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Illustration of a young hipster woman with binoculars looking to the sky.

SCU Thought Leaders' Predictions For 2024

The promise of another new year arrives with the question: Will the future—at least the next 12 months—take care of itself? SCU Thought Leaders offer some predictions.

 

The promise of another new year arrives with the question: Will the future—at least the next 12 months—take care of itself?

To help kickstart the discussion, each January we consult a range of Santa Clara University faculty experts and contributors to our Illuminate Thought Leaders blog for their annual predictions.

When we asked them: “What innovative product, idea, trend, concept, or development are you most excited about, or intrigued by, in 2024?”  here’s what they told us:

 

Ann Skeet, Senior Director, Leadership Ethics, Markkula Center

ETHICS WILL BE AN EVERYDAY CONVERSATION
I am most encouraged by how many people are talking about ethics. Artificial intelligence has brought ethics into forefront of people's consciousness in the technology and business sectors. The events of January 6, 2021, have driven home the importance of ethics, and the rule of law, in our election cycles. Regardless of the reasons, the increased focus on ethics is undeniable and welcome.

 

Hooria Jazaieri, Associate Professor of Management

EMPLOYERS WILL INVEST IN HEALTH AND WELLNESS OF RETURN TO OFFICE WORKFORCE
Given that employee negative emotions are at an all-time high and the return to office trend will continue into 2024, businesses will have to address the issue of ensuring a healthy workforce—not just for the sake of productivity, but to increase job satisfaction and reduce turnover. Thus, even during a time of austerity, I predict that organizations will be investing more in employee health and well-being programs. 

These programs will range from mental health and stress management programs to physical fitness and work-life balance programs. We will also see an emphasis on taking a more data-driven approach to monitoring employee stress and emotions through the use of apps and digital tools (which will bring up important privacy and ethical considerations). This data will hopefully be translated into actionable insights so that adjustments can be made. 

Finally, given that leaders are uniquely equipped to influence organizational culture and model and support their workforce, leadership development programs will include how to proactively address employee mental health and well-being, and promote a sense of community and belonging. 

Kirthi Kalyanam, Professor and Executive Director, Retail Management Institute

CONVERSATIONAL AI COULD IMPACT RELATIONSHIP MARKETING 
I am personally very excited about the impact of AI on conversations and relationship marketing. The holy grail in marketing is to build relationships one customer at a time. In the 1990s, marketers were very excited by this concept of relationship marketing. Rather than pursuing customers like targets, according to the strategy, firms should be building relationships with them. And very quickly, it became clear that 1:1 conversations were the building block of relationships. And then very quickly, it dawned on the marketing community that deploying 1:1 conversations over millions of customers does not scale. 

I first made this observation almost 20 years ago in an article that I co-wrote with Monty Zweben in the Harvard Business Review in 2005. We observed that for this very reason, relationship marketing would remain a philosophy rather than an actionable construct for many products and services. We also observed that over time, technology would really be the only way to scale conversations, and hence relationship marketing—although we did not know which kind of technology. 

The technologies we were able to dig into at that time, such as eCommerce, databases, and search engines, seemed promising. But they could only enable short interactions, not free- flowing conversations. Fast forward to 2024, and we now suddenly find that conversational AI is a thing. Human beings are increasingly able to “speak” to computers in long form, and computers are able to coherently respond in most cases. 

Through a series of interactions, a conversational AI engine can help human beings diagnose their needs, recommend the right products and services, and provide them help when things break down or they need something fixed. These benefits are available across many different fields, including buying products and services, education and healthcare. I am very excited that conversational AI may finally crack the code on scaling relationship marketing. It’s an idea whose time has come.

Photo by Tony Webster, Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Tony Webster, Wikimedia Commons.

 

Hersh Shefrin, Professor of Finance

MEATLESS BURGERS WILL SLOW CLIMATE CHANGE
The most interesting and exciting products I learned about in 2023 involve meat made without livestock, which consumers find delicious. The Redwood City-based firm called Impossible Foods manufactures and sells such a product line, available at Trader Joe’s and Costco. The potential environmental impact of being able to produce meat directly from plants—and bypassing cows—is enormous.

Animal agriculture currently requires 45% of Earth’s ice-free land surface. In contrast, all crops grown for human consumption require approximately 8% of Earth’s land surface, and the space required for all cities is less than 1.5% of Earth’s land surface. The weight of the global cow population is more than 10 times that of every other wild mammal, bird, reptile and amphibian. Think about what dramatically reducing the cow population will do for lowering greenhouse gas emissions!

Phil Kesten, Associate Professor, Physics

NASA'S JUPITER MISSION COULD ANSWER KEY QUESTIONS
This year welcomes an exciting mission to explore Jupiter and one of its moons, Europa. NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft is scheduled to begin its 1.8 billion-mile journey to the solar system’s largest planet, and to perhaps its most intriguing moon, in October. The spacecraft will make some 50 passes of Europa, at altitudes as low as 16 miles above the surface.  From a vantage point so close to the moon itself, NASA scientists hope to make their most detailed study yet of Europa. 

We already have strong evidence that there is a deep liquid ocean beneath the miles-thick sheet of ice that covers Europa, and evidence also that there is salt in this ocean. (Among the instruments on the spacecraft is a magnetometer, which can measure and study how Europa affects the magnetic field that surrounds Jupiter. With it, NASA scientists will be able to more carefully measure and study the effects of Europa’s ocean.)

We know that here on Earth, life arose in our salty oceans; perhaps life also arose on Europa! Astrobiologists have long wondered whether conditions on Europa are suitable for life to evolve and thrive. There is every reason to believe that this question will be answered by the Europa Clipper mission.

 

Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, Dean, Jesuit School of Theology

THE IMPORTANCE OF SYNODALITY
It definitely has to be the concept and practice of synodality—Pope Francis’s transformative idea of the church as a radically inclusive and spirit-led community that welcomes, nurtures, and supports all its members in ways that allow each person’s voice to be heard, each person's vocation to be valued, and each person’s giftedness to be honored. 

I would also add the Vatican’s radical retrieval of the rich tradition and theology of blessings in the church that allows people who were once considered beyond the pale of God’s mercy to experience the superabundant and unconditional love, regard, and acceptance of God, no matter their circumstances, to help them move forward, to live better, and to respond to God’s loving desires for them.

Tanya Monsef ’86, Dean’s Executive Professor, Global Business Consultant and Leadership Coach

GOING GREEN MAY PRODUCE MORE GREEN FOR COMPANIES
In the wake of the hottest year on record globally, businesses are at a critical juncture where sustainability is no longer a peripheral concern, but a pivotal element of profitability. Currently, of the 1,000 companies that promised to have net zero emissions by 2050, only 4% are barely doing enough to limit global warming under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. The rising frequency and severity of climate-related events pose tangible risks to operations, supply chains, and bottom lines. 

In 2024, businesses will embrace sustainability not only as a moral obligation but as a smart economic decision and strategic imperative for long-term success. Investments in renewable energy, resource efficiency, and resilient infrastructure will become key drivers of competitiveness. 

Those who fail to integrate sustainability into their core strategies may find themselves vulnerable to market shifts, regulatory pressures, and reputational risks. The prediction for 2024 is clear: businesses must become environmentally intelligent. Sustainable practices will be essential for business resilience, profitability, and a positive global impact.

 

 

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