The Mega-Trends that Shape the 21st Century


In a recent Article by Bryan Walsh, he describes the mega-trends that are likely to shape this century. These trends are driven by the Acceleration of innovation and a growing set of Societal Factors. In describing the seriousness of these trends, our author points to a forthcoming book titled “The Precipice”. In the book, author Toby Ord of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute gives one in six odds that humanity will suffer an existential catastrophe during the next 100 years — almost certainly due to our own actions.

In the book The Fourth Turning, authors William Strauss and Neil Howe  illuminate the past, explain the present, and reimagine the future. They offer an utterly persuasive prophecy about how America’s past will predict its future. Here is what they had to say:


First comes a high, a period of confident expansion as a new order takes root after the old has been swept away. Next comes an awakening, a time of spiritual exploration and rebellion against the now-established order. Then comes an unraveling, an increasingly troubled era in which individualism triumphs over crumbling institutions. Last comes a crisis—the Fourth Turning—when society passes through a great and perilous gate in history. Together, the four turnings comprise history’s seasonal rhythm of growth, maturation, entropy, and rebirth.


History would indicate that the mega-trends – if not managed – will indeed lead to crisis. A Pew Research survey last year found Americans “broadly pessimistic” about the state of the country in 2050. What are some of these mega-trends? Bryan Walsh identified these:

Emerging technologies: AI and biotech are classic “dual-use” tech that can be exploited for good and for ill. My take: Each of our trends will take two paths as they journey forward; constructive and destructive. This historical fact should put a premium on our need to Manage the Path of Innovation.

The new way of work: Tech-driven disruptions to working life will only grow, challenging a core part of human identity and remaking the economy. My take: The Future of Work is anything but certain. Debate on this polarizing topic rages on. Few would argue that change is coming – how we deal with that change determines the path.

A remade geopolitics: As the postwar era finally ends, politics domestic and foreign will be forced to grapple with a world that looks fundamentally different. My Take: This one sits at the top of my list. A book titled The Future is Asian explores a 21st century dominated by Asia. If the 19th century was a British century, and the 20th was American, the 21st is likely to be Asian.

Climate change’s long tail: One thing we can know for sure about the future: when it comes to the climate, tomorrow will be worse than today. My take: The impact of this mega-trend alone represents an existential threat. The implications are far and wide. Consider the impact on Food for example.

It is impossible to predict this path. What we do know is that the sheer volume and speed of change will challenge our society’s ability to manage it. Our author’s bottom line: Given the disorienting pace of change, it’s understandable to view the future as frightening. But our destiny isn’t written yet.

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