Global mega trends

Economics, Society and Business


In a world undergoing change where there are few certainties, it is useful to anticipate and plan for trends. These trends will affect us as individuals and the types of organisations we work with.

As a regular facilitator of strategy planning workshops I am always interested in the analysis of future trends. Today I share with you the views of Professor Joe Nellis of the Cranfield management school.

The trends themselves are unsurprising but the accelerated pace of change is what impresses – and frightens. Our question is what are the implications of these trends?

Professor Nellis divides the trends into three areas; Economics, Society & Environment and Business.

Economics – 3 trends


The massive realignment of economic activity from the West to the East is unprecedented. Today China accounts for less then 10% of world GDP, by 2050 it will be probably be the world’s biggest economy and have a GDP share of 25%. India is also pressing strongly behind China, and of course the US will remain a dominant force.

This economic growth in emerging economies will generate a demand for improvements in living standards. Citizens from emerging market countries look for improved public services; more schools, hospitals, infrastructure and better policing. This demand will result in an anticipated huge growth of the public sector in these countries.

Finally, the third economic trend is the unprecedented rise in the number of consumers in emerging and developing economies. Consumers with similar spending power to that traditionally associated with the West. It is predicted that there will be 1 billion of these consumers with needs to satisfy. Nellis says “such a demand to satisfy has never happened before in such a short time scale”.

Society & the environment – 4 trends


For the first time in the history of the world, people all over the world will be able to communicate with each other. Increasingly people in developing economies are gaining access to technology. In this connected world there will be a massive growth in interactivity. More companies will interact with other companies, and interact with individual consumers. This deepening globalism will, says Nellis “have profound implications for the world of business and society”.

Taking the number of university graduates as a measure of the future talent pool; the developed world produces about 16 million graduates per year. The rest of the world is graduating 33 million students annually. There will be an “exponential growth in the talent pool coming from countries of the emerging markets and the developing world.”

The shortage of natural resources is a trend that is widely accepted. The search for natural resources is intensifying. China is securing natural resources all over Africa to feed its economic growth, in Cornwall tungsten mines are about to open and closer to home there are plans for oil exploration offshore from Dalkey in Dublin.

The last societal trend he mentions is the increase in the lack of trust in big business (and in politicians). Corporate governance is increasingly important for larger companies, and how it can be used “to their advantage and to the benefit of society”. Pay and remuneration must be tied in to performance, and directors must be accountable to shareholders and realise the consequence of their poor decision making. (What measures have been made to recover the 1990s bonuses from Irish bankers? And why are failed Irish politicians being paid large pensions before they reach the pension age of 67?) 

Building trust is about actions, delivering promises and not the empty words from corporate PR and “public affairs” executives.

Business – 2 mega trends


There are “massive issues” to be faced in industry and in business.

The first is the availability of information through search engines on the internet and sites like Wikipedia. How will managers deal with information overload? Can products and services be mass customised for individuals and not only for market segments? The use of information is a huge opportunity for businesses, and “dealing with the overload a significant challenge”.

A combination of all of the above, of the increasingly connected and trading global village is that industry structures will change. New global networks will emerge as well as bigger companies (many of them state owned in emerging markets). Nellis anticipates “different business models and developments concerning the way in which companies interact with each other”.

Big Change is here


How can managers “manage” in this world of increasing complexity? Nellis suggests there is no choice, “if you don’t like complexity, don’t go into management!” The right talent must be recruited to run companies in a much more complex environment.

Gone are the 50 year economic cycles identified by the Russian economist Kondratiev. There has been a major seismic shift, the cycle of economic change is now much shorter, 10 to 15 years. Challengingly, a manager’s career will endure several seismic shifts. Previously managers would have lived through for example one or two economic cycles of ‘growth to recession’. Organisational change will need to be delivered quicker, and better.

Short term focus will no longer suffice, “a successful manager must stay focused on the horizon”. The pace of change is accelerating as has never happened before. “Address these long-term drivers of change now”, Nellis asserts, “or you may be heading for extinction”.

The question facing leaders is how can an organisation take advantage of these global movements?

Joe Nellis, Professor of International Management Economics, Cranfield School of Management,

Billy Linehan of Celtar has much experience in strategic planning with clients, facilitating workshops in planning for change. Based from Dublin, Billy has a long term interest in future thinking and is available to work with you in anticipating future trends and how they will affect your business or organisation. Contact Billy at [email protected] to benefit from the input of an external adviser into your strategic thinking and business planning.