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New Leadership Style Shapes
how Americans
Think About the Future

New insights into the Great Resignation, 

Urban Collapse and our 

Cultural Divide



Future Think:

Is the
American Dream





Do they matter?

A New Model Of  

Connected Leadership

How does it shape future outlook and 
current actions? 

Ruder Finn’s FutureThink Index is a new tracking study that aims to measure how Americans think about the future and how business leaders play a deciding role in shaping their “FutureThink.”


Conducted in partnership with Research and Data Analysis firm Full Spectrum Insights, Ruder Finn’s FutureThink Index asked 2,000 Americans a series of questions about current and future outlook based on three areas with significant impact on future lives: Career, Healthcare and Technology.

The study explores the specific connection each respondent has with their employer, healthcare and technology providers, and how a new leadership model based on transparency, dialogue, and knowledge-sharing impacts the respondent’s future outlook and current behaviors.


The inaugural Ruder Finn FutureThink Index study was conducted on Pollfish over an 8-week period ending August 31 and will be tracked quarterly.


Despite reports of doom and gloom, Americans overall tilt positive about their current experience.

Even with the myriad of challenges we’ve all faced in the past 12 months, from an acrimonious election to the rise of the COVID delta variant, nearly half of people living in the United States say they think positively about their experience over the past year. 

Only 15% of respondents in the study said they had a bad or terrible year.

More than a third of people living in the United States (37%) say they had a balance of positive and negative experiences in the last 12 months.



The American Dream is far from dead: Americans are even more positive about the future.

When queried specifically about the future impact of three game changing forces that will impact their future lives – Career, Healthcare and Technology – Americans think increasingly positive about their futures.

Over half of Americans – 58% – think their lives will be better in the future (both near and long term) than they are today, with nearly a third – 32% – thinking their lives will be much better than today. Only 19% fear their lives will be worse.

American’s FutureThink shows a significant overall increase in forward-looking positivity, with 48% of Americans with positive Current Think compared to 58% of Americans with positive FutureThink.


Future outlook increases in positivity across all regions and demographics.

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This rise in FutureThink positivity is reflected across every region. The one notable exception is the state of Michigan, where positivity declines from a Current Think of 63% to a FutureThink of 53%. This might be due to ongoing concerns about tech automation and the automobile industry and their impact on people’s careers.

The rise in positive FutureThink over current experience is also reflected across every demographic. The one notable exception is with Gen Z, where 53% of Gen Z has positive FutureThink, statistically equivalent to 55% with positive Current Think. While still positive, increasing future uncertainty among Gen Z presents a significant challenge and opportunity to employers in particular.

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Is a new TDK style of connected leadership making a difference?



So given the challenges facing America,
what is driving this
positive FutureThink?

We know there is a new model of business leadership built on transparency, dialogue and knowledge-sharing that aims to build greater connection and community with constituents. We wanted to understand if and how this new leadership style is having real and meaningful impact. In order to do that, we asked respondents a range of questions to measure their connection to employers, healthcare and technology providers in terms of transparency (T), dialogue (D), and knowledge (K). The results from these questions were aggregated into 10-point TDK scores as follows:

5 to 7 = Medium TDK (open to higher connection)

0 to 4 = Low TDK (little to no connection)    

8 to 10 = High TDK (strong connection)


Working Americans have the strongest TDK with their employers, signaling businesses have been largely successful in connecting with employees.


Americans have stronger TDK with healthcare providers than with technology providers, likely due to the strong performance of Healthcare Leaders during Covid.


While still strong, Americans have weakest TDK with technology, underscoring concerns about the impact technology is having on society.

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New Leadership
Style Shapes Positive FutureThink


Overall TDK scores show that business, healthcare and technology leaders and business have had considerable success in building a culture of positivity with their constituents through transparency, dialogue and knowledge-sharing.


36% of Americans (including non-working Americans) view their overall TDK connection as high and only 3% view their overall TDK connection as low. 61% of Americans in the middle are open to higher TDK connection in the future.

Furthermore, results strongly connect high TDK scores to positive outlook. In short, FutureThink increases as TDK increases: 80% of Americans who view their TDK connection as high also have a positive outlook or FutureThink. 



