Our future will surely be characterized by considerable change. Profound and fundamental developments – some more immediately recognizable than others – will shape “the new context”.
Reflecting on how the global context might evolve is valuable for two reasons: one, to better prepare for the changes ahead, and two, to take the opportunity to shape the future in ways that are desired and meaningful. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “the future depends on what you do today”.
In a fluid, rapidly changing context, it becomes increasingly difficult to make accurate predictions. Instead, the emphasis shifts to the quality of thinking; to the ability to think the unthinkable, to reperceive, to reimagine and to consider alternatives and options. Strategic Foresight – the contemplation of alternative plausible future contexts for better strategic decision-making in the present – harnesses these ways of thinking. By broadening the understanding of what could occur, the less well-known risks and challenges ahead can be identified and prepared for. Strategic Foresight also offers the opportunity to influence the future. By taking a long-term, proactive approach to thinking about potential futures, lessons are learned about what is wanted and not wanted in time to still do something about it, rather than only having the option to be reactive, as only what is imagined can be created.
The World Economic Forum is pleased to present insights from eminent and forward-looking thought leaders and senior practitioners from leading public, private and civil society organizations on plausible “global shifts”. These shifts are topics or issues which, in their view, should be highlighted now and added to the agendas of the Forum and relevant organizations to inspire constructive action for the future. These shifts, offering new ways of thinking to realize the opportunities of emerging developments, complements well the Forum’s work on mitigating risks (as outlined in the recent Global Risks report).
It was John Maynard Keynes who drew our attention to the power of ideas. As he said, “the world is ruled by little else”. The power of the ideas inherent in these global shifts is palpable; they pique our curiosity, prepare mankind for the future and offer powerful ways of reperceiving the world.
Taken as a set – through comparison, contrast and combination – the shifts provide an even richer basis for reflection. For example, in the area of employment, the shifts suggest a move towards a world where people will come to manage their revenue-generating activities in a significantly different way:
- Vast technological leaps will occur and are set to be the basis for great economic growth and the creation of new industries (Schwartz). This is happening, for example, at the dawn of the creative economy (Hajkowicz) and the next stage of individualization (Schelb).
- Permanent jobs will fade away (Sagasti, Juech) and an emphasis on self-generated livelihoods will emerge, made increasingly possible by advances in technology (Sagasti).
- ICT innovation and deployment will drive the informal economy to become formal, opening up opportunities for entrepreneurs to scale up their businesses (Gatune).
- Machines will increasingly perform cognitive jobs in place of people, forcing automation across the employment spectrum — including high-skilled labour and white-collar work (Wong, Roubini). This will serve to make non-routine, cognitive occupations the sole basis for significant revenue generation.
- The changing employment landscape is likely to leave a significant number of people on the sidelines of the economy, generating increased inequality unless we establish appropriate policies (Juech, Wilkinson, Roubini).
- Humans will live and remain active longer given that they will enjoy better cognitive and physical health, leaving them the opportunity to rethink the organization of their work lives (Van der Elst).
- An ageing population could accelerate the growth in services globally (Best), with an impact on employment patterns.
If these do prove to be some of the pertinent elements of the future employment context, how then can systems be put in place that support everyone’s ability to live meaningful lives? Considerations include frameworks that support entrepreneurship and other forms of self-generated livelihoods; systems that allow these activities to be properly integrated as part of a formal economy, thereby allowing taxes to be collected and redistributed; educational/training systems that allow people to quickly acquire the flexible skills required to adapt to new circumstances and seize new opportunities; safety nets that decouple social benefits from employment relationships to encourage a more dynamic and resilient work marketplace; and support systems that can buttress people’s changing life organization, so as to redefine economic growth as inclusive economic growth. A similar reflection on other topics could be developed on the basis of the individual shifts or a combination thereof.
In a future characterized by volatility and fundamental changes, everyone will need to be an innovator. The new context will require vastly different responses than did the old one. The reader is invited to engage with the ideas presented herein and to use them as resources to create the future desired for current and future generations.