Megatrends – what are they and in what timescale?

This is the second blog based on the work we did writing Megatrends and how to Survive Them, which is due to be published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing in October this year.

In the first blog we explained why we wrote the book. As one of our reviewers said (better than we could), “I was very pleasantly surprised about how readable this book really is–it will make excellent reading for a wide audience especially anyone with an interest in the future of our beautiful planet.   Readers will find the book’s statistics and projections give them an unfair advantage in a discussion about where it’s all going, down the line.”

We have chosen a timescale of 2032 for the trends we consider. We often hear people talking about 2050 or 2100 when they talk about the future. In that timescale some things that we haven’t put in this book, like maglevs under the sea, or commercial space travel and tourism or replicators (as in Star Trek) to 3D print our food could be possible. We are looking closer in time than that, so we can base our discussion on evidence, and make extrapolations. But why 2032?

The trends we discuss will continue beyond 2032, but we think 2032 makes a convenient reference point. We choose 2032 because based on current arrangements, 2032-33 will likely see elections for new Politburo Members in China, and a new President in the USA. So, 2032 could be an interesting year because there may well be changes of leadership emerging in both the USA and China. Much of the geopolitics of the next decade is likely to be dominated by these two powers.

In considering 2032, remember that a lot can happen in 14 years. Think back to what life was like in 2004….

For instance:

  • This was before it was normal for family members to use videoconferencing between continents on a regular basis.
  • 2004 was before Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, which alerted large numbers of people to climate change.
  • 2004 was before immigration from the Global South hit the headlines in the USA and Europe.

Now imagine the potential for similar changes going forward. There will definitely be some in the timescale we are working with.

The book focuses on 12 megatrends – global forces that are changing our world. This blog describes the structure we used for each chapter to explore the trend. But first perhaps some background to the trends – they have emerged from our work and the work of others in SAMI (and LASA) from projects, workshops and horizon scanning studies over the past few years. They are not independent, but we have found that groups – Boards, management teams, operational and functional teams – can quickly grasp the essential implications of 12 trends for their organisation or circumstance before focusing on a few, to manage the associated risks and opportunities. To help this we provide a summary of each trend on a page – with a few bullet points and a diagram like this one showing interconnections of trends: this one shows that Shifting Values is particularly linked to Connected World, Social Structures and Economic Activity trends.


12 Megatrends


The discussion of a trend in its chapter is then divided into headings that many readers may recognise as based on the ideas behind Three Horizons: Why this is important, How we got here, Current trends, Deflections we might see, How this might affect you by 2032, and a last section with a set of questions to help readers think in greater detail about how each trend might affect them in greater detail. These are: What does this mean for your business? People you work with? Customers? Products and services? Community? Networks?

Our reviewers found this easy to follow, and in addition liked that we not only considered global trends but also had a table in each chapter showing how the trend affected each global region. They also related to the early indicators – newspaper headlines you might see– that could indicate the direction a trend was taking. An earlier paper for Strategy & Leadership which described the use of early indicators with operational managers was among the most highly requested download ever! So clearly a useful way of helping people relate to potential futures.

We have been careful to “always look on the bight side of life” as well as consider downside implications of the trends – and this has been welcomed by one of our reviewers: “At any given point, we have the potential to move forward in both a positive and negative direction. The positive and the negative will co-exist forever, but the challenge we face is which one spreads across the greater part of the planet. I think laying out both interpretations of the trends really helps shape a more nuanced understanding. We need to be constantly vigilant about the possibility of negative trends being exacerbated, which is why this book could make an important contribution.”

Authors: Patricia Lustig, LASA Insight and SAMI Associate and Gill Ringland, SAMI Emeritus Fellow and Director, Ethical Reading.

This blog simultaneously published on the SAMI Consulting blog.


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NEW Blog on our forthcoming book: Megatrends and how to survive them

Authors: Patricia Lustig, LASA Insight Managing Director and SAMI Associate, and Gill Ringland, SAMI Emeritus Fellow and Director, Ethical Reading.

Megatrends and how to survive them: preparing for 2032” is the title of our book that is due to be published in October this year, by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

We have had so much fun writing it and had so many “aha” moments that we thought it would be good to share some of these insights with a wider audience before publication. A number of people have seen and commented on drafts.  They are acknowledged in the book by name, with many thanks for their help, underpinning work and support.

