What does futurology tell us about the economy of tomorrow? A look at megatrends might avoid unexpected surprises.
Megatrends are long-term global developments. They are global phenomena that influence politics, society, and all sectors of the economy. They can be determined by analyzing drivers of change and emerging transformational patterns, which in turn are derived from statistical series, long-term studies, and research on the causes of trends. Georges T. Roos is a futurologist who founded the Lucerne-based think tank ROOS Trends & Futures in 2000. He explains changing framework conditions in the coming decades, specifically concerning companies.
What are the main megatrends right now?
Georges T. Roos: Greening is one of the megatrends at the moment. It includes decarbonization, and consequently moving away from fossil raw materials, and other measures aimed at climate-neutral human activities. Another megatrend is digitalization which has changed a lot in twenty years. Artificial intelligence comprises another important aspect with significant innovations for the economy, namely Industry 4.0.
What about globalization?
Roos: This is the third most important megatrend. Globalization is expected to disrupt the world order. Competition between China and the United States is not limited to technological competition for market dominance, but also concerns areas and spheres of influence. Will we continue to be economically interdependent in the future? For export-oriented SMEs, this is an existential megatrend. Another megatrend that is often overlooked is demographic change. The global population is growing, getting older, and living more and more in cities.
How will megatrends disrupt the economy?
Roos: The next big wave of artificial intelligence (AI)-based automation as well as robotics will profoundly change the economy. At the same time, new jobs are emerging, with the emergence of test centers to monitor AI. The push toward carbon neutrality will also yield huge benefits. Together, both of these megatrends are fostering autonomous vehicles. This will fundamentally change how we move around. An aging population will also have an impact on the economy. The growing number of elderly people and even more importantly the unprecedented ratio of retirees to the workforce will result in higher taxes. Also, the number of working years is likely to increase. Companies will therefore hire older employees.
How can business decision-makers learn from megatrends?
Roos: You have to question what these megatrends mean for your company, your customers, and your partners. One can then create a kind of risk/opportunity profile. Megatrends represent changing framework conditions and are fairly reliable predictors. Much is unknown about the future, but what we do know is that climate change, an aging population, or the next stage of digitization will change the economy.
What do megatrends mean for SMEs?
Roos: An export-oriented SME can bear in mind future geopolitical changes and pre-emptively examine possible alternatives: what does this mean for my supply chains or markets? Should I try to reorganize them differently? Do I have a warning system to identify changes? One might ask if there is an opportunity with artificial intelligence to create an additional or different business model. Or whether it would make sense to focus more on an older customer base. According to forecasts, one in four people in Switzerland will be over 65 by 2040.
What advice would you give young entrepreneurs?
Roos: Focusing on megatrends helps startups (though not exclusively) to look at the framework conditions to discern what major changes are coming. However, megatrends alone will not yield new business ideas. You can also run a successful business by focusing on counter trends instead of megatrends. One of the 16 megatrends I have outlined is acceleration. Everything goes faster and faster and has less and less lasting value. And yet based on its counter-trend, i.e. slowing down, there is a whole industry, like wellness, slow food, and slow fashion. We can deliberately place ourselves within this counter-trend. In the food industry, for example, there is a growing trend for local products.