Insights December 1st, 2019
Each year as a futurist speaker, I engage impactful global clients and conferences about the signals of change I see in the world that indicate how our futures will be shaped through geopolitical tensions, cultural change, and technology. Here, I outline 5 Futurist Predictions for 2020 – The Year of Resiliency.
As always, these predictions aim to prime organizations and governments thinking for 2020. They indicate the direction of your personal and organization’s questioning and research for the year ahead.
Looking Back at 2019
This past year I made five predictions and outlined the questions we should be asking about the following areas that will have a big impact in 2019:
- There will be increasing tension between technology giants and. Government.
- Smart cities will lead to citizen, acceleration will continue, and city administrations are unprepared for these changes.
- Economic protectionism will be rife, and the great global A.I. ethics debates will begin.
- The reinvention of education starts, and the talent pooling from 5th grade (and earlier) will begin.
- The fight for Africa will heat up.
We’ve certainly seen big movements by governments making big tech accountable (Twitter banning political advertising, WeWork’s failed IPO, Mark Zuckerberg having to testify in front of international commissions, with no sign of that stopping). We’ve seen smart municipal city decisions being nixed, revived, and reconfigured to ensure citizen representation and empowerment (take a look at my thoughts on Toronto’s Sidewalk Labs).
We’ve also seen economic protectionism in the form of tariff fights, which will likely easy off in 2020 (we hope). Meanwhile, progress in rethinking education quietly progresses in the background at a snail’s pace (still huge opportunities for the big tech players), and Africa is continuing to be a hugely contested continent for resources, tech talent and the next billion users, and will be even more so in 2020. Africa now has 643 tech hubs aiming to play pivotal roles for business out there. We’ll also see China ramp up its involvement on that continent as well (my think tank discussed this at length earlier this year).
2019 proved to us that the reality check on a recalibration is complete, and the world is changing faster than ever before. However I always say, “change is inevitable. We either change, or change is going to happen to us.” Today we’re seeing a willingness for progressive organizations to see to the big changes happening, to consider new options and opportunities for business, and to embrace foresight as a capability that delivers strategic value to business planning.
Predictions for 2020 – The Year of Resiliency
Resiliency is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. And we see plenty of those difficulties today: climate calamities, catastrophic global ecological and environmental events, increased geopolitical turmoil and cyber-warfare, false promises in the global economic markets, struggling unicorn companies failing to IPO and/or deliver profits, humans being divided into those with and those without, the breakdown of democracies, and so much more.
To tracking everything that’s going on requires time, focus, and discipline. I’m exhausted yet exhilarated and thankful for all of the academics, journalists, designers, futurists, strategists, and planners who have engaged with me to help broaden my worldview.
I will be tracking five main trend areas through 2020 to help provide inspiration and guidance to help inform your worldview and strategic planning. It leans into thinking about the climate crisis, resilient solutions, how society is being overrun with sensors and how we need to start a revolution in our minds on how business works:
1: Global warming gets real and drives resilient design.
2: Renewable energy becomes our only choice.
3: Geoengineering will persevere and create controversy.
4: The Acceleration towards a “Trillion Sensor Society.”
5: Business revelations and revolutions.
Please take these predictions as inspirations to go deeper with your research, and do reach out if you’d like to discuss some of these with me and my team.
1: Global warming gets real and drives resilient design
Early in 2019, we saw the warning from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the critical need to minimize the warming of the planet to 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, doing so will still entail a tough future, population migration, species extinction, depletion of global ice sheets and glaciers, and a disruption to our world as a whole. Dire warnings are starting to hit home.
In 2019, I travelled to Songdo, South Korea, to attend the Resilience Frontiers conference, where I framed and ignited the thinking of 100 designers and experts who were brainstorming resilient solutions for our warmer world under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
This initiative kick-started thinking about how we can become resilient. The United Nations is now coordinating Roadmaps for delivery of solutions and teams are being mobilized right now.
Trend 2: Renewable energy becomes our only choice
In 2020, we’ll certainly see a huge uptick in the amount of discussions around traditional fossil fuel energy sources. Geopolitical posturing and the old male guard protecting the industries that have traditionally used fossil fuels (or those that extract, process, and distribute them) for shareholder growth will result in continued inertia and resistance to changing policy and operations. . Every oil company continues to spend money on innovation in fossil fuels versus renewable energy – often by a factor of 10.
