The One 20 Year Forecast All Business Leaders Should Read


For business leaders, the amount of information available to help you plan for your organisation and make decisions for its short, medium and long term wellbeing is vast. The result is that it can be hard to know what to extract - with much of it either becoming overwhelming in the face of more immediate, everyday pressures or obscure to the point of irrelevance. However, if there's one report you should make time for, it's Global Trends 2040 - issued by the USA's National Intelligence Council.

The world we're used to vs the one we're living in

We know that business leaders and CEOs should be looking beyond today and towards the horizon regarding business strategy. The ones who are visionaries are not just looking at the next quarter or even their sector alone, but at what the world will be like in two, five or ten years. We all worry about revenue today, but we have to plan for the future, scanning the landscape to see how different trends will shape a business.
Today, many business leaders grew up in that period between the 1950s to September 11th 2001. It was a time when for many, the enemy had gone, and the world felt united. While we settled into that way of existing, it was the exception to the world's history, and most of us didn't realise it. 
Since 9/11, the world has become increasingly fragmented and turbulent again. Everything is changing. It isn't necessarily the end of Pax Americana, but there's a new dynamic going on, which business leaders and marketing experts have to look at to plan for the future. 

The changing landscape that business leaders should contemplate 

That backdrop underpins the things that the Global Trends 2040 report looks at, and while it's not all doom and gloom, stormy seas feature amongst its most prominent predictions.
The biggest trends include:

  • Global challenges: climate change, disease, financial crises, and technology disruptions
  • Fragmentation: within communities, states, and the international system 

  • Disequilibrium: an increasing mismatch at all levels between challenges and needs with them

  • Contestation: rising tensions, division, and competition in societies, states, and at the international level
  • Adaptation: will be both an imperative and a key source of advantage for all actors in this world. Climate change, for example, will force almost all states and societies to adapt to a warmer planet. 

There are some positives. For example, as China has developed, bringing millions of people out of poverty and adding more innovation into the global mix. However, there are tensions there: their frictions with other international powers and their environmental health impact. Either way, it adds a new competitive dimension to the global landscape.
The report looks at structural forces such as demographics and human development. For example, how slowing global population growth and a rising median age will help some developing economies, but rapidly ageing and contracting populations will weigh on many developed economies. It also looks at emerging societal dynamics - for example, many people are increasingly pessimistic and distrustful as they struggle to deal with disruptive economic, technological and demographic trends.  
Finally, it looks at scenarios for 2040, such as the renaissance of democracies. It says: 

"The world is in the midst of a resurgence of open democracies led by the United States and its allies. Rapid technological advancements fostered by public-private partnerships in the United States and other democratic societies are transforming the global economy, rising incomes, and improving the quality of life for millions around the globe. In contrast, years of increasing societal controls and monitoring in China and Russia have stifled innovation."

Marketing experts can extrapolate changing human needs

We can use this information for both quantitative data and analysis. Still, it also serves a purpose when considering our markets in the context of human needs that will, in turn, affect consumer behaviours. While business leaders might see metrics, marketing experts might consider the impact of these global trends on our habits, collective happiness, and a sense of purpose.
Some information is already highly evident. We know, for example, that most Western countries have an ageing population. While many have benefited from immigration because we've been able to delay the demographic time bomb, as wealthier countries continue to get older, their expanse is likely to shrink. Simultaneously, the population explosion in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia results in a vast workforce with skills and infrastructure shortage. 
Equally, it's no secret that China is rapidly heading towards taking the crown as one of the world's superpowers, and brands are eager to appeal to that market. Starbucks had its ear to the ground when adapting its in-store style from the US to China, for example, exchanging single chairs for long, communal benches and overhauling its offering to suit regional culture and preferences.
On the other hand, less tangible information requires the reader to think and let it percolate. Does the growing mistrust give individuals a need to find causes to believe in? Many brands are already capitalising on a genuine and transparent commitment to causes close to their consumers' hearts - Patagonia being a case in point. Their environmental policy led them to encourage consumers to keep their clothing for longer rather than replacing it regularly. In 2012, a year after Patagonia began appealing to consumers to buy less, sales increased almost one-third, to $543 million. 

Visionary business leaders look towards the horizon

For any business leader, marketing leader or CEO looking at their company's future, this report provides so much to think about, without preconceived ideas. It's a chance to contemplate how the world will evolve and how you want to make sure your business stays relevant for customers, employees, and the individuals who want to help that business succeed. 
For any business model, these changes are going to have a seismic impact. How is your organisation making sure it has a deep understanding of customers? How will you continue to attract top talent? Where do you want to be beyond the next quarter?
To discuss the long-term vision for your organisation, contact our team of marketing leaders at gigCMO.


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