Rohit Talwar is the CEO of London, UK based think tank Fast Future Research, and an in-demand futurist keynote speaker at business events around the world. His background is in management consultancy, where his strategy work with organisations involved asking what businesses' view of the future was, and how it might shape their behaviour. He found that quite often the management were merely projecting from the past - or even worse, just didn't have a clue.
"I realised that there must be better ways of doing this. I've always been fascinated by the future and the sense of what's coming next, so I started to explore the field further and educate myself. I began presenting on the topic at conferences and gradually it took over and became what I do as a business," says Talwar.
Fast Future now offers their clients a range of in-depth research and consultancy services and public speeches. The company's research projects have explored the future developments of various industries and areas, including aviation, airports, hotels and human resources. Last year a study was carried out for the European Commission on how science and technology would evolve over the next 40 years. He is now completing a study on how the informal economy could evolve.
"I typically speak to leadership audiences in around 20-25 countries every year, trying to help them imagine and understand the forces shaping the future, and to think about how they can both respond to, and also create the future for themselves," says Talwar
Emerging economies, urbanisation and consumerism
When examining the main forces coming into play in the next decade, no company or industry is immune to these so-called megatrends. They are the deep underlying combinations of trends that come together to shape the future.
"We could for instance talk about how Turkey is doing reasonably well as an economy or how Bangladesh or Vietnam seem to be improving, but taken together we see that there is the megatrend of the growth of the emerging economies on a global scale," Talwar explains.
"Similarly, when talking about demographics, we are noticing that people are living increasingly longer in many countries and when you take that on a global scale, you say that there is actually a megatrend of an ageing society where people are frequently living into their nineties and beyond and leading healthier lifestyles. There is also more and more scientific research being done to see how we can extend human life expectancy in dramatic ways - lifespans of 120-150 years are a viable proposition for those in their forties today."
Global phenomena such as population growth and increasing prosperity, the rising competition for energy and natural resources, and the need to use resources more efficiently all seem to offer mainly positive opportunities from Metsä Fibre's view. The raw material for northern softwood pulp is from a renewable and sustainably grown source and the company's plans to invest in a next-generation bioproduct mill is an innovative response to the growing demand for sustainable production methods and products. Another megatrend working in favour of the demand for pulp and paper products is urbanisation.
"There is definitely a megatrend of people moving into cities and of more and more resources being invested in the growing infrastructure of urban areas. By 2030, around 50-70 per cent of the population in most countries will be living in cities and towns. Cities are also expanding, where the edge of one city and the start of the next are blurring into each other. In countries such as India, for instance around Delhi, there are multiple satellite cities and the so-called Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor is an ambitious development project to connect these two cities," Talwar explains.
He notes that this consolidation of resources in one place creates opportunities, building clusters of expertise - accelerating the development of industries and knowledge centers. On the other hand, urbanisation also puts a lot of pressure on critical public infrastructure such as housing, water and sewage, education, health, social care and transport systems.
"Another trend we also see going on around the world is improving living standards and the growth of the middle class. There is an aspiration in every country to drive economic growth, improve the wellbeing and income of the population, build domestic industries and create a consumer society. Rising incomes drive people to consume more, and typically increases demand for packaged goods and paper and tissue-based products," Talwar points out.
It's all about data
A growing consumer society in the emerging markets puts more pressure on resource availability and the simultaneous need to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. Businesses are faced with the challenge of not overconsuming and being good corporate citizens while also catering to growing consumer needs.
This increasing focus on sustainability has also lead to the rise of a version of recycling, known as the 'sharing economy'.
"Instead of me buying a car, which I only use for maybe five per cent of the time, I can take part in a car-sharing scheme, where perhaps 18 people share one car, or I can rent a car by the hour. The same can apply to bicycles, power tools and other domestic goods. Sharing resources lessens waste, but challenges the profitability of businesses, because potentially consumption will decrease," says Talwar.
The biggest thing challenging more traditional businesses is, however, the companies and people born for the digital age. The "born-physical" companies are clashing with the world of "born-digital" enterprises who see everything as data. These digital natives believe every problem can be solved by finding the right software solution or algorithm.Born-digitals believe they can better connect with their clients than existing players
"The born-digitals believe they can do things better than an industry's existing players, because everything is about the data and about understanding your customer and the supply chain. It's about removing the inefficiencies and streamlining the workflow."
