With a new decade in front of us, what happens when the confluence of politics, economics, society, technology, environmental, and legislative forces meet the forces of humanity? Here are seven deep trends that will emerge to impact the next decade and more:
1. Human Ingenuity vs Intelligent Automation
In a world of AI possibilities and pervasive technology, when will society automate, augment a machine with a human, augment a human with a machine, and fully trust human ingenuity? This question will impact the future of humanity. Should society over rely on automation, will humans lose the ability to gain intuition, will society become dumber, do humans become over-reliant on technology? Will intelligent automation widen the gap between the smart and the less intelligent? Do we create further digital divides? Over time, AI ethics will emerge taking people centered principles.
2. Autonomous Decade
The future is autonomous. Machines will deliver services that are continuous, auto-compliant, self-healing, self-learning, and self-aware. The need for greater precision decisions will require connections to data-driven digital networks and for more and more sources of data. This battle for public, private, and shared data will shape who wins in new networked economies.
3. Authenticity vs Deep Fakes
In this world of relativism and enhanced technologies, humans can no longer discern authenticity. The blurred line between reality and fiction creates issues that can cause riots, incite violence, sway public opinion, and bilk others of value. The need for authenticity still remains and those brands, enterprises, and individuals who can deliver authenticity will win over trust and significant business.
4. The US vs China, Open Vs Closed
China’s salvo to dominate the world models after how colonial powers ruled the past and how America rose to the top. From infrastructure investments to trade deals to foreign affairs, this new war for ideas is more than just open vs closed. China seeks to ensure its relevance and future before its population dynamics turn it into Japan. In the US-China trade-war, the implications move beyond just trade:
- Currency manipulation
- IP theft
- Access to China markets
- Reserve currency for dictatorships
- HK protests
- Spratly Islands debate
- Belt & road
- Battle for Africa
- Freedom of Taiwan
- AI dictatorships
However, like the Soviet Union in the 1950’s and 1960’s, many are attracted to the opportunities for personal enrichment at the expense of personal freedoms. This war for ideas with a backset of socialism vs capitalism will play out in the 2020’s
5. Stakeholder vs Shareholder Capitalism
The shift away from shareholder capitalism represents a backlash towards extreme capitalism in a winner takes all market. In simplistic terms shareholders own a part of the company while stakeholders have an interest in the performance of the company. Today’s wide definition of stakeholders includes employees, suppliers, the environment, and other ecosystem players. With the growing societal discontent in play and businesses caught in the cross-fire, organizations such as the Business Roundtable and World Economic Forum have embraced the stakeholder capitalism theme and mantra as a potential solution to the inequities in the market as well as addressing societal ills exacerbated by political systems and ineffective government leadership. Unfortunately a real divide will occur when institutional investors challenge the effectiveness and performance of stakeholder capitalism run companies vs shareholder run companies.
6. A Culture of Abundance Vs A Culture of Scarcity
The recent societal unrest and backlash against institutions has come from those who experience a culture of abundance and those who experience a culture of scarcity. Because basic needs are met and expectations often remain low in a culture of abundance, individuals are more willing to share, collaborate, take time to build long-term relationships. In a culture of scarcity, individuals fight for basic needs and create defenses and alliances of mutual self-interest. With rising expectations and a culture of entitlement, the recent societal unrest have come from a belief that injustice, inequality, and divide have come from those who live in a culture of abundance and that those in a culture of scarcity must attack those who are successful. Add mistrust of today’s systems and institutions, and society now must fight to defend a culture of hard work and meritocracy versus identity politics and social injustice.
7. Privacy as a Property Right
Data driven digital networks power most new companies and startups. Data to date has mostly been a free natural resource. As organizations have mined individual’s digital exhaust, digital foot print, genomic data, and personal information for profit without payment, a movement to make privacy a human right has taken hold. However, existing laws to govern this right vary from authority to authority and the policies remain inconsistent. Yet, should individual privacy data become a property right such as land titles for physical property and patents for intellectual property, existing laws could apply. Individuals would then have the authority to not sell, donate, provide one-time access, provide recurring access, or provide life-time access for value exchange. One caveat, in this model, only the rich would have privacy as they would not need to broker their data for monetary and non-monetary value exchange.
The Bottom Line: Digital Divides, Winner Takes All, and Duopolies Will Dominate The Decade
Capitalism as one knows it has shifted from free markets to an extreme winner takes all market. Massive concentration of power by the mega investor class has exponentially skewed the market. In fact, the largest 30 shareholders control 51.4% of the assets of 300 publicly traded companies, with 1.5% of those shareholders controlling 51% of shares. Companies are incessantly being asked by these shareholders to pay out greater and greater short-term profits at the expense of long term investment and growth.
To add insult to injury, these same investors hedge their bets by demanding more returns and stripping the profits out of their cash cow portfolio companies to fund disruptive startups in the same or adjacent markets. These well-funded startups often run large losses to take market share and cripple incumbents in their race for market dominance. While it may have taken previous businesses decades to emerge as oligopolies or duopolies through natural market forces, today's investors and founders craft every one of these startups to be a monopoly on day one. The investor class mainly funds startups that can rapidly achieve monopolistic positions.
Meanwhile, the digital transformation revolution has gone mainstream. In this post-digital era, every startup begins as a data driven network (DDN) where data and insight fuel growth and power market dominance. DDNs build massive digital feedback loops for all stakeholders (e.g. customers, employee, suppliers, and partners) and use this insight to mitigate risk, identify new opportunities, improve operational efficiency, anticipate what features buyers may want next, and drive dynamic pricing. Applying technologies such as AI and the cloud to scale, these organizations use their scale in automated decisions to dominate markets.
As these DDNs grow, their data and insights give them exponential advantage and their monopolistic powers increase. This is why companies such as Google continue to dominate search, Facebook remains a leader in social, Alibaba dominates digital payments. Using this dominance, each DDN will enter new markets and value chains that bring a powerful aggregation of capital, customer, content, network ecosystem, technology, and talent together.
The emergence of these market forces create ripple effects even among the winners of digital transformation. For example, Domino's Pizza who's stock was one of the best performing since 2010 faces an onslaught by these DDNs. Domino's beat its duopoly rival Pizza Hut with massive investment in new business models, digital technologies, and product innovations over a decade. By all accounts, Domino's succeeded at digital transformation emerging as the 5th most popular ecommerce site in the United States, out performing tech stock in returns, and gaining market share among rivals.
However, companies like Domino's may be ill prepared to win against DDN startups in food delivery aggregation and ghost kitchens in the next three years. Why? Customers order once a week at most with Domino's but order multiple times a week with Door Dash, Grub Hub, and PostMates. While these competitors don't even have their own kitchens, they are owning the customer experience and the customer. Many food delivery sites pair up with ghost kitchens, which prepare a wide range of genres in separately branded store fronts for scale. With more than $2B raised by these food aggregators and ghost kitchens, Domino's faces the company's biggest challenge for relevance and mindshare with customers.
With 50 mega value chains across multiple industries, 100 organizations will emerge as duopolies. Over 90% of the Fortune 500 by 2050 will be merged, acquired, or go bankrupt as quadrillions of capital flows exchange hands. Given the massive amounts of capital to fund new DDN startups as monopolies on Day 1, today's CEO plays against a stacked deck with limited options to achieve sustainable growth as their investors bet against them. Success will require CEO's to build DDNs, partner in existing DDN's, or be punished for not participating in these DDNS.