You may not be aware of the idea of the blockchain protocol, but you will almost certainly have heard of Bitcoin, which, along with other cryptocurrencies is based on this protocol. If you had invested $1,000 dollars in Bitcoin back in 2008, you’d have an investment worth more than $40,000,000 today. Whilst most of us did not make that investment and are now (maybe) ruing that we missed the boat, the incredible increase in the value of Bitcoin, and many other cryptocurrencies, isn’t the big news story for 2018. The word that you are going to be hearing more and more next year is blockchain. It will revolutionize many businesses because it effectively removes the need for financial “middlemen” like bankers, clearinghouses and exchanges.

Using cryptography to keep exchanges secure, blockchain provides a decentralized database, or “digital ledger”, of transactions that everyone on the network can see. This network is essentially a chain of computers that must all approve an exchange before it can be verified and recorded. If you’re still confused then read this short article.


2. Augmented Intelligence

Augmented intelligence is an alternative conceptualization of artificial intelligence that focuses on AI’s assistive role, emphasizing the fact that it is designed to enhance human intelligence rather than replace it. When you think of artificial intelligence (AI), you might think of dehumanizing interactions. As AI expert and leading keynote speaker Christopher Penn, the VP of Marketing Technology for SHIFT Communications says, “There are three levels of machine learning: AI where machines perform tasks normally performed by humans; machine learning, where the machines learn on their own; and deep learning, where machine learning chains together for rich learning.”

Leading companies are embracing AI to perform repeatable, redundant tasks and to process large amounts of data not to avoid human interaction but rather to enrich it.  AI is becoming the norm for many practical consumer experiences, but some industry experts believe that the term artificial intelligence is too closely linked to popular culture, causing the general public to have unrealistic fears about artificial intelligence and improbable expectations about how it will change the workplace and life in general. Researchers and marketers hope the term augmented intelligence, which has a more neutral connotation, will help people understand that AI will simply improve products and services, not replace the humans that use them.

3. The number of remote workers will continue to increase:

According to a Gallup poll, more than 40% of Americans already do some part of their job from home, and while the future won’t be office-free, that’s a number that’s only going to rise in 2018.

“Only 32 percent of employees spent all their time working in, or at their office this year. The flexibility to work remotely has evolved beyond an occasional perk, with 43 percent of employees saying it’s a must-have.” – Staples Business Advantage Annual Workplace Survey.

Usually, work-from-home opportunities allow remote employees to work on a time schedule that suits them. As long as you’re getting your work done, companies are generally willing to let remote employees work flexible hours. However, as more employees move to remote work, it’s likely we’ll see greater emphasis placed on a collaborative cloud environment, wherein remote employees will work together in real time from their separate locations. This still is unlikely to result in a rigid working schedule, but we’re like to see more employers dictate that employees make themselves available during certain timeframes.

This makes sense when you consider the need for team meetings, phone calls, etc. The only difference is that, rather than going to a meeting room, employees can meet together virtually to discuss their projects.

4. Wages will continue to rise

Dr. Mary Kelly, a PhD economist and leadership advisor, shared great insight about what to expect in the coming year’s economy. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, Human Resource managers should expect a 3% increase in wages across all sectors. In high demand jobs such as health care, elderly care, and physical therapy, expect wage increases to be higher. Also, wages will likely increase in engineering, drone technology, and virtual reality.

Wages have been stagnant for a few years, and with the unemployment rate at almost record low of 4.1% of the labor force, employers will feel pressure to adjust compensation to attract and retain quality workers. Talented employees seek salary, benefits, flexibility, and autonomy. Smart companies know that flexibility and autonomy beats out pure compensation for many employees.

5. Millennials will get their say

One of the reasons people might be reserving their monetary leaps for joy could be that a lot of the people getting richer are millennials, a notoriously anxious and cautious group. Millennials currently spend on the order of $600 billion every year. As that number grows to an estimated $1.4 trillion in 2020, more and more businesses are catering to millennials. In practice, this means more experiential sales and marketing, less emphasis on glitz and glamour, and a push for consumers to “connect” with brands. Values-based selling is already on the rise.