In this first blog we explore why we wrote this book. It is very different from the previous books that either of us have written on Scenario Planning or Strategic Foresight, which were for people who wanted tools to work with on thinking about the future. These books did discuss why and how people and organisations would benefit from thinking about the future and building this into strategy, but their titles did not encourage the casual reader or decision maker to pick up and read the book. We started to write for an audience outside the foresight community with “Beyond Crisis” (written with Oliver Sparrow), but though this was prescient in its thinking in 2009 about “there is no return to ‘Business as Usual’”, it did not reach a wide audience. We tried again with “Here be Dragons” which combines a novelette about an organisation trying to re-invent itself, with a handbook of the tools used at different stages during the project. We are often approached by people who have been given this book as a Christmas present and enjoyed it!  Our aim was to make the books approachable, but we mostly connected with the converted; those who already were interested in using Foresight.

This new book arises from our discussions about how to empower real people – organisational leaders and line managers – with ideas about the future that can improve the quality of their decisions. Many of the foresight tools developed over the past decades have been targeted at enabling decision makers to challenge their current assumptions and world view, by creating images of qualitatively different alternative possible futures. As we write, we see headlines overturning many of our assumptions almost daily. So, our current assumptions are already being challenged.

In working with a range of organisations, we have realised that a different approach is called for. This aims to reduce all-encompassing uncertainty – which is freezing decision making – by focusing on what we know with reasonable certainty about the future.  There are a number of global megatrends sweeping the globe. Our message is: these megatrends are happening now, and you need to know how you can respond to them. Then you can face the current chaotic times and potential different emerging futures more confidently.

In working with groups, we focus on creating a timeline for a subset of these megatrends, such as population growth, economics, IT, biotechnology. We explore the timelines of the trends through increasing levels of uncertainty over time and analyse the forces that could accelerate or slow down their effects. By initially exploring the framework of forces and then exploring uncertainties and the risks from potential disruptors, the group experiences a lower level of fear, uncertainty and doubt, while encompassing a more realistic understanding of the limits of our capability to forecast the future.

In the next blog we will discuss the design of the book. It aims to support the ability of people and groups to think about the future. As one of our reviewers has said “I was very pleasantly surprised about how readable this book really is – it will make excellent reading for a wide audience especially anyone with an interest in the future of our beautiful planet.   Readers will find the book’s statistics and projections give them an unfair advantage in a discussion about where it’s all going, down the line.”

This blog simultaneously published on the SAMI Consulting blog.

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Slides from Unlocking Foresight webinars: Future of Health and Future of Cities

Here is the link to the slides from the Future of Health Webinar organised by Unlocking Foresight and Atkins, from 17 May 2017 please go to: Future of Health Webinar


Here is the link to the slides from the Future of Cities Webinar organised by Unlocking Foresight and Atkins on 26 April 2017 please go to: Future of Cities, webinar 26.04.17

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Book review: The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Dr Bruce Lloyd

First published on the Unlocking Foresight Blog in June 2017

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Klaus Schwab, World Economic Forum (2017), 192pp.*

The Fourth Industrial Revolution explores how new technologies are increasing, merging the physical, biological and digital worlds in ways that create ‘both huge promise and potential peril.’ The speed, breadth and depth of these developments will increasingly – and urgently – force us to rethink key issues around how countries operate, how organizations (and governments) create value, as well as what it means to be human.

Klaus Schwab, is the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, and he has been at the centre of global affairs for over 40 years. He is well (perhaps even uniquely?) qualified to both observe past trends and future possibilities. Schwab argues that: ‘if we take collective responsibility for creating a future in which innovation and technology serve people, we can lift humanity to new levels of moral consciousness.’

The book outlines ways in which new forms of collaboration and governance, accompanied by a positive approach can help shape this new revolution to the benefit of all. It starts by exploring the historical context, drivers of change, and potential tipping points; before discussing impacts on the economy, business, national and global, society and the individual. The final section (10 pages) on ‘The Way Forward’ deserves to be widely read and discussed (and acted on) by corporate and political leaders. However, although the role of values and wisdom, were implicitly covered in this section, there would be merit in giving these areas greater explicit attention in any future edition.

