Ford Trends Report: The Power of the Human Spirit Breaks Through Crisis and Clutter

Ford Trends
Superhero, the newest hero in prime time TV

Ford looks at the trends that will shape our world in 2016 and beyond

Superhero, The Newest Hero In Prime Time Tv

Supergirl, the newest hero in prime time TV, illustrates some of the trends Ford sees in our future, including the importance of the ‘everyday hero.’ Photo: CBS

It’s pretty easy to have a dismal view of the future; just look at today: from terrorism, refugee crises and economic strife to too much technology, overpacked schedules and demands for our attention at every turn. How do we not feel overwhelmed by it all?

The magic of the human spirit –optimistic, empathetic, self-reliant, innovative–is at the heart of the answers.

Sheryl Connelly, Ford Motor Company’s futurist, (whose actual title is Manager of Global Consumer Trends and Futuring) wanted to know just how people will approach these challenges, what technology and techniques they’ll use to manage them, what tools and strategies they’ll seek to break up the clutter and ultimately, help Ford find new ways to help consumers. Connelly and her team embarked on a global journey talking to consumers and thought leaders and conducting surveys to find out. The power of human spirit, it turns out, is a lighting a pretty optimistic path forward. Here are some of Ford’s findings:

We cherish our everyday heroes

Everyday Hero

Everyday heroes often are what make a difference in our lives and the lives of those around us

Probably the most promising trend in light of all the depressing stories in the news is that, for all our challenges, there are heroes who come to the rescue. From the neighbor who walks your dog when you have the flu to the thousands of people who donate a few dollars to help a family in need, we look for, and like to be, that hero.

So many people are inspired to be a hero that GoFundMe has collected $470 million in donations from 6 million people since its start. And, it’s no surprise that Star Wars, Fantastic Four, and even TV’s SuperGirl dominate our media landscape; we are all inspired to find our heroes—everyday and super— where we can.

Mindfulness: The cure for taxing daily life

A Mindful Life

More and more people are finding that a mindful life creates balance and reduces stress

Another top trend is one we’ve been hearing about for a while—the good advice that experts and advisors have been giving us—is mindfulness. From meditation, yoga and de-stressing our lives, to unplugging from tech and reconnecting with what matters, people are finding it’s necessary to live in the moment, manage our stressors and improve the quality of our time and productiveness. “We had an occasion to meet Deepak Chopra, who talked about the body of evidence for meditation; stress is a killer, but meditation can reverse that,” Sheryl told us.

The shopping experience: the next revolution in retail

Ford Future

Starbucks is innovating the retail model with its mobile order and pay system.

You can buy toothpaste anywhere; but toothpaste that reorders itself before you run out? Now that’s impressive. And, that’s where retailers are headed: to the land of impressing you by enhancing the shopping experience. “Can the purchase experience be elevated to something that surpasses the product?” Sheryl asks, but she knows the answer: many retailers are adding technology or exclusive experiences that draw in customers who want the product as well the experience.

And, the shopping process can be done at the consumer’s convenience, not the retailer’s, such as Starbuck’s pre-order feature on the phone app that lets you slip into the store, pick up your coffee from the counter and slip out again before anyone even knows you were there.

Ford has brought this idea to its models with its “Beacon” program, a Bluetooth enabled technology that allows consumers to privately and quietly, at their own convenience, get information about a car’s features; this is great for both in-dealership shopping or to get the skinny on a car on display at a mall or event venue like a sports arena.

Connected technology becomes your own personal concierge 

The Connected Concierge

Connected technology–computers talking to computers–will soon be able to take care of things for us, sort of like our own personal concierge

You’ve heard by now about of the ‘internet of things:’ the computers in our appliances, devices and infrastructure that talk to their ‘mother’ computers; increasingly they will also talk to each other.

Already our phones talk to our computers and our phones can start our cars. This idea will grow to allow our technology to do things for us like find an empty parking spot, connect our  thermostats to our calendars or tell our in-car navigation system that there is traffic ahead so it can keep you from sitting in a traffic jam.

Innovating to accommodate: the Swiss Army life

Swiss Army Life

Utility, self reliance and things with multiple purposes will flourish in what Ford dubs “Swiss Army Life”

Having it all these days means having to manage it all. So we adapt and hack: wifi in the car means the school pick up line can double as a mobile office, ride a bike to work so you can skip the gym, phone apps that share calendars and shopping lists with your significant others. Some innovators are taking this even further, creating multi-purpose flexible use furniture and, how smart is this: a “Sink Positive” sink and toilet combination that uses hand-washing waste water to flush the toilet.

Ford Trends

Innovations and ideas that simplify our lives and lets us do more with less will grow in popularity

Smarter resources = less waste: the farm to car movement

Farm To Car

The true farm to car process eliminates waste and brings even greater sustainability to car building

Maybe the most promising trend is the use of sustainable resources in our cars. With people keeping their cars for an average of 10 years—already a great trend because we reduce waste by keeping cars on the road longer—using farm-grown items or recycled waste to build them reduces landfill and waste. Ford has been innovating in this space for a while, using recycled plastics for solid surfaces in its cars, soy-based foams for seat cushions and in a partnership with ketchup maker H.J. Heinz, adding discarded tomato skins to its plastics to make them stronger and more durable.

For the 2016 report, Ford conducted surveys and talked to groups of thought leaders and executives around the world. “We surveyed people in the US, the UK, Germany, Spain, China, India, Australia and Brazil,” Sheryl told us, with additional conversations in Bangkok, Paris, New York and Dearborn, Michigan, where Ford is headquartered. The fourth year of Ford’s trend research sees the continuation of some ideas such as sustainable automotive design and the “internet of things” becoming even more central to our technology. But it’s the power of the human spirit and optimism that illustrate the magic of the human spirit, keeping us grounded no matter the chaos around us.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss