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The Job Market and the Future of Work after COVID

Interview Sylvia Gallusser – The Job Market and the Future of Work after COVID

Sylvia Gallusser talks to Akanksha Kulkarni about transhumanism, the future of the mind and how to develop a futurist mindset. Watch the entire episode on peopleHum’s Leadership video series to know more.

[Transcript]

We don’t have the full picture yet, but things are changing, work is changing, organizations are changing, employee behaviors are changing, the workplace is changing. 

  • Some talk about transformation, others about an acceleration of changes that were already taking place.
  • What is important to notice with the impact of COVID on the work environment, is that it’s not just work which is redesigned, but business. And this varies by industries. Some industries will be transformed. Imagine Air travel: new processes including less human interaction, more electronic check-in and controls, hygiene and safety measures, health monitoring, spacing in the aircraft, etc. Or teaching: teachers will spend more time cleaning supplies, or class supplies won’t be shared anymore, spacing in the classroom will be applied, size of the class will be reduced, social interactions will be less tactile, the role of the teachers will evolve. Live entertainment will have to deal with the fact that customers are now used to more free online entertainment, so we expect business models in the live entertainment industry to change. Hospitals will be transformed. Supply chain as well.
  • Work is changing at two levels.
    • Because of new regulations and new customer behaviors, industries will be transformed, new processes will apply, new roles will be defined.
    • But also because employees have been transformed as individuals during the crisis, they won’t have the same expectations. Essential workers, who have been largely exposed will ask for more safety, recognition, job security and higher salaries. White collars who had to work from home, suppress commute, or go into furlough, unemployment, or new gigs, have developed new work habits. Remote teams have learned new ways to work together and communication has changed nature (distant but more personal as well, now that we know our bosses’ home interiors).
  • All this has consequences on work schedules. The traditional 9-5 format is evolving. Not only because employees had to adapt and rebalance their work-life around more family time and have gotten used to less commute, but also because we want to avoid workers to use public transportation massively, at the same time, in the future.
  • The workplace of tomorrow is affected by the change. Some giant tech companies in Silicon Valley are prolonging the closure for an undetermined time (Facebook, Twitter, Square). Others have already adapted the workplace to safety needs and regulations and will further remodel their floors. Things are shifting, and office centricity is over! The concept of worknet is rising. According to Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes. The WorkNet is a network of contexts, instead of a fixed workplace. In the new WorkNet, social interactions become more important than ever…

So what would be my advice for the upcoming graduates? How to prepare them for the new job market and the new workplace? 

  • This is a question we were actually already asking ourselves for the past decade, even if the terms were not exactly the same: how do we prepare the new generation of workers for a future of work where AI plays a bigger role. And the answer revolved around which are the skills that workers need to develop to adapt to the new jobs. I have written a paper on this called “Rise of the Machines and the Future of Work in 4 big ideas”. 
  • The reasoning is not that different:
    • First of all, we cannot be in denial. A huge amount of jobs will be destroyed, but some others will be created.
    • Then: The new jobs will require a new skill set, and companies need to identify these new mandatory skills.
    • Finally: backwards, how can individuals be prepared from their young age and how can education institutions include these new skills in their curriculum. 
  • I also believe in life-long learning as a solution. You don’t learn everything at school. You learn all your life long. Through the education you receive from your parents, your school, your social environment, your companies (in training and on the job), your readings and listening to podcasts, your online classes, etc. Staying in tune, listening attentively to signals of change is once again a strength that can help. I am sure we can help graduates develop their futures thinking and foresight skills, in order to stay in touch with a moving world – what we call the VUCA environment. They need flexibility. They need adaptation skills. They need to challenge the existing.
  • And institutions can help by including more futures studies in their programs.
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Key Challenges during a Startup’s Rapid Growth (Futurists can help!)

Interview Sylvia Gallusser – Key Challenges during a startup’s rapid growth

Sylvia Gallusser talks to Akanksha Kulkarni about transhumanism, the future of the mind and how to develop a futurist mindset. Watch the entire episode on peopleHum’s Leadership video series to know more.

[Transcript]

If you want your business to flourish, you need room to grow. You need to invest, in people, in technology, in a workplace, in training.

The first challenge identified is often linked to Administrative Burden.

  • Time management is essential during rapid growth. Leaders focus on product development and business development and they don’t always have time to do proper HR management, so they either underestimate the role of HR or they rely on simplified outsourced HR.
  • Startups CEOs also need to run a safe and compliant business. This starts as early as day one with one employee, and this includes running a payroll, filing taxes, drafting company policies, onboarding new hires, sometimes applying for visas.
  • But as they grow fast, turn-key solutions are not enough. As workplace regulations evolve, scaleups will require HR to establish and document new processes and procedures, for instance around GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and personal data use.
  • At this point, it is not as much about having the right tools as having the right processes.

Another frequently mentioned challenge is Recruitement.

  • You need to streamline the recruitment process – from employer brand to employee value proposition, to candidate acquisition and onboarding.
  • In addition, people analytics (analysing your employees and applicants data) can inform better decisions and lead to more strategic actions. You need to start collecting people data early on.
  • Online brand reputation must be checked (on websites like Glassdoor) and worked on if necessary. If your reputation is hurt, it will be hard to fix. You need to care for it from the start.
  • And onboarding is key. During the scale-up phase, leaders are working so much, that they tend to sit the new hires down, forgo formalities and put employees straight to work. But this tends to lead to poor performance and low retention. They need time to be trained and introduced to the corporate culture.

And this is actually the third big challenge: managing cultural change.

  • As the company grows, the role of the founding team must change from entrepreneur to leader of people. They must accept relinquishing control over part of the operations.
  • Too often, the founders will want to retain a huge amount of influence across all areas of the business and continue to make key people decisions. But they have to accept that HR has a role to play – and that it is for their own good: so they can spend more time on growing the business and leading by example.
  • It’s important to remember that the company culture does not (only) belong to the founders. The culture is formed by the people they hired.

Finally I would add a specificity of growth strategy and business acceleration.
Growth drivers consist in finding the product market fit and then implementing the right go-to-market strategy. These key indicators will notably help bring investors on board and further develop the business. But there’s something new. Now VC funds like Andreessen Horowitz are expecting the companies to reach what they call the product-zeitgeist fit, meaning products that will perfectly fit in the spirit of our times. You can think of face masks during Covid for example and how smart companies pivoted.
Well, I like to go even further by pushing companies to find their product/preferred future fit. To not only think of their 3-year profitability and their next round of funding, but to engage in an even more sustainable vision with an horizon closer to 10 years. (Read our article on that topic).

About Transhumanism and Monitoring the Future of the Mind

June 18, Interview with Sylvia Gallusser, Futurist, Researcher & Author @Silicon Humanism

Sylvia Gallusser talks to Akanksha Kulkarni about transhumanism, the future of the mind and how to develop a futurist mindset. Watch the entire episode on peopleHum’s Leadership video series to know more.

[Transcript]

I wouldn’t say I believe in transhumanism, but I am definitely curious about its development – how technology can improve, augment and even transform the human body, the human mind, and therefore the humankind.

  • First of all, there is a very blurry boundary between human treatment and human enhancement. We have entered a field, where medical and technological achievements can both serve the persons in need and increase capacities of others. For example, we have found remedies for blind people to recover eyesight. But the same research enables to beam images from one person’s mind into another! 
  • Secondly, the field of the “acceptable” evolves over time. Some medical advancements which were taboos yesterday become mainstream, such as transfusion, vaccination, antibiotics, birth control, IVF, gender reassignment surgery… So what about human cloning, downloading the mind in digital formats, controlling an exoskeleton or a second body from our mind? The transhumanist effort asks questions about our sense of identity, our consciousness and the potentiality of an eternal life. Yes, it feels vertiginous, but these questions are definitely worth asking. Or so I believe.
  • Finally, we need to create an ethical framework to handle these topics, and there’s active debate around what is progress and what represents a danger for humankind.
  • In his book More Than Human, Ramez Naam illustrates how gene therapy (a technique based on gene alteration and reinsertion via a virus), was risky at first, and how it saved the life of a four-year-old girl. Since then gene therapy has become more popular to combat or cure diseases. Gene therapy is used for example to treat anemia and in HIV therapy. But gene therapy is also known to boost human athletic performance…

To handle these topics we need to look over large time spans, to understand past evolutions, identify long term trends, and make informed decisions. 

