For decades, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has generated some of the world’s greatest innovators, entrepreneurs, and startups. MIT has built a strong research and engineering culture since its founding in 1861, producing dozens of Nobel laureates along the way. 3Com, Akamai, Bose, Dropbox, Intel, iRobot, Kahn Academy, BuzzFeed, HP, and Qualcomm all have MIT roots. So I always pay attention to the lists published in MIT’s in-house journal, The MIT Sloan Management Review.

Understanding change is at the heart of entrepreneurship. As a founder, you need to spot unmet needs arising from changes in demographics, politics, and innovation. If you fail to do so, you may fail yourself.

Last year, MIT published a list by futurist Andrew Winston of the biggest megatrends that will impact the world by 2030. Winston’s pedigree is extensive; his clients include McDonald’s, Apple, Bank of America, Walmart, HP, Disney, and Cisco. Here is his list (explanations are mine):

  1. Demographics: People are living longer. By 2030, more than a billion people will be over 65. 
  2. Urbanization: More and more people will move to cities. By 2030, more than two-thirds of the world will live in urban centers. 
  3. Transparency: The amount of data collected on every person, product, and organization will continue to grow exponentially, as will the pressure to share that information. Keeping secrets will no longer be possible. 
  4. Climate Crisis: Despite rising awareness, governments continue to struggle to balance long-term environmental needs with short-term economics.
  5. Resource Pressures: Water will be a stressed resource. Many cities will be constantly in a state of water shortage and drought.
  6. Clean Tech: Because of Nos. 4 and 5, we will also see an explosion of data-driven technologies that make our collective infrastructure substantially more efficient.
  7. Technology Shifts: Connectivity will continue to spread. 2030 will also see affordable A.I. achieve human levels of intelligence. 
  8. Global Policy: Global problems require globally unified responses, yet it seems less and less likely that nation states will be able to effectively govern collectively, let alone collaboratively. As a result, it will be up to business to take the lead on solving these issues.
  9. Nationalism: The rise of nationalism may increase, with xenophobia continuing to grow.

What these megatrends have in common

  • Acceleration: Not only does it seem that innovation is speeding up, it seems that it’s doing so exponentially.  
  • Solutions are known for many of the issues discussed above, but the will for implementation and execution isn’t there. For example, we’ve known for years what is required to avert a climate catastrophe, yet many of the world’s leaders seem intent on maintaining the status quo.
  • Other than trend No. 9, most of the megatrends are one-way swings with no coming back. For example, it is unlikely the world over the next decade will become less impacted by climate change, overcome resource scarcity, or be less transparent. Nationalism, on the other hand, could swing back. 

What you can do 

Winston, makes four recommendations:

  1. Engage everyone in the sphere of the business world on climate. Start climate activism at a grassroots level. Involve everyone in the movement: owners, employees, customers, suppliers, and even competitors. Fighting climate change must be a group activity.   
  2. Consider the human aspect of business more. Technology, in particular artificial intelligence, will impact the entire workforce and disrupt industries like health care and transportation. But adoption must be done humanely. Business leaders should keep in mind the human cost of adoption.
  3. Embrace transparency. You don’t have a choice–each generation in the workforce is demanding more and more transparency.    
  4. Listen to the next generation. In 10 years, most Millennials will be in their 40s, Gen-Z will be in their 20s, and together these groups will make up the vast majority of the workforce.  

Published on: Feb 25, 2020

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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