If all this isn’t your cup of tea, I’ve got bad news: millennials are here to spend money and everyone is courting them. As a generation, they’ve seen their parents’ savings wiped out, they’ve exited college only to enter one of the worst job markets in decades, and they’ve lived through some of the worst attacks to ever take place on American soil. As a result—they’re not overly excitable.

What you can do? To sell to millennials, small businesses must find ways to be honest and transparent. The last thing you want is for your marketing or business to come off as gimmicky or a blatant sales presentation. Compare Netflix to Uber. Netflix has made a real commitment to transparency and collaboration, pushing to give employees power and accountability in a flexible environment. Uber has been dogged by internal complaints and external failures that throw its operating model in stark relief against its publicity. Netflix is walking the walk, while Uber seems to just be talking.

6. Millennials Welcome Generation Z

According to analysts at Goldman Sachs, America’s youngest generation, “Gen-Z” (those born after 1998), are now entering their formative years and rising in influence. At nearly 70 million strong, the eldest of which are now entering college and/or the workforce, this group will soon outnumber their Millennial predecessors.

Millennials are not children anymore. In fact, the oldest of them are now 35. Millennials are increasingly taking leadership roles within organizations. In addition to managing their peers, Millennials will soon be managing Gen Z employees. Will Millennial managers complain about Gen Z as much as Baby Boomer managers complained about Millennials?  Only time will tell.

Gen Z is the first generation born with devices in hand and are radically different than Millennials. Smart companies and brands are working quickly to understand this next generation as an employee as well as consumer.

7. A move away from online/social media interaction to in-person interactions

Your smartphone might make you think that people prefer social media vs. in-person interactions. However, top companies realize that building great communities engenders long-term brand loyalty. Nothing drives strong communities better than in-person and live interactions. Even live video engages better than recorded video. Just look at the popularity of Facebook Live.

Great community events like the B2B Forum from MarketingProfs sell-out in advance to attendees seeking high-value, face-to-face interactions that deliver community and social learning that far exceeds what’s possible with social media. You’d have an easier time attending an Ivy League university than getting invited to the annual Mastermind Talks geared toward CEOs and entrepreneurs.

Smart companies realize social media and technology do not replace the need for in-person interactions, social media can actually make in-person interactions more valuable. Since consumers are already connected in the virtual world, in-person relationships can be built at a rapid pace because you already feel as though you “know” the other person.

Expect to see leading companies that cut back on live events years ago, bring them back with enthusiasm.

8. A bubble, somewhere, will pop

There are a few bubbles out there. Stocks have risen to crazy highs, with price-to-earnings ratios well above their “normal” ranges. The housing market has rebounded in such a way that talking heads are calling home ownership “an escalator to wealth.” There is also a potential bubble coming for cryptocurrencies (see above).

2018 seems to be pushing hard for a burst bubble. According to The Economist, “The hunger for assets that is driving up prices is also leading investors to take more risks—risks which may not be fully priced into their investments and which they may not fully understand.” If we’re, en masse, investing in things we don’t really understand (see Bitcoin/Blockchain article above), chances are we’re about to have the rug pulled out from under us. Higher prices also mean less room for error.

When prices for houses and investments are at a reasonable level, people make purchases without overextending themselves. When earning a higher return requires paying a higher premium, people have to dip into their financial buffer to receive an adequate return. What does all this mean? People have less in the tank to draw from if things go south and could be forced into selling at a loss to cover their daily expenses. Then the cycle repeats. The good news is that we’re already hesitant about our current bubble. People aren’t celebrating their newfound wealth like they did in 2007 and 2002 just before past bubbles popped. What you can do?

Diversification is the key to surviving almost any dramatic shift. If you have investments, make sure they’re properly balanced to match your demands for risk. It’s easy to forget about your growing nest eggs and end up with a ton of money in stocks at the exact time you want more in something stable, like CDs.

Consider diversifying your business’s revenue streams, too. Having all of your customers come from one social demographic, profession, or geographic area increases your risk of catastrophic failure. Try branching out to smooth any potential bumps before they rock the boat.