Introduction

The world in 2020 will be very different from that of 2011, and certainly from 2000. During the long globalizing boom since the 1980s, we became accustomed to navigating by a set of familiar assumptions: that increasing globalization was inevitable; that technology would reduce costs and increase access to consumers; that capital was cheap; and that oil was inexpensive and would remain readily available for at least another generation.

Overlaid on this was a strong set of policy assumptions, certainly in the affluent countries of the North, nationally and internationally: that open markets were the best way to organize trade and production (and sometimes, regulation), and that deregulation was good for everybody.

To a large extent, these assumptions have been put to the sword by the financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath, and by the growing awareness of the ecological deficits which the world faces. The countries which have performed best over the past decade have been those such as China and Brazil which have resisted ideas about open markets. Latin America, increasingly an economic powerhouse, has governments which have taken steps to reduce inequality. In the financial sector, countries which weathered the financial crisis with least disruption, such as Canada, are those which had continued to regulate their banking sectors more assertively.

In this respect, the financial crisis of 2008 represented an ending, but not a beginning. We are in a liminal moment, betwixt and between, an ambiguous and transitional phase in which a threshold is being crossed. There are more questions than answers, and increasingly our assumptions about how the world works are open to challenge and interrogation. As societies, we are having fresh conversations, still in their early stages, about the relationships between business, governments, societies and individuals. Liminal moments such as this can last a decade, or more, before opinion coalesces around a new set of operating assumptions about how the world works. This report, therefore, is written as a contribution to those conversations. It looks forwards to 2020 and beyond, rather than back at the last decades. It seeks to do three things. First, we examine the big macrofactors which are shaping the global landscape, which to some extent constrain choices and shape opportunities. Second, we explore the implications of this landscape for business, identifying some of the dilemmas it frames for organizations over the next decade. And third, we look at the impact of these changes on the way in which businesses are managed, and the attitudes and understanding they will need to prosper. Welcome to 2020.

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