The Big Three: Automation, Nationalism, Social Expectations

As we close out a turbulent 2016 and look to 2107, what do horizon scanners see in the years ahead?

As part of a horizon scan for the Milken Institute, we asked a diverse group of forecasters, futurists, corporate strategists and business leaders to identify emerging trends impacting corporate leaders over the next 5 years.

Released today at the Milken Institute London Summit, these horizon scanners identified 3 BIG, emerging trends:

1. Automation (and income inequality)
2. Globalism vs. Nationalism
3. Meeting Shifting Social Expectations

For a quick look, a summarizing infographic can be found here.

Economists have been studying so-called "technological unemployment" for a very long time. And automation has been in the news. But, these horizon scanners are concerned that the rate of automation will create social shockwaves. Nationalist-Populist leaders across the globe have been blaming foreign workers, unfair trade deals and big businesses for wage stagnation. It is much harder to blame automation - robots and algorithms. Interestingly, many of these horizon scanners believe that automation will reduce globalization. With wage rates a much lower cost of production, manufacturing may be relocalized - reducing global trade flows. How will corporate leaders navigate this emerging trend and communicate on it?

Tied closely to this is the rising tension between populist-nationalism and globalization. If globalization is the free(er) global flow of ideas, goods, money and people, then 21st century nationalism appears skeptically bracing against at least three of four. This presents distinct challenges for multi-national corporations and those running global business lines with production, distribution and sales across many countries.

The third large trend is the struggle for leaders to meet evolving social norms around corporate responsibility, resource use, accountability, transparency and board diversity.

The top ten trends are also instructive:

1. Income Inequality
2. Resurgent Nationalism
3. Automation
4. Rise of Global Middle Class
5. Artificial Intelligence
6. Social Unrest
7. Internet of Things
8. Consumer Power
9. Resource Scarcity
10. Aging

21st Century leaders will need deep wisdom and flexibility to navigate these ten trends.