What’s on 2022 – It’s complicated, not spectacular

2022 will be a year whose major features are familiar and not particularly surprising. The fast and slow shifts underway will continue in full force throughout the year. 2022 will be primarily marked by the complexity and uncertainty that arises as companies and organizations manage the transformation they are forced to adapt to. Our take on the overall trend for 2022 can be boiled down to: "life is complicated, but not spectacular".

The year 2022 will be a messy and disorderly one, in which the rebuilding that started in 2021 continues and enters decisive stages. The pandemic overturns a lot of old logic and now most people seem to be set on the idea that the old life will not return but something new will be built. Organizations and companies that may have long talked about "resilience" now need to think about what it really means to build resilient and flexible organizations that can cope with living in more or less of a constant uncertainty, while society's institutions need to find rules of the game and structures for the new existence.

2022 will continue to be marked by the Covid-19 pandemic. Both as the result of new mutations and the fact that vaccination has barely started in many countries, such as in sub-Saharan Africa, which in today's globally interconnected world, will mean that all of 2022 – and probably parts of 2023 – will still bear the effects of the pandemic. For example, world hunger has increased by 25% since 2019 and many countries in the Global South testify that as much as ten years of positive progress have been erased since the pandemic outbreak. 

A bump in the curve
This is one of several examples of "nicks in the curve" that will continue to characterize 2022. The quarter-century-long trend of low inflation in the OECD world is temporarily gone and the question many now are asking is whether a shift is underway or if we are just witnessing another nick in the curve? Inflation is likely to remain higher than normal in 2022 with possibly temporary interest rate hikes but is forecasted by the ECB and others to fall back towards the end of the year. 

This also affects the long-standing trend of rising stock prices. Instead, the major financial institutions predict a cooling of the stock market as both inflation rises and the helicopter money that central banks around the world injected into economies during the pandemic ends. 

Another bump in the curve that will be felt is that of supply chains. Both shipping and microchip manufacturing worldwide are expected to continue their bumpy ride through 2022, fundamentally affecting the world's manufacturing industries and economies. 

Innovation efforts have also taken a hit during the pandemic, according to several studies published in the fall of 2021. This is due to the dominance of home-based work during the pandemic, which is proving to be a hindrance to real innovation in organizations. This requires being seen in person or establishing a culture that is also able to challenge the somewhat comfortable existence of working from home. Therefore, in 2022, innovation will be rethought so that it also works in a hybrid workplace.

Unusually complex events await
Even the events of 2022 that are known in advance are unusually complex. The major sporting events of the Beijing Winter Olympics and the men's soccer World Cup in Qatar are surrounded by debates about the appropriateness of going there and being part of the propaganda from non-democracies. 

The major landmark national elections of the year (the general election in Sweden, the mid-term elections in the US, and the presidential elections in France) are also unusually complicated. At the same time, the Communist Party of China is holding its 20th Party Congress, which normally gives clear indications of the future.

Here in Sweden, security is likely to be the dominant issue of this election cycle, overshadowing other topics. The battle for the narrative will in turn determine who controls the agenda. We are likely to see a form of meta-discussion: the "debate about the debate about the debate dominating the debate" as new media forms and influencer partnerships emerge.

Darkness awaits in 2022
The events described above can be said to be part of a deepening darkness. In many ways, darkness dominates parts of life. In popular culture, for example, dystopian future and fantasy depictions dominate the film industry, while many young people have a dark view of the future and the skills shortage in most industries is a giant dark cloud in the sky, looming over organizations. Even in the retail and hospitality sectors, "darkness" is a clear trend. It is about "dark stores" and "dark kitchens", i.e. the expansion of new solutions that go under the radar and are not visible from the outside.

Digitalization is lurking and the metaverse is becoming the "talk of the town". 
Another topic that is not particularly sexy anymore but still essentially dominates the practical changes in everyday life is digitalization and the related digital transformations. Today, digital development is not particularly spectacular, although in 2022 we will see personal avatars in Teams and 3D-printed nail polish while 5G technology is being rolled out. But the ever-new services, solutions, and eyebrow-raising applications are usually just new applications of technologies already in use elsewhere. P2P solutions, AI, data-driven solutions, and crypto-based services. Nothing new under the sun and yet they change everything. The trend is that digitalization is keeping up its steady pace, a pace that is perhaps more influenced by cyber threats and skills shortages than by a lack of customer insight. 

