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Ready For The Future? Ask Your Body

James L. McQuivey
James L. McQuivey
Vice President, Principal Analyst
July 27, 2018

Are you future-ready? Your body contains the secrets to your behavior, including future readiness. Though obvious, most of us fail to recognize this day to day. We think that our brains — our minds — make decisions about how we should feel and what we should do. But the decision of what to wear to work today, whether to post pictures on Facebook, or how to feel about the future of AI — all of that starts in our bodies.

Two fabulous stories in the news this week help illustrate this. First, did you know that cats might be responsible for entrepreneurship? At least, people infected with a cat-borne parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, have higher risk-taking profiles than those who do not. This corresponds to an interest in majoring in business in school and starting their own businesses as adults. The cats don’t cause entrepreneurship, and neither does T. gondii, but the fundamental change that occurs in the body after infection does. Openness to risk resides in the body, which then shapes the mind.

Second story: Genetic researchers from 40 institutions analyzed the DNA of more than a million people and identified more than 1,000 genetic sequences that influence how much education someone will obtain. The effect size is small — less than 11% of total education obtainment — but it shows how complicated the relationship between body and behavior is. And it invites a more sophisticated analysis of ways that those 1,000 genes might influence the range of education outcomes that matter beyond just years of education. But for my point, it’s enough to say that the body contains the seeds of even our most socially complex behaviors.

Where am I going with this? This post contains a thinly veiled preview of one of the most important reports I’ve ever written. The report won’t be out for another month, but I have just finished the primary analysis of our survey data, and the results are earth-shattering — certainly so for me personally, because I’ve spent my career studying all the variables that predict technology adoption and ultimate future readiness. I have assembled thousands of pieces of the technology adoption puzzle to have the clearest possible picture of why and how people embrace new technologies.

But I didn’t realize I was missing a crucial piece of that puzzle until now. That crucial piece of future readiness is health. Reducing all of the statistics to a single image, the flow goes like this:

Of course, like all things that happen inside of humans, it’s not a causal chain, in that each individual who is healthy won’t automatically be the first adopter of something new. Conversely, there are ways for people who are less healthy to also feel drawn to adoption — through social networks, desire for status . . . all of the things that I and others have studied for years. But the boost beneath all of those other behaviors is health. Holding all else constant, the healthier person will be more likely to be open to the new beneficial thing than the less healthy person. And that openness dials up future readiness very severely.

Note that while this chain does influence openness to novelty of any sort, it doesn’t predict obsession with novelty for its own sake. Physical health won’t predict whether someone is a fashionista (that’s driven by social and personality needs, which are influenced by health but not always in one direction) nor will it predict timing of adoption, because in the end, you have to have money to buy a Tesla, and health doesn’t predict wealth as effectively as it does overall adoption and future readiness.

But the point stands: The healthier you are, the more likely you are to be ready for the future — from AI to gene editing. Looking ahead to the innovations coming, this means that healthier people are more likely to benefit from everything coming down the innovation pike than those who are less healthy. The product implications of this are huge, but so are the social ones, because many of the innovations about to occur will involve health and wellness. This will make health the new digital divide: Those who have it will use technology to have more of it; those who don’t won’t.

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James McQuivey, Ph.D. is a VP and principal analyst at Forrester who is obsessed with why and how people try to embrace new things. He is the author of Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation.

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