Trends For 2018: Life In The Upside Down

On January 3rd, we published Trends for 2018: The Upside-Down, Tech Reckoning, Time’s Up, Citizenship on To read the full report find it here.
Here, we’re investigating further into each trend – looking at the values driving them and trying to understand which way the culture is going.

Trend 1. Life in the Upside-Down
A recent piece in the New York Times Magazine by Nitsuh Abebe examined the role of the normal, the ordinary and the ideal in our culture.  We’ve begun to question what we’ve always taken for granted. What is true? What is real? How can we tell? This new era is such a challenge to our senses that many are feeling like we’re in our own version of the Upside Down.

Fake News

A lot of Americans grew up believing that journalists are our truth tellers and arbiters of what is normal. That idea’s been smashed as more media is labeled fake news.

Our research shows that the driver of this idea – of this questioning of our media’s truth – is really about power and who has it. If you’re the one calling “fake news,” you’ve squashed any challenger, neutralizing any attacks against your own wrong-doing. The values have stayed the same over the last 45 days with one exception—subversion is moving up behind power, fear and freedom. How is it all being subverted?


Sociopolitical Turmoil

Beyond mere media criticism, capitalism as the system that drove the biggest string of growth post-World War II is now being considered by some as an enemy of decency, creating economic inequity and spawning a new gilded era of haves and have nots.

The Cold War, thought to be behind us, is revived with North Korea playing the role of a brand-new agent of potential destruction. The middle class, the backbone of our economy, is slowly eroding, along with the American Dream and many people’s hopes for a better life.

National community is gone – or at least brutally split. We are now more divided than any time since we donned Blue and Gray. Generally, we are disaffected and less hopeful. According to Gallup, “Ahead of President Donald Trump’s election in the U.S., slightly more than one in four Americans (26%) lacked confidence in their national government and were discouraged about their own future — a condition that a new Gallup analysis suggests may be useful in understanding the recent rise of populism in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.”


The Greatest Generation sacrificed in order to send Boomer kids to college, believing it lead to a better life. Now, more people believe colleges have a negative impact on the United States, How can this be? Our analysis shows that the values are about justice and responsibility. More people believe that colleges and universities are not holding up the 1st amendment rights and they have the responsibility to provide that experience to students.

For many, what we have known is turned upside down. What’s happening? Are we going to be okay?

What This Means For Business
When the world seems to have slipped its mooring, people look to places that share their values or simply offer the harbor of familiarity, safety and security. Policies and programs that are transparent and easy to understand will build trust and programs exhibiting generosity will build loyalty.

Some brands take an activist stand, like Patagonia’s lawsuit against the Trump Administration for removing protections from national monuments. Activism can alienate some people, but it also brings like-minded customers together under a common cause supporting what they feel is preserving freedom, adventure and justice.

Whether you fight or embrace (or both) this Upside Down we’re living in, it’s increasingly hard to hide what your true values are. It just got harder. On Tuesday January 16th Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock (At $6.3 trillion, the largest asset manager in the world) issued a warning to all the big companies to “start accounting for their effect on society” or don’t count on his support. He went on to say, “society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose.”