2017 was full of surprises–some of them more welcome than others. There’s no reason to expect this year won’t also hold its fair share of unexpected events. But the fact remains that every CEO is by necessity a futurist, charged with setting a course based as much on prior experience and current trends as on a best-guess forecast of what’s to come. So Fast Company reached out to 10 CEOs across a wide range of industries for their predictions on the top issues, ideas, challenges, and changes business leaders will be discussing this time next year. Here’s what they said.
New Applications For Blockchain And Cryptocurrency
By the close of 2017, says Tricia Martinez, CEO of Wala, a blockchain-powered personal finance platform, blockchain and cryptocurrency were “just beginning to touch the masses.” In the next 12 months, she expects those technologies to go fully mainstream. “More companies are building on top of blockchain technologies, and anyone can issue a token now. I believe more banks, governments, and individuals will embrace crypto and everything it has to offer,” she says.
Bea Arthur, CEO of The Difference, an artificial intelligence company, is a little more circumspect. “In most parts of the country, it’s still an unknown,” she observes. “And if our government was paying attention, they would have regulated the shit out of it by now.” But Arthur suspects that the growing applications for blockchain and cryptocurrencies will compel regulators to ease the way for wider adoption. “I think next year, we’ll be exploring its utility and legality,” says Arthur.
The Future Of Human Resources
Next year, Matt Straz, CEO of HR platform Namely, believes “the conversation around how data and AI is changing work will continue to ramp up,” especially after last year’s upheavals like the “Google memo,” Uber’s various meltdowns, and rampant sexual harassment allegations.
“Given the public HR nightmares that have come to light, companies are beginning to understand just how much a diverse and inclusive workplace is critical for success,” says Straz. “Data has the potential to help implement checks and balances, so that HR challenges are addressed sooner rather than later.” Adds Marah Lidey, co-CEO of wellness app Shine, “Last year showed us that our existing system is broken. We’ve heard account after account of leaders abusing positions of power, discriminating against marginalized communities, and so forth. In tech, we’re finally asking ourselves: What’s changing at the top?”
Rebounding From Setbacks On Diversity And Inclusion
And it’s not just in tech–nor, for that matter, strictly an HR issue. Dave Scott, CEO of comedy streaming startup Laugh.ly, points out that the demise of major comics from Bill Cosby to Louis C.K. “has started a dialogue about equality and inclusion in the male-dominated comedy world,” he says, which is reverberating throughout entertainment and beyond. Porter Braswell agrees: “A national dialogue around the lack of diversity in the workplace has already started,” says the CEO of Jopwell, a hiring and recruiting platform for underrepresented minorities.
“A year from now, I believe that this conversation will not only focus on the lack of representation, but on holistic diversity and inclusion solutions,” Braswell continues. He hopes that by the start of 2019, advocates will move beyond just making the case “that diversity matters.” To get there, though, committed companies will “need to discuss and invest in solutions” to a degree that many haven’t yet.
The Sound Of Data
After a slew of major data breaches in 2017, the need for more data security is pretty clear. Rodney Williams believes his company Lisnr offers one solution for issues involved in “contactless payments or secure data transmission using sound,” and he expects 2018 to prove the technology’s breakout year. “A few of the world’s largest companies will be launching with Lisnr this year. It is not a stretch that a year from now, realistically, Lisnr will be the new standard in data transmission,” Williams wagers.
Business-Driven Solutions For Closing The Wealth Gap
“As the separation between the haves and have-nots continues to grow, the need for private companies to take ownership and pave the way to a more fair distribution of wealth and opportunities has become unequivocal to doing business in the modern world,” says Ryan Williams, CEO of real estate investment platform Cadre.
While Williams didn’t point to Trump’s tax overhaul, the reform measure seems likely to consolidate corporate wealth, which could exacerbate the pressure Williams points to. By the close of 2018, he expects business leaders will need to shift toward “focusing on bridging societal gaps, by maintaining parity between purpose and profit.”
The Mainstreaming Of The Hijab
Melanie Elturk, CEO of Haute Hijab, plans to spend 2018 “working with mainstream brands to make a case for representation of hijab-wearing women–like we did with a Gap campaign.” Elturk sees that milestone as something of an inflection point. And indeed, 2017 saw Nike get into the hijab business as well as modest fashion designer Ayana Ife clinch second place in the long-running Lifetime series Project Runway. And given the political climate created by the Trump sdministration’s ongoing pursuit of a travel ban largely affecting Muslim-majority countries, Elturk expects this issue to remain in the spotlight, leading to more visibility and acceptance of women who embrace the hijab.
Merging The Traditional And On-Demand Workforces
Stacy Brown-Philpot, CEO of on-demand marketplace TaskRabbit, expects that by 2019, “more leaders in all industries will realize that the sharing economy is here to stay. I think you’ll see more well-known brick-and-mortar companies deepen their relationships with on-demand workforce platforms, just as TaskRabbit did in 2017 with IKEA,” which bought Brown-Philpot’s company last September.
She isn’t the only leader in the gig economy who expects more integration with traditional workforces. Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel argued in Fast Company in 2016 that the future of work “will look a lot like Hollywood,” with teams of high-skilled freelancers competing for project-based work, similar to the crews that film studios assemble and disassemble from one production to the next. (However, Kasriel doesn’t believe we’re all fated to be “solopreneurs.”)
Arum Kang, CEO of dating app Coffee Meets Bagel, also expects this type of cross-pollination to accelerate in 2018, driven not just by corporate cost saving but by workers’ expectations as well. “More people are able to have flexible jobs without tying themselves to a specific company,” she says. “The line between work and life is becoming very blurry.” Not everyone agrees that this is necessarily a good thing, but Kang says the impact it’s having is undeniable: “More people demand that their work fits into their life rather than the other way around.”