Meet the Experts : Joanna Lowry

category - strategy
type - meet the experts
Meet The Experts
In this month’s edition of Meet the Experts, Joanna Lowry, Strategic Futures Director, explains how LS:N Global trends and foresight are formed as well as the trends she's most excited for in the coming year. 

: How would you describe your role and area of expertise at The Future Laboratory? 
As Strategic Futures Director at The Future Laboratory, I partner with business leaders to mitigate the risk in decision-making in today’s uncertain and complex market conditions. I use strategic foresight and futures thinking to help clients solve problems, navigate change, build resilience and innovate for tomorrow.

: As a strategist, what does your typical week look like?  
I lead, drive and shepherd a mix of strategic and foresight projects, from kick-off to delivery. Every brief is different, but on any given day this might involve decoding cultural trends, unpacking consumer shifts and identifying growth opportunities. 

As well as project work, I work closely with our business and client development teams on new business and pitches. I also work across various internal thought-leadership projects — like our recent Global Drivers white paper – as well as developing and bolstering our suite of research methodologies and proprietary frameworks.  

: How do you go about turning The Future Laboratory trends into practical and strategic implications?  
In developing bespoke solutions for clients, I draw on a wide range of qualitative and quantitative research methods, from expert interviews and ethnography to data analysis and semiotics. 

Equipping clients with recommendations that are actionable is a key priority for us at The Future Laboratory. This means asking the right questions at the start to make sure we properly understand the challenge at hand. It’s then a process of identifying insights that help the client think differently about the current state of their business, before exploring the consumer, category and cultural context of tomorrow. 

:  Why do you believe that trends and foresight are so important for businesses in 2023? 
There are various acronyms used to describe our epoch – from VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) to BANI (Brittle, Anxious, Non-linear, Incomprehensible). In summary, the only certainty is uncertainty, and it’s crucial for businesses to consider and prepare for what is coming around the corner — whatever that might be.  

John Kenneth Galbraith said that there are two kinds of forecasters: those who don’t know and those who don’t know they don’t know. I’m in the former camp. At The Future Laboratory we don’t predict the future; instead, we identify and chart a course to a future destination. Rather than fearing the unknown or being paralysed by change and disruption, trends and foresight can act as navigational tools to give business leaders the confidence to act now and ready themselves for a multitude of possible, plausible, probable and preferable eventualities.  

Published by:

28 September 2023

Author: Joanna Lowry

Image: The Future Laboratory


Left: Joanna Lowry, Strategic Futures Director , The Future Laboratory. Right: AI imagery by The Future Laboratory.

: Tell us about one of your most recent and most exciting projects at The Future Laboratory 
Recently I’ve had the pleasure of working with the CEO and senior leadership team of Belstaff on their five-year growth strategy. They’re a brand with an incredible 100-year history, and they’re at a really interesting inflection point in their brand journey. Setting a long-term north star for the business and helping them align on a vision, mission and key strategic priorities was a rewarding process. I feel fortunate to have played a part in shaping such an iconic brand’s next 100 years. 

: What led you to working in strategic foresight?  
I’ve had a non-linear career trajectory spanning fashion journalism and magazines, creative studios and design agencies, as well as consumer insights and trend forecasting. In every role, though, I’ve had to have my finger on the pulse of culture, be plugged into the now, new and next, and keep a close eye on the behaviours and habits of early adopters, so there is something of a red thread through it all. It was when I was developing brand strategies as an agency strategist that I realised I was most interested in macro-questions — the big picture stuff about sociocultural shifts shaping the future of a client’s sector — rather than the minutiae of a typeface or social media campaign. I enjoyed thinking about the global drivers of change and how to future-proof a brand, and that’s ultimately what led me down a strategic foresight path. 

: What was your plan B career?  
I studied journalism and law at university and am qualified (although I have never practised) as a lawyer, so that is something I may explore at some point. I’m also a true crime tragic — I have a somewhat macabre obsession with murder, serial killers and cult leaders, and have been known to binge-watch an entire true crime series in one sitting. True crime in some ways exists at the intersection of journalism and law, so perhaps in another life I would have been a true crime podcast host. 
: Your favourite way to unwind?  
For someone who spends their working life thinking about the future, it may be surprising that I spend much of my free time obsessing about the past. I love the thrill of the hunt and have amassed quite the collection of vintage clothing, out-of-print books, antiques and ephemera (read: junk) over the years. I’m a hawk on eBay and will never say no to a rummage at an auction house or flea market.  

Another favourite pastime is getting out and looking at something – be it the ballet or an exhibition, one of the great joys of living in London is that there is always something new and interesting to see. I love going to the movies, too. The cinema at the British Film Institute is a favourite. They show a lot of old films – including, sometimes, silent films accompanied by a live pianist, which I find very soothing. 
: Your go-to working snack and after-work tipple?  
A sour plum rice ball or toast with a generous slathering of butter. On the drinks front, a dirty Martini – the brinier the better!  

: What trend are you most excited about for the year ahead?  
Perhaps because of my own interest in history, one trend I’m tracking with keen interest is Gen Z’s relationship with nostalgia. With so much stress in the present, youth are looking to the past, romanticising a simpler, more grounded way of life, and self-soothing with bygone relics of music, tv, technology and fashion (think: flip phones making a comeback and the rise of ‘indie sleaze’).  

One of my favourite cultural theorists, Mark Fisher, wrote extensively about ‘hauntology’ and the notion that the future is being cancelled because cultural time is folding back on ourselves, which makes for fascinating, albeit depressing, reading. But I’m also interested in nostalgia being a force for positive change. Could Gen Z’s yearning for more traditional, analogue lifestyles usher in a new, softer form of capitalism? Could the interest in archival pieces and the growth of the luxury resale sector offer a solution to the fashion industry’s seismic sustainability problem? 

‘I’ve had to have my finger on the pulse of culture, be plugged into the now, new and next, and keep a close eye on the behaviours and habits of early adopters, so there is something of a red thread through it all.’
Joanna Lowry, Strategic Futures Director, The Future Laboratory

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