  • Unfortunately we often think in the short term and find it hard to project ourselves years from now – this is actually a characteristic of our brain. We tend to have a threshold. Over a time-window (around 5 years) our future self becomes estranged to us and we are unable to empathize with the stranger we will become. (Read our article on that topic)
  • However, professional futurists are trained for stretching that horizon through foresight. They scan for signals of the future, they create scenarios, sometimes fiction and artefacts from the future, all this to instigate a concrete feeling of what the future could be like. This type of strategic foresight helps people and organizations (companies, governments, societies, decision-makers or just individuals) to think about possible futures and prepare for them.
  • So in terms of how I do monitor the future of the mind, I apply this methodology which consists in activating my radar to listen to events happening today in a restrained environment (a lab, a startup, a local movement, a behavior we notice), which could be amplified in the future and become more common, extended to a more general audience. 

I am also very fond of Michio Kaku’s book The Future of the Mind and Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens. They are both great sources of insights on our past evolution as humans. Michio Kaku replaces homo sapiens in the realm of conscious beings, from plant (with no brain structure and simple environment feedback loops), to reptiles (with brain stem and an additional space parameter), then mammals (with a limbic system and additional social parameters), and finally humans (with a prefrontal cortex and a more complex representation of the world including time, a sense of history and the future). When I read them, I cannot help thinking about the future of our species… Which is a fascinating question, right?

How Do You Listen To Signals From The Future? Here’s How I Do It…

Scanning our current environment in search for signals is a large part of a futurist’s everyday job. Once you have identified a signal from the future, you interpret what kind of change it represents, what driving force is at work in the background, and finally what it would mean if this signal were to be amplified or to become commonplace. In other words, signals are foresight practitionners’ raw material!

Great sources include: reading or listening to the news, looking for new products, checking the latest technologies and funding rounds, understanding new regulations, listening to social movements, scanning social media, observing your social environment, talking with people around you, noticing changes in behaviors, language, and interactions.

During the pandemic, the forced lockdown and the ensuing gloabl crisis, I have extended my techniques of scanning for signals as a result of different forces:

  • Reduced time spent outside of home to observe the social environment;
  • Excessive time spent in front of a screen so that I was yearning for a break from the laptop;
  • Increased need to exercize without losing time because of a busy work-life-kids schedule;
  • Absence of real-life social interactions with family, friends, and colleagues… until I was craving for listening to human voices.

That’s how I became addicted to podcasts and especially to podcasts who give voice to ordinary people, not just expert podcasts. I would listen to them 4-5 hours a day. They would make me feel close to other human beings all over the planet. They would make me more aware of what is going on in other parts of the world, in other age groups, in other social conditions. They would send me a thousand tiny signals of the change we are experiencing on a larger scale. They would help me envision tomorrow’s world.

Here is a short list of my favorite podcasts:

Hidden Brain: NRP journalist Shankar Vedantam uses science and storytelling to reveal the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, shape our choices and direct our relationships.

The Daily: This is how the news should sound. Twenty minutes a day, five days a week, hosted by Michael Barbaro and powered by New York Times journalism.

TED Radio Hour: Exploring the biggest questions of our time with the help of the world’s greatest thinkers. Host Manoush Zomorodi inspires us to learn more about the world, our communities, and most importantly, ourselves.

The Happiness Lab: Yale professor Dr Laurie Santos will take you through the latest scientific research and share some surprising and inspiring stories that will forever alter the way you think about happiness.

Sapiens: This “podcast for everything human” hosted by Jen Shannon, Esteban Gómez, and Chip Colwell invites anthropologists from around the globe to help us uncover what makes us human.

Freakonomics Radio: Discover the hidden side of everything with Stephen Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics. Each week, Freakonomics Radio tells you things you always thought you knew (but didn’t) and things you never thought you wanted to know (but do).

This American Life: “When I’m trying to explain our program to someone who doesn’t know it, I stammer a bunch of words like ‘entertaining,’ ‘funny,’ ‘surprising plot twists,’ ‘true stories but not boring I swear’ … and then I just give them this list.” — Ira Glass

World vs. Virus: A weekly podcast by the World Economic Forum that helps to answer your questions about COVID-19, by looking at the latest news, research, and analysis to break down what you need to know about the global coronavirus pandemic.

Les Pieds sur Terre: Inspired by This American Life, this podcast is built on real life stories around a common topic, told in the first person. (In French)

Smarter Leben: We all have ideas for a better life, but how do we implement them in our everyday life? The podcast hosts people who tell their story and explain how they achieve it. (In German)

I would love to hear about your preferred signal-gathering techniques and your favorite podcasts! Feel free to share and add to the list.

Aftershocks & Opportunities in a Post-Pandemic Future

These past months, futurists around the world have been discussing the current crisis and its anticipated consequences. I was honored to be part of the “Aftershocks & Opportunities: Scenarios for a Post-Pandemic Future” book by Fast Future Publishing and to take part in their series of webinars.

Here is the replay of our latest webinar, dedicated to the Future of Society and Social Policy.

The book is available in print and ebook format at https://fastfuture.com/shop/aftershocks-and-opportunities/

Find below the transcript of my presentation.

My name is Sylvia. I live in California. I have been a strategy consultant for the past 15 years, supporting international tech companies in their international business development.
I have been lucky to meet with awesome entrepreneurs and witness hundreds of innovations all these years. That’s probably what helped me to gain foresight into tomorrow’s world and to develop my career as a futurist.
I am leading an initiative called Silicon Humanism and we dedicate our research to the Future of Education, the Future of Work and the Future of Well-Aging, with a special focus on the social and human aspect.
Also I come from diverse background, french-german-american, social science (sociologist specialized in workplace + top European business school)
I have always been a heavy writer. I consider future fiction as a fantastic tool to bring people to put themselves in their future selves’ shoes. I am always very interested in imagining and discussing the future and take every opportunity I can to share perspectives about this topic. It has been an amazing adventure to be part of the Aftershocks and Opportunities project along with the Fast Future team.

My chapter for the book revolves around a history class taking place 17 years from now. A classroom of high schoolers is studying the COVID crisis with their teacher. They review the 2-year sequence of events following the sanitary crisis. In the chapter I mention the rushed reopening of the economy, the confusing time for medical research and a delayed vaccine, a second strain of virus and the consequent come-back of the pandemic, segregation policies (by health status), as well as military intervention to calm down protests…
Also, beyond the medical, economic, and social impact of the pandemic, the wounds turn out to be more acute, profound, and intimate than anticipated.

I was interested in exploring different perspectives on the current crisis.

  • At a first level, I relate and anticipate macrotrends, some of which are unfortunately already taking place such as public order actions in a polarized society. Through the character of the teacher, I mention the effects of the health crisis on the economy, medical research advancement, social policy, politics and elections, etc. “”Colored badges were issued. You’d go to different schools, different stores, different churches!” And questions follow: What draconian measures may be required if existing measures fail to prevent a significant second wave of infections? How far should a state of emergency go and should the military be involved at all? Is segregation ever legitimate? Should we encourage a separation by health status at all?
  • At a second level, I wanted to investigate what it means to teach history, and how we are going to teach history specifically to the children born today in these times of crisis. How do we convey our experience to the next generation? And more largely, how can we help Generation alpha to reflect on their roots and define their identity in this new world and paradigm?
  • Finally, at a third and probably more subtle level, I evoke the intimate experience of the crisis, the inner wounds, the impossible grief. I illustrate this, more in the subtext, through the personal story of the teacher who has lost someone dear in the crisis. With another line of questioning: How are individuals going to grieve for the family and friends they lost in anonymity? How can we make sure that individuals find a space to grieve the loved ones they lost?

