As 2011 looms closer, thoughts naturally turn to what lies ahead. What events will we see unfold? Which hopes will be realized and which will be dashed? What new ideas and companies will burst on to the scene? Who will make the news? One of the things we have on our agenda here at Global Trends is thinking about who will be the next generation of shapers and influencers. The last twenty years have seen unprecedented shifts in the influence landscape – a new emancipation. While we have a reasonable idea of who – and what – is influencing our lives and work today, the influence landscape is moving so fast that it is critical to look ahead. So let’s take a quick look at some of the people, companies and ideas that might influence the next year – with more in-depth reports to come.
Even as recently as twenty or thirty years ago, the people with influence were relatively easy to spot: the President or Prime Minister of a nation, religious leaders, CEOs, and probably your parents. Their influence was based on a combination of position, experience, knowledge, wealth – and most importantly control of the (limited) channels of communication to the “people,” for to have power influence must be spread. No longer – power is shifting away from position and traditional measures of status towards a much more fluid, fickle and democratic power structure. Today it is about the power of “me” and “we” more than the power of “they.”
So who are the mes, wes and theys to look out for next year? Last week Time magazine named their Person of the Year as Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. With another 150 million people joining his social media empire, which reaches perhaps 8% of the world’s population (despite a ban in China), Facebook’s crowd clout is enormous. And it’s probably going to get even bigger as reports today suggest it is ramping up its e-commerce efforts, courting retailers to open stores on the site, enhanced by recommendations from friends who “like” to buy – key potential competitors including Ebay and Amazon will not be happy. Zuckerberg, who is currently in China and has been talking to his counterpart (and potential future competitor) at Baidu, has made many lists this year either as most influential or among them for obvious reasons, including taking top spot in Vanity Fair’s The Next Establishment list 2010, which covers empire builders from business to fashion.
What is perhaps more interesting is the dramatic shift over the last decade in the type of people featured as Time’s people of the year who characterize how we see influence playing out in the world. In the 84 years since Time started naming people of the year, 37% (31 people) have been US political and military figures, another 37% (31) have been international leaders (e.g. Presidents, Prime Ministers), 8% (7) have been business and technology leaders, 6% (5) have been in the fields of science and medicine, 4% (3) have been leaders in religion and philanthropy, and 78% (7) have been concepts. In the last 10 years this pattern has changed radically. While 4 out of 10 people of the year were still US political and military figures (40%), 3 (30%) were business and technology leaders and only 1 (10%) was an international leader, (Vladimir Putin). The remaining 2 were a concept (“you,” as the internet allowed millions of people to be heard) and philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono. This shift towards business and technology, as well as the power of the people embodied in the concept of you and by association in Facebook shows how far we are moving from traditional bases of power.
Staying with business and technology, including the rise of personalization, Fortune named its Business Person of the Year as Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix. Netflix is driving radical change in the media industry as it makes streaming media (films, television) a reality – and one that consumers are buying into eagerly. The potential: streaming media everywhere on every device the consumer wants – and a much more competitive media landscape. Like Zuckerberg, Hastings has pursued new technologies, faced sizeable risks and built a business with a powerful user base whose needs drive the company – in the process influencing how and where we consume media as well as changing the contours of the media playing field.
Another interesting point about the Time and Fortune nominations is that neither were the readers’ first choices. In the case of Time, readers chose Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, while Fortune’s readers chose Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford who has taken the company from near bankruptcy to global leadership. Of course, the editors of both magazines wanted to use a variety of criteria to select their favourite, but in an age where the voice of the people is increasingly powerful (that concept of you again), it’s an interesting decision to “outrank” the readers, with some of Time’s audience criticizing their decision. A point to reflect on: Will there come a time when magazine editors are too scared to go against the “will of the people?”
There are many more people, companies, ideas and places that are likely to shape the world in future, beyond the ones in already established positions of power and influence. And likewise many more lists to consult to find these. For now, a couple of good places to look to get an idea on who these might be include Forbes’ ongoing crowdsourced list of Names You Need to Know, which is a fascinating mix of business people, media and games people, religious and political up and comers. It also includes some key ideas to watch out for, including urban farming, mobile money and crisis mapping (which you can also find covered in our content). For my part, I think there is some (natural) bias towards US/Western Europe because of the magazine’s readership profile, so I would encourage our readers from across the globe to submit their thoughts, as we are following with interest for our own research.
Another place to look for inspiration on the next generation of shapers and influencers is TED Talks, which showcases ideas worth spreading and does this incredibly well. Despite its non-profit status this organization has a huge amount of influence on the ideas which spread around the world, from the future of design to making statistics come to life (Hans Rosling is brilliant) to collaborative consumption. If you have a spare hour during the holiday season, it’s well worth spending browsing some of the ideas on TED – you never know what inspiration they will offer for the year ahead.
While I could write a lot longer on emerging shapers and influencers, for example the next generation of leaders in rapidly developing markets or scientists who could change our world, I will save some for future posts and articles in the interests of brevity. And also, because it would be great to hear your thoughts – who, what and where will be the people, companies and ideas that you think will shape our world in the next 5 to 10 years?