New Leadership Style Empowers Positive Current Behavior

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Americans with high TDK scores are nearly 60% more likely to take positive action over those with medium TDK to improve their futures.


Since people with medium TDK represent 61% of Americans, there is significant opportunity for leaders to build a broader culture of positive action by improving TDK.


One important caveat where businesses are concerned: people with higher TDK connection to employers are also more likely to act to advance their careers. Employers need to create opportunity for high performers by moving them around within your organizations, otherwise you will lose them.

How people with high TDK act over people with only medium TDK

89%    more likely to earn a promotion


116%  more likely to take a development course

54%    more likely to start a business or side hustle

64%    more likely to update their resume

92%    more likely to find a new job


20%    more likely to get a covid vaccine

16%    more likely to get a regular doctor checkup

22%    more likely to change eating and diet habits

55%    more likely to use a wearable health device

45%    more likely to start a new Rx

82%    more likely to change health insurance


31%    more likely to buy smartphone, tablet, laptop

92%    more likely to buy smart home device

73%    more likely to buy/sell cryptocurrency

100%  more likely to use a dating app

96%    more likely to drive electric car

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Closing the Gaps:
How TDK leaders can shape a broader culture of positivity


Closing Demographic Gaps in Future Thinking

The good news is that the American Dream is alive and well; a new leadership model has built better connection with Americans, helping to shape a positive FutureThink across all demographics. But there are still gaps and businesses and leaders can play a significant role in closing those gaps to increase future positivity and current positive behaviors.

Six Priorities forConnected Leaders
and Businesses to Further Shape the
American Psyche


Deepen connection

with women:

Increase dialogue and transparency


Help fuel the Great Urban Renewal:

Keep cities as engines of positivity and connection


Connect with the

needs of families:

Understand their concerns, be flexible, have empathy


Don’t get caught in the political crossfire:

Independents are the ones seeking connection


Understand what’s

driving the Great Resignation:

Turn challenge into opportunity with the next generation


Strengthen connections with underserved populations:

It’s less about money than it is about knowledge



On average, women have a far more nuanced outlook than men.

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48% of women say the future looks better while 34% are uncertain, compared to 64% of men saying the future looks better while only 17% uncertain. Part of this is likely due to additional pressures put on women as caregivers, especially during Covid.


But it’s not just about knowledge-sharing. Regression analysis shows increasing dialogue and transparency can have up to 2X the connection impact with women over men.

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We have to do better by our
families: worklife balance, covid shots for kids, concerns about impact of tech on our children.

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Being a parent creates uncertainty about the future. 47% of parents say the future looks better while 35% are uncertain, compared to 63% of people without children saying the future looks better while only 18% are uncertain.


Increasing connection with parents will be critical. While only 3.6% of parents feel unconnected, 83% are neutral and on the. Understanding their concerns, being flexible, having empathy can be the basis of increased dialogue and connection.

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Was Gen Z really as hard hit during Covid as people say?

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Actually, 55% of Gen Z say they viewed the last 12 months as positive, the highest positivity among any generation. But Gen Z also exhibits less positivity about the future than their Millennial and Gen X counterparts, particularly related to career where 56% of Gen Z say the future looks better compared to 63% of Millennials and 62% of Gen X.


Gen Z’s lower FutureThink correlates with lower connection scores, trailing Millennials by more than 2X, and GenX by more than 3x. In other words, it’s Gen Z (and Millennial) independence that is driving the Great Resignation.


Gen Z and Millennials overwhelming prioritize knowledge over transparency and dialogue (link). But increasiang knowledge also encourages seeking new opportunity (link).

Warning: Create opportunity for your high performers by moving them around within your organizations, otherwise they will find opportunity elsewhere.

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Why is the great urban renewal so critical to our Future Think

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Cities are the engines that drive optimism and connection. People from urban communities have more positive outlooks than rural and suburban communities, with 66% of people living in cities thinking the future looks better compared to only 49% of people living in rural and suburban communities thinking the future looks better.


Building back our cities will be critical for building connection with our most positive future-thinking people. But virtual connection creates opportunities to grow connection and positive thinking across all of America.

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Do we have more in
common than we think?

