The Dark Underside of a Usually Optimistic Future: How Bad Could Things Get? Pretty Bad!


I bill myself as an “Optimistic Futurist.”

My running joke when walking out on stage was – and is – “I can’t tell you that your future sucks, because then I wouldn’t get many repeat bookings.” But all kidding aside, I try to force myself each and every day into a positive frame of mind and think about what comes next in terms of opportunity.

Right now, that’s tough. And throughout Covid, obviously, that has become harder to do, but I’ve done pretty well through the last year. In fact, just yesterday I wrote 7 pages about Optimism for my upcoming book, “Reinvention and the Role of Optimism in our Post-Covid Future”.

But yesterday, I gave in to the dark side and imagined our lousy future. I find myself concentrating more on our potentially darker future – the negative trends that could destroy our optimism, see challenges to our potential, and send us into a setback. Yesterday it caught up to me, and so I “filmed a thing.” It’s pretty dark, LOL. I even found some wonderfully dark music to go with it.

So with that in mind, here are some scenarios for your darker future. Each of these is possible. And in fact, I think it’s pretty likely that at least four of the items on this list will come together in the next ten years. From a future planning process, you need to factor heightened political, business, and societal volatility into your planning.

Here goes.

  1. End of democracy in the US: (Likelihood: Extremely high).  The end game of some is to build a party that is white, and racist and cheats its way into the solidification of political power. It’s already underway, and there is probably no turning back from this point. The much-vaunted ‘separation of powers has become somewhat of a joke with court-stacking and more. I am just so pessimistic about the future of this country, and we are watching it happen in real time. It’s headed to a cult-based oligarchy.
  2. Acceleration of mental illness: we are seeing a new form of collaborative mental illness driven by the connectivity of the Internet, and years from now it will be diagnosed as such. This is not any type of routine mental illness – this is full-on whack-a-doodle loopy-doo full-on-gone type of crazy. Like, beyond batshit. You know them when you see them; you feel for their families. This has obviously become a massive part of the political agenda – people subscribe to the craziest of conspiracy theories. Your crazy uncle is now everywhere all at once – you are surrounded by too many crazy uncles. Crazy feeds on crazy, and so the new iterative insanity loop drives more insanity. It won’t end well.
  3. Acceleration of racism-driven hate crime (Likelihood: Extremely high). Add 1. and 2. together and you get more murder – hangings, shootings, and police-initiated crime. It’s not just Jim Crow laws we are witnessing – the next phases will involve widespread – and I mean widespread – gun-fuelled murder of the non-white population.
  4. Continued widening of the socio-economic gap (Likelihood: Extremely high). This is also an outgrowth of 1. and 2. But it’s not just in the US – all around the world, the rich get richer,  the poor get poorer, and somehow humanity loses its humanity.
  5. War with China (Likelihood: Extremely high). Russia knew what it was doing when it disrupted democracy in the US – the end goal was to promote massive political instability. One result of this is the increasing impotence of the US on the world stage – the world can’t go through four years of abusive disrespect and emerge with their attitudes unscathed. China knows this and will assert its dominance with initiatives around Taiwan and the South Spratley Islands. It will not end well. Biden is doing what he can,  but when the opposition party is hell-bent on destroying you, they will choose their own future over the future of the world.
  6. A massive rise in regional political instability (Likelihood: Extremely high). A world of two-tier vaccination means that what is happening right now in India will unfold elsewhere – throughout Africa, South America, and smaller Asian countries. Revolution, war, government overthrow, dictatorship – everything is on the table as countries struggle to deal with an inability to tamp down Covid.
  7. Neighborhood tribal breakdowns: (Likelihood: Extremely high) You can’t talk to people anymore. Just take a look at the Villages in Florida for an example of your future. Simple discussions are now potential minefields – everyone is withdrawing into their own little safety bubble because they are just so tired of the ‘other.’ This is related to trend 2 above – you are simply too tired of the crazy people around you to really try to deal with it anymore.
  8.  The era of massive infrastructure failures  (Likelihood: Extremely high). This is a real risk, and we’ve been talking about it for years. It’s not just pipelines – it’s water, highways, the energy grid, the Internet, and more. Companies have paid lip service to computer security issues, and gaping holes exist everywhere. Expect it to get worse in the absence of having computer security as a key issue at the level of the Board of Directors. (I’ve been preaching tnhis since 1999., but hey, no one listens…)
  9. The financial shock, inflationary pressures  (Likelihood: Extremely high). Everything feels like late 2007, early 2008. You can’t tell me there isn’t something bad lurking below the surface of the system. Stuff some money under the mattress.
  10. That ‘hidden’ unknown trend  (Likelihood: Extremely high). Fill in the blanks. Imagine the worst possible thing. Double down. That’s next.

I just noticed that I rank every trend with the tag: (Likelihood: Extremely high).

They better fix this golf thing soon, or I will go nuts.

But I’ll work hard tomorrow to get back to my usual optimistic self. Because that’s my job. But I dare you to read the above list and challenge me on any of these potential issues. These are dark times. Try to make it better.

(I’ll be ok).

**** Use of the phrase “mental illness” – one person noted that this might not be fair to those who suffer from other forms of mental illness, i.e. depression, anxiety, etc. To be clear, I’m referring to what the Cleveland Clinic defines: “Delusional disorder, previously called paranoid disorder, is a type of serious mental illness — called a “psychosis”— in which a person cannot tell what is real from what is imagined. The main feature of this disorder is the presence of delusions, which are unshakable beliefs in something untrue.”


THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THOSE WHO ARE FAST features the best of the insight from Jim Carroll’s blog, in which he
covers issues related to creativity, innovation and future trends.