Complexity is the defining business and leadership challenge of our time. But it has never felt more urgent than this moment, with the coronavirus upending life and business as we know it. For the past few months, we’ve been talking to leaders about what it takes to lead through the most complex and confounding problems related to the pandemic. Today, we talk with, Mauro F. Guillén, author of 2030: How Today's Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything. Guillén is one of the most original thinkers at the Wharton School, where he holds the Zandman Professorship in International Management and teaches in its flagship Advanced Management Program and many other courses for executives, MBAs, and undergraduates. An expert on global market trends, he is a sought-after speaker and consultant.
David Benjamin and David Komlos: Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
Mauro Guillén: In addition to speaking, presenting, and getting feedback from people, I read for hours and look for and analyze data. Every night, I read for ten minutes on a topic about which I know almost nothing, and that’s something I always recommend to others. When faced with all the change and uncertainty around us, you don’t know where the next big thing is going to come from, so you have to be curious and read as widely as possible.
Benjamin and Komlos: For those who haven’t had a chance to read your book, can you quickly highlight some of today’s biggest trends that are ‘reshaping the future of everything’?
Guillén: Over the years I’ve realized that there are three kinds of trends that are connected to each other: trends in world population, technology adoption, and emerging markets. They include things like South Asia becoming the biggest region in the world, a shift to more people over 60 than in any of the younger age groups, the center of gravity of consumption moving to emerging markets, the rise of the sharing economy, remote work, and artificial intelligence (a game changer over the next decade). People have known about these trends individually, but haven’t really thought laterally about the interconnections and how they are all part of the same compact of change.
My book is about the fact that as all these trends collide, the old world will inevitably come to an end and we will find ourselves in a very new situation in at most ten years. We haven’t seen anything like this since the 1930s or 1940s, so for most people alive today, the decade ahead will be the greatest decade of change in their lifetime.
Benjamin and Komlos: Has Covid-19 better prepared us for, or blinded us to the changes already underway? And what has the pandemic taught us so far?
Guillén: Covid-19 has put these trends on steroids and if I were writing the book today, I’d probably have to call it ‘2027’ or ‘2028’. The most obvious example is technology, not just Zoom, but also automation, because a lot of businesses are accelerating their plans in the wake of what’s been going on and because otherwise they fall behind competitors.
As of today, there are three important things the pandemic has already shown us:
Benjamin and Komlos: What have you seen so far with respect to Covid-19’s impact on generational trends?
Guillén: Millennials are fuming because the pandemic is the second major crisis that has hit them in their adult life. They see governments borrowing money and ask who’s going to pay that mountain of debt in the future. What they don’t realize, however, is that pandemic or not, what they are really up against is the numbers. By 2030, there will be more grandparents than grandchildren because fewer grandchildren are being born and grandparents are living longer. They will be the first working-age generation that is outnumbered by people over 60 - and those over 60 will own 80% of net worth, be in much better physical and mental shape than ever before, and will live, on average, for 25 more years (even longer for women).
Policy makers, business leaders, and ordinary people will have to realize that the idea that life progresses in stages - first you learn, then you work, then you retire - is no longer sustainable. We need to think about life differently and obscure the boundaries between students, workers and retirees. Maybe we need to go to school several times in our lifetime. Maybe we’ll pursue several careers over our lifetimes.
That raises the question: if people don’t retire and automation and AI reduce the number of jobs that need to be performed by humans, will there be enough work for everyone? Some job losses will be offset by plummeting fertility rates, as long as we make the transition from lots of jobs performed by lots of young people to fewer jobs and fewer young people doing them. The pandemic has been a great experiment in leveraging technology to create flexible ways of working that older people may need, so in that way, it may actually help us make the transition. But because we will have a lot of people in their 40s, 50s and 60s stuck in that transition, we may also have to consider the idea of a basic income for those who need it. Five years ago that was considered a radical idea, but now you have a lot of business people saying we may have no other choice, at least as a transitional thing.
Benjamin and Komlos: What about Covid-19’s impact on the socioeconomic position of women and attitudes towards women as leaders in business?
Guillén: Women are a key link in many of these trends, because once women get an education and have goals in life beyond raising a family, then everything changes. In 41% of American households with a man and a woman married to each other, the wife makes more money than the husband. According to forecasts, by 2030 that number will be more than half, and globally, more than half of the net worth in the world will be owned by women. And because research has shown that on average, women are more risk-averse than men, this will have major repercussions for things like consumer markets, types of products purchased, willingness to pay for things (like higher insurance premiums with lower deductibles), savings behavior, and investing.
Despite these trends, and women’s progress on education, career aspirations, and so on, we are still making very little progress on their power in the workplace. Many organizations, and some of the men who lead them, have not adjusted. This year, the issue of social justice has resurfaced with extreme force. These problems have never been solved, but circumstances like a major health crisis tend to expose them and make us more aware of them.
Benjamin and Komlos: And what about the pandemic’s impact on the trend toward urbanization and its impact on the environment?
Guillén: Urbanization is the one trend in the book that the pandemic may be partially slowing down, at least in America and Europe, as people have more flexibility to work remotely (this won’t be true in Africa and many other parts of the world where the opportunities in cities are so different).
Cities occupy 1% of the land and are home to 55% of the world’s population (by 2030, that will be up to about 65%), and they account for 80% of the world’s carbon emissions. Urban life is becoming the norm in the world, and people in cities are more energy intensive, use more technology and social media, consume more entertainment, and so on. There will be no fix for climate change unless we fix cities.
We’re starting to see places like Detroit growing food in empty lots, and Singapore using the most advanced techniques in vertical agriculture. It’s also happening in other cities, in buildings, in containers, in abandoned factories, and so on. In Africa, 30% of the food people consume is produced in sprawling urban areas, and there we see combinations of residential, business, and agriculture within the urban space. To reverse climate change, one of the most important solutions is for cities to learn to feed themselves.
Benjamin and Komlos: Is the sharing economy part of the solution as well?
Guillén: So far, the sharing economy has manifested itself in things that are very visible, like Uber, Shopify, and Airbnb. Those are very important parts of the economy, but relatively small potatoes compared to other things that could be going on.
As I said earlier, the biggest contributor to global warming is agriculture - and yet we waste about 30% of the food that reaches the end consumer in the US. Sharing platforms are a great solution if they make it easy to share food with neighbors when we buy too much of an ingredient, for example. Platforms like that could become much bigger than Uber if they reduce food waste from 30% down to 15%.
Benjamin and Komlos: Any other advice you can offer? Any parting thoughts?
Guillén: Don’t listen to people who tell you we can go back to the good old days. We can’t just turn back the clock and return to our old situation - whether pre-Covid, or decades ago when the US was dominant in the world and we could dictate how things go globally.
I am hopeful that the pandemic actually makes people reflect on how we relate to the environment, the role we have to play, and how we want to live our lives. In doing so, maybe it will create a little bit more momentum in terms of dealing with the big problems and opportunities that will define the next decade, as opposed to wishing them away.
Original article posted on Forbes on Nov 2, 2020
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