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Business now vs. in the future: Beware of the trolls!

‘Whether you’re in the recycling business or working in retail or the media, one question on our minds is “How do I make the most of my future?” Especially at times of economic uncertainty and political chaos, we yearn for the top-10 most helpful tips and bulletproof blueprints for best practices to cling to,’ observes German visionary Matthias Horx. ‘But, ultimately, there is no roadmap to success. We shape the future ourselves.’

‘People seem to be thinking that we live in the most difficult times since recorded history. Why? Because we are acutely aware of what we don’t have, and of all the things that are not going the way we planned,’ says Matthias Horx. Describing himself as a futurologist, a cross between an archaeologist and an economist, he studies the transformation process of societies and businesses alike, giving him a unique perspective on where the world may be headed.

Potential, Horx maintains, is the operative word when imaging the world 10, 20 or 50 years from now. ‘We are capable of so much – but we tend to be focused on wealth,’ he says. ‘This can be measured, but it doesn’t show the whole picture.’ Ambition, believing in goals, social engagement of workers, coming up with new ideas: these things determine a company’s bottom line, Horx says. ‘And how we deal with disappointment,’ he is quick to add.

Under the bridge

‘Growing up, we have all heard stories about trolls,’ Horx continues. ‘As adults, we are eager to disregard them as fairy-tale figures that have no bearing on real life. But nothing is further from the truth. Trolls don’t live in the forest like our parents told us when we were seven. Nor are they hiding under the bridge. No, they reside in our heads. They may also take the guise of a grouchy neighbour, difficult colleague or a smooth-talking politician.’

‘They are the toxic voices telling us we cannot accomplish a task, that a mission is impossible, that we cannot change what has been set in motion,’ Horx says. In essence, trolls are projections of a negative inner dialogue. ‘They may start out relatively innocent but can grow into monsters if you give them half the chance,’ he warns. This is evident in online forums where such behaviour is fittingly called ‘trolling’.

Negative mindscapes

So why do we fall for it? ‘Our brain is a future generator,’ Horx posits. ‘This means we are constantly generating potential futures in our minds. What happens if I do this? Or that?’ Unfortunately, people have a blind spot when it comes to how they look at problems. Or as Horx puts it: ‘We look at problems through the lens of hesitation and discomfort. This only feeds our own fears, making the problem bigger and bigger.’

”We are programmed to prioritise negative information.”

To escape this negative mindscape, he proposes taking a moment to ask yourself practically: ‘So, what is the problem?’ It sounds simple, but people are strong associative thinkers flooded by information. ‘We are easily distracted and end up burying ourselves in the thought of “How did I get here? How do I get out?” And once you go down that spiral, you panic,’ Horx maintains.

Are we all biased?

Generally speaking, people are known to forget that major crises precede the world’s evolutions in terms of wealth, technology, legislation, etc. ‘History tells us that commodity prices may go up and down, that currencies may crash – but that they will reach healthy levels again,’ Horx reasons. ‘Sometimes it just takes a little more time.’

Research has shown, however, that the human brain is clouded by what is commonly dubbed the ‘negativity bias’. Horx explains: ‘We are programmed to prioritise negative information over positive information. We essentially distrust the latter because, to us, good news seems “not credible” while bad news seems “likely to be true”.’

This phenomenon can span any issue ranging from crime rates to life expectancy. ‘For example, there were less than 350 homicides in Germany last year, yet when I asked people on the street, they guessed it was at least a couple of thousand,’ the futurologist reports. ‘Alternatively, we tend to think of our natural resources as a cookie that gets smaller with every bite we take from it. People still underestimate recycling impacts.’

‘A little braver’

‘There is a great disparity between how we shape our thoughts and how reality occurs,’ Horx says in summary. ‘Even so, hope is the answer. Without hope, we might as well close up shop now.’ For an optimist such as Horx, calling it quits is not an option. ‘We can avoid feeding the trolls,’ he insists. ‘We can foster positive thinking.’

Step one would be to let go of age-old conventions. ‘Businesses are so deeply rooted in how things have been done before,’ he asserts. ‘I understand it can seem scary to embrace a new approach. But instead of looking back, try looking forward. Break the cycle of habit.’ Pulling together with your team and maintaining your social network is another way to ‘empower’ your thinking. ‘Sharing ideas, connecting with people – it gives us new energy and makes us a little braver,’ Horx suggests.

Talking about social transformations, he forecasts that, in the next 20 years or so, women will have a significantly more prominent role in business and at the governmental level. ‘This shift is already taking place, and I believe it will have a positive impact on the circular economy and our standard of living,’ he predicts.

Also vital, according to Horx, is to have a closer relationship with nature. ‘Sitting in an office all day is not exactly inspirational – it’s no wonder people are tired when they get home,’ he laughs. ‘If you can, take a walk outside every day – if even just for 10 minutes. Step out of your bubble. Expanding your world beyond four walls will give you a brand new perspective, trust me.’

This article was published in the March/April issue of Recycling International. More content from that issue is available here.

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