All these questions finally converge into what is one of my main concerns relating to this crisis: How do we profoundly heal as a society in a large-scale death count? How can we help people to heal and recover from the profound wounds the crisis left?

Well, I hope you enjoy the chapter and I am happy to answer any questions.

The Generation Zoom Classroom

Sylvia Gallusser, Futurist & Researcher at Silicon Humanism, discusses her Future Fiction chapter, included in the collective book by Fast Future Publishing “Aftershocks & Opportunities: Scenarios for a Post-Pandemic Future” under the title “The Generation Zoom Classroom”.

Sylvia presenting the book

[Transcript]

Hi everybody! I hope you this video finds you safe. My name is Sylvia, I am a futurist based in San Francisco. I am leading an initiative called Silicon Humanism. We dedicate our research specifically to the human & social component of our future. I am excited to announce my contribution to the new collaborative book from Fast Future, called Aftershocks & Opportunities: Scenarios for a Post-Pandemic Future.

My chapter for this book is a short fiction piece, taking place 15 years from now. It focuses on a history teacher analyzing with her students the sequence of events and the aftermaths of the COVID-19 crisis. It is designed to envision the social and psychological aspects of isolation and possible effects of segregation policies.

I am also quizzical about how the babies resulting from this period are going to be told about the conditions of their conception and which behaviors they will eventually adopt.

On a further level, I describe how the story resonates within the teacher herself, on a more intimate level, raising a fundamental question: how are individuals able to grieve for the family and friends they lost, as we are piling up dead bodies, as family members are often unable to say a proper goodbye to their loved ones. How do we profoundly heal as a society in a large-scale dead count?

I hope you will enjoy the story and the book! Contact me if you want a special discount! Stay safe.

Check the book: https://fastfuture.com/shop/aftershocks-and-opportunities-scenarios-for-a-post-pandemic-future-paperback/

Live longer, but live longer in good health!

As we are facing the “Caregiving cliff” (in a near future, the number of seniors needing care will greatly exceed the supply of available caregivers), our society is facing major issues as to how to care for the elderly:

  • Seniors are often considered as a cost to society, more or less visible – direct cost of senior facilities for families, medical coverage for insureds, retirement pensions for tax-payers, or informal work, time spent and mental burden for families.
  • Illness and sickness are more related to lack of activity, lack of hygiene, and lack of discipline than to aging itself.
  • Loneliness and lack of social environment and human bond can lead to depression and early dementia.
  • New technological tools are empowering but they also create techno-phobia and further symptoms, if our seniors are not supported in their learning and “on-boarded” to use these tools.

Solutions can be found in the following fields and at the intersection of these fields:

  1. Economic component: Seniors could very well become a production unit of their own.
  2. Wellness component: Arts therapy and exercising help stay in better shape longer.
  3. Technology component: New technologies prolong life, improve wellness, and potentially augment human capacities.

However preserving the social bond remains a challenge at each of those stages. In our designated action plan to care for the elderly, we should give special attention to integrating our actions with the social dimension and to nurture the social bond even further.

  1. Seniors can be part of the production sphere, but in a smart way: they contribute to useful and rewarding activities; they are not labeled as workers; they integrate the intergenerational scale in meaningful ways (examples: teaching the youth, sharing experience and wisdom, providing counseling to young adults, helping with daycare for families without caregivers, etc.).
  2. Exercising and arts activities are encouraged as part of a communal environment: practitioners are trained for senior physical and arts therapy, emulation and collective motivation develops among residents; “longevity” role models rise (example: champions in senior olympics arise and are promoted!).
  3. Technology is not a replacement to human interactions, but a complement: technology acts as enabler and empowerment tool; training takes place on site; individuals are incentivized to use the technology for their own good and are followed by practitioners in their good use (example: intergenerational mentoring on use of new technology).

A few initiatives act as positive signals towards these cross-developments:

  • Amazon Mechanical Turk’s crowdsourcing marketplace offer small task retribution such as “helping to train the machines” (for example identifying when a tweet is positive or negative for a few cents per tweet). This could be encouraged to seniors, especially given the fact that any brain exercises are known to postpone Alzheimer symptoms.
    • Economic output: seniors contribute to productive activities.
    • Wellness output: seniors perform tasks which can improve their health.
    • Technology output: seniors stay in touch with the latest technology.
    • Social output: seniors are still integrated within active society, meet with others through the platform, benefit from emulation on completing tasks within their community, and receive extra support from in-person trainers.
  • Diabetes logbook applications are flourishing: patients get alerts and track their own food intake and physical activities, so that they feel “in charge” instead of relying on nutritionists or medication only. 
    • Economic output: seniors consume less medication and need less medical intervention and in-person care.
    • Wellness output: seniors are directly in charge of their well-being.
    • Technology output: digital applications are part of the treatment and onboarding is facilitated by practitioners.
    • Social output: senior diabetes patients don’t feel incapacitated or stigmatized, they are empowered over their condition, and can enjoy eating and physical activities as part of a group again.
  • Community-based Villages offer a set of services based on volunteering, tech equipment and reciprocal support. The first named “Village” in the U.S. opened in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston in 2002. Growing interest in the model has led to a surge in new Villages in recent years, with over 200 Villages operating in 2017 and more than 150 in development.
    • Economic output: villages act as a small business unit, with an economy based on non-monetary support and exchange of services.
    • Wellness output: seniors don’t have to make an impossible choice between senior care facility or lonesome autonomy.
    • Technology output: villages are a test market for new technology designed for our seniors and residents are the beta testers of brand new technology.
    • Social output: seniors keep their autonomy while still being cared for by natural caregivers in a more authentic environment in which they can entertain social interactions and keep their social life as long as possible.

We love to collect signals of a meaningful future of aging. Feel free to share your views of the aging ecosystem with us or discuss your own initiatives!

Happy Future Day!

It is now the seventh year that The Future has an annual celebration day – not everybody is as lucky as us futurists to celebrate the Future every morning! (And I am not talking about Back to the Future Day which occurred October 21, 2015).

Future Day is March 1 and exhibits its goal, in the exact guidelines of Futures Thinking: “Forget demonic robots, hoverboards or flying cars. Let’s turn our hope for a bright future into reality – make it so.” That means, three main ideas:

  • Thinking about the Future is not (just) about creating scary sci-fi scenarios.
  • Addressing the Future includes hope, positive thinking and an enlightened belief in a better world.
  • Approaching the Future includes preparing for and building action plans from today on!

This celebration perfectly echoes the “urgent optimism” motto as Jane McGonigal at the Institute for the Future defines it: “Urgent optimism is the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope for success.”

Future Day is also about having fun, unleashing our creativity, and making our collective intelligence flourish: “Future Day is a way of focusing and celebrating the energy that more and more people around the world are directing toward creating a radically better future”.

The Millennium Project hosts a 24-Hour Round-the-World Conversation to celebrate World Future Day beginning March 1 in New Zealand at 12 noon NZ time. The open conversation on how to build a better future will move west each hour. Anyone can join in at 12 noon their time and join futurists and others to explore possibilities for our common future.

“Anybody can pull up a cyber-chair at this global table and join the discussion on ZOOM at: https://zoom.us/j/9795262723,” says Jerome Glenn, CEO of The Millennium Project. “Whatever time zone you are in, you are invited at 12:00 noon in your time zone. People drop in and out as they like. If people can’t come online at 12 noon, they are welcome to come online before or after that time as well.”

