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An Emerging Buzzword That Shouldn’t Become One

Welcome to a new DISPATCH.

My team and I recently came across an article that, ever since we read it, it has made us debate on how we discuss the forecasting industry and provoked a new awareness in us that we hope to continue to address.

What article am I talking about?

The article published on Medium titled Pandemic Futures by Devon Powers, a professor and author I admire. In the article, she takes the forecasting industry to task for its failure to predict its impact on Covid-19. She unfolds a story about how the forecasting industry is missing the bigger picture explaining its lack of inclusivity, diversity, and its failure to include the ‘ordinary voice.’

You might be thinking: What is the bigger picture? It’s making forecasts more accurate, strategic, and in a stronger position to re-imagine and instigate a tomorrow that works for everybody.

Particularly pertinent to our times is Power’s discourse on how “health” has overpowered ‘wellness’ as the new buzzword. Powers explains, Wellness” became a booming industry in the ‘80s and ‘90s when the word became a catchall for goods, services, and activities aimed to increase health in consumer-friendly ways. The term now covers a wide range of businesses, from supplements to fitness, beauty spas to wellness tourism like yoga retreats. In 2018, The Global Wellness Institute valued the “wellness industry” at 4.2 trillion dollars.”

Powers then says, “Not only is health and wellness a growth center, with a constant influx of apps and products, but wellness itself was identified as a trend that all businesses should embrace. Wunderman Thompson’s predictions for 2020, released in late 2019, described consumers as “wellness-obsessed” and envisioned the rise of “wellness hospitality” at hotels and “bespoke beauty,” where DNA could be used to deliver personalized products and services.”

Possibly what will resonate with the people around the world most are Powers’ discoveries and commentaries related to the pre and post-pandemic definitions of health and wellness as implied by forecasters. “Pre-pandemic, futurist notions of wellness were more about the appearance of health rather than its reality. By catering almost exclusively to high-end, non-disabled, and young consumers for whom health is an assumption, futurist visions of wellness overlook many basic notions of living well.”

She has noted that COVID-19 has precipitated forecasting companies to think about health in ways that “perpetuate luxury.” Illustrating her point with the example of the Reimagine the Future Summit which included known futurists Faith Popcorn and Kim Bates painting a picture of the future of health as, “A future replete with robot nurses and medical-grade hospital rooms at home in which wealthy consumers increase their ability to fortify their bunkers and extend their privileges.”

Powers concludes her insights on the topic of the buzzword “health” by describing the reality of the post-pandemic world we live in, “The healthful technologies being touted are often not widespread, not scalable, not practical, and not as useful as simpler, cheaper, and more democratic technologies, like masks or vaccinations.” This statement calls to mind the William S. Gibson quote frequently used in the futures industry, “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”

I have to say that the idea of “health” as a buzzword irks me. How can a word that is so general, one that we use on such a constant basis, and a word we do not have an adequate replacement for, become the new the buzzword for ‘wellness’? Does that mean ‘health’ will replace the megatrend status of ‘wellness’? If so, how?

I recently read numerous articles and research papers, from WGSN to Harvard Business Review and The NY Times, that discuss the ways rapid-urbanization and fast-paced lifestyles are propelling consumers to embrace new fitness routines and habits of living, in hopes of achieving balanced bodies and minds. These articles forecasted how, despite the economic slowdown, there would be an increase in health and wellness spending. A growing category boosted by the 2020 Covid-19 outbreak.

It’s no news that the coronavirus pandemic has meant consumers are becoming more health-conscious and are looking to solutions that make them feel in control. But is it ok for brands and retailers to use this as an opportunity to shape the narrative around what it means to be healthy to the various emerging health-consumer lifestyles? Or to position their products on how they contribute to a healthy lifestyle?

We need to reconsider the true meanings of “health” and “healthy” before these buzzwords get out of hand. Health is a fundamental, physiological, basic need, found at the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid. Let’s treat this word with the respect it deserves. As Powers points out, wellness covers businesses in the healthy lifestyle industry, not a fundamental human right – a healthy life.

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