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Interview for AESE Business School in Lisbon - about to give a keynote on global trends, where I am sharing a platform with the President of Portugal - 19th October 2017.

“The world can change faster than you can hold a board meeting”, you said in a presentation. Among the hundreds of possibilities of change and innovation, what are the key trends do you foresee as having the most impact in business and personal life in this new World 4.0?"

This is a huge question and of course it depends what industry we are talking about. Here are major issues that are impacting very large numbers of companies across the world.  I usually group them as six factors that spell the word FUTURE, each of which forms one face of a cube.  The energy which spins the cube is EMOTION – reactions to events or trends are usually more important than events themselves.

FAST:  We all recognize that with social media and globalization, our world is so joined up that small events can create or destroy business opportunities in minutes.  Take for example the huge earthquake in Japan that destroyed a nuclear reactor.   In 40 seconds, 40 years of energy policy changed in Japan and Germany, both of which decided to phase out nuclear power.

URBAN:  1 billion children are alive today and where they are located will shape global markets for a generation.  1 billion will move from rural areas to cities in the next 30 years and more will be spent on infrastructure during that period than in all human history.  Life expectancy for most middle class people around the world has improved  by a week in every month for the last two decades and we will see huge increases in the next three decades, globally.

TRIBAL:  Every language creates a tribe and every brand forms a tribe.  Tribalism is what makes us different, and is the basis of all effective marketing.  Our world will become increasingly tribal, as a reaction to the next Face.

UNIVERSAL:  globalization is an unstoppable force, despite attempts to roll back by some governments with restrictions on trade.  Take the web, or the spread of English language, or the rise in scale of large corporations.  Across the EU, 50% of all retail spending is captured by only 10 companies.  There are only two large airline manufacturers globally, only two mobile phone operating systems, only two computer operating systems.  Expect increasing consolidation and scale.  And with fusion of Mobile payments, Internet of Things, Big Data and the Cloud, expect ever larger vulnerabilities to cyber attacks by criminals and governments – sometimes working together.

RADICAL:  we are seeing the rise of new kinds of political movements – not so much based on left-right divides but on clusters of single issues.  President Trump is an example – elected on policies about migration, protectionism and zero action on global warming.  Many of these movements will become increasingly radical, powered by unusual or extreme ideologies.  The greatest single issue is sustainability – expect at least $40 trillion to be spent in the next 20 years on green tech innovations, to transform our planet.

ETHICAL:  expect a far greater focus on how we live, our values, passions and moral code. That means going far beyond what compliance requires.  And the ultimate ethic will be shaped by a four word phrase:  Building a Better World.

Most businesses tend to focus on a FAST, URBAN and UNIVERSAL world.  But things can rapidly change when a small proportion of the population is very RADICAL, ETHICALLY driven and TRIBAL – as we have seen in the passions recently over independence voting for Catalan region in Spain and in many other places around the world.

You are (well) known as one of the world’s leading futurists. Taking in account the fast pace of change, how is it possible for companies – and society – to anticipate these profound alterations and prepare themselves for a world full of hopes and opportunities, but also one of assured uncertainty?

The surprising truth is that many of the biggest global trends are evolving in a relatively predictable way.  Take for example the continuous increase in computer power, increase in global bandwidth, rise in emerging markets, ageing populations in Europe, increasing life expectancy and so on.  Yes there are many potential shocks and uncertainties, but strategies can and must be built on fundamental drivers of our future world, while also being very agile in our leadership models.

Talking about ethics, and due to the persistent lack of it in almost every sphere of life, are you really optimistic that we will face a more ethical future? How so?

Every human being has their own ethical code: their own views of right and wrong, of what matters and what does not.  And across societies in almost every nation is an increasing recognition that companies and governments need to be held accountable for their actions.  Just look at the size of fines being imposed on companies recently in America and the EU for bad behavior, and you see why companies are having to give ethics such close attention.

Technology versus Humanity is one of the biggest “unknowns” of our future. How do you foresee this relationship?

We see a threat from technology to humanity in two key areas.  One is robotics and artificial intelligence and the other from genetic manipulation of human life itself.  Many fear widespread loss of jobs from automation and intelligent machines.  I do not.  In every generation we have seen the same thing: new waves of automation and industrialization that have increased wealth of nations, made many jobs unnecessary, and allowed us the luxury of redeploying human beings to tasks that are more worthwhile.  The same will happen again. Yes there may be disruption, but there is no sign whatever at the moment of mass unemployment from automation.  There are very large numbers of things that society will want people to do instead – just one being looking after older people in a better way, which we will have the time to be able to afford to do with fewer people needed in traditional office and factory jobs.

The genetic revolution is accelerating.  We now have the ability to easily edit the code of life in a human being, to improve quality of life, enhance performance and prevent or treat disease.  We can do so in a way that is passed on to future generations for thousands of years – yet we have little understanding of the longer term impact of this.  We also have the ability already to selectively destroy millions of unborn that we do not think have all the characteristics we desire, and so reshape the future of the human race.  This presents use with huge ethical and spiritual questions which our societies have hardly begun to consider fully.  We need to take huge care in how we use such technological powers and future generations will judge us for this.

Sustainagility is another premise that brings together innovation and agility as a way to solve some of the biggest threats to our planet’s ecosystem, for businesses and individuals, while making profit at the same time. As our audience is made of managers and executives, what kind of advice would you like to share so that companies adapt rapidly and stay ahead of competition?

In many nations, your customers and shareholders will increasingly expect your company to be a good global citizen.  They do not want you to pollute water supplies, kill people with dangerous gas emissions, fill the countryside with rubbish or waste valuable resources.  They expect you to be careful about the amount of carbon you burn, and to be responsible in caring for safety of workers.  It costs very little to take steps in the right directions, and in many cases the payback period is very short.  Taking such steps also protects your brand and helps motivate your staff.  Your aim should always be to make your staff, customers and shareholders proud to be part of your future.  

Need a world-class keynote speaker for your event? Phone or e-mail Patrick Dixon now.


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