Here is a very short summary of some of the research our team has been doing on the seven most significant disruptive forces shaping the world right now. In this episode, we look at the first three: aging, angry planet and inequality. We will come back to the other four next week.
Don’t just think about threats, though. The invitation is to consider the opportunities available in this time of unprecedented disruption.
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When weather forecasters and meteorologists talk about the perfect storm, what they mean is a whole lot of different weather patterns coming together at one moment to create an incredibly destructive storm that then hits with porosity that is beyond the normal.
That’s where we find ourselves now as we head towards the mid-2020s. Things that have previously taken decades, even centuries, for us to experience as humanity are now happening in a matter of years and months. To give you an example of that, it took 10,000 years for half of humanity to find itself living in cities. It’s going to take just another 30 years for another half of rural people to move into urban centers, but this time, it will be 2 billion more people moving into cities in just the next two or three decades. That’s going to change the pattern of the world as we know it.
My name is Graeme Codrington, this is ThrowForward Thursday, but we’re in between Season 3 and Season 4, and I thought I’d just dip into some of the research that our team has been doing on this perfect storm that we find ourselves in.
We believe that there are seven major forces that are all colliding in our world at the moment. Some of them are familiar to us because we see them in the news all the time, but some of them are maybe a little bit unseen and certainly are unremarked on in business meetings, and in executive strategic sessions because we believe that people have not focused their attention on these deep disruptions. We sometimes like to think far into the future and imagine what could happen there, not realising that actually now is the time that we find ourselves in the storm.
So, let me talk about the first three of those big forces, and then next week we’ll look at the other four, and then we’ll finish off our mini-series by saying, ‘So what do we do about it’? The first three.
The first is aging. We live at a time in history where people are living longer than they’ve ever lived before. Over the course of human history, basically, the average age that most people have lived to has been less than 50 years old. If you lived beyond 40 years, you could live into your 60s or 70s. But there were a lot of people who didn’t even make it into their teenage years, let alone into their adulthood.
Today, that’s changed. Whether it’s things like penicillin or childhood vaccines or antibiotics, or really that’s more on the wellness side with our understanding of wellbeing, wellness, and the food that we eat. We’ve done a magnificent job in the last 80 years of dramatically increasing life expectancy. So that now the global average life expectancy is well into the ’70s, with some countries even pushing the average age of their population well into the ’80s, countries like Japan, Germany, Italy, actually, as it happens.
Only America at the moment, only the United States of America is seeing a slight decline in the last few years in terms of its increasing life expectancy, but I think that’ll just be a dip and we’ll begin to see them climbing again, maybe a little bit faster if they sort out some of their politics around healthcare and so on. But we need to think through what it means to live in a world where we have a significant number of older people. Not people who are being older longer, we need to think about being younger longer. And that might change when we want to retire, it might change how we think of careers, it might impact who you marry and maybe even how you think about marriage, that maybe being married to one person until death do us part is, maybe not the cleverest thing we’ve done, aging.
The second of our big forces is an angry planet. Now this is the one that may be the most familiar in terms of our conversations and certainly over the last few months, we’ve seen an angry planet really roaring at us. Our summers are hotter, our winters are colder, our rains are fiercer, our droughts are more severe, and all of this has obviously got to do with climate change, and that’s a fairly well-worn topic. But we need to add to that a few other things. Pollution, especially plastic pollution, huge issue.
We need to add pandemics to our list. We’ve had pandemics on our list for many, many years, and now we’ve experienced one. The time between pandemics, because pandemics happened on a cycle all the way back to the so-called Spanish flu 100 years ago. We forget that there was MERS and SARS and Hong Kong flu and Asian flu and swine flu. Pandemics are with us and have been around for a long time, but the distance and the time between pandemics is reducing and the severity of those pandemics is increasing. There are reasons for that and so the list goes on. An angry planet is getting angrier.
But here maybe let me pause for a second because we know the threat side but what our team loves to do is to help people to think about the opportunity side of this as well. Just for simplicity, the world’s governments and some of the rich benefactors and philanthropists have allocated somewhere around one and a half trillion dollars towards climate change mitigation, dealing with climate-related issues, and dealing with an angry planet.
If you can come up with solutions, with ideas that provide either mitigation of the problems that are already in place or solutions so that we don’t create more problems, you’re going to find there’s quite a lot of funding available for you, and there’s a small window of opportunity here for you to access that funding, do something smart with it. And the opportunity then to position this as a competitive advantage, not just for greenwashing, not just to say you’re doing something and then not do it, but to genuinely become a business that is a business for good, that is doing something that really contributes to improving the planet, making it less angry, well, you’re probably going to see some distance open between you and your competition. Businesses that do good in the world are actually going to be good businesses in the future. So, there’s another way of looking at the issue of an angry planet.
The third of our big forces, we call them the elephants in the room that you need to really make sure you don’t ignore anymore. The third of those is inequality, the distance between the people who have and the people who don’t have. The obvious inequality there, of course, is wealth inequality and we’ve seen over the last three years during the pandemic that the wealthiest 5% of the world’s population have more than doubled their wealth in the last three years of chaos. I mean, there’s a thought, but the poorest 50% have actually halved their wealth. We wouldn’t even call it wealth because they didn’t have anything to start with, but they are more insecure than they’ve been before.
Now that’s just a statement of fact, what history tells us, and therefore, as futurists, we have to admit that actually we read a lot more history textbooks than we do reading into crystal balls because crystal balls to predict the future don’t exist at all. But history tells us what happens when the inequality divide, whether it’s wealth or access to resources or access to employment or the inequality of power, whether that power is political power, economic power, or social power. When the distance between the haves and the have-nots, or as somebody nicely said recently, it’s not just the haves, the middle class is being squeezed, it’s the distance between the have-nots and the have-yots, I like that one.
When that distance gets too big, the power of just the sheer numbers of the people at the bottom of those pyramids, well, that tends to turn into something that the rich people don’t really like. I mean, history tells us what happens at that point, that those people then turn that inequality into activism and action, and we need to be careful that we are not heading in that direction as a planet, and we need to be ready for how we respond if that happens.
But we’ll pick up some of these themes next week because they flow into the next two things, which we call big squeezers, and angry people. But you’re going to have to join me next week to pick up the story as we talk about all the ways in which a perfect storm of change. It’s not just brewing, it’s already here, and it’s changing the world as we know it and you need to respond not just to mitigate the threats, but to seize the opportunities and to seize the moment.
Thank you, as always, for joining me on ThrowForward Thursday. I look forward to seeing you again next week as we continue to think about the dramatic ways in which our world is changing.
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Graeme Codrington, is an internationally recognized futurist, specializing in the future of work. He helps organizations understand the forces that will shape our lives in the next ten years, and how we can respond in order to confidently stay ahead of change. Chat to us about booking Graeme to help you Re-Imagine and upgrade your thinking to identify the emerging opportunities in your industry.
For the past two decades, Graeme has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, travelling to over 80 countries in total, and speaking to around 100,000 people every year. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, and on faculty at 5 top global business schools.