The final 50 pages cover 23 appendices briefly covering details of specific areas of technological development from Implantable Technologies and Ubiquitous Computing, through Smart Cities and Driverless Cars, to Neurotechnologies (a word my computer considers incorrectly spelled and can offer ‘No spelling suggestions’!!) and Designer Beings. Any omissions? Perhaps a section on ‘Controlling Ageing’?

Also, while the technological developments themselves are reasonably predictable, the human/societal implications – and the outcomes of ethical challenges – are much less so.

This is a small (paperback) book, with small type, but it is full of big, and important messages. It is an invaluable starting point for anyone with a serious interest in our future, and it merits a much wider readership than you might get from its somewhat low-key physical presentation. The implications of the recent American and other elections remain to be seen, and these developments (among others) strongly support the case for using this study as the basis for an annual review of progress – or not. Therein will lie its real value.

Reviewed by Dr Bruce Lloyd, Emeritus Professor of Strategic Management, London South Bank University.

*The 2016 edition was reviewed by Dr Lloyd.

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Book Review of Strategic Foresight by Dr Bruce Lloyd

First published on the Unlocking Foresight blog in  April 2017.  Updated and expanded version August 2017

Strategic Foresight: Learning form the Future by Patricia Lustig, Triarchy Press (2015), 177pp., £15.00,

Partly because of the recent number of widely unpredicted events, Foresight (and Forecasting) have been subjected to considerable criticism over the past year. This book needs to be widely read especially by those sceptical about the value of the tools and techniques that can improve our thinking about this critical area.

There is no doubt that we can all improve our learning over these issues, and Patricia Lustig provides a readable and relevant guide based on 38 years of experience in organisations from a wide variety of different sectors and organisational size) on how we can all become more effective through greater systematic thinking about the future, as well as exploring the toolkit of a number of different techniques to support this process. In the end, the debate should be about the rigour of our process of thinking about the future, rather than whether or not any particular forecast happens to be correct, although, of course, we are also interested in producing more reliable expectations of the future, as a way to improve the quality of our decision-making today.

The book should help all decision-makers to more effectively shape the future of their organisations. It is about imaging possible futures, assessing the implications, learning from past errors, as well as developing more robust, stress-tested, strategies, as a basis for more effective decision-making. It is always important to recognise that, while change might well be a necessary condition for progress, it is rarely a sufficient condition.

The author rightly argues that using scenarios and other techniques, can help assess trends in the present environment, as well as the impact of relevant weak signals. In addition, there is also the vitally important issue of how to incorporate these views of the future into organisational strategy and organisational decision-making processes – at all levels.

All decision-making involves implicit, or explicit, assumptions about the future. The critical role of the tools and techniques as the vehicle for making this process more explicit, cannot be over-emphasised; this is the way our learning processes can become more effective (p 52/53). Mistakes, or errors, are opportunities for learning about how to do things better in the future. It is this aspect that is often the main area of weakness in many organisations and the book makes an invaluable contribution to improving our processes – if read and used effectively. In these rapidly changing times we all need as much help we can get. Again, as the author (rightly) argues ‘Strategic Foresight can be learned’ but, perhaps, the author could have given even greater emphasis to this critically important dimension, as few organisations manage to undertake it successfully.

It is a minor criticism the learning dimension doesn’t get as much attention as I believe is justified. Although the word Learning is mentioned in the title, it appears the word/topic doesn’t merit sufficient importance to get listed in the index?

The general introduction (rightly) argues that Foresight and Forecasting are NOT predictions, they are (simply?) ways of exploring possible futures – often in areas where it isn’t easy to add meaningful probabilities. (However, as mentioned earlier, anyone involved in the prediction business will do so at their peril if they too are not aware of, and effectively use, the tools and techniques covered in this book.)

The book is well structured into ten chapters, that can be used as a 10 point ‘futures toolbox’. It starts by exploring: ‘What is Strategic Foresight?’ Quoting ForTech: ‘Foresight involves constructively bringing awareness of long-term challenges and opportunities into more immediate decision-making. Foresight can be used as to provide valuable inputs to strategy … as well as to mobilise collective strategic action.’ The approach taken is ‘action-orientated’, ‘open to alternative futures’ and ‘participatory’. The second chapter starts the critical sense-making journey.

