5 powerful ideas that will shape the 2020s


A little while ago I gave a keynote titled Powerful Ideas Shaping Our Future at the highly inspiring Supply Nation Conference, which had the theme The Power of an Idea.

The five powerful ideas I shared in my keynote covered some of the most important themes that will shape this decade. Ideas ripple out to create action and in turn change. Here are brief snapshots of these five deeply interrelated ideas.

Distributed Power

One of the broadest trends in play for decades is a shift of power from institutions to individuals: from companies to customers, governments to citizens, medical providers to patients, employers to employees. As individuals we expect more on every front, and while those expectations are not always being met, institutions are being forced to respond.

Certainly many governments and political parties around the world are fighting back, leading to an increasing tension between institutional and individual power. Yet power is not vested in single individuals, it is in its collective expression. As governments and other institutions step up their efforts to retain power, formal and informal groups will develop better tools and approaches to coalesce their energy and impact.

Some countries will undertake early, tentative shifts from representative democracy to edge towards styles of participative democracy. In other nations people will self-organize to shape opinions and policy in soft and sometimes harder ways. Centralized power will not crumble, but distributed power will continue to grow and evolve in sometimes unanticipated ways.

Humans + Machines

The capabilities of Artificial Intelligence have continued to grow consistently since the ‘Big Bang’ of deep learning in 2011, now exceeding human performance in an increasing variety of domains. This has led to widespread fears of humans being replaced, with many quoting the ‘statistic’ that 47% of jobs could be automated, and embedding the idea that we are all engaged in a ‘race against the machine’.

Yet this shouldn’t be and isn’t a story of humans versus machines. It is one of humans and machines together being more than they possibly could be individually. Organizations, work, and society all need to be designed and created for machines to work with and to support humans, not to replace them.

Some of us, probably more than many today might expect, will choose to become cyborgs, effectively becoming part machine. Others will choose to maintain their original bodies and minds, but in work and sometimes in their personal lives will be complemented by technology in being productive in a world sometimes beyond human ken.

Enabling Ecosystems

We have long shifted to a world in which almost all value is created across broad ecosystems, not within single organizations. At their best these ecosystems are open and support participation by anyone who can create value for participants.

The rise of the platform economy, exemplified by Google, Amazon, Uber, AirBnB, eBay, Alibaba, Netflix, and many others, has certainly generated broad ecosystems. Some of these have created value for many by creating a more fluid economy, for example allowing people to earn money for their homes while they are away. However in all these cases a large portion of value creation is appropriated by the platform owner, leading to their massive market capitalizations.

In this decade and beyond one of the key issues is the degree to which we see platform ownership continue its intense concentration, or whether we start to see ‘platform co-operatives’ or similar structures support the development of ecosystems where participants take the bulk of the value created. Open, distributed systems for shared value creation will emerge, and may start to take share from established commercial platforms.


Our society and economy is defined by the $400 trillion-odd of capital in the world, how it is deployed, and the returns it generates. Yet most would agree that there are an array of problems with the current nature of capitalism, including short-termism, financial system vulnerability, often negative environmental and social impacts, and sustained polarization of wealth.

While capital will inevitably remain at the center of the economy, we can use the term ‘post-capitalism’ to describe the possible ways our current system could evolve to better serve us. There are many possibilities for what this could look like. Starting by acknowledging the limitations of today’s structures enables us to consider what systems we might prefer.

One way or another, through this decade our fundamental economic structures will shift, hopefully to ones that better enable true shared prosperity in a world that is transforming at a radical pace, not least in the role of work. Specific possibilities of varying degrees of potential value include the introduction of some form of Universal Basic Income, the rise of a four-day workweek, a ‘robot tax’, and the adoption of agreed environmental and social impact metrics. However post-capitalism will be more than single initiatives, it will be a holistic frame for what the role of money and capital in our society becomes.

Collective Intelligence

Part of the original promise of our technologies of connection, as I explored in my book Living Networks, was that we could bring together our individual ideas, insights, and perspectives to form something greater than the sum of its parts, akin to a ‘global brain’. This potential prompted me to later write Getting Results From Crowds, on how to crowdsource for massive value creation.

Of course many of those who were initially most optimistic about the potential of an intensely connected world, myself included, have been taken aback, sometimes horrified, by how social media has been very effectively subverted by political interests to sometimes divide us more than it brings us together.

Yet if we look at the potential for humanity to evolve positively over the longer-term, it will inevitably involve us being able to bring our ideas and together so that our collective intelligence transcends our individual intelligence. The rise of Brain Computer Interfaces and direct brain-to-brain communication offer immense possibilities. Ultimately this should be about the development of what we can describe as ‘collective wisdom’, not something the human race is best known for, yet a necessary prerequisite for a positive collective future.

These five ideas will certainly be at the center of our discourse through this decade. I hope they will also be fundamental platforms for creating a better world for all of us at this time of unprecedented change.

Image: Drew Beamer