One area that is growing in 2022 is the Metaverse moving from talk to workshop. That is, the idea of connecting different digital worlds into a common meta-universe (Metaverse), "worldwide worlds" rather than "worldwide web". Facebook's ambitions in this area, for example, turn out to be more than just a name change; they plan to employ 10,000 people in Europe alone in the coming years to develop solutions and business models in a metaverse context. The big fashion houses, led by Prada, are also expected to enter these worlds this year, which is an indication of where things are headed.

Hybrid, everything is hybrid
The term 'hybrid' is trending. It will quickly become obsolete but make its mark on the whole of 2022 before that. Hybrid cars, hybrid commerce, hybrid work, hybrid learning, etc. The list goes on. 2022 will be a year when it will be crucial to understand hybrid solutions in detail, not as a temporary fad. Whether they are hybrids in the workplace or the digital and physical hybrids that are emerging in response to the challenges of digitalization. In work-life and leadership, broad knowledge and a lot of flexibility will be needed to respond to the mixed challenges emerging in the year of hybrid solutions 2022. For example, according to a study by Forrester, about 20% of employers will fail in hybrid work life because they do not understand the basics of it. Therefore, a broad knowledge base and a high degree of flexibility will be needed in work-life and leadership to respond to the mixed challenges that will arise in the 2022 era of hybrid solutions. 

Even leisure will be hybrid in many ways. "Outside is the new inside" where outdoor gyms are burgeoning while "yoga bubbles" are being launched in the form of transparent dome tents that can be set up for outdoor activity but with protection from the elements. A perfect hybrid solution for 2022!

Sustainability comes at a (added?) cost
Perhaps the fastest-growing mega-trend in recent years is sustainability. The rising ambitions that characterized 2020 and 2021 will be felt in 2022 in terms of who will bear the costs of the transition. The currency may be money, energy, or convenience. And on top of this, there will be increasing conflicts. This will be felt in boardrooms, politics, and kitchen table conversations alike. 

Electric car sales have taken off for real - but who will pay for the infrastructure and charging stations? And will there be enough electricity? Do living standards need to be lowered? Preparedness differs widely among different groups of citizens and consumers. Most Swedes can imagine working less to save the climate, but few are willing to change their lives in other ways. At the same time, there is a growing group of values-driven activist consumers, not least among young people. Conflicts of interest are also increasing because of rising sustainability ambitions. Conflicts between global needs and local costs. For example, few want the mining of earth metals necessary for battery production in their own backyard. In Sweden, the conflict over Cementa's continued mining of lime on Gotland – which came to light in 2021 – is an early signal of developments that are set to grow in 2022.

There is also increasing pressure in the business and social world to ensure that the actions taken actually do lead to increased sustainability. Demands for measurability are growing rapidly, not least in the financial industry. As a result, 2022 is likely to see even more animated discussions on ESG requirements, both in terms of content and follow-up. For example, the community building world may see a discussion on how expanded biodiversity requirements will change the practical playing field in many places.

A complex kaleidoscope of light and dark
The picture of 2022 may not be encouraging at first glance. When the dark tones of popular culture dominate contemporary life, while neutral trends are described as "dark", it is easy to feel a little depressed. But instead, a bright future probably awaits if you can look beyond the present. After all, the complex redevelopment underway offers both glimmers of light and darkness. When the kaleidoscope is shaken, new and unique patterns emerge, many brighter than others. One example of this is the diverse global communities that are working hard to build the new life better than the old. The 'Build Back Better' movement is coalescing around ten concrete action points, and businesses and consumers alike are working together in creative new ways to ensure sustainability in both large and small ways. 

One concrete area where new solutions are emerging is around everyday interpersonal relationships. To counteract the increasing loneliness (which has grown significantly during the pandemic), there are now several movements and a growing desire to increase social interaction between people. This can be seen in everything from Travel hands in England and "nudging" park benches in Krakow to the "Human-Level" movement in the US. Also shedding light are the various manifestations of new community building that are beginning to appear. In June 2022, Stockholm World will host a global UN conference on sustainable cities and at the same time, Helsingborg will open the doors to H22, a city fair with plenty of examples of innovative forward-looking sustainable solutions for a genuinely sustainable city on many levels. 

To sum up our outlook to 2022: the future is complicated, but not spectacular – we might as well to get used to it and develop strategies to cope and find future-proof pathways for a rebuilt existence.

"2022 – It's complicated, not spectacular"

By Erik Herngren