Other chapters explore the future ‘as a foreign country’, which includes consideration of the Ladder of Inference (p58) – which need to include reference to the importance of feedback loops at all levels. Chapter 5 covers the use of environmental scanning and the value of the Three Horizon technique, as well as the need to identify the possible implications of Wild Cards. Later chapters cover ‘Mapping and Exploration of the Systems,’ including Future Wheels; together with Systems Thinking, and ‘messes and wicked problems’; Casual Layered Analysis, examination of different paradigms. Chapter 9 discusses the VERGE Framework (p139), as well as the benefits of Appreciate Inquiry. The final Chapter ‘Flexing your Foresight Muscles’, attempts to bring it all together within the organisational decision-making context.

Overall, my enthusiasm for the book is, marginally, qualified by a couple of other points. First there is scope for an additional chapter (section) on why Foresight doesn’t get done effectively in so many organisations.  (i.e.: Arrogance at the top; lack of trust; bureaucratic inertia etc.) This would particularly include more about the organisational problems involved in trying to turn better ‘Futures’ thinking into more effective organisational strategy and decision-making. Secondly, it is easy to get overwhelmed by all the (new?) information and there is scope for more attention on ‘mistakes’ to avoid. The questions (p159/60), and exercises (such as the one on p43) are invaluable starting points.

This is a book that needs to be read by all decision-makers in government, education and non-profit organisations, as well as those in business, irrespective of whether they are established multinationals or dot-com start-ups. It is also an ideal framework as a starting-point for a series of 10 lectures on a relevant post-graduate course. Although not the prime market, the book is full of relevant material for individual decision making about our personal lives. The book provides a sound basis for improving the quality of organisational decision-making, and we (organisationally or individually) need all the help we can get.

Dr Bruce Lloyd spent over 20 years in industry and finance before joining the academic world a decade ago to help establish the Management Centre at what is now London South Bank University.  He is Emeritus Professor of Strategic Management at London South Bank University.

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Will we ever see a return to Business as Usual? – Unlocking Foresight Blog from May 2016

In our book “Beyond Crisis”, (Ringland, Sparrow, Lustig, 2010) we suggested that the economic conditions in the period leading up to 2008 were unlikely to return, and drew a figure suggesting how the global economy might evolve after the crash. This picture has been largely accurate since 2008.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 11.06.15

But now there is concern over slow growth globally. China’s growth rate is shrinking and as a recent article in Foreign Affairs points out ( in every single region of the world, economic growth has failed to return to the rate it averaged before the Great Recession. Economists have come up with a variety of theories for why this recovery has been the weakest in postwar history, including high indebtedness, growing income inequality, and excess caution induced by the original debt crisis. Although each explanation has some merit, experts have largely overlooked what may be the most important factor: the global slowdown in the growth of the labor force.

One way to calculate the world’s potential growth rate is to add the rate at which the labor force is expanding to the rate at which productivity is rising. Since 1960, gains in both factors have contributed equally to potential economic growth. And in the last decade, the gains in both appear to have leveled off. The difference between these two drivers, however, is that there is a debate about whether the decline in productivity growth is real. Productivity measurements have arguably failed to capture savings in money and time generated by new technologies, from super fast Internet connections to artificial intelligence. But it is hard to deny that the growth in the size of the labor force – which is driven mainly by increases in the number of working-age people, those between the ages of 15-64 – has slowed across the world.

In a world with fewer young people, economic growth will be harder to come by. The exception – with large populations of young people – could well be Muslim countries and regions, and Africa. Here, family sizes have remained larger and the working age population continues to increase. This will produce a very different population mix over the next decades, as well as resulting differential growth rates between these regions and those with declining work forces – for instant, East Asia, Europe.

Gill Ringland, Unlocking Foresight Non Executive Director

May 2016

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How trends merge to create disruption

It is important to research emerging trends in order to think through how they might change going into the future.  But if you are looking at how trends might become disruptive, you need to also look at how trends merge.  Here is a short example: Birth of telecommunications

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New Huffington Post Great Work Cultures Blog

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Great Work Cultures Blog: Our World in 2026



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The Implications of Water for the Future…

Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink, or should it be “not a drop to fill the coffers of business?” That is the question looming menacingly over the business horizon.

