For CEOs, ‘Trust is the New Black,’ Ford’s Futurist Says

Sheryl Connelly, Ford’s manager of global consumer trends and futuring, just released her fifth annual trends report, for which she produces insights that range across society at large, not just the car business. Her 2017 report is partly based on a custom survey of 8,100 people across the U.S., the UK, China, Brazil, India, Spain, Germany and Canada.

While the 10 trends she selects each year help Ford CEO Mark Fields navigate a future that is challenging the automaker to adapt as a provider of “mobility services” as well as automobiles, her conclusions are much broader than her company’s parochial interests, and affect all CEOs. She told Chief Executive that “the most important trend CEOs should pay attention to” is “Trust is the new black,” a theme she began highlighting in 2013. In other words, truth and trustworthiness are increasingly required for any business in dealing with its constituencies—even as the very definition of “truth” seems to be changing.

Connelly began documenting growing mistrust of institutions such as business, government and media several years ago. While this element played a significant role in the election of Donald Trump as president, she believes the situation has gotten worse, to the point where the very notion of “truth” is on trial—making it especially difficult for CEOs to figure out how to get their companies to be trusted. “Where truth was once held to be indisputable,” Connelly wrote, “it increasingly tends to be heavily influenced by perception—and reinforced by like-minded viewpoints.”

Her survey found that 75% of adults believe “truth is indisputable, but it’s still subjective, even in its purest form,” Connelly said. “Is the glass half empty or half full? As information becomes more complex and more abundant, it’s harder to decipher which parts of ‘truth’ are colored by opinion.”

Among other things, Connelly’s findings on trust and truth mean that transparency is more important for companies than ever. “Those brands that develop relationships on trust,” she told Chief Executive, “have a competitive advantage.”

“Where truth was once held to be indisputable it increasingly tends to be heavily influenced by perception—and reinforced by like-minded viewpoints.

Here are the 10 trends in Ford’s 2017 report, “Looking Further with Ford”.

1. Trust is the new black (from 2013). Where truth was once held to be indisputable, it increasingly tends to be heavily influenced by perception—and reinforced by like-minded viewpoints.

2. The female frontier (from 2014). Profiles of women have reached new prominence, with demographic shifts changing household and work dynamics; together, women and men continue to redefine roles and responsibilities.

3. Sustainability blues (from 2014). From devastating floods, debilitating droughts, water contamination and disputes, concern for the world’s most precious resources continues to grow, with consumers increasingly mindful of their water footprint.

Rethinking micro-trends
4. The good life 2.0. Bigger isn’t always better, and ownership does not equate with happiness. Consumers are finding joy in less, where “good” encompasses not just possessions, but also experiences and values.

5. Time well spent. In an on-demand world, punctuality is a dying art and procrastination can be a strength. Conventional ideas about time—and the rules that go with it—often are discarded.

6. Decider’s dilemma. With the Internet, consumers face an abundance of choice—impacting their attitudes toward commitment. Products and services are adapting to accommodate a “sampling society” that prioritizes trying over buying.

7. Tech spiral. Is technology improving our way of life or eroding it? In many ways, tech has made life more convenient and efficient, yet consumers are beginning to grapple with its downside—from lower attention spans and retention capacities to allowing their gadgets to do their thinking for them.

8. Championing change. For decades, the buck was passed between individuals and institutions. Now, who really has the greatest opportunity—and influence—to make a difference?

9. The parent trap. It used to be there was only one way to raise a child. Now, as parenting styles proliferate, so does judgment—yet parents are more open and forthcoming about their struggles, looking to their peers for empathy and advice.

10. Community ties. Today, community takes on various forms, shapes and sizes as citizens, educators, economic leaders and governments act in concerted, coordinated ways to build societies that give members purpose and hope.

Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.

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