Further futurists suggest some manifestations, but the list can very well be expanded! Once again, celebrating the Future is left open to our imagination.

  • Future Day could be adopted as an official holiday by countries around the world.
  • Children can do Future Day projects at school, exploring their ideas and passions about creating a better future.
  • Future Day costume parties — why not? It makes at least as much sense as dressing up to celebrate Halloween!
  • Businesses giving employees a day off from routine concerns, to think creatively about future projects.
  • Special Future Day issues in newspapers, magazines and blogs.

Funny coincidence, I am part of a Think Tank with amazing Researchers, Philosophers, Artists and Futures Thinkers… and our monthly meeting happens on March 1 this month! We usually end up the meetings with vocal synchronization and musical improvisation. I am so looking forward to our Future Day celebration!

So what about you? What will you do for Future Day? Don’t forget, you can celebrate Future Day however you like, the ball is in your court. As Alan Kay stated, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

The Future of Dating: Redefining Chemistry

This one is a small Future Fiction piece. Enjoy!

Paris May 23rd 2023

She put the phone to her ear, called out “Hello?” louder than she had originally intended, paused, followed up with a “Yes, this is she…” with a slightly lower pitch – hoping it was the volume expected from someone taking a real call. Unsure if it was because she was a great actress or whether passerbys fundamentally couldn’t care less, but they all ignored her.

She nonchalantly scanned the place Denfert Rochereau. He had to be here, she could feel it. This had to be the place, the time. A tall man with a dirty PSG cap jogged in her direction. She froze, mentally removing the cap, shaving him, and overlapping his picture. Before she had completed her processing, he was at her level and swerved at the last second, puffing under his breath, “Mais dégage toi, qu’est-ce tu fous la!” Probably wasn’t him.

She suddenly realized it had been way too long since her “Yes, this is she…”. Was it “she” you were supposed to say? She had googled it several times, had felt comforted she wasn’t the only one wondering what to say when someone asked for you on the phone, yet could never recall the answer. “This is me”? “This is her”?

A few extra seconds lost. “Ah very interesting!” was all she could come up with. She continued scrutinizing strangers’ faces as past sailors in the crow’s nest had scanned for pirate ships centuries before. The threat could come from any direction. Except in her case it wasn’t a threat, it was the love of her life, her soul mate, she knew it. She just didn’t know him.

Everything had started at the beginning of her European trip while in Italy, more precisely in Pisa. Google Photos had suggested she try out a brand new feature still in early development. By providing her consent, she allowed the app to share all pictures of other people’s pictures in which she figured one way or another. It seemed intriguing and having already consented so much of her personal life to Google, Facebook, Snapchat, anyways, she clicked on. 

The webpage indicated it would take a few minutes to perform the search and render the pictures. In the meantime, she had brushed her teeth, mildly excited at what she would discover. And as much as she hated to admit it, the idea of accessing private pictures of thousands?, millions? of other people’s pictures mildly aroused her. The peeping tom fantasy. What if she was in the far background of someone taking a picture of two other people having sex? She could do without flossing for one night, and raced back to her laptop like a rabid dog – the toothpaste foam still in the corner of her mouth not helping.

The screen was filled with pictures, and at first she thought it was a bug in the code. She couldn’t see herself anywhere. But that was the millennial reflex of looking at the people in the foreground of the selfie. That wasn’t where she was supposed to be. And then she saw herself a first time, the brunette over there tying her shoelace against the small fence, that was her! There again, it was her, walking determined down the road. It was hard to put a date and location on the pictures, three quarters of the picture taken up by narcissistic strangers and her as a blurry detail in the back. But that was her sure enough. She continued scanning the pictures one by one, an infinite succession of crossovers between “where’s Waldo” and “choose your own adventure”.

It was around the fiftieth picture that something struck her. In the picture, she was walking with her best friend Samantha – had to be Indianapolis then – but the man on the left from the group photo looked eerily familiar. She scrolled up a bit and gasped. There he was again, with a different group of friends. In that picture, she was jogging in her black leggings and pink fluorescent sports bra. The one that made her boobs bigger, just in case. She continued scrolling, no longer searching for herself, but for the dark-haired unibrowed stranger she shared two pictures with. What were the odds? 

A few pictures later, she saw him again. He was bare-chest on the beach, flexing his biceps. He wasn’t particularly fit but seeing him display so much flesh aroused her a bit more. She scrolled further, there he was again, and again, and again. By the greatest coincidences, they seemed to have been be in the same places at the same time for the better part of the last ten years. If that wasn’t a soul mate, then what was?

For the last three days, she had furiously scanned every touristic area she had gone through from Pisa to Marseille and Paris. They had been in the same place and same time so many times, it was bound to happen again! She scanned again, but soon realized she was starting to look insane with her pretend phone call as she spun around like a dervish on meth. She walked slowly back to her hotel, pulled open the lobby door and bumped into a man coming out. As a reflex she blurted out a “Excuse me” instead of the local “Excusez-moi”, then raised her eyes, The man stared at her wide-eyed. It was him. And he had recognized her too.

Mountain View, June 23rd 2023

“And then what happened?”

Jimmy smiled at his audience. They had taken him for a lunatic just fifteen minutes ago, but were now on the edge of their seats as he went from one 3D slide to the next.

He paused to make them beg for the answer to the cliffhanger.

“Well, like 87% of others in our beta program, Stephanie and Nicolas are dating now, and have been for a month”.

Small “ooohs” in the room.

“87%? That can’t be right. The best dating algorithms having access to way more data don’t even get values past the high twenties.” Ajay, always sceptical. And probably upset as the next promo wasn’t going to go his way this time around.

“That’s true”, replied Jimmy who had anticipated the question. “But the best matchmaking algorithms miss the point. They try to predict chemistry by asking if you’re a dog or cat person. If you prefer vanilla or chocolate ice-cream. But that doesn’t mean anything! Common liking does not predict chemistry well enough. Plus, we’re not trying to predict chemistry, we’re trying to create it!”

“And photoshopping a person’s pictures into another’s creates chemistry?”

“Of course it does! Pictures are the answer. If the same person keeps popping up in the same cities, the same places, the same times as you, it’s like he or she is haunting you. They have got to be the perfect match! In other words, we integrate our two lovers in a double narcissism effect.”

“What happens after the first few days of dating when you realize they aren’t a perfect match?”

“Aha, well that’s the beauty of the brain: once it is convinced of something, the coherence principle takes over. Even while faced with contradicting facts, the mind will ignore them, refusing to admit that it was wrong to believe the other was a soul mate.”

“But how do you make them meet in real life?”

“Great question! This is where we leverage the rest of our Google products. With email and maps we know when and where people will be. So in the case of Stephanie and Nicolas, we knew they would both be in the same hotel in Paris over the same dates. We just backfill from there, take Nicolas’s pictures with no discerning background and insert Stephanie, take all of her pictures and insert Nicolas.”

He paused again, and stressed his French accent to deliver the ultimate romantic punchline. “And voilà, let me introduce you to… Google Dating!”

The Future of Caregiving (2/2): Let’s start acting today!

Family caregivers have become the backbone of long-term care services. But as the average life expectancy in developed countries rises by 2-3 years every ten calendar years, whereas the Total Fertility Rate has been halved in 60 years, we won’t have the capacity to meet the demand for caregivers. We are heading toward the caregiving cliff as the number of older individuals needing care will greatly exceeds the supply of caregivers.

In terms of projection, individuals 85 years and older are expected to reach 19.4 million by 2050, including 6.2 million individuals with severe or moderate memory impairment. While in 2010 we counted 7 caregivers (typically adult children ages 45 to 64) per adult older than 80, that ratio may drop to 3 to 1 by 2050.

With the intention to provoke a wider discussion about current alternatives to improve support for caregivers, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Institute for the Future (IFTF) have created a set of three scenarios that explore the future of caregiving in the year 2031. The scenarios have been turned into videos which can help us think about the future we want to happen and action plan to design this future. 

