financial political help for your double burden. Unfortunately you are a minority with your problems in the German demographic change. And numerous other countries provide even less help. But there is hope! You are better connected, find like-‐minded people and are able to organize. You will experience community spirit in many small interest groups, use it and try out individual life concepts together. Have trust in yourself. You have just mastered another challenge. A lot of new and meaningful work is waiting for you: impeding the climate change, curbing diseases, guiding people in need to help themselves, counteracting the growing gap between rich and poor, dismantling corruption, stopping the indebtedness, founding global and neutral rating agencies, assessing prosperity according to new parameters -‐ and setting an example. No one thinks an over-‐aged Europe is capable to save the world. At the same time especially today we are in need of people who do not fear the future and are willing to take responsibility for designing it. Many out there are hoping that your generation will restructure the world to make a better future happen. That’s surely a call order. But who if not you could dare to give it a try?
Trendbüro, Birgit Gebhardt Vortrag vom 09.12.11 vor Studierenden der Dualen Hochschule Baden-‐Württemberg Mannheim; Department "International Business". Auszüge aus: 2037_Unser Alltag in der Zukunft, erschienen bei Körber Editionen; Übersetzung: Kristina Bonitz und Lisa Kruse, Trendbüro.