Sometimes, you recognize truth because it destroys you for a bit — Akwaeke Emezi, Freshwater
Creativity carries in itself the seeds of destruction. Newer technologies are eating older ones and a newer world order is silently replacing the older one. The middle class is in the midst of so much turmoil that it can barely keep its head above water. The worlds of technology, politics and business are being reshaped by economic forces just like the mountains get reshaped by the winds.
The world is changing so rapidly that by the time you read this sentence, the world markets would have processed hundreds of political developments. How, then, do we make sense of the world? Mega trends are your friends. They help you understand the overarching story so that you can then understand the finer details better.
In this article, I attempt to peer into the future and to summarize three mega trends in key spheres of our lives. Life, proverbially, is never going to be the same again. All we can do is try to be prepared for the future.
Mega Trend No.1: Almost all problems in global society are economic in nature. The middle class will find itself in exciting yet troubling times. While the global highly educated upper middle class will have to reskill themselves in a high technology world, the middle and the lower middle class in the US has already seen their lives upended with globalization and migration of manufacturing jobs to Asia. While globalization has slowed down with the cost differential between Asia and the US shrinking and an increased clamor to bring jobs back home, Europe has seen turmoil with slowing economies and the Brexit debate. Until the world finds a balance between immigration and domestic job creation, the economics of the job market will fuel the growing Trend towards nationalization. Nobody is right or wrong – the exponential increase in globalization hollowed out the middle class in the developed world causing real pain to people and a rising anger towards more globalization. Wealth shifted to Asia especially China with many new billionaires being minted everyday. This very real pain will continue to drive political turmoil.
People who are highly mobile and technology savvy will find jobs waiting for them around the world. While the ones that don’t understand technology well will continue to lag.
Mega Trend No.2: People will continue to harness social media platforms to make their voices heard. If politics within nations continue to slow down the search for solutions to real economic problems, the people will grow increasingly weary and take to the internet to gather global support. In that sense, social movements will begin on the internet with the groundswell of opposition voiced online.
Mega Trend No. 3: The major force shaping socities of the future will continue to be education. The current education system will continue to be remodelled and reshaped to meet the demands of a diverse workforce. Course material will continue to be crowdsourced and newer models of delivering customized education will proliferate until a completely new education system is created from the ashes of the old one. The jury is still out on this one.
Mega Trend No.1: The need for social entrepreneurship will continue to grow. In that sense, the masses will need to create their own messiah to solve their problems before big business even becomes interested. Technologies will facilitate social entrepreneurship but the onus is still on entrepreneurs to create a sustainable business model. While capitalism has created many jobs, there is still a need to solve endemic problems at the grass root level.
Mega Trend No.2: The trend towards variability will continue unabated as everything will be a service that can be terminated at will eg software as a service. Employment contracts will become increasingly variable allowing big business to reduce fixed costs and overheads. Since no one can predict where new technologies can emerge from, the trend towards ‘renting’ as opposed to owning will continue to grow. Big business will however have to balance the needs for sustainable and environment friendly business with the need to find meaningful returns in a slowing world.
Mega Trend No.3: The search for yield will continue to haunt financial world. Bitcoin is a prime example of a new asset class which surprisingly was the best performing asset class of the decade. The world of finance will see major partnerships between tech companies and financial firms as newer technologies will be increasingly deployed to improve returns and search for yield in a slowing and uncertain world. Global growth is forecasted to be subdued with growth projected at 3.5% in 2020 compared to 3.2% in 2019.
Mega Trend No. 1: Newer technologies will continue eating older ones. It was long ago that we realized all productivity growth in the developed is likely to occur at the technology frontier. This year, Google claimed quantum supremacy in the lead up to quantum computing becoming more and more mainstream. This means quantum computers are likely to be faster and more productive than super computers. Stocks that provide chips for faster computing will do well (eg Nvidia) and lifong learning will become a core tenet of staying relevant in the world of the future.
Mega Trend No. 2: The battle for privacy is an inevitable outcome of the race to make AI algorithms sharper and to improve these algorithms’ prediction accuracy. This battle is likely to intensify. As technology companies begin to gather more data to make their algorithms sharper, smart speakers and digital assistants eavesdropping on private conversations is a prime example where the quest to understand clients needs better meets the border of privacy and in many cases breaches that border. The world (private companies, governments and diverse interest groups) will have to work together to define global privacy standards to channel the true power of AI. If you want more examples of how this battle will play out, read this article on Apple’s battle to maintain privacy. If you want further reading, I would recommend reading Tim Cook’s biography by Leander Kahney.
Mega Trend No. 3: 5G will usher in an on demand video revolution with tons of additional content reshaping the media industry. Basically, anyone with a smartphone will be a walking TV station – the hardware and software needed to capture and stream video will proliferate. The gig economy will grow stronger with hundreds of new influencers democratizing the celebrity business. Unlearning the principles of old school business and learning new business models that can be created using new technologies such as 5G will become key. Case in point, Byju Raveendran who created a dynamic online tutoring model by putting coaching classes into an app. Byju’s company claims it is now the world’s most valuable edtech company valued at $5.5 billion.
The world has never been more exciting or more Orwellian. Survival belongs to the most adaptable and to the fastest learners. As inequality increases and politicians find it hard to create long term solutions, the world continues to become uncertain.
On one hand nationalistic sentiments are on the rise while on the other hand technology continues to bring the world closer creating a unique situation where dissent can spread like wildfire.
Exponential challenges such as climate change (or increased variation in the weather) and the march of AI require global cooperation. The world needs to come together to find creative solutions to universal problems facing mankind. The good news is that many of us acknowledge and understand these challenges. The bad news is that the solutions need to be immediately implemented.
A new world order is creatively destroying the old one. For the year 2020 and beyond, I am sanguine and hopeful that we will create a better world in the wake of all this destruction. It goes without saying, we need to move fast together.