  • Neighbors care: In a world where social innovators, policy makers, and the financial industry have acted to develop new markets and models of caregiving, a generation in which childlessness is normal is redefining what “family” caregiving means. TimeBanks are already rising, so that seniors can get support for personal needs through exchanges of services with other members that focus on their interests and skills.
  • Angels in the floorboards: Technology has a role to play in alleviating the burden of caregivers and improving the quality of caregiving. Caregivers, care recipients, policy makers, and technologists need to work together to navigate how big a role technologies play and anticipate the tradeoffs that may come with it. Home assistants start dealing with more complex tasks, as artificial intelligence helps detect falls in nursing homes or at home.
  • Carer Act: In a future where caregiving is integrated into the formal health care system through a national Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable, and Reimburse (CARER) Act, respect and opportunities for caregivers come with increased demands for documentation and interaction. Note that the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act, passed in over 30 states, requiring hospitals to identify the family caregiver on their loved one’s medical record, inform caregivers of an upcoming discharge, and provide instruction for any medical tasks the caregiver will perform. 

Initiatives to structure the caregiving system of the future are already on their way. In Europe, EIT Health has identified 6 of the most urgent healthcare challenges facing society:

  • Extend care pathways to provide end-to-end care before the onset of disease through to end-of-life support.
  • Improving healthcare systems to overcome fragmentation across healthcare delivery.
  • Harnessing real-world data to provide early diagnosis, enhance treatment and inform how to lead healthier lives. 
  • Support healthcare delivery in the home and away from the hospital to give back autonomy to the individuals.
  • Improve workplace health at every level through better education and awareness.
  • Change lifestyle behaviors by creating the tools and incentives for patients to prevent early ageing and reduce disease and disability.

If there is an increasingly strong articulated wish of citizens to be in control of their health issues, the reality is that only little of that aspiration is successfully being implemented yet, as older people are missing the appropriate tools and services. However we can still encourage and celebrate initiatives aiming at preserving the autonomy of the elderly through independent living, such as inter-generational villages based on volunteering and reciprocity.

The Future of Caregiving (1/2): The Caregiving Cliff

Family caregivers have become the backbone of long-term care services. But as the average life expectancy in developed countries rises by 2-3 years every ten calendar years, whereas the Total Fertility Rate has been halved in 60 years, we won’t have the capacity to meet the demand for caregivers. We are heading toward the “caregiving cliff” as the number of older individuals needing care will greatly exceeds the supply of caregivers. 

About 4 in 10 American adults identified themselves as a family caregiver according to the Pew Research Center. Caregiving is usually defined as care for a relative or friend to help them take care of themselves, from personal needs and household chores, to personal finances, social visits and rides to practicians. About 80% of care at home is provided by informal unpaid caregivers. Unpaid family caregiving is valued at $450 billion a year by AARP. Note that a large majority provide care for a relative (85%), with 49% caring for a parent or parent-in-law, and 10% for a spouse.

The impact is economic but also psychological and societal. A majority of caregivers (60%) are female and if 60% of caregivers were employed at some point during the year, almost all of them reported having to make “workplace adjustments” (cutting back on working hours, taking a leave of absence…) as a result of caregiving. Caregivers work an average of 18 hours a week providing care, even while the majority (60 percent) of family caregivers have full- or part-time jobs (based on 2014 data).

Family caregiving today is more complex, costly, stressful and demanding than ever before, as the AARP report underlines. 55% of family caregivers report being overwhelmed by the amount of care their family member needs, especially when the person cared for has dementia. 38% report a moderate (20%) to high degree (18%) of financial strain as a result of providing care. Furthermore, 22% of young adults (ages 16 to 25) who drop out of high school for personal reasons did so to care for a family member, according to public policy firm Civic Enterprises. 

As alarming as the upcoming caregiving cliff and the consequences of caregiving on one’s work and personal life, is the fact that family members are not always equipped to provide the care needed, lacking training, support and even supplies. More than half of all caregivers have been called on to perform medical and nursing tasks related to complex chronic conditions, such as multiple medications, wound care, injections, intravenous therapy, incontinence support, and more.

It is time for us as a society to rethink the future of caregiving and start designing the course of actions we want to happen!

The Human Brain is the Best Time Travel Machine!

I never stop being fascinated by the human brain and how it thinks about time. I am particularly fond of understanding the place of the future in our thoughts and in our brain circuits!

30 years ago, brain scientists made a surprising discovery. Randy Bruckner, graduate student at Washington University in Saint Louis, found out that the brain scans of the control group which were supposed to be at rest, were actually more active than the studied group. 

That opened a whole lot of studies and literature on the human brain in resting state, led by Nancy Andreasen, brain scientist at the University of Iowa. A first conclusion is that the human brain at rest is indeed showing activity as it “effortless shifts back and forth in time”. In other words, when resting, our brains travel in time! She made another counterintuitive finding: as we daydream, we use the regions of the brain that are most pronounced in Homo sapiens compared with other primates. These areas are also often the last to become fully operational as the human brain develops through adolescence and early adulthood. 

It has actually become common knowledge that what distinguishes our species from others is our ability to “think the future”, and this very well reflects in our brain structure. The capacity for prospection has actually been amplified by many of the social and scientific revolutions that shaped human history, from agriculture (predicting seasonal changes), to the banking system (sacrificing present-tense value to the prospect of greater future gains), to health (accepting to be injected with a pathogen in a vaccine in exchange for a lifetime of protection against disease), etc. 

As Martin Seligman, psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania explains: “A more apt name for our species would be Homo prospectus, because we thrive by considering our prospects. The power of prospection is what makes us wise.”

In his book The Future of the Mind, Theoretical Physics Professor Michio Kaku replaces homo sapiens in the realm of conscious beings. “Human consciousness is a specific form of consciousness that creates a model of the world and then simulates it in time, by evaluating the past to simulate the future.”

  • Plants are at level 0, with no brain structure, using feedback loops limited to temperature and sunshine parameters.
  • Reptiles are at level 1, with brain stem, showing a model of the world adding the space parameter.
  • Mammals are at level 2, with a limbic system and a model of the world including social relations (in addition to exterior conditions and space parameters).
  • Humans are at level 3, with an additional prefrontal cortex and a more complex representation of the world including time (and especially the future) on top of other parameters.

As summarized by Michio Kaku, “Simulating the future, the heart of level 3 consciousness, is mediated by the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the CEO of the brain, with competition between the pleasure center and the orbitofrontal cortex (which acts to check our impulses).”

But if our brains love to make us travel over time, there seems to be a threshold. Over a time-window (around 5 years average) our future self become estranged to us and we have difficulty empathizing with the stranger we will become. As Futures Thinker Jane McGonigal tells us “FMRI studies suggest that when you imagine your future self, your brain does something weird: It stops acting as if you’re thinking about yourself. Instead, it starts acting as if you’re thinking about a completely different person.” Usually when you think about yourself, the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), powers up, whereas it powers down when you think about other people. But when we try to conceive our future self – and the further in time we push – our MPFC shows less activation as if we were thinking about a stranger. No wonder then if this is so difficult for us as individuals and as a society to prepare for our future, when we naturally give preference to the present self we are familiar with over our future self for whom we don’t care much.

The Institute for the Future conducted a survey to dig into this phenomenon and found out that more than half of Americans rarely or never think about the far future (30 years from now), whereas a closer future (5 years) is a bit more common. The survey also suggests that the older you get, the less you think about the far future, probably as you don’t expect to survive that long, but also because brain regions associated with mental simulation of the future degenerate. Having children or grandchildren doesn’t induce future thinking. However, one life event does: “a brush with mortality, such as a potentially terminal medical diagnosis, a near-death experience, or other traumatic event (…) as brushes with mortality are often associated, in the psychological literature, with a renewed effort to lead a meaningful life and leave a positive legacy behind.”

