Behind the Scenes

What’s Next for the Industry?

Our Meetings Industry Forecast addresses the future of our economy in a way that the presidential campaign has not.

By the time many of you read this, a new U.S. president will have been elected, but we’re still in the thick of the campaign as we put the final touches on this issue. Our industry plays a role in this political process. Remember the Republican and Democratic national conventions this past summer? We took behind-the-scenes tours in Cleveland and Philadelphia as they were about to be staged, and wrote them up for this month’s CMP Series.

In this issue we also publish our 16th Annual Meetings Industry Forecast. What do these two things — the presidential campaign and our annual forecast — have in common?

Let’s start with the forecast. First published as an almanac that took stock of the previous year, the forecast is now more about what’s on the horizon than in the rear-view mirror. Most notably, because change is happening at an accelerated rate, technology has become a focus of the entire forecast.

New digital tools are introduced at lightning speed, affecting all businesses. For example, after we had culled our research for the forecast, Facebook announced that its Workplace app — an internal platform designed to serve the needs of a changing mobile and remote workforce — is now available to any organization that wants to use it (albeit for a price). According to Facebook’s press release, “the new global and mobile workplace isn’t about keeping people separated by title, department, or geography. Organizations are stronger and more productive when everyone comes together.”

In other words, Workplace is a digital initiative for an increasingly digital workforce. And that’s where the presidential campaign comes in. Last month, Bhaskar Chakravorti, senior associate dean of international business and finance at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, noted in a Harvard Business Review article that the digital economy has been missing from the political debate. “We’re focused on jobs,” Chakravorti wrote, “but we’re skipping a necessary discussion of how the digital economy is shaping those jobs. The content of the campaigns still seems largely rooted in the 20th century while much of our work is rushing to meet the demands of the 21st.”

According to Chakravorti, the digital economy is both a growth opportunity and a jobs risk, with artificial intelligence (AI), big data, sensor technologies, driverless cars, advanced robotics, and 3D printing potentially automating the work of many occupations. To prepare for our future, we need to invest “in an education system,” Chakravorti wrote, “that fosters critical thinking.” 

We’ve got that covered in this issue, too. In There’s a Meeting for That, we spotlight a conference whose end goal is to get students to ask questions — in other words, to think critically. As we look to the future, it’s a skill we’ll all need more of. 

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.