I was recently (June 2007) asked about my thoughts when we look beyond 2020. And since I love thinking about long term development, I felt I should post my thoughts and share it with you.

2020 and beyond

Looking at 2020 and beyond I see three plus one major developments. Two are already quite apparent one not so much. You may say there is no way to predict the future that far out. Well it isn’t actually that difficult. The foundation for Personal Computers were laid in 1973 – 10 years before IBM introduced the IBM PC which was revolutionizing the computer world. Internet was created in the 60’s with arpa net even longer before the launch of the public Internet as we know it. Social Media started with groups and forums long before 2003/2004 when LinkedIn and Facebook opened their doors. Cell phones gained huge popularity in the 90’s but my father had a car phone already in the late 70’s. In other words, nothing that come “out of the blue” and changed the world, actually came out of the blue but was invented at least 10 years earlier. The art is to identify those interesting early developments and predict their evolution and how it may come to live in the next 10 years. So when I look into 2017, ten years from now, it is all already in development. And 2020 is only 3 years later.

Now – I don’t mention energy or environmental development because that is one of the challenges we are going through right now already and it will be a mainstream topic by 2020 – if it isn’t already today.


I don’t mention energy or environmental development because that is one of the challenges we are going through right now already and it will be a mainstream topic before 2020.

1) Democratization of influence

Our society is undergoing a massive change – probably bigger than any other change in history. With tools like social media but also and more importantly an urge to more individualism and more autonomy our society is influencing itself across all levels of that society. Traditional influence from industry or government leaders is step by step diminishing. Co-creation of our future like co-creation of products today will have a significant impact on our political and economic landscape. The fear of creating an anarchy is pretty unsubstantiated – but the fear of missteps, failure in the experimentation phase is quite realistic. Governments will be challenged to stay involved in the democratization of influence and actually leverage the evolutionary development rather than fighting it in fear of loosing control. By 2020 the democratization of influence will be in full swing and in the following decade democracy will be re-invented. There will be nations benefiting from this development and others will fail to create an integrated democratic model where the government’s role is more of a conductor orchestrating a societies development than leading it or even worst, controlling it.


2) Distributed Production & Service Networks

In several keynotes I also called it “The New Enterprise”. We see it evolving already: Code is developed by a software shop in India, the reception is managed by a “virtual assistance” maybe from Ireland, some of the production is in China and so forth. More and more of those functions get outsources to third parties. The antenna design of most cell phones are created and often even patented by a small and creative shop. More and more startups and emerging businesses are leveraging those high energy, highly creative and highly productive small businesses into their own product strategy. Reseller channels is an old technique to sell but in today’a age even more relevant than ever before. A company like Nokia could be as agile as a company like Apple if they would focus on market needs and designs and not on their own, old and very traditional company structure. A cellphone company doesn’t need to be more than 5,000 employees – Apple has approximately 10,000 in their iPhone group – Nokia has over 100,000. Running a business as a distributed production network means selecting the most creative people – most of them are not employable anyway, selecting teams when they are needed, selecting resources that are required while a project or a product is in high demand and needing to “keep people busy” because you have them on your payroll. It’s part of the human nature that we are thriving towards more individualism, autonomy, independence and freedom. Enterprises will be seriously challenged to find top talents.

Entrepreneurship is just one facet of that trend but when it comes to business the most important expression of that desire. All indications are there that in the next decade Distributed Production & Service Networks will dominate our industries. Businesses and governments should be prepared for that evolution.


3) Age Revolution

Fact is that our live expectancy is notably accelerating since around 1900. Fact is that within the last 50 years the acceleration level has doubled – creating a hockey stick effect. It is more likely than not, that we are on our way to get significantly older than any previous generation. There is a good likelihood that in the next 20 years (2027) we may expect people turning 130 or even 140. If average live expectancy continues to grow – we will see a growth from 80 to 110 in the next 50 years. The implications are enormous. Somebody retiring at age of 65 would have possibly another 70 years to live – which is longer than the live expectancy less than 100 years ago. 2020 and beyond Age will be one of the most challenging topics our society, economy and government is facing. While people may say I don’t want to become that old – the trend shows different and we just will get much older.

This will change the way we work, dramatically. We will need to learn new techniques and behavior at an age that we think of retiring today.  It may allow much longer term and much more complex projects, it will create a massive experience pool we could not develop in the past. Unfortunately, it also creates an equally massive challenge for those who mostly do physical work. The untrained brain won’t be able to keep up. What will we do? It will change retirement planning, work live cycles, age care and many other things.


The next big thing on Technology

Things like social media, Internet, smart phones, TV, Radio, Automobile never came with a big bang. It took years to create the base for the technology, years for making early market entrants successful and than finally we are talking about the big thing. Even though we are developing many more things in the same time frame – it still takes long to become mainstream – not because the technology takes so long but humans haven’t evolved as fast as the technology we built.

How to identify the next big thing today:
1) A larger part of the population declares it as a hype that will go away
2) Large consulting firms caution industry leaders that companies will loose billions of dollars because of “it”
3) Various groups of people get very vocal about the unbearable risks.

In other words the next big thing in 2020 and beyond will be developed between 2005 and 2015 and then emerge through very early adopters by 2015 to 2020 and then be wildly debated in 2020 and thereafter.

A couple of things come to mind: ever smarter music distribution, amazing image processing capabilities, wildly improved prostheses, new ways and new understanding of learning, mayor advances in technology aided surgery. Obviously robots will get very far – but that’s no news. Not sure about smart computers that are intelligent enough to write their own code but somewhere in that area. All are addressing existing problems and inventions have been already made to make it happen. Oh – 3D printing? That will be a big deal any soon, long before 2020 :)

If you have an idea of a technology that does already exist in experimental state and may disrupt our lives in the future – share it. Make sure you have a good list of security risks and reasons why businesses my loose billions if the technology arrives on the desk of Joe Doe :)



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