This discovery was a complete eye-opener to me… Perhaps one day I will tell you all about how a major traumatic event and near-death experience changed my life this summer. And you will connect the dots – knowing I am now 100% dedicated of establishing my Futures Thinking practice!

What is Product-Zeitgeist Fit?

I have witnessed startups launch new products or launch existing products in new markets for the past 15 years. One thing I can say for sure is that success mostly depends on the Product-Market Fit. Or so we’ve been told. 

According to leading VC fund Andreessen Horowitz, “Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.” (Marc Andreessen himself). According to Fred Wilson, success means “getting to the point where the market accepts your product and wants more of it.” Or as Andy Rachleff states it, “First to market seldom matters. Rather, first to product/market fit is almost always the long-term winner.” 

Funny enough “You can always feel when product/market fit isn’t happening. The customers aren’t quite getting value out of the product. Word of mouth isn’t spreading. Usage isn’t growing that fast. Press reviews are kind of ‘blah’. Sales cycle takes too long. Lots of deals never close. And you can always feel product/market fit when it’s happening.  The customers are buying the product just as fast as you can make it. Usage is growing just as fast as you can add more servers. Money from customers is piling up in your company checking account. You’re hiring sales and customer support staff as fast as you can. Reporters are calling because they’ve heard about your hot new thing and they want to talk to you about it. You start getting entrepreneur of the year awards from Harvard Business School. Investment bankers are staking out your house. You could eat free for a year at Buck’s.”

But then as all fads, Product-Market Fit got outdated and a new concept arose: go-to-market fit! More than the fit between a product and a market, success relies on the timeliness and acuteness of the Go-To-Market Fit. Meaning the Market but also the way you market for this market – or how you decline your marketing mix (product/packaging, pricing, distribution channels, promotion/communication) to address this specific market. 

According to Bob Tinker, author of the book Survival to Thrival and founding CEO of MobileIron, “Product-Market Fit isn’t sufficient to unlock growth for enterprise startups. There’s a missing link between finding Product-Market Fit and unlocking growth. That missing link didn’t have a name, but it is an equally important milestone and eureka moment. We call the missing link Go-To-Market Fit.”

In a16z Podcast that since then became famous, Bob Tinker, a16z general partner Peter Levine, and Hanne Tidnam discuss how to find the right go-to-market fit for the enterprise startup, and specifically how founders can avoid that moment of reckoning between product-market fit and actual growth. They mention the “Goldilocks problem” (not too early, not too late!) which consists in picking the right sales team and go-to-market model for a product and its customers. As Bob Tinker sums it up, Go-To-Market Fit relies on three components: a clear sales model, a repeatable Go-To-Market playbook to identify customers and close deals, and a sense of urgency. Only when the three line up, can the company unlock growth!

Now Andreessen-Horowitz investment partner D’Arcy Coolican tells us, we’ve gone one step further and what matters on top of that is the fit with the spirit of the moment, Zeitgeist. Not sure this is really brand-new as investor decks provided by entrepreneurs looking for funding more and more frequently include a “Momentum” part, showing why the opportunity must be seized now, echoing the product-market fit climax. In simple words, if the product you build surfs on the “air du temps”, you get a competitive advantage. 

D’Arcy Coolican has the merit to conceptualize the thing into a brand-new idea: Product-Zeitgeist Fit. And he illustrates it as such: “Whether it’s privacy products, frustration with the attention economy, the Marie Kondo-ification of everything including clothes, or the desire for a new social network (of which there have been many attempts lately) – The founders that are building on top of these ideas today all have a massive advantage today.” And similarly as Marc Andreessen’s Product-Market Fit reality check, D’Arcy Coolican has identified four signals: 

  • “Nerd Heat” (Chris Dixon): the most talented, hardest working, and most in-demand people (product managers, engineers, data scientists) are so intrigued by a product that they’re working on it, excited by it, and trying to make it a thing. 
  • The “Despite Test”: people are using a product despite the fact that it’s not the best thing out there, showing that the product has a line into something emotional, not solely functional.
  • The “T-shirt Test”: people with no connection to the company are wearing their t-shirts or putting their stickers on their laptops or wearing their socks. This desire to associate with the idea indicates as much a movement as a product.
  • The “Eyebrow Test”: in the early days, things that have product zeitgeist fit often feel misunderstood or controversial. “At first blush, the conceit may even raise a few eyebrows. But to the people who have been working on those products, they’re so clearly elegant, if temporarily imperfect, solutions to big and important problems that they seem almost obvious once they recognize it.”

Having designed go-to-market plans for years while being frustrated because of entrepreneurs’ narrow vision and focus on short-term profitability, I can only celebrate that investors now evangelize over product-zeitgeist fit. As D’Arcy Collican encourages, “If you’re just trying to figure out what the future looks like, not just build it, look for the things that are broken and terrible but that people still really care about.” I personally believe that we must reconnect go-to-market fit approaches with futures thinking. I have even changed my focus to dedicate myself to helping entrepreneurs think in the longer run with a strategic foresight focus. I could very well advocate for a Product-Futures Fit! Stay tuned for Andreessen Horowitz next conceptual updates.

Top Resources for Futures Thinkers

So there it is! I’ve put down on paper my list of favorite resources as a futurist living in Silicon Valley. The list is non-exhaustive and evolving. Please feel free to share your own – I’d be happy to consider additions!

Noticeable companies

  • Google X, the moonshot factory (American semi-secret research and development facility and organization founded by Google): https://x.company/ 
  • SpaceX (company founded by Elon Musk which designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft): https://www.spacex.com/ 

Institutes and consultancies

  • Institute for the Future (Silicon Valley-based not-for-profit research group and think tank focused on Futures Thinking): http://www.iftf.org/home/ 
  • Singularity University (company that offers executive educational programs, a business incubator and innovation consultancy service within the NASA Research Park): https://su.org/
  • Creative Strategies (Silicon Valley based market research firm focused on the global technology market): https://creativestrategies.com/ 
  • Mission 2 Mars Academy (Silicon Valley-based online accelerator that helps global startups and corporations to innovate successfully): https://www.mission2mars.academy/ 
  • Silicon Valley Future Academy (Silicon Valley-based global education and consulting company that helps companies and leaders design/execute innovation, technology and business solutions): http://svfacademy.com/en 
  • The Hive (VC Fund, Co-creation Studio for Startups & Think Tank focused on AI and data): https://hivedata.com/ 
  • Fabernovel (Global innovation agency focused on digital transformation, Paris HQ): http://www.fabernovel.us/

Meetups and conferences

Online resources

Professional groups

Sponsored Food Trucks & Free Food For All!

Every day at noon, Lenna walks down the street to have lunch. She meets with her friends Amelie (Uber freight driver) and Sam (VR game developer) at the closest AdStar food truck. 

They’ve checked on the maps through the AdStar app where today’s food trucks are located – at the corner, there is one Indian fusion food truck sponsored by Samsung. If they walk 5 minutes north, they can enjoy the Thin crust pizza truck sponsored by Virgin. And down the Disney store, there is always the Worldfood truck that Disney makes more attractive each day.

Today, they opt for the closest one (Samsung), as they already had Italian with the Google sponsored truck yesterday and Disney is usually too crowded and they are not able to use the fast pass feature (only in the premium version of the AdStar app). 

At the Samsung sponsored truck, there is almost no line, as most of the people have already ordered from the app. When their Indian burgers are delivered, Lenna, Amelie and Sam tear off the recycling paper package with the Samsung logo and VR code on it. 

Sam loves to scan the VR codes to access fun VR videos and coupons. A month ago she participated in a competition and won first prize – the latest Sony bedset (integrating SuperHD loudspeaker connecting with her whole new Enhanced Reality projection system)! 

