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Rebecca Ryan talks future trends: graying, browning and the “like” button

January 20, 2011

During her “Tomorrow’s Trends” session at the 10th annual Winning Is Everything conference today in Las Vegas, Rebecca Ryan challenged CPA firms’ casual commitment to looking ahead.

“We say that we think about the future,” Ryan said, “but sometimes, when you look at how flat-footed we can become in our markets, maybe we’re not.”

One key difference between managing and leading, Ryan continued, is this focus on the horizon. Leaders will move toward it, and one way to do this is analyzing the recent U.S. Census data, released last December.

Ryan did just that, explaining the trends that emerged. Along with global urbanization, Ryan pointed to the “graying” and “browning” of America, best represented by the 2008 presidential campaigns—and supporters—of Sen. John McCain and President Barack Obama.

This shift in the majority demographic is leading to an older, more diverse employee pool. At the same time, the average age of the entrepreneur in the United States is 38, and 60 percent of the firms founded in Silicon Valley were started by nonwhite people.

Looking beyond static demographic data, Facebook and other social media have led to more specific social graphs, Ryan said.

“The ‘like’ button is a big, darn deal,” Ryan said, explaining Google’s aversion to it because it provides specific social network information and recommendations instead of an anonymous aggregation.

Ryan also told the story of Ory Okollah, a woman in Kenya, who, with $12, an account with blogging platform Tumblr, and “a little sweat equity,” put enough pressure on the government to open its parliamentary elections that this was accomplished within two years.

This effective use of social media can “lead to powerful movements,” Ryan said, along with the merging of generational viewpoints.

When Ryan showed a slide of cow dung at a previous conference, she asked the audience what they saw.

One Midwestern woman answered a cow pie, one man responded fertilizer, and a young attendee said electricity.

“It’s all a matter of perspective,” said Ryan.

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