In 2010 the Economic Times of India published my predictions for the next (now the last) ten years. I reviewed them in my last column. In this post I look ahead to the next 10 years.
The Four Forces
There will be four critical unstoppable forces that will carve and sculpt the future.
1. Multi-Polar Globalization. Globalization is unstoppable. (Many of the big challenges are global -- climate change, COVID-19, China, congestion of the supply chain.) The handwringing of some publications positing the decline of globalization is probably misguided. There is no doubt there are challenges to globalization and its flavor is changing, from one that was dominated by the United States and Western Europe to one that will have many centers of influence including China and India and where strategic imperatives to ensure a steady supply of silicon chips and rare earths will impact the contours and landscape of how nations and companies navigate in the future.
2. Three Challenging Demographic Shifts. Three big demographic shifts -- declining populations, aging populations and significant differences in ethnic make-up and mindsets between young and old --will challenge politicians and leaders of businesses. Most countries except for the continent of Africa have begun to go into population decline. And most Western countries and now China due to its one child policy are grappling with more and more seniors supported by fewer workers challenging everything from healthcare to financial support. In the U.S. 10,000 people turn 65 every day and despite the fixation of marketers on the young the money is with those over 50. In the U.S. next year, the country will turn multi-ethnic majority under 18 years old while those over 50 are dominantly Caucasian. It is not just the ethnic make-up but perspectives on social and economic issues that are radically different than in past decades. And this generational gap is widespread across the world.
3. The Third Connected Age. In 1993 we entered The First Connected Agewith the advent of the World Wide Web where we all connected to discover (search) and transact (e-commerce). In 2007 we expanded into The Second Connected Age,where we were connected all the time (mobile) and connected to everybody (social). This decade will be The Third Connected Age,where data will connect to data (AI), we will connect in new ways (voice, augmented reality, virtual reality), we will have much faster connections (5G) and far more powerful computing (next generation cloud).
4. COVID-19 Shock. The fault lines of COVID-19 will have long lasting impact on the terrain of the future. When every single person in the entire world goes through a financial, health and social crisis that has already lasted for nearly two years and exposed new forms of fragility and resilience in everything from personal relationships to business operations to social structures many of its reverberations will cascade into the future.
Each of these forces individually are deep, wide and strong -- but together they will shape shift the next decade so that not only are we going to see change but a quantum rate of change!
1. New Models of Governance Emerge. Most institutions at the national and international levels were designed over five decades ago post World War 2. The future will not fit in the organizations and governance of the past where we need to grapple with AI Ethics, Climate Change, Gene Technology, Data Privacy, an African-Asian future, Space Junk/Wars and much more. We needed new rules for an Industrial Age since the rules of the Agricultural Age were no longer relevant. Similarly, the legal and institutional frameworks of the past cannot get us into the future.
2. A Workplace Revolution. Even before COVID-19 the forces of technology, globalization and demographic shifts were challenging the ways companies were designed and run from the nature of work to the where and when work was done. The challenges that most managers face in getting people to return to the office is a symptom of a much deeper challenge, which is their firms may not be designed for the reality of the future. In a world of cloud-based computing, where companies are looking for agility, flexible costs and diverse talent and where most networking and relationship building and brainstorming takes place at off-sites, events and bars/restaurants, which knowledge worker company starting in 2022 would ask people to return to offices x days a week? Human interaction is often important but who said it must happen in the office? The office is going to be a museum where the artifacts of the company’s history, some senior curators and some training programs occur as part of a distributed unbundled workplace with most value and time being created in third places, at events and in home offices.
3. Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists.Nearly twenty years ago in 2003 two University of Chicago Business School professors (the bastion of free markets) wrote a prescient book with the title Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists in which they noted:
a) The free market is the form of economic organization most beneficial to human society and for improving the human condition.
b) Free markets can flourish over the long run only when government plays a visible role in determining the rules that govern the market and supporting it with the proper infrastructure.
c) Government, however, is subject to influence by organized private interests.
d) Incumbent private interests, therefore, may be able to leverage the power of governmental regulation to protect their own economic position at the expense of the public interest by repressing the same free market through which they originally achieved success.
e) Thus, society must act to "save capitalism from the capitalists" -- i.e., take appropriate steps to protect the free market from powerful private interests who would seek to impede the efficient function of free markets, entrench themselves and thereby reduce the overall level of economic opportunity in society.
Today everyone from the biggest investor in the world which is the Black Rock Group to CEOs speak of purpose and multi-stakeholder capitalism. They do so because they realize that there is a growing backlash against the lobbying efforts of leading firms, the inability of society to reign in or understand the power of technology firms leading to a significant move towards socialism among youth who question the current system.
Whether it be China’s dramatic moves against their billionaire class, a newly empowered and expert driven FTC and FCC in the Unites States or the fury of the disenfranchised indicates that a great re-setting will occur as we move into the future.
