As part of the Transformation Talks, we looked at megatrends in 2022. Experts from various fields shared their knowledge with us and the audience. This article provides a summary of the megatrends based on current research and literature.
Since its invention, the term megatrends has been closely associated with the concept of transformation. Political scientist John Naisbitt’s 1982 book “Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives” gave futurology, which had emerged nearly 40 years earlier, a world-renowned and promising new tool. With the concept of megatrends, Naisbitt was able to foresee the transformation to an information society (at least in the industrialized nations) of his time and explain a phenomenon such as globalization. According to his definition, megatrends are “major social, economic, political, and technological upheavals” that affect us “for some time – between seven and ten years, or longer.”
There are now a multitude of trend reports and futurology institutions – the term megatrends has become a buzzword in media, politics and business, a guide in an increasingly complex world. Although futurologists and research institutes try to work as transparently, scientifically and expertly as possible, the evaluation of trends is always subjective and dependent on the perspective from which the trends are viewed. The future remains an entity that can’t be determined in its entirety, as can be seen in Pillkahn’s model of the future on the basis of the fields ‘newness’, ‘uncertainties’ and ‘chaos’ (only available in German).
What can be done, however, is to consolidate forecasting skills more and more. In other words, to develop assumptions that are as well-founded as possible and can be used accordingly. However, merely recognizing and documenting a trend and its transformative forces is not enough. Its relevance to the task of the actors concerned, usually in the function of reducing complexity and cushioning uncertainty, is crucial. Even if they do not have to occur, it is helpful to be able to derive a set of scenarios that allow us to think strategically and act creatively.
Again, it is important to note that trends can also generate countertrends, as Tristan Horx of the Vienna Zukunftsinstitut explained at our first Transformation Talk in February 2022. This dynamic is supported by Pillkahn’s “Future Model as Spectrum of Change and Knowledge.” A megatrend can create a countertrend, loop, go into synthesis, and then continue to run stably into the future, much like a water vortex drifting down a river.
What distinguishes megatrends from other trends, according to the Zukunftsinstitut, is their ability to reshape entire societies. There are four crucial criteria:
Based on these parameters, the Zukunftsinstitut has been tracking the major, epochal trends for many years and linking them in the form of a kind of metro map, the so called megatrend map. It shows which subtrends can be assigned to each megatrend, how they are interlinked, and where they reinforce or overlap. And you can also see immediately the less popular megatrends that aren’t in the media every week. Events like the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, on the other hand, are likely to be turbo accelerators for megatrends like health, globalization, and security. In addition, like a big radar, the megatrend map also allows to identify blind spots and determine which drivers of change a company should take a closer look at in the context of its business areas.
In our project environment, we deal regularly and in depth (but not exclusively) with three megatrends, which we would like to discuss in detail below: New Work as structural change in the world and organization of work, connectivity as networking through predominantly digital infrastructures, and security as a variable in the interplay with risk and risk assessment.
Since the early 1990s, information and communication technologies have played an important role in the diversification and evolution of workplaces during globalization, driving the emergence of a quick, constantly changing world of work. This has had an enormous impact on local, temporal and physical / material dimensions in organizational landscapes.
According to the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering, New Work approaches manifest themselves particularly in the following four fields:
The corporate culture required for this can still be best experienced and lived analogously in shared workspaces as cultural meeting places. There, people can increasingly implement social, creative, and collaborative aspects of work that they lose elsewhere through the automation of monotonous work by machines, the use of Artificial Intelligence and remote work. Task areas characterized by using intuition, empathy and creativity become more important to people. The increased creative possibilities of the New Work era are also reflected in work-life-blending, where the boundaries between work and private life are becoming increasingly blurred. In addition, working hours are being reduced; in some companies, 30-hour-weeks are already the standard. The desired recipe: more meaningfulness and creative opportunities result in more identification and satisfaction, fewer sick days, and thus more productivity. However, without the appropriate culture of responsibility, the new opportunities can generate concerns about monitoring, control, and power dynamics, especially in the wake of horizontal forms of control.
So, more than ever, companies need to have the right culture and digital skills in place. It is essential to become more agile and resilient overall in the face of high complexity and uncertainty factors. One answer to this is diversity: On the one hand as a departure from constant performance improvement, and on the other hand as a form of existence such as in business ecosystems.
Addressing connectivity is linked to the issue of global local proximity, but it must go beyond that. Especially as digital connectivity is dissolving old social structures, rapidly increasing communication possibilities, and thus creating a new level of complexity in a (phenomenologically) shrinking world. In the wake of this change, new social, cultural, and economic patterns are emerging.
To gain a better understanding of a constant interconnectedness of society, goods, information, etc., you can refer to concepts of networks and flows.
Networks can be understood as several interconnected nodes, their nature depends on the specific network. They may be stock markets and their supporting service data centers in the network of global financial flows, or television systems, computer graphics milieus, entertainment studios, news crews, and mobile devices in the global network of news media. Networks can expand limitlessly if its nodes can communicate with each other and share the same values and goals. They are suitable tools for an economy that aims at innovation, globalization, decentralized concentration, and for a social organization that aims at the transformation of space and the annihilation of time. The distance of nodes in the operational – as opposed to physical – sense can effectively approach “zero,” exemplified by the Internet as delay-free, technically mediated communication. Connectivity is undoubtedly accelerated by technological and digital aspects, which makes it even more important to also take into account the social and cultural factors, including leadership culture in the real-digital corporate culture, in order to gain a comprehensive, systemic understanding of the potential for transformation in terms of a socio-technical vision. The more the transformation progresses and organizes itself through connectivity, the more the real and digital grow together and the more it is a matter of moving in the direction of the human turn, this means the meaningful allocation of digital technology in the context of human needs and opportunities.
In the 21st century, it is no longer enough to consider the concept of security in the public sphere or to see it in the context of traditional military fields of operation – even if Russia’s attack on Ukraine has given them renewed importance and attention. In 1999, the NATO Strategic Concept still defined terrorism, sabotage, organized crime, and disruption of the supply of vital resources and large, uncontrolled migration movements as relevant to security and the alliance, in addition to traditional armed conflicts. Meanwhile, smaller-scaled and highly mobile security measures are in demand. Aspects such as political extremism, proliferation, water scarcity, overpopulation and poverty, climate change, epidemics, protection of sensitive infrastructure including IT, and protection of human rights and minorities have been added. This results in an integrated view that encompasses military, police, social, environmental, and other forms of security. This view must also meet the requirements of the evolution from economic to ecological risks (extreme weather, natural disasters, loss of biodiversity, man-made environmental disasters).
With increasing interconnectedness and in times of global upheaval, it is worthwhile to schematize security threats according to origin, level (range and intensity) and consequence, and to take the different perceptions of them into account. The latter is largely shaped by media coverage (especially in the tabloid press and social media), which increasingly deals with isolated, negative individual cases instead of slow, positive developments. More than ever, therefore, people need the competence to deal properly with the technologies used and the possible dissemination of information, and to assess and manage risks correctly. Transparency and trust in technologies, such as those that blockchain can deliver, are becoming selling points and are necessary to expand the concept of security.
Security is no longer a state, but a dynamic, continuous process that must be actively worked out with great resilience and flexibility. For organizations, this also means that they must confront and cope with alternating phases of security and insecurity over time, alternated by disruptions. Accordingly, organizational members must be prepared and made aware that uncertain phases (disruptions) are necessary to reach the next stage of development and new security. Active and focused transformation engineering can help to successfully manage disruptive phases