Forget trends. Here are 5 important tensions for 2016 and beyond

Shane Atchison is global CEO of the agency Possible

It’s traditional at this time of year to make predictions for the next 12 months. But I don’t think I’m the only one who’s noticed that these predictions almost never come true. And mine least of all.

And it’s not just me. Have you ever looked back at the products that have won “Best in Show” at the Consumer Electronics Show? Off the top of my head, the list includes the Palm Pre, the Motorola XOOM tablet, and the Zen Vision music player. Seriously. And those are chosen by people who supposedly know their stuff.

So this year, I’m not going to tell you what technology is going to be huge in 2016. Instead, I’m going to identify five key tensions that we’ll all have to navigate in our careers, businesses, and lives. Some of them are uplifting, others frankly scary. They’re already having a big impact and will only continue to grow in the future.

Automation vs. people
Let’s start with a scary one. While people have always worried that jobs would be displaced by robots, it is happening today across a broad range of industries. The Associated Press, for example, now uses software to generate articles, such as financial reports. Digital personal assistants, like Facebook’s M, will very likely have a big impact on their real-world counterparts. And even whole industries are being displaced. As Marc Andreessen has noted, CRM is a prime example of “software eating the world.” This is a tension we all need to watch.

Skills vs. credentials
Hiring is getting tricky too. Historically, for example, my industry relied on credentials and mentoring to grow talent. We hired someone with a general liberal arts background, and over time she grew into copywriter or account manager. Increasingly today we find people with plug-and-play skills that they’ve developed themselves. If you’re looking for someone who can shoot great sports video, engage on Instagram, or even do exotic hair and makeup, the best people may not come out of a standard educational program. Instead, they may be self-taught and living in their parents’ basement. This will have a profound impact on how and where we’ll look for talent in years to come.

Convenience vs. trust
It’s easy to forget that 10 years ago, people were afraid to give their credit card numbers to ecommerce sites. Now, the vast majority of us are choosing convenience over privacy, allowing vast amounts of our data to be gathered by companies like Amazon or Target. As businesses and governments target individuals in increasingly personal ways, a tension is developing between trust and convenience.

Case in point, a friend of mine was recently researching a car purchase. She left her email address (but not a phone number) on a contact form, and an hour later, she got a call from a salesperson asking if she had any questions. The brand had used publically available data to connect her email with her phone number. That’s not cool. Brands today should tread carefully when building and maintaining trust with their customers—while still using their data to increase convenience.

Cost and user experience vs. utility
Two years ago, everyone was predicting that we’d all have automated homes by now. The ideas were that you could turn on and off your lights, lock your door, and start your slow cooker simply by using your phone. But adoption of that technology has been slow. Part of the problem is that many of these devices solve problems that just aren’t a big deal. They are also expensive relative to what they do. And they require a lot of setup and learning. You can find this tension between cost and UX on the one hand, and utility on many products. Brands will need to makes sure that they don’t solve one problem by creating more.

Digital vs. real connections
Recently, I learned that two of my top managers have joined the Elks. That’s something I expect my dad to do, not my digerati friends. It turns out that they both find modern life isolating and long for real interaction with people. As many of us have adopted social media and become addicted to our devices, we are missing out on human connections. Moving forward, we may see a growing tension between the incredible entertainment possibilities created by digital media and our need for real friendship and conversation.

Only the future will truly tell how these things will resolve themselves. And while predictions usually make for entertaining reads, I know it’s a better idea to keep your eye on how these tensions—and others like them—will shape the future.