The influence of Gen Z is on the rise, consumers are interested in traveling lighter, and the definition of family is expanding.
These are some of the findings in the Looking Further with Ford 2015 trend report. “What we put in this book is what I call micro trends. You can also call them emerging trends,” says Sheryl Connelly, the futurist at Ford Motor Co. (who was featured as one of Fast Company‘s 100 Most Creative People in Business in 2013). “These are things that are going to be relevant for the next 24, 36 months, and I like to say that some of them may grow up to be big, strong megatrends someday, but only time will tell.” To determine the trends, none of which are car-specific, Connelly examined the the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political arenas, looking for patterns.
The hope is that the designers at Ford can use this general trend information to design cars that people will want to drive. “The beauty of the work that I do is that sure, it affects the product, but it can also affect IT, HR, purchasing,” Connelly points out. The insights can also be useful to those outside of Ford. “When I started doing this work 11 years ago, I could have never had a conversation like this with you,” Connelly says. “At the time, we used to think, ‘Trend work is proprietary, and it gives some inclination about what our strategic direction is, and we should never talk about it publicly.’”
But as Ford’s examination of trends evolved, the company needed to access more resources for information. “And we found that when we started reaching out to outside experts and having a dialogue with people outside of the automotive industry, our insights became much stronger, more sophisticated, more nuanced, and the more we shared, the better it became,” Connelly says, adding, “Then we started noticing that everyone was publishing these trend books.” So for the last three years, Ford has published its own tome and made it available to anyone who wants to read it.
Those of you who pore over the numerous trend books out there will notice that there is little overlap in content between the reports put out by various entities, and that’s fine with Connelly. She doesn’t believe there needs to be consensus among those looking into the future for the information to be valuable, and she enjoys analyzing Ford’s results with others who might have a different take on where things are going. “I love when people say, ‘That really resonated with me,’” she acknowledges, “but I often learn more when people say, ‘I don’t agree at all. That’s not how I see the world.’”
You can read the entire Looking Further with Ford 2015 report online. Here, Connelly highlights a few of the trends:
“All these years I’ve been doing research about what the future holds, and I wasn’t even tapping into this extraordinary resource right in front of me–my kids,” Connelly says. She and her husband are parents to a 9-year-old and an 11-year-old, both of whom are part of Generation Z. Those are the kids born (roughly) after 1993.
While Connelly’s children are on the younger end of the spectrum, she tried to imagine the world through the eyes of an 18-year-old, and Ford research ultimately determined that Gen Z–more than 2 billion strong–is the first-ever truly global generation. “I don’t want to discount the millennials, and the baby boomers still have a lot of activity and a lot of aspirations, but these young people, we like to say they are influencers,” she says. “They’re not just tastemakers for themselves–they set the tone for everyone else.”
Ford’s trend report cites the influence of the likes of 18-year-old singer Lorde, a worldwide role model from New Zealand who has made healthy body image one of her causes, and the accomplishments of teenagers such as Canadian Ann Makosinski, who at the age of 16 won a top prize at the Google Science Fair for inventing a flashlight powered only by the heat from our hands.
“Years ago, there was a stigma to failure, and, now, people recognize that it is a necessary step in achieving anything,” Connelly says. Failing is considered a right of passage in Silicon Valley where 90% of tech startups don’t succeed, and it isn’t just the technology industry that is embracing failure: In a commercial released in April 2014 to promote Domino’s menu expansion into specialty chicken and mentioned in the Ford trend report, Andy Wetzel, who heads product innovation for the pizza chain, says, “Failure is an option. We know that not everything is going to work.” The spot even makes reference to Domino’s cookie pizza, which was an epic flop.
Meanwhile, speakers from many industries have no problem dissecting their failures in public these days. On a personal note, Connelly says, “I attend a lot of conferences to try to gather insights and look for patterns, and I’m always interested in the speaker that shares a story of failure.”
People are tired of lugging stuff around to the point where we’ve entered an era in which many of us don’t even want to carry our car keys with us. According to Ford’s research, 41% of those buying luxury vehicles these days actually expect a keyless car-entry system.
Consumers are also becoming more interested in ditching their wallets, hence the development of smartphone apps like Apple Pay and Google Wallet. But aren’t people concerned about security? “People who would opt into this carry-less movement are basically saying, ‘I know there’s some vulnerability, but I also trust the safeguards. I recognize that I have a limit on my exposure on my credit card. There are systems in place that will minimize the damage,’” Connelly says.
Another indication of the carry-less movement gaining traction: Starwood Hotels & Resorts has made it possible for its guests staying at select locations to unlock their rooms using their smartphones, and the plan is for the program to go wider, expanding to at least 140 properties by the middle of 2015.
Again, you can take a look at the full Looking Further with Ford 2015 (PDF) trend report online. Let us know what you think of the findings and where you see things headed in the comments below.