Tomorrow's CEO on spotting trends in surprising places, why one continent in particular leads the way in innovation and intriguing revelations from recent travels.

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Following his discussion with Henry Mason, TrendWatching's MD, for the Between Worlds podcast, we managed to pin down Mike Walsh - the CEO of Tomorrow and self-confessed global nomad. We got his views on spotting trends, where in the world is leading the way in innovation and what's taken him by surprise on his continued circumnavigation of the globe. 

Mike Walsh, of Between Worlds, in discussion with TrendWatching

What are some personal tips you can share with us when it comes to spotting trends?

Airports are the best places to spot trends and understand shifts in consumer behavior. We are often in such a rush to get from one gate to another, or to clear customs and collect our luggage we forget to notice the incredible human drama taking place right in front of eyes: re­united migrant families, newly-­middle-­class travelers from frontier markets, borderless entrepreneurs, or hyperconnected millennials. The architecture of airports may reflect national ambitions, but at street level, you see the true state of global interdependence that defines the weird and wonderful world that we live in.

Where in the world do you feel leads the way in innovation?

I have long been fascinated by Asia, partly because of my background. My mother is Chinese from Malaysia, and my father is Irish -­ although I grew up in Australia, somewhere between those two extremes. Early in my career, I was fortunate to spend a lot of time in China, Japan and Korea and saw first hand just how dynamic and unpredictable young consumers in those markets are. Long before the iPhone, a smartphone centric society emerged in Asia. Apple, Facebook and Google might have originated in Silicon Valley, but how digital culture evolves in the next century is more likely to be shaped by what teenagers in Shanghai, Shibuya and Seoul are doing on their personal devices.

From your recent travels, what innovations have taken you by surprise?

The ecosystem that is emerging around chat platforms like Weixin (WeChat) is worth watching closely [see ALL ON MESSAGING in our recent Global Trend Briefing - editor]. Nearly a billion people use Weixin, and more importantly, they are using it to not only chat but to buy movie tickets, wealth management products, travel insurance and even Burberry trench coats. The rise of conversational interfaces in Asia has led to Facebook re­evaluating their own Messenger platform as an e­commerce gateway, but it also points the way to a world where AI bots and avatars become the primary access point for brands and services. A lot of time and money is now being spent on that idea in the West, but I suspect that it will be in the East that we will see it first achieving mass adoption.

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Mike Walsh is the CEO of Tomorrow, a global consultancy on designing companies for the 21st century. He advises leaders on how to thrive in the current era of disruptive technological change. Mike’s bestselling books include Futuretainment, published by Phaidon and The Dictionary of Dangerous Ideas. He hosts the weekly podcast, Between Worlds, and travels worldwide over 300 days a year researching trends and giving keynote speeches on the future of business and innovation. You can follow him on Twitter at @mikewalsh

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