The University of Oxford recently ran a study that found more than 90 percent of patents filed by oil companies in 2018 were for technologies aimed at making fossil fuels more efficient. They’re attempting to provide life support to a dying industry (the share of oil and gas stocks on the S&P 500 has been halved in the past six years).
Earlier in 2019, a report from BNP Paribas called “Wells, Wires, And Wheels” included a devastating announcement for the fossil fuels industry:
We conclude that the economics of oil for gasoline and diesel vehicles versus wind- and solar-powered EVs are now in relentless and irreversible decline, with far-reaching implications for both policymakers and the oil majors.
The report also includes a warning for European utilities:
If all of this sounds far-fetched, then the speed with which the competitive landscape of the European utility industry has been reshaped over the last decade by the rollout of wind and solar power — and the billions of euros of fossil-fuel generation assets that this has stranded — should be a flashing red light on the oil industry’s dashboard.
Recently we’ve seen banks that manage more than $47 trillion in assets adopt “responsible banking” principles to fight climate change and shift their loan books away from fossil fuels.
The following principles, drawn up jointly by UN officials and banks, require lenders to:
- align their strategies with the 2015 Paris Agreement to curb global warming and UN-backed targets to fight poverty (the Sustainable Development Goals)
- set targets to increase “positive impacts” and reduce “negative impacts” on people and the environment
- work with clients and customers to encourage sustainable practices
- be transparent and accountable about their progress.
These principles aim to motivate banks to pivot their loan portfolios away from carbon-intensive assets and redirect capital towards greener industries and renewable energy infrastructure and providers. Although these principles are voluntary, they aim to make banks step up andbe more responsible members of the global movement towards sustainability.
Trend 3: Geoengineering will persevere and create controversy
A number of companies have emerged from the academic and stealth startup worlds to provide solutions that aim to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. These much-discussed and sometimes controversial “geoengineering” companies strive for a deliberate large-scale manipulation of an environmental process that affects the earth’s climate, in an attempt to counteract the effects of global warming.
The most notable of these are companies are the ones building solutions to actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Carbon Engineering has raised significant investment from “energy”companies and environmentally minded VCs to build factories that extract CO2 and create clean burning fuel.
Alternatively, Harvard scientists are trying to replicate the conditions of the stratosphere and eventually implement a radical and controversial plan to temporarily cool the planet by spraying clouds of particles into the sky.
The critics are out in force to challenge all of these promises and technologies. However, it’s likely many of them answer to “energy” companies or are under their budgetary control, and it’s doubtlessly in their interests to ensure fossil fuels remain unchallenged as a source of energy. These geoengineering companies working to mitigate the effects of global warming will need to keep their heads down and align with both VCs and governments to maintain pace.
What’s important to note is that while these innovative companies make progress in this area, we ultimately do not understand how their innovations will affect the dance of Mother Earth. We could potentially create a global atmospheric imbalance and create new global challenges caused by mass-scale deployments of these technologies at scale (especially where we are adding chemicals to the atmosphere). It’s a wild frontier in science.
Trend 4: The Acceleration towards a “Trillion Sensor Society”
By 2025, nearly 26 billion Intenet of Things (IoT) devices are expected to be connected globally, resulting in a predicted fivefold increase in ten years. People connected via Internet of Things networks will be able to communicate with each other, and there will be more than 100 billion connected devices, each with more than a dozen sensors, globally by 2025. The anticipated upgrade to 5G networks and embedded AI technology will drive much of this transformation.
This vision of the future will be a much maligned and debated. The providers of IoT technology will fervently sell their hardware solutions en masse, and I predict that local residents and governments will question the value of these smart-city enablers.
In preparation for this new world, leaders will need to develop a multidisciplinary view of how people, processes, technology, data, privacy, and governance should align with humans at the centre of solutions.
Only then will a debate arise about what a smart city should be, could be, and how it should work for everyone.
Early in 2019, I was in Songdo, South Korea and while the sure was well layed out for the purpose of travelling from A to B, getting groceries, and finding a place to sleep, it seemed to lacked something. Here we see some of my thoughts on the ground from there:
In 2019, I explored the idea of liberating insights hidden in the trillions of rows of data in a city by using artificial intelligence. That’s where huge benefits lay – liberating these hidden insights so that administrations can deploy solutions to improve the lives of people in the city.
