Organized retail crime syndicates are already contemplating what comes next. Shouldn’t retailers be doing the same?

NRF PROTECT: Futurist Nikolas Badminton on changing our mindset to change the world
Fiona Soltes
NRF Contributor

Nikolas Badminton, chief futurist for, sees his role as igniting “new thinking.” He did that at NRF PROTECT by asking the crowd some big questions:

What if the next decade or two brings a shift to stealing water, food, energy and medicine?

What if there’s a rise in vigilantism and non-organized retail crime activity, led by “normal folks” who are at or below the poverty line, or just don’t want to pay the rising prices?

“And what if our best course of action at that point is unclear?” he said. “Because our morals, and wanting to be good people in society, are really, really challenged at that point. Who’s going to put a mother in jail for taking baby formula? These are big dilemmas that are going to come up. Big dilemmas that I think we already face.”

Hope for a better world

As a futurist, Badminton tries to cut through the hype and the dialed-up messages from media and the press about change, potential impact and preparation.

“Really, what I do is I try and build hope as a renewable energy source,” he said. “To be able to hope for a better world, and a safer world.” He considers himself a “hope engineer,” helping instill a mindset of imagination, anticipation and empathy.

Imagination is a potent skill, he said, one that we forget how to ignite. But we must push against the boundaries of what’s normal, as that’s what those against us are already doing.

There’s also a need for creating anticipation and the capability to expect unknown opportunities, threats and risks. And third, he said, we must deepen our empathy, not only for “the customers and the teams that we serve, but also an empathy for the people that we’re trying to fight — organized retail crime and beyond. How are they thinking? What are they doing? Why are they doing it?”

Signals of change

Changing a mindset involves several building blocks, beginning with scanning for signals of change. This might be, for example, technology, academic research or a cultural/societal shift. It could also be something like the COVID-19 pandemic. We can move forward to understand trends, and then future scenarios, Badminton said.

“Once we understand the dynamics of the world, and how it could be, we can start to take some of those artifacts and bring them back to today’s strategy and be prepared.”

Nikolas Badminton, Chief Futurist,

“Once we understand the dynamics of the world, and how it could be, we can start to take some of those artifacts and bring them back to today’s strategy and be prepared,” he said. There are companies that really work on vigilance, he said, and vigilance for futures work brings advantages such as profitability, growth and significant market capitalization.

Even in daily life, he said, building the muscles of watching for signals and asking “what if” can become a strategic tool.

Global megatrends

Badminton shared global megatrends that could cause shifts in the industry. These include, for example, the speculation that China will become the leading economic power, with the U.S. second, India third, Indonesia fourth and Germany fifth. This gives rise to global shifts in imports, exports and trade. Digital currency will also be interesting to watch.

He’s also keeping an eye on population growth in Africa, as well as migration of U.S. residents to “megaregions.” As an aging population, the people who work in stores are getting older, as are who they sell to (and what they sell). Changing weather patterns affect societal needs; there are also concerns about water, energy and food. Will they be targets for future thieves?

Badminton touched on ChatGPT, artificial intelligence and the gathering and growth of data. He noted that modern technology brings both exponential opportunities and exponential exposure.

People tend to overestimate the impact of technology in the short-term and underestimate it in the long-term, he said. Regardless, technology will continue to change our world. Scenarios being imagined can help us understand dynamics; stories can help us feel it. Books and movies provide great examples — and help us begin bringing it about.

Question everything

Futures work, he reminded the crowd, starts in the present day by questioning everything — and there’s zero risk in doing so. It’s important to question individual history and perspectives; to look for pockets of the future in the present; and to be wildly creative and collaborative.

“We can go far on our own,” he said. “We can come up with greater ideas together.” He encouraged the crowd to visit for tools, podcasts, challenges and more.

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