Jennifer James, 55, urban cultural anthropologist. Author of Thinking in the Future Tense (Simon & Schuster, 1996) and six other books.
New symbols - everything from food preferences to job titles to the way people spend their Saturday nights - signal changing realities. For example, casual dressing at work signals a flattening of hierarchy.
In times of rapid transition, if you can't stay a beat ahead of the symbol shifts, your company will suffer. Look at the tobacco industry. It missed both the shift toward increased health consciousness and the communications-era reality that you can't keep secrets from the public anymore.
Futurology Decoder Key
Pay attention to language. Recently I heard young workers referring to executives as "pimps." That's symbolic of a new corporate value system. Look at airports - they're always a beat ahead because of the people who use them. In terminals, Waterstone's, the Body Shop, and Nike now share space with magazine racks and donut stands. Follow TV trends. The law firm in the new show "Ally McBeal" has a unisex bathroom. The minute I see a hit TV show where male and female lawyers converse at the bathroom sink, I think, Don't invest in urinals.
For more information on Jennifer James, call Enterprise Media LLC (1-800-423-6021) or email her firstname.lastname@example.org .
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.