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Megatrends – what are they and in what timescale?

August 22, 2018

 This is the second blog based on the work we did writing Megatrends and how to Survive Them, which is due to be published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing in October this year. 

In the first blog we explained why we wrote the book. As one of our reviewers said (better than we could), “I was very pleasantly surprised about how readable this book really is–it will make excellent reading for a wide audience especially anyone with an interest in the future of our beautiful planet. Readers will find the book’s statistics and projections give them an unfair advantage in a discussion about where it’s all going, down the line.” 

We have chosen a timescale of 2032 for the trends we consider. We often hear people talking about 2050 or 2100 when they talk about the future. In that timescale some things that we haven’t put in this book, like maglevs under the sea, or commercial space travel and tourism or replicators (as in Star Trek) to 3D print our food could be possible. We are looking closer in time than that, so we can base our discussion on evidence, and make extrapolations. But why 2032? 

The trends we discuss will continue beyond 2032, but we think 2032 makes a convenient reference point. We choose 2032 because based on current arrangements, 2032-33 will likely see elections for new Politburo Members in China, and a new President in the USA. So, 2032 could be an interesting year because there may well be changes of leadership emerging in both the USA and China. Much of the geopolitics of the next decade is likely to be dominated by these two powers. 

In considering 2032, remember that a lot can happen in 14 years. Think back to what life was like in 2004…. 

For instance: 

  • • This was before it was normal for family members to use videoconferencing between continents on a regular basis. 
  • • 2004 was before Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, which alerted large numbers of people to climate change. 
  • • 2004 was before immigration from the Global South hit the headlines in the USA and Europe. 

Now imagine the potential for similar changes going forward. There will definitely be some in the timescale we are working with. 

The book focuses on 12 megatrends – global forces that are changing our world. This blog describes the structure we used for each chapter to explore the trend. But first perhaps some background to the trends – they have emerged from our work and the work of others in SAMI (and LASA) from projects, workshops and horizon scanning studies over the past few years. They are not independent, but we have found that groups – Boards, management teams, operational and functional teams – can quickly grasp the essential implications of 12 trends for their organisation or circumstance before focusing on a few, to manage the associated risks and opportunities. To help this we provide a summary of each trend on a page – with a few bullet points and a diagram like this one showing interconnections of trends: this one shows that Shifting Values is particularly linked to Connected World, Social Structures and Economic Activity trends. 

Fig 3 from PL GR book

The discussion of a trend in its chapter is then divided into headings that many readers may recognise as based on the ideas behind Three Horizons: Why this is important, How we got here, Current trends, Deflections we might see, How this might affect you by 2032, and a last section with a set of questions to help readers think in greater detail about how each trend might affect them in greater detail. These are: What does this mean for your business? People you work with? Customers? Products and services? Community? Networks? 

Our reviewers found this easy to follow, and in addition liked that we not only considered global trends but also had a table in each chapter showing how the trend affected each global region. They also related to the early indicators – newspaper headlines you might see– that could indicate the direction a trend was taking. An earlier paper for Strategy & Leadership which described the use of early indicators with operational managers was among the most highly requested download ever! So clearly a useful way of helping people relate to potential futures. 

We have been careful to “always look on the bight side of life” as well as consider downside implications of the trends – and this has been welcomed by one of our reviewers: “At any given point, we have the potential to move forward in both a positive and negative direction. The positive and the negative will co-exist forever, but the challenge we face is which one spreads across the greater part of the planet. I think laying out both interpretations of the trends really helps shape a more nuanced understanding. We need to be constantly vigilant about the possibility of negative trends being exacerbated, which is why this book could make an important contribution.” 

Written by Patricia Lustig, SAMI Associate and MD, LASA Insight, and Gill Ringland, SAMI Emeritus Fellow and Director, Ethical Reading.

The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

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