23 Trends for 2023: #22 Opportunity, Not Fads



Not hot: cryptocurrency, the Metaverse, Web 3.0, NFT’s, and more

Hot: Fusion! AI! Generative technologies.

The issues of the future always revolve around the hype of what’s hot, what’s not, what to expect – with little regard for the practicality of the trend or the timing by which the future might unfold. Fusion? There are fascinating new developments, and yet, it might take decades for them to unfold. AI? A HUGE trend in 2023 – ti’s the subject of trend #11 of this series, The Massive Velocity of AI. Yet we can expect the hype, FOMO (“fear of missing out”), and hysteria around it to reach crazy proportions. If history teaches us anything, it’s this: long term trends can quickly become short term fads.

With that in mind, here’s what’s important: as I wrote in my Daily Inspiration earlier today, “Strategy should be long on reality. Never short on wisdom!”

Unfortunately, during periods of excessive technology hype, the wisdom disappears and strategy goes out the window. And that’s why, looking back, one of my proudest moments from 2022 has to be when I lost out on a speaking gig because I advised the client – a major global Swiss firm – that I couldn’t quite tell the storyline they wanted to hear. They were looking for a keynote that outlined the huge, future opportunities in the world of cryptocurrencies – but I demurred because I didn’t think their expectations were realistic. The lead organizer of the event seemed to be caught up in the crazy world of the hype of crypto; I wasn’t and told him so.  I suggested I could give a realistic overview of what was really going on, including the possibility of a crash and collapse.

I didn’t get the gig and lost out on a substantial fee, but in retrospect, managed to keep my integrity and dignity intact!

Going into 2023, we’ve managed to turn off the engine of technology overhype for a time, and that is a good thing! The result is that I believe many organizations will be focusing much more of their strategic thinking time on the real trends that matter, and not chasing the ‘shiny objects‘ of unrealistic trends that might never have an impact. That’s why trend #22 of my “23 Trends for 2023” series is Opportunity, Not Fads. It comes in the wake of trend #1, Techno-skepticism.

With the ongoing implosion of the world of crypto and other trends during the last year, I can look back and point to the stories I told on stage where skeptical caution was well-warranted. And often, I had a lot of fun while doing so.! Consider this clip from 2018 where I’m talking about BitCoin.

I’ve been in this weird space before – of being the contrarian in the face of relentless hype. Back in 1999, I spent a fair bit of tie in the media speaking about the ridiculous levels of hype around dot.com companies. I took a fair bit of abuse at the time for doing so but was proven right. After all, the dot.com world imploded in a  cascade of failed companies with busted strategies.

The words of Warren Buffett nail the issue of hype, trends, and FOMO (fear of missing out) with his observation that the five most dangerous words in business are “everybody else is doing it”. He’s also made this brilliant observation: “Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful.” No wonder he is the most impressive investment guru of all time – because he has quite successfully avoided fads and hype.

Contrast him with Kevin O’Leary, who ended up with a $15 million payday for hawking the now-failed crypto exchange FTX and his praise for the new icon of overhype, Sam Bankman-Fried,

“It was a new gold rush,” Mr. O’Leary recalled, in an interview. “Everyone wanted in.”

Everyone wanted in. No truer words were ever said by the idiots who rush in with the other idiots who are rushing in. My idea has always been that as soon as people start talking about a gold rush, you should run away – very quickly!

And so the predictable things happened. In a recent podcast with psychologist Steven Pinker, respected 98-year-old investor Charlie Munger says the biggest mistakes he has made in his long career were born out of wishful thinking.

Wishful thinking is the bias we succumb to when we are unable to separate what we want to be true from what actually is true and what is rational according to the evidence we have in front of us. At its core, wishful thinking is an inability to deal with reality as it is and an unwillingness to update our beliefs when new evidence emerges.

From crypto to renewables, don’t buy into the hype
4 November 2022, The Australian

Crowd psychology is a dangerous thing. Wishful thinking is not a strategy.

Back to my potential Swiss client. At the time of our conversation last spring, it became evident that the lead organizer was looking for something that tied into all the crazy hype of the time In essence, a keynote that would validate his idea that crypto, Web 3.0, NFTs, the metaverse, and other overhyped concepts were the next big thing – and that this glorious world of huge opportunity was emerging. In our exploratory conference call, I gave my balanced overview, based on my keynote topic outline that I had put together quite some time before. My key point? I could help them understand this complex new world – but with a talk that outlined the good, the bad, and the ugly rolled together Realism, not hype. Here’s my keynote topic outline, which can still be found on my site:

Deciphering The Disruption: Deconstructing the Metaverse, Blockchain & Crypto, NFT’s, Web 3 and More – A Reality Check for Humans!”

In as little as ten years, the very concept of money might have been forever changed by crypto-currency and blockchain technology – and then again, it might not. And the fact is, the same might be true of all the trends that now dominate our new vocabulary – from the metaverse to NFT’s, Web3 to Bitcoin. What’s real, and what’s not? Are we about to unleash a wave of innovation that parallels and exceeds the impact of the arrival of the Internet economy? Or are we simply being held hostage to the accelerated hype machine of Silicon Valley and venture capitalists, eager to cash in on an accelerated world of faster FOMO – “fear of missing out?”

