“The Future 100: 2023,” creative agency, consultancy, and technology company Wunderman Thompson’s annual forecast, identifies 100 trends across industries — from culture to technology to travel and hospitality — that will shape the way we live and work this year and beyond.
Convene’s editors each have chosen three trends from Wunderman Thompson’s latest report and connected them to meetings and events. Here are three that resonated with Deputy Editor Barbara Palmer.
When I began researching an initiative that gave financial support to Indigenous participants and Indigenous-led start-ups to attend the 2022 Collision technology conference in Toronto, I thought I would be writing about equity — how the program would increase representation of a historically marginalized group. (Read “Number of Indigenous-led Startups Growing”)
That was true, but there was a bigger story, I would learn — about the potential for Indigenous approaches to sustainability to help solve some of the planet’s biggest environmental and social problems. Indigenous communities have thousands of years of success in embedding community and environmental sustainability into the way they use resources, including natural ones. And, according to the Wunderman Thompson trends report, designers and engineers are now actively looking to learn from their example. “In the face of planetary crisis, the expertise of Indigenous people — who care for 80 percent of remaining biodiversity, according to the World Bank — is being rapidly reappraised,” the report said. “Indigenous practices, techniques, and technologies can help shape a regenerative era where we learn to live and work symbiotically with nature.”
Conferences that amplify and showcase Indigenous leaders and knowledge have a role to play in connecting them with people, organizations, and resources. At Collision 2022, panelists included Jacqueline Jennings, a partner at Raven Capital, the world’s first Indigenous-led venture capital firm. In recent years, Bioneers, which produces a 30-year-old sustainability conference, now held in Berkeley, California, has created an Indigeneity program — a play on the words “Indigenous” and “ingenuity” — featuring Indigenous speakers, a program to support emerging Indigenous leaders, educational curriculum, and a podcast series.
One result of the initiative to showcase Indigenous technology and knowledge at Collision is that it “gives other people food for thought,” said Carmen Antiqueira, a diversity, equity, and inclusion professional who works for Web Summit, Collision’s producer. “It fulfills exactly what it is that we are trying to do here — connect people and ideas and create conversations.”
Climate change is changing travel. In 2022, the traditionally peak months for leisure travel were marred by drought, fires, and record-breaking temperatures — June through August 2022 tied with Summer 2020 as the warmest on record globally. In Europe, a heat wave buckled railroad tracks in London and melted glaciers in the Alps, triggering avalanches.
The heat reshuffled the list of places where travelers wanted to visit, as they rerouted trips from inland cities to oceanfront resorts or urban destinations with waterfronts looking for cooler, more temperate environments, Dolev Azaria, founder of a New York City–based travel agency, told The New York Times last August. The heat changed not just where travelers wanted to go, but when. In 2023, Azaria expects summer travel season to be extended “even into mid-October,” she said.
What “temperate travel” will mean for those booking room blocks for business events is an open question. In the past, planners counted on competitive prices for rooms during the late fall and early spring — the shoulder season — but that pattern could shift or radically shorten as leisure travelers change their own habits and preferences. “Should we rethink when to travel to enjoy the European summer or Canadian slopes?” asked travel writer Sabine Leroy in a story on the Australian travel website Escape. “Surely shoulder seasons are destined to eventually become peak travel seasons.”
It’s also possible that hotels will turn to business events, where activities aren’t as dependent on the weather as leisure travel activities are, to fill rooms. It’s a strategy that ski resorts have been relying on for years, as snow cover has decreased, and snowfall patterns have become more extreme. “The unevenness of winter is problematic,” Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, told The New York Times back in 2016. “But more conferences and meetings can help ski resorts that invest in that area to get very close to breakeven from a cash-flow standpoint.”
The pursuit of joy and play is threaded through the 2023 edition of Wunderman’s Thompson’s “The Future 100.” “A joyconomy is in motion,” the report’s authors write in the report’s introduction, with people “determined to show resilience, innovation, and joy in the face of continued hardship.” Given the events of the last three years, that’s not a big surprise. But a trend toward people of all ages appreciating the importance of play deserves to be thought of as more than just a temporary reaction to painful challenges — it should stay.
For evidence of the power of fun to enhance work and workplaces, authors Mario Tamayo and Bob Nelson cite an analysis of the companies that are included in Fortune’s “Great Places to Work” list in their 2021 book, Work Made Fun Gets Done. The analysis found that 81 percent of employees at companies ranked as “great” described their office environments as fun, compared to only 62 percent at companies which applied to be included on the list but didn’t make the cut. That aligns with previous research, Nelson wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “that suggests ‘fun’ is essential to a great work culture.”
Science journalist Catherine Price also presents research supporting the value of playfulness in her 2021 book, The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again. Here are three of the many benefits Price includes, which help argue the point that fun is also essential to a great meeting culture:
Fun brings people together and strengthens our relationships. Fun doesn’t just create pleasant experiences but can help create community: “When you are playful with the same people over time, it can create bonds between groups of people that persist even when you’re not actively playing,” Price writes. That brings to mind how devoted people are both to organized events like annual golf championships and Fun Runs, as well as the rituals they spontaneously create themselves. A group of meeting planners I know makes it a point to go out for ice cream together when they find themselves at the same industry event.
Fun helps us remember events. Fun helps us cement memories, which are, Price writes, the raw material for insights. “The greater the diversity of our experiences and the more details we remember from them, the more ideas and connections we can generate — and the more creative and insightful we are.”
Fun supports flow. When we’re engrossed in play, we are more likely to slip into bursts of total engagement, or flow, where our self-consciousness drops away, Price writes. “We forget to judge ourselves.” It’s fun, but “is often connected by a sense of mastery and control,” she writes. Flow is far from fluff: Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who popularized the term, she added, said that learning to get flow from as many of our experiences as possible might just be “the secret to a happy life.”
Barbara Palmer is deputy editor of Convene.