There is a really lovely idea, which I first saw Padmanand Warrier write about, focuses on putting H.E.A.R.T. into the design of the smart city:
- H: Human-Centric Design
- E: Entrepreneurial Spirit
- A: Asset Development For The Greater Good
- R: Renewable, Repeatable, Replicable
- T: Technology Enabled Connections
At the core of this acronym is the meeting of human needs and desires, and although . It may seem overly simplistic, yet it’s the most important thing we need to do. Take a look at IDEO’s Human-Centred Design Kit to start thinking about Human-Centred Design.
Trend 5: Business revelations and revolutions
Progressive CEOs and executive teams have always aspired to find new ways to manage business. Sometimes their aspirations don’t go as planned. A few years ago, Zappos tried the Holacracy way of non-hierarchical management, which broke management hierarchies and aimed to empower independent teams. The result, however, was staff quitting, confusion, while those that stayed on apparently struggled with a system that seemingly made them feel as though they were part of a business management algorithm. The good news is that they have evolved this and are making it work for them by bringing in more human elements.
There is one progressive methodology for delivering business innovation and that’s been around since the mid-1950s, which few have heard about – “Amoeba Management,” developed by Mr. Inamori at Kyocera in Japan.
Amoeba Management begins by splitting an organization into smaller business units called “amoebas.” Each amoeba has a leader who is responsible for outlining plans and goals for their respsective unit. Amoebas achieve their goals through design, collaboration, and the hard efforts of every member of the amoeba. In the Amoeba Management system, every employee plays a major role and voluntarily participates in managing the unit, achieving what is known as “Management by All.”
The Amoeba Management System has been implemented at approximately 700 companies, including Kyocera, KDDI, and Japan Airlines (JAL).
The rise of exponential technologies – artificial intelligence, sensors, automation, and robotics, etc. – aligned to new ways of working will usher in the need for “Ethics Officers” in organizations who will champion human insight and intuition (not served by these technologies).
Lastly, business teams will need to be augmented by teams of data scientists, philosophers, and ethicists to work out new moral boundaries in response to these exponential technologies. Old dilemmas will no longer be relevant. About 100 times a year someone brings up the trolley dilemma: “Who will the autonomous car kill, the woman and baby or the railroad workers?” Here’s the reality: No-one dies; the car stops. This example is but one of our motivation to redefine the future.
Foresight and Futurism for Business Planning
When I evolved from being a Strategist some eight years ago to becoming a Futurist, people pointed out that my approach had changed. Futurism was much less known, except in academic and hobbyist circles, and only a few companies believed in establishing internal foresight capabilities.
Now we are starting to see the adoption of foresight as a viable business-planning capability.
Informed strategic planning has been a core function of any organization and unit for as long as the business sector has existed. Being able to meet the goals of the business in 3-, 6-, 18-, and 36-month increments is great but doesn’t necessarily hinge on acknowledging the exponential changes happening during those timeframes.
Business, technology, geopolitics, and human culture has been thrust into the fourth industrial revolution, and now the highest-performing businesses are looking to implement foresight as part of their long-term planning strategies to give them the ability to anticipate what the world will be like in 5, 10, and even 20 years’ time.
In an organizational context, foresight is different from strategic thinking – it is more imaginative and innovative, considering a variety of futures. It involves an action-orientation that strategic thinking doesn’t require, and it creates participatory ownership while considering a variety of alternatives. Foresight allows its practitioners to consider new futures for clients and businesses, while affording the ability to:
- identify changes ahead of competition
- trigger innovation initiatives
- challenge innovation projects to make them more successful
- overcome dominant mental models to see new ways to work
- moderate strategic discussions
- break away from path dependency
- support the search, development, and acquisition of strategic resources.
Organizations with high future preparedness can expect a33 percent higher profitability and a 200 percent higher market capitalization growth, on average, when compared to other organizations (Rohrbeck and Kum).
In 2020, I predict that organizations will step up and start to hire full-time foresight practitioners. “Chief Future Officers”? Not quite yet. We will definitely start to see VP-level executives become responsible for the teams helping to shape innovation and strategic experimentation.
My foresight consultancy business – Exponential Minds – is being approached by many companies to help them understand the value of foresight in their organizations.
My teams help our clients see our futures in ways they can only imagine. We help them see the signals of change affecting their businesses and the worlds of their consumers. And, we provide trusted advice to executives to create strategies that place their companies in a stronger position with the future in mind.
If you’d like to discuss any of these trends further with me, or have me come and provide thought-provoking insights for your event or organization then please do reach out.
The futures that are coming are bright. Step forward and imagine what you can achieve. 2020 will be the ‘year of resiliency’. Ask yourself how are you going to contribute to a stronger world.
Thank you for reading.