There was never an era when humans didn't believe they were living at the most interesting time in history. However, unlike any civilization before us, our experiences are shared across the globe instantly. That makes this both the most challenging and most opportune era to build global businesses at a rate we've never before experienced.
Here's my list of four global megatrends every entrepreneur should be keeping an eagle eye out for, along with some thoughts on the opportunities they each present. Understanding these trends is critical as you create your company's strategy for the future.
Whatever your position on climate change, its implications will impact all of us. If you think your products and services are immune to that, keep in mind your customers will be looking for you to tell them what you're doing to address the challenge. If you're not doing much of anything, your silence will speak volumes. Your plan may not be as ambitious as Amazon's: Jeff Bezos has committed $10 billion to fight climate change. But every brand will need to do something.
The opportunity: Align your business with the growing awareness of climate change and demonstrate that you are part of the solution. For example, start identifying ways your business can reduce carbon emissions over time, perhaps with changes to how you deliver your products and services. Remember, showing awareness of the problem is as important as what you are doing about it.
Throughout history, global population has been represented as a pyramid with a broad base that narrows steadily toward the top. That's changing dramatically. By 2050, the pyramid will have been replaced by a skyscraper demographic with less than 2 percentage points of difference between every age band from age 0 to 5, all the way up through age 60 to 65. Imagine what that will do to every program that has been funded by a disproportionately large younger demographic. In short, it may turn the world upside down.
The opportunity: Start building products and services that cater to an aging demographic. For example, in my book, The Gen Z Effect, I talk about how companies are basing how they treat customers on their behaviors, rather than lumping them into an age category. Another very powerful tool is reverse mentoring, something very few organizations are doing despite its being first introduced in 2001 by the late Jack Welch.
The biggest myth about health care is that just about everyone other than the U.S. has it right. Because of the demographic shifts I just described, every national health care system may be brought to the brink of economic collapse. Just last week, Finland's government resigned--yes, Prime Minister Juha Sipila and his entire cabinet--because they were unable to enact health care reform. Finland has long been held out as a poster child for health care policy. This is a global crisis.
The opportunity: Identify ways to drive out administrative friction that, in the U.S., accounts for 30 percent of every health care dollar spent. If you think that this is just an opportunity for large health care players, you're wrong. In my upcoming book, Reimagining Healthcare, I project that by 2050 well over 40 percent of the U.S. economy will be dedicated to health care. There's enormous room for innovation here. For example, one startup company I worked with created a video algorithm that could predict falls, a leading cause of significant concern among those over 65. Today their tech is being used in major hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted care.
Today, there are 250 million privately owned vehicles in the U.S. According to research my company conducted in 2019, that number is expected to drop to less than 50 million by 2050. Why? In a word, utilization. Driverless cars will be on the road 18 to 20 hours a day, as opposed to an average of two hours today. However, hours of drive time will increase fourfold. Autonomous vehicles are expected to be used for entertainment, fitness, relaxation, and myriad uses that today would simply not make any sense.
The opportunity: Find ways to use that drive time for more than transportation. This is one of the hottest areas for startups. For example, a recent MIT startup, NuTonomy, which launched in 2016 with driverless technology, was acquired by Delphi Automotive (now Aptiv) for $450 million in 2019.
Of course, much more will change in the next 30 years, but the trajectory of these four cornerstone trends is already set to alter so much of what we know and understand about how the world works and how businesses operate.
The good news is that if you're a bit reluctant about making a move into any of them, just wait 30 years. I can nearly guarantee that you'll think 2050 is the most interesting time ever.