Based in Austin, Texas, Anne Boysen is a futurist and trend scout with ten years experience in the field. Boysen’s work includes consulting for Fortune 500 companies in market forecasting, brand strategy and product development. The next generation is the focus of much of her research and analysis, opening new doors for her clients as they evaluate strategies. In the Virtual European Capital of Culture Forum 2020, Anne joined a debate about retooling in the post-pandemic future. In our talk, we discuss Anne’s experience and insights into the world of art and culture.

Are futurists and trend scouts actually busier these days?

In a way, it is. Of course, like most consultants, we had things scheduled that suddenly were cancelled. I was going to work with big actors in the entertainment industry, and that was very much in the physical world. And, of course, I lost that. So there’s that, but there are new requests from non-profits and education and culture fields. It’s exciting because a lot of the times I am called to help businesses to do business as usual, to expand the profit margin. Suddenly, this thing happens, and now it’s a lot more about understanding what’s going on.

Do you have many competitors in the field?

I do have many colleagues and competitors in foresight. We are a very tight, niche international community. Everybody seems to know each other. The same thing can be said about generational research because I do that as well. There might be not as many people in that field. I try to bridge together a unique method, so I tend to see other people as collaborators. I feel like I have my unique approach, and they have theirs. As a futurist, I am a little bit different in the sense that I use a little bit of a different toolkit. I use some of the typical foresight tools, but then I also use more traditional data-driven methods. A lot of futurists are excellent at really looking into that big deep future and potential scenarios. I am a little bit more in the here and now. I try to look at a future that has some relationship with what is going on now. Not following the trajectory, but more like, OK, we have this data now, what information can we draw from that, that tells us about where we might be in the future.

Talking about your clients, since they are international, would you say current pandemics-related problems are similar around the world? Or are there still regional differences?

We sort of have this benefit of time travel, in a way. We in the US get to see what Europe has been through before us. As a continent, you entered this new reality before us. Now, as you guys are possibly even witnessing an end to it, at least a temporary end, that has been very interesting to watch. I think that we here in the US and the American continent are going to keep a very keen eye on what is going on in Europe.

There will be some areas that will be more hard-hit than others. I think that as an industry for those of us who can work remotely, like, I don’t necessarily work with more clients here in my local community than I do elsewhere. So, for me, it does not really matter. I think for people that have physical jobs where they go to every day, there can be significant differences there.

What are the core differences between the Millenials and Gen Z?

What I seem to have noticed during the years is that Millenials still came of age and they had a childhood in the 90s. The 21st century is the inflexion point or this big threshold. Young Gen Z’s are either too young to remember anything from the past century. They grew up in a genuinely digital century, so they do not make much distinction between what is physical reality and what is digital. And Millenials are the most adaptable of the other adult generations. For Gen Zs, it’s just completely fluid. Then there’s the incredibly unpredictable pace of change. We have noticed for the past 10-15 years how suddenly we are making realizations about the world around us. Both everything from environmental problems to income inequalities that seem to be exaggerating. And again, technology, which is quickly shifting, so that the world looks very different today than it did 5-10 years ago. I think what that does, in one way, it makes you more nimble, and in another way, it makes you actually more risk-averse. When there is a lot of chaos going around you, you don’t take the same risks. In order to take risks, you have to have a sense of security and permanence. The overall level of trust in institutions is down, and again, the trust is that the near future is going to look something that the recent past. It’s really not there anymore. So what we are seeing is many different behaviours.

Talking about the field of culture, many traditional institutions and organizations are Millenials, or even Boomers, to their core. Now, with the complete change of scenario and quickly adapting to the possibilities of virtual reality, a lot of them have kind of GenZ’d. Is this swift change possible, from your point of view, and can it be permanent, after (if) life is back to normal?

I try to emphasize one thing in my research. One of the reasons that I follow humans more than technology (there are many futurists that like to talk about technology) is that technology creates the infrastructure, but to find out whether or not that is going to produce change, you have to look to the humans, to the actual adoption. This generation is at the forefront of creating culture out of technology, to not just use it as a transactional medium that helps you connect, but actually interact. It’s interesting to see how educational institutions have adapted to this new reality of doing everything via Zoom, where you have these kids that have grown up with this and the teachers who don’t really know what to do. So we’re getting these late adopters with us, and I think because there is no other way of doing things at the moment, it all depends on how quickly we open up society again. If we open up in a few months, I don’t think that’s long enough to create a significant culture change. But if this is going to continue, wave by wave, this will embed itself as a new normal. Every now and then we hunker down, and we go to this realm where we have to live our lives digitally. Then you get this period of reverse mentorship, where the young people will set the standard. It’s not always a good thing, because there are habits that older people will not want to emulate, but we’ll definitely learn a lot.

We have seen tremendous examples of adapting to crises or serving the new needs of societies – bike companies begin making cars, and tyre companies start making mobile phones. Some examples are relatively recent, like cosmetics companies and distilleries producing tons of hand sanitizers. Many businesses try to avoid this change and stick to what they do. Is there a right answer here?