Before they go back to their respective activities, they stop for a bubble tea at the Baidu coffee and tea truck. Oh, and did I mention they got all this for free?

Ads Are Losing Their Sense Of Humor

And Our Shopping Assistants Are Responsible For This!

Now that more than 100 million homes are equipped with virtual assistants replacing us in most everyday activities including buying products, we are faced with three levels of evolutions, as Jamais Cascio details in his scenario “Machines as the New Consumer Class“. Let’s dig into this future together…

Smarter shopping agents

First of all, shopping agents are getting smarter and smarter, and consist in way more than a Google search for a product! “Today, shopping agents put out requests for bids, run one-second auctions, and share information along trusted circles about how well the products fit the needs of the humans in real-world use, not just a checklist of features.” Preferred software will include a flexible ranking of needs and special attention to customer price sensitivity. The best assistants also include an “experimental” setting, allowing the shopping agent to purchase something new outside of the “comfort zone”.

A very interesting aspect is that despite these advancements, virtual assistants are not able (yet) to completely reproduce the human behavior which consists into reevaluating one’s needs according to results and to get tired or bored after a while, incorporating irrationality in the decision process. As a matter of fact, machines have much more patience than human beings! “Computerized buyers never get bored or tired, never are distracted by crying children or hunger, and—most importantly—never suffer the same asymmetry of information that has been an inescapable component of human retail.” But we are only at the beginning of the optimization of the assisted shopping experience, so this could very well be changing soon!

Advertising directed towards shopping agents

Another crucial consequence is that advertising is changing its very nature with new areas of development as pitches are addressing machines. Shopping agents represent a whole new buyer persona for advertisers! This translates into two major changes.

First, ads become more about pushing forward detailed list of features as agents can read and decipher large amounts of data and will proceed to flash comparison. In addition, virtual shoppers will be faced with “coupons provided alongside a purchase, and even blip advertisements in media, too fast for human eyes to follow but ideal for communicating with the software in the home-control or wearable systems”.

Secondly, ads are losing creativity and sense of humor, as shopping agents are not sensitive to this very human activity yet! In the future, differentiation will probably be less about brand image than about products’ real value proposition. One can wonder what the future of marketing and advertising is going to be in a world where we sell to bots and no longer to people. Does it signal the end of creative commercials and advertising agencies? And what about the top Superbowl’s commercials that people savor like art house cinema each year?

New forms of spams and scams

A field in which creativity is still flourishing is the reign of spams and scams directed towards machines! Spam filters will need to be fine-tuned to let in legitimate commercial messaging while still blocking out unwanted enticements. High-efficiency spam filters are already been developed. 

The risks are even bigger with scams and the uprising of “Advertising Engine Optimization”. The principle is the following: these bots routinely ping shopping agents with a set of product offers, each with a slight variation in features (A/B-testing like), to identify which characteristics are more likely to trigger an inquiry. We also notice that “Pop-up sellers advertise and sell products that fit a shopping agent’s requirements, but deliver something entirely different—and disappear from the network immediately after a sale.”

For shopping agent providers and advertisers, this means an investment into fighting illegitimate practices that disturb the overall buying experience. And as products and services are increasingly designed to display data that appeal to shopping agent software, brands will be faced with a decisive dilemma: Optimize for humans vs. optimize for machines!

The Transformation of Pharmacy

“I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant: I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.”

– Hypocratic Oath

It has become a leitmotiv: “Pharmacy needs to transform from product to service.” But how so? As part of the healthcare ecosystem, pharmacies share common objectives such as improving and maintaining the health of patients at the lowest possible cost to the system. Retail pharmacies are now thinking about the Pharmacy of the Future with a stronger integration of the pharmacist as a personal care point of contact who can guide patients along their healthcare lifecycle. Pharmacies are changing from a transactional model to a relational model, where pharmacists are at the center of the experience. 

One important thing to notice is that pharmacies present intervention for multiple buyer personae and at different stages of the health cycle. Pharmacies can be a “destination for the healthy” and a “solution center for the sick” at the same time. When people are healthy, the pharmacy is the logical choice for products and services to remain healthy. When people have chronic illness, pharmacists can help them manage their condition. When they have an injury or illness, pharmacy is the top of mind choice to guide them on their journey back to health.

A first set of actions consists in expanding immunization programs. Today pharmacies mostly offer seasonal flu shots. What if, in the future, they could offer year-round immunizations allowing patients to access all types of vaccines against pneumonia, shingles or even travel vaccines. 

Another set of actions to become a first-hand center for the sick would be to convert into a point-of-care testing. Patients could proceed to basic testing at the pharmacy for blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood sugar. Early detection and diagnosis would enable immediate treatment and avoid costly complications later. As Chris Dimos, President of retail solutions at McKesson anticipates, retail pharmacies could even offer things like “pharmacogenomic testing to help patients understand how their genes affect their body’s response to the medication and which medication may be right for them.” In other words, multiply the number of point-of-care technology for screening and testing.

In addition, pharmacies could become an omnichannel platform for health resources. An app could connect patients to online health information. Specialists could offer face-to-face counseling with patients on wellness topics such as smoking cessation, planned parenthood, or nutrition. Videos could run in-store, and flyers could be provided at the counter.  Patients could enjoy two-way digital communication with their pharmacist via an app or video conferencing. The customer journey would be more integrated as well, with patients ordering refills online and getting their drugs delivered to their home, as the digital pharmacy Alto is already enabling: it streamlines the prescription procurement process and offers digital tools to further improve the experience of every party involved. Patients can consult with Alto’s support team seven days a week and get prescriptions delivered to their door for free through Alto’s mobile app; doctors gain time thanks to the AltoMD solution that automates time-consuming prescription management tasks.

Finally, wearables, sensors and remote monitoring could provide additional data for the pharmacist to alert patients with asthma that they’re at risk because of their ambient air quality and provide recommendations such as using a rescue inhaler or staying away from high-allergen areas. Smart bathrooms equipped with connected toilets will help gather further patient information (Read our article Are we ready for Smart Toilets?). Collected patient data could also help build predictive analysis models and improve diagnosis and recommendations. 

Consequently, the Pharmacy of the Future will continue to sell medicine and wellness products, but in addition it will provide patients with clinical services (immunization, testing, first-aid), as well as health and wellness information. A correlated questions is: how are pharmacists be prepared for this change of job, which will not only include further knowledge of drugs, but also communication skills? And always the recurring yet crucial question: who will pay for these extended services?

The New Timescape

“Remember that time is money”

– Benjamin Franklin

During the First Wave (agricultural societies) and still recently in some civilizations, people were not paid hourly, but usually received a fraction of their production. This resulted in a different relationship to time from ours. As Marina Gorbis details in her paper “Back to the Future: From time-based to task-based work”, “Not long ago in parts of Madagascar people measured time in units of rice cooking – how long it took to cook a pot of rice (about half an hour) or how long it took to fry a locust (a moment). Native people in Southern Nigeria used the saying: A man died in less than the time in which maize is not yet completely roasted (less than 15 minutes). (…) The clock was sometimes referred to as the devil’s mill. In such places, there were no precise meal times, the notion of an exact appointment time was unknown and people agreed to meet at the next market. This kind of un-timed, imprecise way of living may seem alien and quaint to us today but, in fact, throughout most of our history, before we invented clocks and highly efficient industrialized production, we did not view time as a measurable commodity to be sold for money, traded or organized. Instead, our conception of time was tightly linked to tasks that needed to be done.”

