This year, we are witnessing unprecedented changes in the way we think about our mental health and wellbeing, our business and work ethics, our bodies and food.
The devastating COVID-19 pandemic, the kind of “black swan” event that happens once in a few generations, has upended our life as we know it.
With looming economic and political uncertainty, millions experience anxiety and depression and struggle to navigate loneliness during social isolation. Jobs are lost, despair runs high.
But what if I tell you that we are entering a new, unprecedented era of human flourishing thanks to the systemic changes happening across the United States and the world right now?
Let me explain:
– With depression and anxiety becoming a regular part of the mainstream conversation, we are witnessing an astonishing de-stigmatization around mental and behavioral health. Investors, who have historically shied away from this category, have poured a whopping $1 billion in the first half of 2020 into wellness and behavioral startups, according to CB Insights. Big corporations, who just several years ago were skeptical about meditation, are now offering Calm and Headspace apps as part of their standard employee benefits package. No wonder some wellbeing companies have doubled in revenue this year. Meanwhile, startups like Brave Health are making sure that patients on Medicare get affordable access to counseling, therapy, psychiatry and medication management.
– We are on the verge of the next revolution of food. As we are faced with the challenge of feeding an increasingly large global population without destroying the planet, cell-cultured meat startups like Impossible Foods and Memphis Meats are disrupting the food value chain. This year, developments like cellular agriculture, meat from stem cells, and mushroom-based proteins have gone from interesting and slightly back-burner to front and center, not just for consumers, but also for investors. Get ready to eat some form of mushroom-derived protein in the next five to 10 years!
– We are starting to strive for something more than just revenue and ROI. As COVID is revealing the fragility of our incessant desire to maximize convenience, efficiency, and scale, a number of influential investors are now pledging to shift towards business as better, not just rush to business as usual. We are seeing an explosion of mission-aligned businesses focused on a higher purpose. The powerhouse trendsetter here is one of Silicon Valley’s oldest venture capital firms, Mayfield Fund, which decided to stop investing in certain controversial business models (think free ads-supported platforms that sell our data to advertisers).
– And speaking of data privacy… As we increasingly encounter eye tracking, facial recognition, motion, gesture, location, gait and other full-body, data-led technologies in our daily lives, we will soon be able to control our privacy thanks to the breakthroughs in biomedical implant architecture. Using our own bodies as an interface, we will have the choice to sell or share our data anonymously into crowdsourced tech to benefit the community. One of the most pressing needs is COVID tracing, but there are many other reasons for using the data, including climate change, health and wellbeing and regional development needs.
– With the bar for going into the office continuing to get higher, there is an increased intentionality about the way we work. What are those top 10 things we want people to come to the office for? Do we want to get together in one place to collaborate, connect as humans, come up with breakthroughs, have more empathy for the customer and have better collaboration? Those are more elevated, more intentional outcome goals that go beyond, “I just need to see your face to know that you’re working.”
According to Yale medical historian Frank Snowden, pandemics are like a looking glass in which societies see their deepest distortions. When the 14-century plague known as Black Death swept Europe, killing millions, it spurred numerous social and economic changes that gave rise to the Renaissance, one of the most influential artistic periods in human history. The arrival of epidemic cholera in 19th-century Europe and North America helped drive the sanitary revolution, which brought public supplies of clean water and sewage treatment to the big cities.
This year, as we are faced with our own reflection – the awareness of racial and systemic injustice in capitalism, weaponization of media, the mental health crisis and climate collapse – we are also discovering our greatest strengths and hopes. This is the moment for creators, catalyzers, investors and those of courage and good heart to leverage this shift and build the transformative solutions that will change the course of humanity.
And if history is any indication, the best is yet to come.