I feel like innovation thrives in crises. It’s hard to predict precisely what is going to come out of this. But I think those examples you mentioned are very good examples of quickly having to pivot and create something new, and think creatively what industry you are really in. You really go down, literally, to the level of ingredients. How is your manufacturing set up? What type of supply chains do you have? How can you put this together? What kind of competence you have in your organization? To the extent that you can suddenly find a new product line. That shows adaptability to the market. What I think is possibly the most interesting about it is that, you know, for software companies and companies dealing with intangible products, like the service industry, traditionally, it’s been easier for them to make these pivots. You could A b test software, that’s easy. You can’t necessarily do that with businesses that have long supply chains. But now we’ve seen that yes, in fact, they are doing that. They are trying to creatively restructure. We’ll see a lot more innovation here.

What about theatres, concert halls, cinemas and festival organizers? It’s now clear they will be able to operate soon, but with enormous restrictions, so that they can provide safe space for visitors. I read, for example, that a live music club in Vilnius that can pack a few hundreds of fans, can now only accept 30. And this is a tremendous loss. Should a movie theatre charge 50 dollars for a ticket?

That’s the challenge there. They have to think about what is their real offering. It’s about delivering a fantastic experience to the visitors. But it’s also because people like to get out of their houses. They are destinations. Virtual tours of museums, for example, is a poor replacement for the real thing. Again, the real thing will be much more difficult to access, due to health and safety. Yes, 50 dollars sounds like a lot of money. Which means many movie theatres and institutions alike will be struggling quite a bit. However, it could become this high-end product. Instead of going to the movies every time you don’t know what to do in the evening, perhaps it will become more of an event, an esteemed thing that you do, like going to an opera. For the past ten years or so, we started having food and wine in the movie theatres – it didn’t use to be like that. Now there’s more entertainment to that, and that could wrap up, to the extent that you can create these barriers and have private cubicles for small parties. It could become that type of communal experience.

Another thing to think about is that if we are going to be less mobile in the sense that we will be travelling less, this means we will spend much less time travelling. We’ll be looking for new ways of having fun and entertaining ourselves. Maybe museums and movie theatres in our local communities will get that draw? And then, of course, you have augmented reality. There’s a lot of things that can be done where you combine technology with what you have in the physical proximity, and to enrich that experience, to make it stronger. With this, you could justify a price increase.

Many people in culture and arts tend to think it’s not a market, and it’s not a business, and by doing that, they neglect contemporary tools essential for survival and growth. Can you justify art without thinking about the financial side?

I think that art was only measured by the bottom line, that would be a sad, sad world. I don’t think that would be possible. There’s definitely a place for arts to be able to sustain itself outside the market forces. Maybe now more than ever. What are people doing now that they are couped up in their homes? They depend on the artists. We’re watching movies, and we’re listening to music, we’re enjoying beautiful visual arts. We’re craving this stuff, and maybe more than ever, because it’s away of helping us cope, possibly. It would be sad if you only saw “this is sponsored by that big brand” etc. It clashes.

How do we avoid the aggressive sponsorship methods and being in the shadow of a brand, especially now, when theatres can’t be open, and musicians can’t tour?

We’ve already seen a lot of artists doing virtual concerts, trying to interact. Again, it’s the same reason we are communicating now, and it took me ten minutes to get ready to talk to you. If it were a physical event, I would have to get on a plane and it would be a very different experience. The number of people that you can reach using technology is very large. In this sense, you lose the venue, for now, but on the other hand, you can reach so many more people. You can also build a revenue stream that way. I am not sure how you do that, though, because obviously, you can’t survive on Spotify. That’s a million-dollar question, quite literally! We can’t afford to let the artists starve, because people will crave this.

Maybe this is just my experience, but it seemed to me in the music industry anyway, that when musicians were more directed by producers to reach the certain formats, there was more homogeneity in the product. They use predictive algorithms to find out what is actually going to be played on the radio. You don’t have to be on the radio anymore. People can find you in other channels – there’s room for much more heterogeneity in the end product. That tends to increase quality because an artist can have fewer boundaries and reach niche audiences. So, there are opportunities there.

I read on your website that people should focus their activities on Gen Z. But what about the others? Is an average millennial now categorized old and uninteresting for marketers?

There tends to be a lot of focus on the younger generation, and it has always been this way. Mainly because we want to see what comes next. It doesn’t mean that older generations are not interesting. They are. We should not ignore them. But it’s something about young people representing something completely new. I very often tell my clients and audiences: “I know you came to me to listen about the new generation, but do not put this generational label on everyone. Look at the new mindset that is emerging on the agenda”.

Do you think this pandemic could be the defining moment for the next generation, Generation Alpha?

I am afraid Generation Alpha can be a little bit too young to realize what is going on. I think that they will think back to the time when they were not allowed to see their friends. To the extent that this creates a change in habits, I am not really sure how it will play out in the future. Then again, they do not have much to compare it to. The virus is an invisible enemy. In 9/11, it was an actual terrorist attack. The last financial crisis was felt very deeply. So the secondary economic effect of the pandemics could be possibly more of a defining moment.

Author – Kotryna Lingienė