4. Gene Therapy/Bio-Tech Miracles. Today while we still grapple with COVID-19 life is much better for billions because of break-through in vaccine development. (Almost 3 billion people have been vaccinated.) The combination of the technologies of the Third Connected Age along with advances in gene therapy and biotechnology is likely to lead to the greatest advances in health care which may not only be effective but increasingly efficient and therefore available to everyone in the world. There is a good likelihood that many types of cancers may become like AIDS which is not curable but controllable. These technologies might leap from the field of health care to also help in everything from food production to fighting climate change.
5. A New Financial/Trading Eco-System. Today Square, PayPal and Coinbase are but three of a myriad number of massively valuable and fast-growing companies putting pressure on the large banks, credit card companies and marketplaces. We are in the early innings of a de-centralized, democratized and destructive creation phase that is completely aligned with the four forces of multi-polar globalization, three demographic shifts, the Third Connected Age and a "questioning of everything mindset" post-COVID-19. Combine this with new marketplaces from Shopify to Etsy to StockX and access ramps to monetize creativity from TikTok to Substack and fewer and fewer people are looking to the leaders of Wall Street or the city for permission or access or direction on the future of finance.
6. A Renaissance in Education. Learning has never been as important due to the massive increase in knowledge, the need for re-training in a world buffeted by change and the increased returns to talent when combined with technology. COVID-19 revealed both the positives and negatives of the current educational infrastructure, often illustrating that education has become a luxury brand versus an empowering and enabling platform which in many ways now adds to rather than eradicates inequality and where more is spent on administration and buildings and other cocktail party and “badging” puffery than on teaching. From online companies like Coursera, to Khan Academy, to companies like Google providing credentials and training to a Chinese crack down on expensive private tuition at companies like TAL and New Oriental Education there is a call for a renaissance in education --especially continuing education and constant training where careers last 50 years and companies last 15!
Companies and countries will win on the software called the brains of their citizens. It will be key to ensure they are upgraded all the time!
7. The Automobile Industry Will be at the Vanguard of the Future and Is an Industry to Watch. Along with healthcare, finance and education, the auto industry looms large in most countries of the world and is one that we will see the future becoming tangible first. Already Uber and Tesla have re-invented mobility. China has become the world’s largest auto market, from impacting the future of how a Mercedes is designed to building cities optimized for self-driving cars. Every major auto-company is sprinting into the future by re-tooling, re-thinking and re-imagining for an electric, semi-self-driving future as they become software companies and innovators in energy, safety and on-the-go entertainment and education. Terry Kawaja shared an incredible insight that the place the first true meta-verse will happen will be inside automobiles where we already have screens, voice, augmented reality, navigation and next generation entertainment systems. We do not have to put on a helmet or be isolated to live in a true blend of the real, augmented and virtual worlds.
8. Trust, particularly in the areas of data, identity and privacy will become a key currency for the future of everything including brands. Many of the big companies we rely on today for our communications and entertainment from Facebook to Google to Amazon to many others were built as Advertising Operating Systems (AOS) focused on consumers. However, because of their utility they become Society Operating Systems (SOS) -- but the companies were not set up to think about citizens. Now, as we enter the Third Connected Age in a world of AI, voice, AR and VR, these and other platforms could become Life Operating Systems (LOS) and we will wonder who we can trust. A company? The government? A neutral third party? Or maybe nobody but ourselves. Many companies and leaders including Tim Berners Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web who has set Inrupt, will use PODS (personal online data stores) so we can control and monetize our own data. This is one of many companies and approaches using a wide range of technologies including the block chain to ensure that in our future lives we are not animals in a zoo of some walled garden where we are fed a medley of sugary or enraging distractions while our time and wealth are harvested and milked like cow udders.
9. Creativity will be the key differentiator and all of us can and will be creators. Today in the U.S., 50 million individuals call themselves creators and many of us want to make, to build, to express. We want to create and distribute and often monetize our work. Before Squid Games took over Netflix their most popular shows were by TikTok stars who earned these breaks on the strength of their talent and followings. We are living a world where Kylie Jenner has more Instagram interactions than the total combined viewership for the Super Bowl, the Oscars and the Emmys. Today we have a creative and distribution studio on our phones and a worldwide canvas to paint on amidst a plethora of platforms and niche sites. Each one of us are creators since, as Joan Didion reminds us, we tell ourselves stories in order to live. Some of us may create through code, others building companies, others creating art and stories, designing shoes, podcasting or building and creating our imagined lives. In the end the technology is the plumbing and the creativity the poetry of our lives and more people in more places will be more enabled to be themselves and grow than ever before!
10. Enlightenment and connection will have greater market share than enragement and polarization. This may be as much hope as prediction but while there are significant challenges and issues, let us not forget that despite what the television screens and our doom scrolling may want us to believe, globally a greater number of people are more healthy and better off today than ever before. With new advances in every form of science, with lower cost technologies and tools that allow more and more people to get connected and learn and grow and question, leaders all over are increasingly aware that the drums of change are beating in the blood stream of society and they will need to adapt or be overcome by a new wave of talent, imagination and ideas.
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