He didn’t want the ugly. He wanted the glory! I was advised a few days later that ‘they decided to go in a different direction.’  And so my keynote that promised a balanced view of the future was, let’s say, rejected.

Fast forward to today, as we go through the cold winter of another tech-overhype collapse. No one is talking much more about the metaverse, blockchain, crypto, NFTs, and Web3 …. the hype machine has collapsed as the cold harsh reality of reality settles in. Hype is not a trend. It’s a fad. Trend #1 of this series has been the emerging world of ‘Technosketpcism’ – and it is well warranted.

I’ve long said that we should excel at seizing opportunities, not fads!

Real Strategies

That’s why I’ve been emphasizing that organizations that are focused on real strategy, not fads, are working hard at a strategic level to deal with what they really need to concentrate on, and that will be the big trend for 2023. Things like managing economic volatility, supply chain issues, staffing challenges, and other issues. They’ve got bigger concerns to worry about than the price of Bitcoin, virtual avatars, or weird monkey art.

Are there many CEOs who are being kept up at night worrying about crypto, the metaverse, AI, fusion? Not really. Not in my client base of global Fortune 5000 organizations – what with economic volatility, supply chain issues, staffing challenges, and other things, they’ve got bigger concerns to worry about than the price of Bitcoin, virtual avatars or weird monkey art.

In other words, tapping into future opportunities while managing the challenges that surround them!

While I do a lot of major keynotes for associations and conferences I also do many small, executive-oriented sessions. In fact, that’s become the core of my business over the last 15 years as organizations scramble to keep up with fast change. These range from groups of 10 people around a boardroom table, to senior leadership meetings with 100-200 executives. In other cases, these are customer/client-oriented events – rather than spending money on a trade show, organizations are finding that taking key customers to an offsite event for several days to talk mutual strategy provides far more bang for the buck. In both of these cases, I’m brought in by a senior executive to provide a talk on the future trends affecting their particular industry; to help them re-frame the concept of innovation; or a combination of these two key themes.

Regardless of the industry and size of the group, the planning for such a talk often involves a long conversation with the CEO or other senior member of the management team in advance. There are issues that are on the table; often, they’re planning to be out of the office for a day to think, strategize and shape their focus, and I play a key role in this big investment of time. We spend time talking about how I can customize my insight, and hone the message that I can deliver.

I always scribble down little notes of our conversations; I use these when I start my research and when I’m pulling together a slide deck. And through the years, I’ve kept many of these notes; they provide tremendous, wonderful insight into the mindset of a typical major CEO or another senior executive. And spending time with so many of these folks has helped to shape the direction of one keynote that I do that is particularly popular: “What Do World Class Innovators Do That Others Don’t Do?”

I was searching through a pile of these notes the other day and came across one from a few years ago that I think does a really good job of reflecting what’s on the mind of an executive that runs a major, global organization. This particular individual described to me what he hoped his organization and team would be able to develop in terms of core innovation competencies:

  • excel at seeing opportunity: the organization needs to get better at spotting new emerging opportunities, whether with markets, customers, or products. It’s been very, very inwardly focused, and is starting to lose out on many great opportunities because the team seems to be too busy looking inwards, solving problems and firefighting, rather than looking outward to see ‘what comes next, and what should we do about it?’
  • adapt to fast-paced markets: there needs to be a clear recognition that customers are more demanding; that the value proposition of the product line is being subjected to greater pressure than ever before; and that some competitors are moving faster in reinventing the product line. The company is competing more on price than on the value of the product, which is leading to commoditization. They’ve got to get better and speed up the process of adapting to all of this change.
  • watch for disruption: clearly, there are new organizations, particularly in the technology space, looking at the industry and thinking about ways to change the business model. That’s a significant challenge, and the leadership team needs to understand the potential for disruption and think through opportunities for a strong offense and a good defense to deal with this reality.
  • realign innovation pipeline: for years, all R&D has been done internally, yet there’s a realization that the entire process of R&D has changed in almost every industry; the organization needs to be more outward in terms of sourcing external ideas, developing unique innovation partnerships, and seeking to align itself to the ideas of some of the small start-ups that are changing the process of development within the industry.
  • ride generational change: there’s a recognition that the next generation of digital natives is now making their presence well known throughout the organization. They’re impatient for change, full of ideas, and ‘chomping at the bit’ to pursue innovative ideas. The senior management team needs to be thinking about how best to utilize their uniqueness as an opportunity, rather than trying to shut down their thinking because they don’t fit the historical norms of the organization
  • align to technological velocity: there is a clear understanding that the next wave of technology will not be about streamlining a process or providing efficiencies; instead, it is all about redefining the industry, changing products through pervasive connectivity, and accelerating change in many different ways. The organization needs to learn to ‘innovate at the speed of Apple’ as this fundamental change unfolds
  • re-assess skills: there is a big mismatch between what the organization has in terms of skills, and the skills that it really needs to accomplish all of the above. It needs to get better at ‘getting the right skills at the right time for the right purpose.

If you take a close look at this list, prepared from my hastily scribbled-down notes, you’ll get a sense of what keeps a modern-day CEO up at night.

And it will also put into perspective the starting point at which I begin to pull together my talk.

Need more insight? Check out a series of shows I did from my virtual broadcast studio during the early days of Covid at https://leadership.jimcarroll.com


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.