It is only with the Second Wave (industrial age), that the pricing of labor became based on time: factory workers were paid by the hour and we started measuring labor productivity (amount produced over time). Later on, norms were established, with U.S. employees working 9 to 5 including a 30- to 60-minute break for lunch. Time started being standardized, with masses of people eating, commuting, working, shopping, and entertaining themselves following a similar schedule. The same time discipline applied to schools. As Alvin and Heidi Toffler state it in their book Revolution Wealth, “In yesterday’s work world, time was packaged in standard lengths. Labor contracts and federal laws made overtime expensive for employers and discouraged deviance from standard time packages.” For years, we somehow considered that this time-based work and life system was mostly unchallenged, until we recently started experiencing a shift…

So what about this Third Wave? “By contrast, today’s emergent economy, for which those schoolchildren are being misprepared, runs on radically different temporal principles. In it, we are fragmenting yesterday’standard time packages as we shift from collective time to customized time.” (Alvin and Heidi Toffler).  Yes, work in fundamentally changing and as Daniel H. Pink describes in his book Free Agent Nation, U.S. labor force is increasingly composed of “free agents” (33 million) setting their own hours and many of which work from home, coworking spaces, libraries, or coffee houses – self-employed professionals, freelancers, independent contractors, consultants, digital nomads, etc. As work schedules are being fragmented, so are social life, family routine and leisure time. Think how cable TV and national television reunion (Good Morning America, Saturday Night Live, Late shows, etc.) are being replaced by on-demand streaming services. Schedules are so individualized, fragmented and unpredictable that family and friends cannot assume they can gather face-to-face anymore. They have to arrange meeting ahead of time and often share calendars to show availability. Last minute cancellation has become commonplace. In addition, individuals can choose when to buy and when to be delivered. Thanks to e-commerce, they are not limited by store opening hours anymore. The change is also happening in the physical commerce which is more and more 24/7, even if in some countries (France), we witness resistance from workers, unions, and lobbyists against store opening on Sundays. According to Alvin and Heidi Toffler, “Continuous-flow services permit consumption schedules to be designed by each individual, thus further promoting the shift to irregular time. In both production and consumption, then, times and tempos are becoming more complex and de-massified, This, in turn, has consequences for every business, in every sector, and for economies at every level of development.”

For futurists, looking back is a vital component of preparing for looking forward. What this thought-exercise tells us in the case of time conception, is that what we tend to think of as a given (time-based work) being shattered by latest technology and trends such as uberisation (task-based work) is not exactly the case. It seems much more that we are slowly leaving a short-life (200-300 years) time-based work system to adopt a new time/work paradigm which reminds us in some ways in the ancient task-based system! Of course, even if we come back to task-based work, it is likely to differ greatly from the task-based living of our ancestors. But even so, we need to slowly detach ourselves from this time-based work vision to fully embrace the new fragmented timescape and its correlated activity-based system. And to end on a positive note, there is a hope that instead of increasing commodification of our time, intensified automation will enable us to “decommodify our notions of time and re-capture that which is unproductive, unplanned, unpredictable, and yet uniquely human?” (Marina Gorbis). On this re-capture of our human self, I truly believe in a No-tech-land: Remains of our human nature.

Senior Villages to brighten the Future of Aging

“It takes a village to support our seniors”

– Proverb

More and more older people will be able to live independently and comfortably at home while aging, thanks to the development of senior villages. These community-based villages offer a set of services based on volunteering, tech equipment and reciprocal support. The first named Village in the U.S. opened in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston in 2002. Growing interest in the model has led to a surge in new Villages in recent years, with over 200 Villages operating in 2017 and more than 150 in development. The national nonprofit Village to Village Network (VtV Network) was formed in 2010 to share best practices and offer guidance to both existing and developing Villages.

As people are aging with an expanded health span, it represents a change from institution-based care often linked with physical dependency and exclusion from family and social life, to a better quality end of life based on self-sufficiency. 80% of older adults desire to remain in their homes and communities as long as possible, rather than move to age-segregated facilities (source: AARP). “Aging-in-Place” describes the ability to live independently and comfortably at home while aging, regardless of income, race, or general ability level. Villages offer an aging-in-place option for seniors to stay in their home environment while still being cared for.

Aging people want to be able to choose the place where they will end their life and not be forced into institutionalization. Villages represent a solution to go beyond the dilemma between care/support (facilities) and independency (home alone). This also provides families with peace of mind, as they feel their parents are getting frail but they don’t want to isolate them in care facilities. In addition, this represents a means for the society as a whole to offer a more humane solution to the “aging issue”. Insurances and government might be interested as well as medical expenses linked to residential care facilities will be reduced.

There would be an extended continuum of solutions for seniors, from the home to residential facilities to fully-medicalized senior care institutions. Villages will be more and more frequent and host several generations of seniors. Their interactions will rely on mutual support and exchange of services, from daily life routine (groceries, cleaning, mail), to medical followup, from home maintenance (home improvement, IT equipment) to social and leisure activities (sports, games, movies). Freshly retired individuals will remain active as they support older ones in their everyday tasks and organize social activities to mix different generations of seniors. Healthcare providers will be more mobile and care will be decentralized from the hospital and medical facilities to move to the home. Technology and services companies will develop solutions to equip villages, giving seniors even more autonomy, while making sure they receive the monitoring, diagnostics abilities, support and adapted treatment. Entertainment companies will adapt to provide seniors with on-site activities. Costs will be reduced for individuals, families and society as less staff will be needed,

No doubt, there’s work to do to plan the Senior Village of the Future, in terms of health care decentralization, urban architecture, optimization of daily routine processes and creation of entertainment services. So… who’s in to join the effort?

Are we ready for Smart Toilets?

“The flush toilet, more than any single invention, has ‘civilized’ us in a way that religion and law could never accomplish.” – Thomas Lynch

In the realm of the smart home business, Google is now looking at the bathroom as demonstrated by some recently filed patents by the company. In the future, toilet seats, bath mats, bathroom mirrors, bath tubs might embed sensors and cameras to help us track our health – heart rate, skin color variations, blood pressure, echo test, electrical patterns, you name it! The collected data could then very well be sent to health professionals…

Have I mentioned that this could very well include analysis of your toilet’s contents? What caught my interest here, is that this signal represents a change in the way we comprehend bodily waste, from a private issue to a health concern. Nowadays bathrooms are mostly private and there is disgust and social shame around our excretion in most civilizations. At the same time, it does represent a very rich source of data on our health and condition. Changing the way we think about bodily waste to use it as information to receive better diagnostic and better treatment is revolutionary.

No doubt, we can foresee many advantages. First of all, for the individuals concerned, they would be diagnosed in the earliest stages. Many people don’t particularly enjoy getting lab work done, or they don’t have easy access to a lab, and some are not even aware that they might be sick. This would gain a lot of time regarding diagnostic and treatment. For society as a whole, it could represent a gain in medical expenses, as we could detect problems earlier and prevent the condition from deteriorating. Some institutions such as hospitals, senior homes, colleges could equip at large and use such feature for their residents to detect high level of blood sugar, bacteria proliferation, presence of drugs, pregnancy hormones, etc.

As soon, as lab work will be part of the smart bathroom and connected home, patients won’t need to wait for symptoms, then visit a doctor to get a prescription, then go to the lab, then wait for the results, then go back to the doctors, then go to the pharmacy, then receive treatment, then do go back to doctor-lab-pharmacy for followup. The cycle would be much shorter and integrated. For example as soon as they detect a vitamin deficiency or blood sugar highs, individuals could proceed to the adapted treatment. Pharmacy could be connected to smart toilets, doctors could be aware and validate the prescription, and patients could receive vitamin complements or insulin refills in less than no time. 

It does look like an exciting future, even if slightly scary. First of all, you’d probably feel that your bodily fluids could tell more about yourself to others than you know yourself if that data escapes you and is communicated to healthcare providers. There might be some false alerts as well, which could create additional stress, whereas the body is often able to regulate over time before treatment is needed. It would also make the very private place that the bathroom place is, a place invaded by technology accompanied by the feeling that “someone is watching you” – but I’m wondering if this latest threat is not becoming less significant as more and more people are actually already using their phones on the toilets…!