We live in a time of incredible change. Dramatic, pervasive, and relentless. More change in the next 10 years than the last 250 years. The challenges are numerous, the opportunities are greater. Incredible technologies transforming our lives and work, expectant consumers and disruptive competitors, power shifts economically and culturally, climate crisis and social distrust. The 2020s will be a decade of transformation.

The 2020s will be a decade of transformation. It will be a decade of shifting power. Whilst we used to think of power as hard and hierarchical, new power is soft and social. I call it “Meta Power” because it goes beyond our traditional sources of power, and boundaries of control. In particular it goes beyond nations, beyond the power nodes and codes of the past.

Megatrends and Metapower

Meta power is not about having the largest army, it is about having the best story. It harnesses the new structures of our society, and is achieved through inspiration and influence. It comes from the voice of people who are loved and respected. It is the emotion stirred through culture and sport. It is the actions that positively contribute to a better society, healthier and happier. It is less tangible and less structural, more human and collaborative. It is a pull not a push, a carrot not a stick.

Thunberg is more respected than Trump, U2 has more influence than the UN, Messi is more followed than Macron. Leaders realise that social media is more effective than press releases, nations realise that culture is more potent than politics, media realise that people love stories of real people beyond celebrity. The best brands win through word of mouth rather than advertising, music and movies are promoted through immersive experiences.

Think of the power of social media in driving the Arab Spring, which no nation was able to influence or contain. Think about reality television which immerse people in trivial yet everyday lives. Think about the most memorable Olympic stories: Jesse Owens as he underminded Hitler in Berlin, Eric “the Eel” Moussambani who have never swum in a pool before Sydney, or Sarah Attar, who ran in London in a headscarf, and inspired the liberation of women in Saudi Arabia.

We are only starting to appreciate the seismic nature of change in our world, technologically and socially, and how it is changing the very concepts of power.

We are all familiar with how the smartphone has transformed the way we live, how we shop and connect, how we work and learn, how we vote and identify ourselves. The rising economies of Asia, its new brands and new middle class, transform business, but also the power behind movies, fashion, and sports. Jurassic Park to Harvey Nichols, Volvo Cars to Weetabix. We might be concerned about Huawei, we should probably be more concerned about TikTok, and its disruptive impact on our children. Indeed, artificial intelligence will be the most powerful transformative force of all, with its applications from genetic recoding to self-learning machines.

Take a look at three megatrends shaping our decade ahead, and the consequences for power, be it for nations, and also for entities that exist beyond or across nations:

  • Cities and tribes are the new the power nodes

Rapid urbanisation is redefining our world, the nature of markets and nations. 1.5 million more people live in cities every week. By 2025, Asia will be home to 33 of the world’s 49 megacities, of over 10 million people. In fact China expects to have 200 cities with a population of over one million people by 2025. To tackle overcrowding in Beijing, China is building a new city – Xiongan New Area – from scratch 100km southwest of the capital. Delhi will replace Tokyo as the world’s largest city, whilst all 10 of the world’s fastest growing cities will be in India, with the port of Surat growing fastest of all.

Economic growth is driving the rise of a new global middle class, 3.2 billion people today, growing across Asia to 5.3 billion by 2030, the world’s fastest growing market. At the same time, people have migrated across the world. Nations are increasingly heterogeneous, multi-cultural and diverse. Over 350 million people live in a different country from their birth, a number that will triple in 10 years. Diasporas and tribes, driven by culture or religion, a love of hip hop or running will spread across the world, dispersed but connected.

“Meta power” lies in the new communities of cities, and the global tribes of the future.

  • Social issues are the new power drivers

Environmental threats are intensifying, challenging our desire for industrialisation and progress, demanding a new balance between short- and long-term impacts. As individuals and brands embrace more resource-efficient behaviours, from bike-sharing to material recycling, social and environmental issues have become critical drivers of decision making. 66% of consumers, including 73% of millennials, say they will pay more for environmentally-friendly products.

Last year Formula 1 pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2030, and to make all grand prix sustainable by 2025. For a sport that produces 225,000 tonnes of CO2 each session, and transports 10 teams to 21 races around the globe, this is a huge commitment, and demonstrates the shift in society’s priorities. In a world under threat, people seek positive solutions, authenticity and hope, more human and sustainable solutions. Economic inequality is at an all-time high, whilst trust in all types of institutions is at an all-time low.

“Meta power” lies in stories of humanity, and improved lives and social progress.

  • Technology platforms are the new power brokers

Connective technology means that by 2020 there will be 7 times as many connected devices as people on the planet. The power of networks, formal and informal, grows exponentially, as we can see from the rise of new platform-based companies – Alibaba to Amazon, Airbnb to Netflix. They thrive as exchanges, fuelled by immense amounts of data. 90% of all data on the planet was created in the last 2 years. Intelligence accelerates growth, through personal relevance and precision influence. These businesses realise that they don’t need to be big to be powerful, instead they are smart and collaborative. Maybe this is a model for the future of nation power.