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When it comes to politics, it’s become all too easy to get caught in the crossfire. But it’s the Independents, the people in the middle, who are lacking connection and have more uncertainty about the future.


Independents suffered the most in the current year, with only 37% thinking it was positive compared to 55% of Republicans who thought the last 12 months was positive despite losing an election.


Looking forward, both self-identified Republicans (66%) and self-identified Democrats (63%) have a positive future outlook, compared to only 50% of Independents.


But independents are open to connection, with nearly 3 out of 4 having neutral connection scores.

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Money may not buy happiness,
but it does help.

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More than twice as many Americans who identify as wealthy think positive about the past 12 months (69%) compared to those who identify as low income (31%). 


FutureThink increases for both groups as well, with self-identified wealthy Americans having the more positive outlook: 72% of wealthy Americans think the future looks better than today, while 41% of low-income Americans think the future looks better. Only 1 in 4 self-identified low-income Americans think the future looks worse than today.


A significant gap in the connection scores of wealthy vs low-income and middle-class Americans suggests that leaders and businesses still have work to build more positive connection with lower income populations.

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Could the future
be color blind?

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Differences in Current and Future Think are less divided than in other demographics, with a nearly statistically equivalent 49% of White Americans, 43% of Black Americans and 42% of Hispanic and Latino Americans saying the current year was good, and all groups saying they think the future looks better.


Still, we see a noticeable gap in connection scores with underserved populations, and it remains critical for businesses and leaders to increase connection with these groups to help maintain and build positive FutureThink.

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TDK Methodology

How we measured Transparency, Dialogue, Knowledge (TDK)​ ​


To understand how Americans perceive their connection to employer/career, healthcare and technology providers, we measured the following three relationship dimensions:​

1. Transparency

Do they feel that communication channels are open?​


2. Dialogue

Is their voice heard when decisions are made that affect their lives?​


3. Knowledge

Are they given the information they need to make informed decisions?​


For each element of TDK, respondents were asked how much they agreed or disagreed to three statements using Likert scales for a total of nine measurements for each institution of employer/career, healthcare, and technology. ​


To establish a high degree of relevance in their responses, respondents first selected which type of healthcare and technology company they felt had the biggest impact on their lives. The question text was adjusted for relevance based on these selections.


Each respondent’s answers are incorporated into a composite score from 1-10 for Transparency, Dialogue, and Knowledge, as well as an overall score across all TDK. ​


1. [My Employer / RELEVANT COMPANY TYPE] clearly shares important information related to [E&C: “my career”, HC: “the quality of healthcare that I receive”, Tech: “the impact of technology in my life”] with me.​


2. I receive the information that I need from [My Employer / RELEVANT COMPANY TYPE] in order to make the right decision about [E&C: “my career”, HC: “the quality of healthcare that I receive”, Tech: “the impact of technology in my life”].


3. [My Employer / RELEVANT COMPANY TYPE] is open about the way they operate and make decisions that affect [E&C: “my career”, HC: “the quality of healthcare that I receive”, Tech: “the impact of technology in my life”].​ ​



1. [RELEVANT COMPANY TYPE] is interested in my input when they make decisions that [E&C: “my career”, HC: “the quality of healthcare that I receive”, Tech: “the impact of technology in my life”].​


2. [RELEVANT COMPANY TYPE] is interested in my feedback about [E&C: “my career”, HC: “the quality of healthcare that I receive”, Tech: “the impact of technology in my life”].​


3. My voice is heard when [RELEVANT COMPANY TYPE] makes important decisions about [E&C: “my career”, HC: “the quality of healthcare that I receive”, Tech: “the impact of technology in my life”].



1. I know where to find relevant information about [E&C: “my career/employment”, HC: “the quality of healthcare that I receive”, Tech: “the impact of technology in my life”] in order to make the best decision for myself.​


2. I am able to make informed decisions about [E&C: “my career/employment”, HC: “the quality of healthcare that I receive”, Tech: “the impact of technology in my life”].


3. I am confident that the decisions I make about [E&C: “my career/employment”, HC: “the quality of healthcare that I receive”, Tech: “the impact of technology in my life”] are the right ones.​

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