Emerging Frames for 2014

992392_77011309Most blogs about the year ahead focus on specific predictions for actual events. How boring.

2014 prediction: Facebook will buy a company that you have never heard of for a price you can’t imagine.

This annual blog post is a different beast. Anyone can come up with a list of predictions. I am less concerned with what is specifically going to happen than how we will talk about the world no matter what occurs. Thought leadership platforms are built on Big Ideas and Big Ideas are essentially frames around events and trends that allow you to connect dots into a picture of the world. In the social sciences, framing is the process by which we understand events in the world as well as the product at the end of that process. Think of a frame as a uniquely curved lens through which you see the world or an algorithm that makes connections among some things and not others.

Frames are not just fancy words. They help people understand the world so they can take action, do some good and achieve goals amidst events that are out of their control. Careful, thoughtful framing is a foundation of thought leadership.

Some frames emerge out of human efforts to make sense of a fast-moving crazy world and that is what we are concerned with here. What follows is an annotated set of frames likely to shape what we are hearing this year. While events and trends are referenced, this exercise is more about how the world sounds when we are talking about those things than the events and trends themselves. We are looking for frames in the making.

1. Edward Snowden + global tech industry + electoral politics = invisibility cloaks

Edward Snowden and the NSA created a big story in 2013 and there is no sign that the Chinese water torture of drip-by-drip leaks will end soon. Yet, at some point, a new frame has to arise to give people a way to start moving forward.

blog_nsa_logoLeaders such as Angela Merkel cannot blithely nudge and wink about the NSA when their citizens read that their cell phones or diplomatic conversations are being tapped. Yet, they still have to do business with the US. The more pragmatic issue though, is that US technology companies seeking to sell gear and software around the world – that would be all US technology companies – now have standard questions to answer in any sales call. “Does the NSA have access to this product?” Every field sales person I have ever known does not like any question that stands in the way of “here is the PO.” That means positions will be created on NSA snooping at every corporate headquarters in America. That no doubt leads to a desire to get those questions off the table with some larger public industry position and the trappings – if not the fact – of real action. Since no one actually wants an arms race between industry and governments over snooping versus cloaking technologies, we need some counterweight that rebalances the Snowden/NSA story. That counterweight will begin – if not end – with a new way of talking about the issue.

2. Gen X, Y, and Z + retiring boomers = Generational shift

It is easy to find research on millennials as well as complaints about real or imagined entitlement issues and defenses of same. This year, though, the tone will change as these generations are discovered in the demographic mainstream. Think about it. The original coining of the term “digital native” occurred in 2001 to describe a conflict between students (those who grew up in a digital world) and those teaching them (boomers struggling to adapt). Well, the struggle is over and the natives won. They aren’t just in high school anymore. They are front line managers, parents, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers and even teachers. Boomers are increasingly the retired people down the street telling kids to get off their lawns. Acknowledging this generational shift will change the tone of many conversations about technology. The expectation that the world is digital and lots of stuff just happens alters how we talk about new ideas. Of course the Internet of Things will enable your toaster to alert you when it needs replacing. Get over it in 2014. We will stop saying “wow” and start asking “when?”

3. Big Data + new tools + new services = Commoditizing strategy

big-data-hr copyLawrence Freedman’s massive tome on “Strategy” as a concept suggests that new technology has always driven an evolution in what we consider to be strategic. Artillery changed battlefield strategy. Nuclear weapons took military strategy out of the hands of the generals and the Cold War moved strategy considerations into think tanks like the Rand Corp. New tools require new kinds of decisions and often spawn new kinds of decision makers. Strategists have always gravitated to the “new” and find new frontiers when it becomes the “normal.”

Big Data is still relatively new but generating a lot of interest across industries. Technologies like Hadoop are making Big Data analytics available to a much larger cross-section of organizations. Big Data’s promise, of course, is the ability to uncover strategic insights that are already there in your organization’s data if you could just see them. Today, you need really expensive data scientists who craft their own tools to make Big Data viable. That will start changing in 2014 as more Hadoop distributions are available and new tools come to market that allow business managers to perform basic Big Data queries on their own. This will no doubt affect the way we talk about strategy as it becomes much more a science than art. How brilliant do you have to be to click the “insight” button to come up with a new business or service? Push-button insights might drive innovation, but it will no doubt change what we mean when we talk of “strategy.” 2014 might well start raising the stakes on what kind of insight counts as strategic since Big Data will commoditize insights.

4. Obamacare + social media + quantified self technology = new healthcare discourse

mobile-healthcare-emr11I realize it’s a challenge to separate the politics of Obamacare from its pieces, but you have to bear with me on this one. As Obamacare settles into existence, the energy around healthcare discourse is unlikely to dissipate. It will evolve, spawning some painful discussions around the actual cost of healthcare services in this nation. Steven Brill laid the groundwork with his amazing piece in Time on the tortured logic of healthcare costs. Look forward to more because of a few simple forces that are bound to interact.

One way or another, we will get more young people into the healthcare system. Young people are accustomed to using online information and social media. The Medicare system is now publishing what it considers “fair” costs of certain procedures. The result will be more posts like this one as more people lay bear their interactions with a healthcare system that is somehow not bounded by market forces in setting prices. These same new healthcare consumers are also more likely to use new information sources and “quantified self” technologies like Fitbit. And they’ll be sharing all that information and experience across social media. Reforming healthcare will slowly shift its center of gravity from a governmental discourse to one of social movements, social media and new technology.

By no means is this intended as an exhaustive list. It is intended to spark some conversations. Thought leadership goes beyond individual events and trends and provides a way to talk about them all so that we can make sense of a fast-moving world.

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