Rohit Bhargava is the founder of the Non-Obvious Company, a consulting group for helping brands and leaders think outside of the box. Henry Coutinho-Mason spent a decade as the managing director of TrendWatching, making him a leading expert on consumer trends.
Below, Rohit and Henry share 5 key insights from their new book, The Future Normal: How We Will Live, Work and Thrive in the Next Decade. Listen to the audio version—read by Rohit—in the Next Big Idea App.
1. The only future we can build is the one we can imagine.
If you look at media and entertainment today, there are many stories about how we can imagine a better immediate future. We can find a partner to fall in love with. We can improve the present moment. We can build a better career. But when it comes to the long term, we have a failure of imagination.
Science fiction stories, like Divergent or Black Mirror or The Handmaid’s Tale, all paint a dystopian version of the future that is scary in many ways. If that’s the future that we imagine then that’s the future we will eventually create. A recent Gallup poll found that more than 50 percent of people believe that the future is unlikely to be better than the past.
When we find a way to believe this about the future, we’ll probably find a way to make it happen too. We have to shape the version of the future that we want to see and help people imagine a more positive and optimistic version of the future.
2. The best future is a normal one.
We realize that we put two words together in the title of this book that don’t ordinarily go together: future and normal. The future seems futuristic. It seems unevenly distributed, as many quotes and cliches say. Some people have it, some people don’t. Some people get ahead, some people don’t.
“There are many different innovations that could affect all of our lives—not just the top 1 percent.”
When you think about normal though, that’s what’s normal for everybody. We love this word as a framing for what the future could be because there are many different innovations that could affect all of our lives—not just the top 1 percent.
We try imagining what would happen if some of these ideas reach that moment of normalcy. How could that achieve a better future for everyone? How do we build a normal future, instead of just a selectively good future?
3. To write about the possible future normal, we had to ask big questions.
In every chapter, we focus on a big question that then leads us to discuss a particular trend. We open the book by asking questions about identity, entertainment, and media. In the Multiversal Identity chapter, we ask: what if we could all be our real and most authentic selves, both online and offline? Then we explore the many ways that we’re taking our identities and putting them into the multiverse of social media and real life as well.
When we wrote about Stealth Learning, the question we asked was, what if you could educate yourself using the videos and games that are typically written off as a waste of time? In the chapter, we focused on Roblox as an example.
In the chapter on Immersive Entertainment, we ask, what if you could be part of entertainment instead of watching it passively? We share the example of the ABBA Voyage experience and talk about how entertainment is shifting to be more immersive.
“Questions are the foundation of how we wrote about the future.”
In our chapter titled Ending Loneliness, we ask, what if closing the generation gap could cure loneliness? We tell the story of an apartment complex in Sweden called Sallbo, which has an unusual clause in their contracts where residents must agree to socialize with their neighbors for at least two hours a week. People over 70 occupy about half the apartments and the rest are rented to young adults between 18 and 25. Also, 10 apartments are for those who arrived in Sweden as refugees. Most people living in that apartment complex report feelings of connection and amazing wellbeing.
Turning our attention to the workplace, we ask what if work flexibility means sharing your job equally with a partner? Here we explore the fascinating new world of Impact Hubs, office spaces that contribute to the local economy and community by bringing corporations and nonprofits together. We take on the topic of AI in the workplace: what if artificial intelligence could make humans more creative?
We also tackle the difficult truth that today’s good government can become tomorrow’s cautionary tale. It’s easy to become a skeptic of the idea that good government can be anything more than an accident of fate. Yet, we explore how good governing is happening all over the world, and if we spotlight those examples, perhaps we can champion them to have more good governing.
One of the most controversial ideas from the book comes in our chapter on Making Weather, where we ask, what if humans could control and even make the weather? We talk about how cooling the planet, if we could do it, wouldn’t benefit everyone equally. The hottest places suffering from drought and heat waves would likely experience relief, while other regions might end up suffering more disruptive weather patterns that affect crops or life. The most popular idea for trying this, called cloud seeding, has mostly been explored for frivolous reasons, such as making sure that it doesn’t rain on people’s wedding days. The challenge is, if we do come to this point where we need to exert control over the weather, how will we do it? How will we decide what’s ethical?
Questions are the foundation of how we wrote about the future. By asking questions, we can imagine a more positive way for these trends to impact the world.
4. How to keep up with quickly shifting circumstances.
When we first started working on this book during the pandemic, everyone was going onto a vocal app called Clubhouse to have conversations and feel companionship through audio. By the time we were finishing the book, everyone was experimenting with AI and trying to figure out how ChatGPT in particular would change the way we do business. Even in that short period of three years, we saw dramatic changes. We realized that if we’re going to write about what matters in the future, we can’t focus on the technology of the moment. We have to focus on the human elements of these technologies.
“Any time we study the future, we study human behavior alongside tech because that’s the way to understand changes in the way that we think.”
How does technology make us feel more secure? How does it make us more optimized with our time? How does it help us share our identity? What does technology mean for our reputation? These are the basic human elements that we must pay attention to. Any time we study the future, we study human behavior alongside tech because that’s the way to understand changes in the way that we think.
If we could focus on the reaction to new technologies and the ways that people are using them instead of the technologies themselves, then we can better understand the future. Keeping up with changes is less important than keeping up with what’s shifting our behaviors related to the changes.
5. The future is not about technology.
The future is about the ingenuity of people and what we can achieve together. This book is about the future that we choose to imagine. It’s up to us to build it together.
To listen to the audio version read by co-author Rohit Bhargava, download the Next Big Idea App today: