Where will the world be in twenty years time? We get so caught up in the day-to-day that we often don’t give it much thought. For Professor Greg Whitwell, Dean of the University of Sydney Business School, it’s just part of the job as he helps his students prepare for future employment. Whitwell was generous to share his projections at the ECI international conference, and it gave us a lot to think about. To thrive through these powerful trajectories of change, it’s never been more important for business leaders to be a few steps ahead.
1. Doing more with less
Some people still see climate change as a distant future. But the truth is we are already experiencing the profound and threatening effects of climate change, diminishing biodiversity and the scarcity of natural resources. Professor Whitwell believes that by 2025 energy usage will be at the centre of the agenda. Our challenge will be to find ways to do more with less – harnessing an energy system in which fossil fuels play a much smaller role and adopting a mantra of not just profits, but also people and planet.
2. Smart cities
The migration of people to urban centres over the last few decades has been extraordinary. By 2050, 6.3 billion people will live in cities. With the rise of urbanisation in the Internet era, many predicted that distance would become unimportant. That is true, but at the same time proximity has become ever more important. In places like the USA we are seeing the rise of the ‘smart city’ – nexuses of innovation acting as magnets for people with ideas and skills. This is not all good news, but part of larger, troubling trend. Globalisation has left many behind, and with increasing inequality, outcomes like Brexit and the rise of Trump are really no surprise.
3. A web of links
Unprecedented global connectedness in trade and movements of people and information has created a complex web of linkages. The up side is that we can now reach more new customers and new sources of financing. But the proliferation of intricate channels leads to the easy transmission of shocks across sectors and borders, such as the Global Financial Crisis and cyber attacks. Pandemics and panic can now spread like wild flower, and we must be prepared for the repercussions.
4. Industry 4.0
The scope, scale and economic impact of technology has led to a new industrial era. The tech optimists extrapolate from the past, suggesting a benefit to the masses. But empirical evidence suggests that we are seeing less new jobs than in previous industrial revolutions, as disruptive technologies create efficiencies by replacing existing workers. Tech pessimists argue that rapid developments in artificial intelligence, smart machines and robotics will result in job redundancies. The fallout could be a situation where the winner takes all, resulting in a race to the bottom.
5. The 100-year life
Of all the forces shaping the world, the expanding human life is perhaps the most mind- boggling. A child born today in the west now has a fifty percent chance of living to one hundred and five, while someone aged sixty has a fifty percent chance of living to ninety-five. The population is ageing, while life expectancy continues to increase, which may one day mean working into your eighties to support a later retirement. As our lives traverse longer spans of time while adapting to more rapid change, the continual re-creation of ourselves may become, a little sadly, more important than recreation.