2011: The Year of the Brain (and Other Trends)

Posted on December 15, 2010 by Marian Salzman

This is the 12th in a series of 12 posts expounding on the 2011 forecasts in the annual trends report from Salzman, president of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR and an internationally respected trendspotter.

As I wrap up my series of predictions for the very near future, I want to go a bit more personal. I’m about to embark on my own journey to understand the nugget on top of my neck (I’m writing a book on my new brain since a craniotomy to remove a tumor three years ago), but I see so many signs that point to all of us being more headstrong in 2011—from a concern about NFL concussions on the rise (attributed to greater awareness of head injuries) to possible hazards of cell-phone use to the incredible number of soldiers returning with traumatic brain injuries, and more.

Here are some of my forecasts in that area. I think you’ll see some juicy hints at how minds will meld, skins will toughen and labels will get headier.

Listening in the Present
New braininess
, the stuff that made Mark Zuckerberg Time’s Person of the Year, differs from the old-style executive functioning. While our heroes of yore were alpha males (analytical, independent, driven), today there’s an emerging female-style intellect (much less cold, much more social) that is becoming the leading tool for success in our colliding worlds of social, interpersonal, professional and more.

This is a trend I nearly missed in my own life. Pre–brain tumor, I was all about the alpha male construct. I used to pride myself on being the queen of juggling, and part of juggling meant listening with half an ear. But I’ve already seen how doing more listening—which taps into the more emotional (dare I say female?) side of the brain—enhances not only relationships but also creativity and productivity. So next year I’m amping up the listening. Technology has definitely changed our brains for the better, making us more efficient at finding information and giving some of us (those who play certain video games) better visual-acuity skills. But it has also changed us for the worse, making many of us addicted to the dopamine burst we get when we discover a new e-mail or tweet, compulsively checking our “CrackBerrys” for the next hit and utterly losing the ability to listen. As we read more about how toning down the technology will make us healthier, we’ll also see a lot more listening—in our head and all around us.

Paying for the Past
The subprime crisis I predicted in 2008 has become a full-blown credit meltdown for many people who find their scores in the tank and their worthiness in the D range. Watch most of us pick up, keep going and live a new normal that includes paying in cash, lining up (and even buying) co-signers for school loans, and racing to readjust mortgages and short-sell properties that might not rebound in the next decade. As the owner of homes that can’t be resold at 1999 prices, I think next year will also be the year of Money 911: prioritizing my debts, rethinking my savings program and trying to unload real estate. Talk about renter’s envy—I’m thinking shades of olive, forest, genuinely deep green will be hot next year. (And watch colleges and universities get forced to rethink financial aid and school loans that come without parental obligation, because Mom and Dad can’t muster good credit between them. Someone is going to have to pay, or we’ll see the bankrupting of colleges across America.)

Looking at the E-Future

And last but not least, a more serious look at our work. It no longer can define us, and the job market is sketchy at best, but watch people move their work deep into their homes as they no longer distinguish between life and work. The third space will be the e-zone, where they escape when they can’t hack any more stress. Once upon a time (say, 2007), the e-zone was entertainment; today it’s our not-so-social life that we’re living on the book of faces crafted by Zuckerberg and crew. Who knew in 2011 I’d be reconnecting with old pals from the Class of 1981 on an electronic “pigbook”—as we called our class directory at Brown; I don’t even want to think of the origins or lore around that name, but thankfully the past is gone. Or is it? Now, with all these Facebook reintroductions, I’m living the near future getting ready for my 30-year reunion and having a great time listening (make that reading) as we all get to know one another again.

And because my brain is wired for trends this time of year, here are a few more I’m forecasting (and following) for 2011:

Spice It Up. We’ll be experimenting with the exotic flavors of Indo-China in our kitchen in Stamford, Conn., because some faddy info floating around suggests it not only tastes better (I can confirm!) but also that spicy foods burn calories. On my shopping list: cumin, Chinese five-spice powder, cayenne pepper, Sichuan peppercorns and serrano chiles.

A Clean Break. There will be no cocktail more luscious than icy cold water. Although my real-estate-affected budget precludes a trip to the Icehotel in Sweden (or even the one in Québec City), know that the focus on next year’s aspirational trip is clear (no pun intended): It will involve clean water.

Shop Till You Swap. Expect more invitations to trade clothing and accessories with your extended network. (Note: I need a new LBD, and I’m prepared to trade away several pashminas to score the right number. I could sweeten the deal with some “lightly worn” sweaters. Second note: In the age of social, everyone has become a copywriter; doesn’t “lightly worn” sound so much nicer than “used” or “secondhand”?)

Home Alone? Expect more alone time (secured with amazing-quality headphones and a screen life that allows you to transport yourself anywhere; life is an e-spa), even though more and more of us are living in homes chock-full of extended family. But alone together is definitely part of the next normal, too. (Note to those living in this house: I am all for private time and also for connectivity, but let’s not text room-to-room and especially not across the dining room table.)

Private Practice. WikiLeaks yak around the clock is one more nail in the coffin of our false belief that we have privacy. Give up thinking you can hide, and instead perfect the art of moving forward. Buck up and face the fact that radical transparency means never having to act surprised. Watch all of us perfect the art of the shrug. The recent death of Mark Madoff throws a spotlight on the pressure of lurking accusations; his story is the extreme of no privacy, but his brother, Andy, has seemingly so far been able to ignore most of the demons and forge forward. Watch as we debate the difference between the two extremes in the outside world. A second flash we see from the Madoff case (and other deaths, especially the suicide of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi) is cyberbullying nightmares. There is no such thing as innocent until proven guilty in the virtual world. The rise of cyberbullies and their evil twins, mobmedia, was a trend I forecast for 2010; the next step will be for critical listening skills—discarding the voices that do not matter—to be taught in schools. Watch for it in 2011.

“Mad as Hell—and Only Getting Madder”

“Talk to the Hands”

“Net Gain”

“Public Mycasting System”

“Booting Up”

“Yes, We Can…Reinvent Ourselves”

“Reinvention, Part II”

“Separated at Worth”

“Gender Bender”

“Who’s in Control?”

“Tapping Minitrends”

Photo Credit: creativecommons/dierk schaefer

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