AI accelerates the data trend, from driverless cars to smart homes, personalised medicines to brain-linked controls. 90% of stock market trading is now done by algorithm. Look too at the addictive power of participation through technology – 2.2 billion people now participate in eSports, more than any other social activity, whilst games like Fortnite drive youth culture and aspiration.

“Meta power” lies in the hyper-connectedness and intelligence achieved through technologies, augmenting and fusing with the real world.

Welcome to a new power generation

“Hard power” succeeded in a world of borders and controls. It is aggressive and coercive, imposed through physical size and strength. “Soft power” is more effective in a world of connections and cooperation. It is more engaging and influential, independent of physicality. Meta power goes further, it harness the new structures and dynamics of a changing world.

We have reached a tipping point. The notion of power has changed, and its effectiveness.

Nations are wasting huge amounts of public money on traditional forms of hard power such as military interventions and economic sanctions, increasingly ineffective in today’s world. Instead they should refocus investments into activities that have a positive influence on other nations, communities and individuals.

Soft power activities, such as more cultural and sporting investment, more humanitarian and environmental support, deliver a better return on their investments, enabling nations to influence their stakeholders and build positive national reputations with enlightened influence.

Meta power goes beyond nations, but can be embraced by them.

In a world of blurred boundaries and multicultural tribes, power lies in the new stories of society – the sports teams we love, the influencers we follow, the movies we watch, the people who reflect our aspirations. This new power transcends nationalism, it embraces globalism, but in relevant ways. It gives individual people the freedom to choose how they are influenced.

Perhaps the most potent source of power in today’s world is change itself. Embrace the changing world, its new structures and codes, and become more powerful. Neglect it, and your power will rapidly diminish.

Change is power, because it is the story of the future, which any one of us can write, and shape to our advantage.

© Peter Fisk 2020

The Global Soft Power Index 2020 is the world’s most comprehensive soft power study, developed by Brand Finance, surveying opinions of over 50,000 people in more than 85 countries.

It specifically explores the ranking of nations, built on a new model of six power drivers. It seeks to understand the relative standing of countries by publics around the world, how effectively they build this new power, and what they can do to better more effective.

The Global Soft Power Summit 2020 will explore what does foreign policy success look like? Is soft power at the heart of diplomacy? Are we witnessing a shift in global soft and hard power dynamics? What are the key drivers of soft power? Is hard power making a resurgence?

Peter Fisk, global thought leader on strategy and innovation, explores the changing nature of power. He will look forwards to the future, making sense of the megatrends driving society and business, to understand where is power heading, and how can it be built and deployed for the future.

Other speakers include:

  • Ban Ki-Moon, 8th Secretary-General, United Nations
  • Sebastian Coe, President, World Athletics
  • Sir Ciarán Devane, CEO, British Council
  • Dr Yu Jie, Asia-Pacific Programme, Chatham House
  • David Haigh, CEO, Brand Finance
  • Mishal Husain. International Broadcaster

There are two summits, in London and Oxford. Free tickets by email softpower@brandfinance.com … Details below:

The future of food is about authenticity, wellness and relevance – traceability of supply chains, natural and organic ingredients, convenient and well designed packaging, and fantastic, inspiring taste

The UN estimates that by 2050 global food production will have to increase by close to 70% if we want to feed the world. This poses a real conundrum: How do we feed all those people healthy diets, in ways that don’t harm the planet?

In some cases, innovators in this space are doing what was once science fiction. The outcome of these new technologies has profound implications for the human diet, the changing climate, and the global economy.

Here are some most recent examples:

  • DNA Sushi … London-based conveyor belt sushi restaurant YO! Sushi collaborated with DNAfit to help diners choose dishes based on their DNA.
  • Smart food … Nestlé XiaoAI, an AI family nutrition assistant, is a smart speaker equipped with nutrition and health knowledge answering questions on custom recipes, music, and nutrition
  • Upcycled Beer … Kellogg’s teamed up with UK brewery Seven Brothers to convert its rejected Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, and Coco Pops breakfast cereals into beer.
  • Mood Tea … Marley Mellow Mood Peach Raspberry Relaxation Tea from the US features mood-enhancing botanicals, which are said to calm the soul and ease the mind.
  • Genetic Dining … Vita Mojo was the first foodservice chain to give customers nutritional guidance based on their genetics, providing a great conversation as well as healthy eating
  • Sea Farms … Floating Farm is a dairy farm in Rotterdam, Netherlands, that showcases how food production can become less vulnerable to climate change
  • Indoor Farms … Bowery Parsley is grown in indoor automated vertical farms in New York City, NY promoting itself as “grown locally (in the city!) with no pesticides”
  • Edible Fashion … Modern Meadow in New Jersey grows animal-free leather in their labs, indeed recent fashion shows have been full of aubergine and mushroom-based fabrics.
  • Better Bling … New York City- based Couple is the first company to exclusively sell lab-grown diamond rings as an ethical alternative to real diamonds, and a lot cheaper too!

