At every given point throughout history, things have been happening that ended up shaping the world and define the future as we know it. While these things and their impact are obvious with hindsight their impact was not so obvious at the time.
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Historically, these future-shaping things have included violent, brutal events — the French Revolution or WW2, for example. Other times, they included technology innovation — the printing press, or the internet, or antibiotics.
Or they have been simple demographic facts — population growth, for example. Or migration.
Back in the days of horse and cart, an event had to be extraordinarily powerful to affect the entire world. Today? Different story. Everyone is connected, real time and consuming information continuously. A lot more things are shaping the world, much faster.
As an entrepreneur and student of innovation, I know that identifying these macro trends early is a competitive advantage. I want to be able to act on them even as everyone else is underestimating their importance or, expertly providing arguments why they won’t affect the world around us.
Here are five things that are shaping the world right now and that will define the future of this and following generations.
1. Income Inequality
Reader, it’s bad. The rich are getting richer. The poor are getting poorer. The middle is disappearing. Soon, something has got to give.
The human mind struggles with proportions and relativity. If you have not seen this excellent visualization, you should head to it right away to help wrap your head around wealth disparity.
Worldwide, less than 1% of the world’s adult population collectively controls 46% of the world’s wealth.
Meanwhile, more than 70% of world’s population fall into the sub-$10K wealth band collectively controlling only about 2% of the world’s wealth.
The picture in the United States is particularly bad. Wealth inequality has risen sharply over the last decades and sadly this trend continues.
Here are some sad facts from the US:
- Families near the bottom of the wealth distribution (at the 10th percentile) went from having no wealth on average to being about $1,000 in debt;
- Families near the top (at the 90th percentile) saw their wealth increase fivefold,
- The wealth of those at the 99th percentile-in other words, those wealthier than 99 percent of all families-grew sevenfold.
And things get grimmer when you throw in race and ethnicity:
Basically, today in the USA, the disparity between white family wealth and black family wealth is as high or higher than it was in 1963.
2. A New Global Political Framework
The post WW2/ Cold War world over ain’t no more. Global alliances that have been built over decades (centuries, even) are falling apart. Guided by an incompetent administration, the US is pulling out of long standing alliances, creating a gap in leadership across the board. But the US is simply one data-point on a bigger chart. Populism, nationalism and reactionary ideas exercise more influence than they should, world-wide.
The European Union — once a realistic counter-balance to the hegemony of the US — is weaker than ever and consumed by internal struggles.
The topics that formed the basis of the incumbent world order — trade, regional conflicts, late 18th century ideology, post-colonial realities — are not that relevant anymore.
Instead, new topics are emerging that are front-of-mind for large segments of population world-wide: The Climate Crisis. Environmental Erosion. Social Justice. A Global Pandemic.
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New global frameworks of influence are emerging as we speak, complete with a redefinition of capitalism and democracy as we know them.
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The Covid19 pandemic will be the first milestone towards a new world order. (Mostly) Covid-related travel restrictions are already shaping new travel habits along with new corridors of free movement of people. Commerce, followed by political and economic alliances will follow.
Perhaps the new “first world” will include countries where the pandemic is under control, followed by a “second world”, where things are on the right track and finally followed by a “third world”, where the response has failed, with all the consequences you can imagine.
3. A profound Generational Shift.
We are at an unprecedented generational shift. Boomers are exiting the economy. The new guys are very different.
This simple fact has profound repercussions on every aspect of our lives:
- Values, which inform culture, which informs politics, which informs global economics;
- Habits, which dictate consumption, which affects the economy;
- Social Interactions, which affect demographics
- Attitude towards money, wealth and spending
The current global economy is built on — and fueled by — Boomer economic habits. Real estate investing. Schwab portfolios. Bank accounts. Retirement funds. Investment funds. 3 cars/ family. Politically aligned values.
The new guys couldn’t care less about any of that.
Entire categories of businesses, business models, political narratives and social norms will perish entirely, while new, very different ones are emerging.
Some of the trends to watch:
- Sustainable businesses, cooperatives, circular economy;
- Decentralization of all sorts;
- Increase distrust of authority of any sort, including large tech monopolies;
4. Weaponized Social Media
Whatever is going on in the world, it is amplified and radicalized by social media. People are targeted with surgical precision and their trigger/ reaction optimized and exploited endlessly by anyone with a credit card and a political agenda.
Social media was supposed to be an equalizing force. A platform for anyone with a message or an idea. An amplifier for minority voices and the little guy.
Sadly, Social Media has been hijacked: Elections are routinely manipulated, democracies are hacked, the truth obscured in ways never before seen.
Part of the fault lays with the internet’s intrinsic business model and everyone’s unreasonable expectation that great content and the benefits of real-time connectivity are somehow supposed to be free.
Think of it what you will, but the impact of weaponized social media (and tech in general) are profound and will shape the future in fundamental ways. Better start paying attention.
5. Humanity’s Impact on the Planet.
This may actually be the biggest thing shaping the future.
Simply because there are reasonable scenarios in which human life on earth will simply not be viable anymore, in a generation or two.
That’s right. Our whole species is in danger, unless we act swiftly.
Yet, judging by the way businesses and governments the world over are behaving, noone really seems to care. Definitely no government or large corporation are acting.
Meanwhile, raging fires, super-storms, freak weather, locusts — is is all hitting us right now, and this IS going to be the new normal.
The state of the planet is central feature in any possible future.
Of course. The impact of the pandemic will be profound. In fact, I stand behind the statement I made at the beginning of the pandemic that this marked the end of an era.
We have not seen the end of the pandemic. In fact, by some accounts we are only at the beginning. And, this is only one of many pandemics to come.
To my mind, there is no plausible scenario in which the pandemic will not be among the defining events of a whole generation. As future-shaping as anything will ever be.