Global shifts and technological fusion, meta intelligence and the dark side … Finding the “megatrends” to amplify your future success

September 25, 2017

Growth is shifting, innovation is relentless, disruption is accelerating, expectations are high, and social tensions are rising. Making sense, and making use, of these dramatic forces of change will help you to make better strategic choices, shape markets to your advantage, and create a brighter future.

Everyone talks about “megatrends” … so what are the most significant forces of change?

I spent some time comparing the many different approaches to tracking and articulating these patterns of change, to find out which trends are the most common, and the most significant.

Isn’t it obvious? Technology is shaping everything? Yes, but its the implications of that, which matter.

As McKinsey says “the trend is your friend” … It’s the oldest adage in investing, and it applies to projecting future business performance too. Their analysis shows that capturing the waves of change, created by industry and geographic trends, is the most important contributor to business results … a company benefiting from such waves of change is 4-8 times more likely to rise to the top of future performers.

So what is a “megatrend“?  Trends are an emerging pattern of change likely to impact how we live and work. Megatrends are large, social, economic, political, environmental or technological change that are slow to form, but once in place can influence a wide range of activities, processes and perceptions, possibly for decades. They are the underlying forces that drive trends.

World Economic Forum, working with pwc, simplify the “megatrends” as 5 global shifts changing the way we live and do business:

  • Rapid urbanisation … most growth is in lesser-known, medium-size, emerging-market cities
  • Climate change and resource scarcity … urbanisation drives demand for energy, food, water
  • Shift in global economic power … commodity prices driving some emerging markets into recession
  • Democratic and social change … more people living longer with more aspiration and fewer children
  • Technological breakthroughs … digital has no boundaries, changing behaviours and expectations

Arthur D Little, who focus on strategic innovation, looked for the trends in the megatrends and talk about 12 trends in 4 clusters. The danger of combining lots of studies, of course, is that we lose insight, so their list is more to ensure completeness than find a new angle:


  • Disruptive technologies … smart, connected, ubiquitous … digital and data, 3D printing and machine learning, AI and robotics, genetics and nanotech, and much more

Energy and environment:

  • Changing energy mix … more renewable, more secure, more expensive
  • Shortage of resources … water and food, rare earths and key commodities
  • Climate change … preventation and adaptation, even in the face of Trump’s blinkeredness

Economics and politics:

  • Knowledge and information … personal education, automation, highly skilled workforce
  • Economic shifts … emerging markets, new middle classes, and growing wealth
  • Globalisation … connected economies – markets, competitors, customers and owners
  • New normal … low interest rates, higher debt, more government intervention
  • Multi-polar … diffusion of power, rising nationalism, rise of networks and coalitions

Social and health:

  • Demographic shifts … population growth, ageing population, needing more support
  • Urbanisation and mobility … mega-cities, smart cities, fast and responsible transport
  • Health and wellness … growing expectations, fear of pandemics, burden of ageing

McKinsey & Co has perhaps the most insightful view of the future, identifying 9 global forces inspiring a new narrative of progress which they clustered into three groups.

Shifts in global growth:

  • Growth beyond globalisation … as social tensions rise, localism becomes more important
  • ICASA (India, China, Africa, SE Asia) … tapping into the new billion-person markets
  • Resource un/limited … circular thinking will address resource constraint in creative ways

Accelerators of industry disruption:

  • Combinatorial-technology explosion … connectivity of next tech, networks and devices
  • C2B, customers in the driving seat …digitisation has empowered customers, and together
  • Ecosystem revolution … from linear value-chains to platforms that can asset heavy or light

New societal deal:

  • The dark side … working together to outwit cybercriminals and terrorists in a digital world
  • Middle class progress … rising inequalities, social fragmentation, and declining trust
  • Economic growth experiments … exploring new ways to harness tech and finance effectively

Of course every technology, every consulting, every accounting firm claims to help you understand the future better than anyone else. Sometimes their insights are profound, sometimes not. But they make great conversations:

I will leave the final thoughts to a few of the individuals whose perspectives I admire most.

Richard Watson is famous for his trend maps, and has now developed a new Mega Trends and Technologies 2017-2050 map (as at top of this page!) that seeks to capture the next 33 years in one diagram:

Mark Esposito, a Canadian strategy professor from Harvard defines the megatrends using DRIVE (demographic/social, resource scarcity, inequalities, volatility and enterprise dynamics):

Peter Diamandis, cofounder of Singularity University, on the biggest change of all, the next evolutionary step into what he calls a “meta-intelligence, where we are all connected brain to brain:

Alec Ross is bestselling author of The Industries of the Future, exploring how the megatrends will fundamentally reshape the markets and businesses in which we work:

So where will all this take us? This BBC documentary explores possible scenarios for the way we will work and live by 2050. How will you get there?

More insights and ideas on future trends, and leading for innovation and growth:


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