Industry Research

Watching Trends Get Blown About

Martin Romjue
Posted on January 3, 2019
High fliers of the moment are flimsier than they appear. (LCT file image)

High fliers of the moment are flimsier than they appear. (LCT file image)

We keep hearing the terms “change” and “disruption” bandied about in business media, the corporate sector, and service industries. We’re told with certainty how sweeping revolutions in technology will transform our work and lives. So much is inevitable, so much is settled, we might as well accept it all and adjust.

The problem with this constant mantra is it doesn’t account for what factors can go wrong and alter the course of change, even bringing it back to some stubborn realities that simply will not change.

Sedan Slowdown

I was reminded of this when GM announced its pullback on sedan production last month, including the ultra-ballyhooed Chevrolet Volt. It was supposed to be the green vehicle environmental savior endorsed by the techno-smart set in 2010. The model ended up a subsidized failure, with not even credits and rebates motivating enough buyers. It joins a long roster of sedan models being discontinued. Automakers misread the true desires of consumers: They want room, comfort, and safety. They want to not only see out of the window, but over and above, hence the drift toward larger SUVs and pick-ups. Sales of the Navigator, Expedition, Suburban, and Escalade are all solid in and out of this industry. The lesson here is badgering and boxing people into compact cars may stem from good intentions, and may make sense for young adults with limited finances, but cubicles on wheels just don’t cut it for the long haul.

Rough Riders

A few weeks later, Uber posted another stunning loss: $1 billion after $4.5 billion of losses in 2017. It’s apparent the low rates undercutting the market are propped up by investor largesse and low driver pay. That’s a good deal for customers, a bad deal for the investor sugar daddies, and a raw deal for drivers. Uber has never presented a comprehensible plan for profitability. Too many of its drivers are rude, careless, or just plain criminal. This is not a sustainable business model. Look for Uber to die or change — not on its own terms, but according to the dynamics of business that never fade: It must embrace profits, quality, safety, fair wages, and level competition.

Superficial Intelligence?

Let’s be skeptical and detached about this trend for now. AI is seeing the most success with robots for pleasure, not in taking over all of our jobs and lives. As with those robots, AI’s most notable attribute is knowing its place. That place is one of service, not being in charge. Go ask the enchanting robot.

The dramatic predictions of AI look more absurd by the nanosecond. AI will help at the margins and with rote tasks, such as factory automation. It can keep you in your lane and slow you down before an accident, but driving the car from start to finish is a herculean ambition, as the experts are discovering in unforeseen technological challenges. Ditto for so many other countless creative and complex tasks performed in the working world. We’ll still be doing many of them for decades to come. No matter how intelligent technology gets, it’s still artificial.

Facebook Fracas

The bloom is off the social media bouquet, with the deluge of privacy invasions, data dumps, political propaganda, and discontent stemming from this scrolling black hole of viral posts and mobs. Social media, the supposed salvation of our human interactions, looks like it’s hitting some shoals. It’s not bringing us together and satisfying us like real human contact. In fact, social media could be increasing levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness among users, according to a November 2018 University of Pennsylvania study. A human face cannot as easily gloss over the true state of life like a Facebook profile can. Social media is shaping up to be more like participating in two-way TV: You can watch while it watches you. But like one-way TV, too much of it muddles the mind and agitates the emotions. Social media serves best when it has a defined message with purpose and is consumed in moderation. A good question businesspeople should be asking: How do these unexpected results affect social media marketing?

These four trends show why change has to be incremental, not radical. You match proven successes with new concepts, while analyzing results and adhering to values you can’t undo. Small electric-hybrid vehicles, ridehail apps, A.I., and social media are like any other innovation. Their changes are most likely to thrive when they imbibe judgment and character honed through hindsight and experience. Change agents also must accept human nature: We like our mobility with ample convenience and control, while our social contact stays rooted in genuine and believable interactions. Disruption can shake up business for the better, but only after plenty of spasms and flameouts along the way.

Related Topics: artificial intelligence, Facebook, industry trends, LCT editor, Martin Romjue, media, sedans, TNCs, Uber

Martin Romjue Editor
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