Splash out on dinner at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant, and you might find an iPod accompanies your seafood risotto. Sounds of the sea enhance the perceived freshness and flavours, and can also affect our sense of sweetness and saltiness.

Caterpillars, already popular in Africa, contain 28mg of protein per 100g, more than minced beef, and add 35mg of iron too. If you’re in search of a calcium boost, try grasshoppers.

Rising food prices, the growing population and environmental concerns make food one of the big debates for governments, and interest areas for investors. Meat production takes up huge amounts of land, consume water, diverts crops from humans, and adds to carbon emissions.

Insects, perhaps rebranding as micro-protein, could become a staple of our diets – low cost, requiring little space or water. With 1500 edible species, we could soon be tucking into nutrititous crickets and grasshoppers, ground into burgers. Wasps are a delicacy in Japan.

If you still want meat, your next steak could be sourced from a test-tube. Strips of muscle tissue using stem cells taken from cows, a little like calamari to look at, are grown in a lab, and then shaped to expectation, similar to existing meat substitutes such as Quorn. Of course you could just become vegetarian, and still get a balanced diet.

Another source of improved eating, is sensory-engineering. Scientists have shown that look and smell affect how we taste. Condiment Junkie, a sonic-branding company is exploring how certain frequencies can compensate for sugar in foods, thereby improving health, as well as enhancing the whole cooking and eating experience.

However the most significant source of future food is likely to come from algae. 145 species of green, red, and brown seaweed is already eaten in huge quantities across Asia, often as a delicacy. Ground into other foods, its strong flavour can dramatically reduce the amount of salt used, for example in bread or prepared meals. Algae farming, for food as well as energy, could become the world’s largest crop industry by 2030.

However it is not just the food content that could radically change. It is also about embracing technology to deliver more personalised service and added value experiences. A great example comes from Singularity Sushi, which uses DNA analysis to ultra-personalise food, and 3D printing to produce objects of incredible beauty.

Here are 20 case studies of companies who are shaking up the world of food and drink in profound and enlightened ways, riding the consumer trends, embracing digital technologies, with incredible new experiences and profitable new business models:

  • % Arabica – Asian minimalism, African coffee roastery, and Arabic meeting place
  • AeroFarms – Vertical farming in a crowded world
  • Basmaty – The Arabic cookery community
  • Boring Life – Embracing CBD to relieve the stress and anxieties of a busy life
  • Brewdog – Beer for punks, irreverent and brilliant
  • Deliveroo – Food delivered as fast as a kangaroo
  • Gïk Live! – Blue wine from Spain
  • Graze – Snacking reinvented … fast, healthy, delivered
  • Halo Top Creamery – The Healthy Ice Cream from California
  • HelloFresh – Say “Hello” to easy home cooking
  • Impossible Foods – Can a burger save the planet?
  • Juan Valdez Café – From commodity to premium branded experience
  • Kikkoman – Make haste slowly
  • Mayrig – Cooking up a passion for Armenian culture
  • Mikkeller – The world’s largest craft beer company
  • Nespresso – The business model with an extra shot
  • Ossian Vides y Vinos – Organic fusions of wines from Segovia
  • Red Bull – Space jumps, air races … energy drinks and media house
  • Supr Daily – Digitalised milk delivery in Mumbai
  • Vinomofo – Australian wine lovers community
  • Zespri – Redefining the Chinese gooseberry as the Kiwi fruit

In the past few years, food waste has been a particular sustainable action point for consumers and companies. Companies are finding new ways to reuse food waste. The Kellogg Company worked with UK- based Seven Bro7hers Brewery in 2019 to create beer made from non-standard cereal pieces. Meadow Mushrooms in New Zealand has created a container that is made from the organic waste from its mushroom stalks.

In France, Danone committed to solely using ingredients from regenerative agriculture by 2025. Unilever has a Sustainable Living Plan with three wide-reaching corporate social responsibility goals. Danone, Nestlė, Firmenich, International Flavors & Fragrances, and Sodexo are among more than 80 companies that are part of the We Mean Business climate change coalition. Ecommerce giant Amazon has founded its own Climate Pledge that commits to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement by 2040.

In the next 10 years, consumers will be able to use easily accessible and affordable customised biological tests, data collection, and analysis to learn what makes their bodies one of a kind. The results will help consumers better understand how to address every aspect of their health, including brain and emotional health. While respecting consumer privacy, food, drink, and foodservice companies will have opportunities to develop personalised recipes, custom diet plans, and individualised products.

Consumers are learning more about the natural connections in their bodies as more research discovers how the systems in our bodies work together. In particular, improved understanding of the research into the microbiome has taught more consumers about the importance of maintaining a healthy gut/brain axis, or the connection that links the brain, digestive system, and emotions.

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