“Dwindling water supplies are a greater risk to businesses than oil running out, a report for investors has warned” (  So what does this mean for you?

No one foresees the day when this situation will happen, but the way things are, it is a distinct possibility. Water is one of our most critical resources, and Slovenia has deemed it a basic, constitutional need. The impact of water-scarcity is being considered not only in terms of biological needs, but as a harbinger of negative impact on businesses and industry. As of today, we already witness decreases in water allocations and more and more stringent regulations and expenses for water-usage, both of which impact a company’s bottom line.

There are no substitutes for water, and in its greed, the human race has just been squandering away nature’s largesse. We should all now be aware of the stresses imposed by water shortage and their causes: population explosion, climate changes, environmental disregard and hazards, and the unchecked usage of this critical commodity. Businesses that had hitherto been riding waves of success could very well be staring doom in the face if they don’t adapt to the situation.

“The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) found that 4.8 billion people – more than half the world’s population – and approximately half of global grain production will be at risk due to water stress by 2050 if status quo, business-as-usual behaviour is followed” (

Industry and businesses will find it impossible to keep their footing in a scenario of fast-dwindling water resources, which is ironically, a situation partly of their own creating. Among those most at risk are high-tech companies, especially those using huge quantities of water to manufacture silicon chips; electricity suppliers who use vast amounts of water for cooling; and agriculture, which uses 70% of global freshwater, says a study commissioned by the powerful CERES group, whose members have $7tn under management. Other high-risk sectors are beverages, clothing, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, forest products, and metals and mining. In short, there is no business that doesn’t have a dependency on water and can justly claim immunity from the water-strained future. Neither can any facet of life, for that matter; business, industry, agriculture, development, humanity, are all interlinked hoops, and the entire cycle – our entire world – is water dependent.

Keeping this bleak outlook in mind and the latest buzzword being “blue”, glad tidings are in the offing. The Corporate world is investing in innovative technology that initiates processes for conserving, recycling, and even extracting fresh water from salt water. However, the flip side presents a grim picture. “Water-use efficiency improvements may slow down the growth in water demand but, particularly in irrigated agriculture, such improvements will most likely be offset by increased production, and subsequently more strain on water-resources. Similarly, water storage and transfer infrastructure improve availability, but allow further growth in demand as well. Climate change will probably increase the magnitude and frequency of droughts and floods. The expected increase in climate variability will compound the problem of water scarcity in dry seasons by reducing water availability and increasing demand, the latter owing to higher temperatures and the need to make up for lost precipitation” (

Water scarcity and the alarming growth of water pollutants will pose a physical risk to business by affecting their operations. Increasing regulation is highly likely to slow down net profitability, and force businesses to either resort to shortcuts or cut down on their water usage. Media also plays havoc, bearing down on companies that collude in water wastage.  Even companies in water-rich areas will be affected because their global networks, social media and the speed of global communication. Almost 22% of water consumption and pollution the world over is linked to the production of export commodities. So how can we truthfully insist that one country is affected while another is not?

Looking at the near future, many companies should be developing response mechanisms, but is it too late? Again, all these efforts might just be in vain if governments don’t back up efficient and clean water usage with effective policy.

If the global future of business is to remain a positive, productive and profitable, it’s time for a rude awakening, for if we don’t do something about water now; there will be no water.  With no water, businesses can’t run. Taking a leaf out of Dow Water and Process Solutions, we need to make every drop count, and commit to putting each drop to the greatest potential use ( No industry can be an island (excuse the pun), but in the very near future they could be part of a very large wasteland.

This blog was first published on


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Podcast on Strategic Foresight

Our CEO, Patricia Lustig, was recently interviewed about developing strategy by Dawna Jones, author of Decision-making for Dummies.

In it they cover:

  • How to develop your foresight muscles,
  • How to scan emerging futures on a regular basis,
  • What happens when you combine emerging trends together,
  • What went wrong with the emergency response plan at the nuclear power plant Fukushima Daiichi and what other companies with emergency response plans can learn,
  • How to work with the unthinkable,
  • Why using foresight strategically gives you the side benefit of seeing patterns so critical for workplace health and decision making accuracy.


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