Talwar sees this as the reason for companies such as Google opening airports and Facebook talking about becoming a bank and a healthcare company. Because they have so much data and insight, they believe they are better positioned to manage the data and better connected with the end consumer than traditional companies. to, and also create the future for themselves," says Talwar
Innovation is key
How can traditional industries then keep up with the competition and meet the challenge of the born-digital companies? The challenge is all the more fierce as revolutionary business thinking extends also to the high level of set targets.
"New businesses have introduced a new strategy of looking for exponential improvement, of creating better business by improving on key activities by a factor of ten or more. One example I really like is how for instance the typical Ford car has 5,000-6,000 components, and it takes maybe two to three years to design a new model and produce a prototype. Then along comes a company like Local Motors who can design a customised car and 3D print it in days with less than 50 components - giving a massive improvement in design and production cycles."
Talwar emphasises that the whole approach to creating tomorrow is changing, long strategies and rigorous but dull business plans are being replaced by vision, imagination and a collective ownership of a powerful goal. The businesses shaping the future right now are often driven by a deep passion for an idea and love of what they believe in. Imagination and experimentation drive the innovation process, they make a lot of rapid and intuitive decisions and are willing to explore the future and act on it. Speeding up decision-making, unleashing the full potential of the organisation and supporting innovation are key factors.
"We should teach every level of the organisation to start looking outside their own industry to understand what's changing in the world. We need to invest in people's skills around innovation and problem-solving and thinking in terms of multiple scenarios. We also need to think about the fact that our workforce will live a lot longer in the future. Someone coming out of university today could have 20 different jobs in a working life that lasts 80 years or more. So we need to give people the skills for lifelong learning that can help them ensure their economic viability for the future."
Another development connected to changes in the workforce is the rise of robotics. Talwar says that automation will enter the workplace, and even more interestingly, we will see a growing number of people enhancing their brains and bodies for optimal performance.
"People are already taking drugs to enhance mental performance and having body parts replaced with more advanced limbs - for example rotating wrists. The workforce in ten years' time will have unenhanced people, those who have modified their brains and bodies and robots. One of the biggest challenges that organisations will encounter is how to manage this integrated workforce and give people the skills to navigate an increasingly complex world."
All this may seem like science fiction, but Talwar stresses that the future is very much happening as we speak.
Every organisation should look outside their own industry to understand what's changing in the world
"One of the biggest challenges we face is that if we don't see something immediately in front of us or we are not hearing about it, we may believe it's not going to happen. The author William Gibson said 'the future is already out there, it's just very unevenly distributed'. We need to help people to wake up and see how fast and how much the world is changing, and to help them embrace that change and find ways of navigating their own future."
Up-to-date with global trends
Market analyst Jarmo Suorsa is a member of Metsä Group's Business Intelligence Services, supporting company decision making by acquiring, producing and sharing analytical insights. Following both megatrends and weak signals are part of the team's daily work. Suorsa agrees with futurist Rohit Talwar's observations that many current global megatrends seem to work in favour of Metsä Fibre's business.
"These phenomena can be divided into demographic trends and those concerned with the global balance of power. Urbanisation, ageing and the rise of developing economies are among the changes connected to demographics, which increase the demand for tissue-based products and packaging. Also, growing awareness of product safety and hygiene offer a competitive edge especially for certified Nordic virgin fibre when compared to recovered fibre," Suorsa says.
Our long tradition of respecting the forests as a valuable resource answers to the growing need for sustainable production methods
When discussing shifts in the global balance of power, Metsä Fibre's pulp mills certainly answer to the demands of resource efficiency and recycling, making the most of by-products and achieving a high degree of energy self-sufficiency.
"The supply of renewable natural resources for pulp production is at an excellent level in Finland. Our infrastructure, know-how and long tradition of respecting and nurturing the forests as a valuable resource all support the growing needs for sustainable production methods."
Another important megatrend affecting the demand for pulp is digitalisation, for instance in the sense of how new technology and more efficient methods have increased productivity. The rise of e-commerce has also increased the need for packaging.
"In Metsä Fibre's case our groundbreaking RFID tracking system is a good example of the benefits of digitalisation. Offering more efficient handling of logistics, it affects the whole value chain and helps to increase resource efficiency," Suorsa adds.
Market Analyst, Metsä Group Business Intelligence