20 Big Ideas That Will Change Your World In 2020
Every December, we on the LinkedIn editorial team scour our feeds and reach out to dozens of our frequent contributors to identify the big ideas that will shape the year ahead. What rising conversations will matter to the professional community? In 2020, one theme is poised to emerge: After a decade of profound change, professionals are taking stock and questioning the world we built and the values that drive us. Is capitalism working as it should? How will we behave as stewards of our planet? Why have we made heroes out of tech founders? Have we elevated work to too high a status? “Existential”, it turns out, is the word of the year.
We cannot promise to get everything right, but we do keep ourselves accountable. With 58% of our 2019 predictions outright wins — my colleague George Anders provides a detailed look back here — last year was our best showing yet. We humbly claim the right to try again.
But even if we offered 100 ideas, it would not be an exhaustive list. We invite you to join us on this attempt to peer into the future. What big idea do you think will emerge in the year ahead? Share in the comments or publish a post, article or video on LinkedIn with #BigIdeas2020. Now onto our own 20 big ideas for 2020.
1. The perk professionals will want most is time.
Flexible work is no longer an allowance made for a few employees; it is a demand from all. Generation Z and millennial professionals are leading the way in establishing a new relationship with the office, according to reporting from the New York Times’ Claire Cain Miller and Sanam Yar. Experiments with a four-day workweek, for instance, are spreading across the world: Microsoft tried it in Japan, while the U.K. Labour Party even promised it on its election manifesto. Private employers in small-scale experiments say the shorter hours have not hurt results — quite the contrary. “Benevolence might pay for employers,” says John Pencavel, an economics professor at Stanford who has studied working hours and productivity. “Shorter hours may not compromise output. Shorter hours may involve lower labor costs. Not only does the employer benefit, the employee can too.”
Those who may benefit the most are working mothers, who historically have taken cuts in pay and promotion in exchange for the kind of flexibility that may soon become standard.Among women with advanced degrees who left their jobs, 69% would have stayed if their employers offered more flexible work options, according to research from Boston Consulting Group. The key is to involve employees in finding ways to work more flexibly and efficiently, says Charlotte Lockhart, CEO of advocacy organization The 4 Day Week. Her firm, Perpetual Guardian, switched its 240 staff in New Zealand to a four-day week. “We all want to feel valued at work, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of us being able to be whole people,” Lockhart says. “Our lives are broken and we’re beginning to recognize it.”
2. The streaming wars will suffer their first casualties.
“In 2020 there will be more money spent on original scripted television than was spent in the entire decade of the 1990s,” says Scott Galloway, marketing professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business. “In 100 years, we’ll look back on this age and the defining art form will be television.” This year, Apple and Disney launched services to compete with established players Netflix, Amazon and Hulu; HBO Max, Peacock (from NBC) and Quibi will follow in 2020. “(Netflix) used to be the only game in town and now, all of a sudden, it’s the Olympics,” Galloway says. “The most creative, well-resourced companies in the world are all in this business.”
For Apple, Amazon or Disney, streaming services are a lure, he explains. They create consumer loyalty and offer monetization opportunities across amusement parks, action figures, iPhones or Amazon Prime deliveries. Netflix still has first-mover advantage, but for pure players like it or Hulu —who don’t have ancillary businesses and must pay Apple, Amazon or Google a toll to reach our devices — the streaming wars are about to get bloody.
3. We’ll begin the climate change countdown to 2030.
From school strikes to Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg to the Green New Deal, public pressure around the climate crisis ratcheted up in 2019 in a way that we, frankly, hadn’t anticipated. Now the final countdown to 2030 begins. In the next decade, 184 countries must make good on the emission reduction commitments they made in Paris five years ago in order to maintain global temperature rise below 2°C. But those pledges aren’t being met, they were too low in the first place and scientists now warn a 1.5°C target is more advisable. Activists hope the United Nations’ COP26 summit in Glasgow next November will help correct the trajectory.
“Glasgow is going to be the big milestone in ratcheting up expectations,” explains Oli Brown, an environmental scientist and associate fellow at think tank Chatham House. Maintaining pressure will be key, adds his colleague Laura Wellesley: “If we see a continued upswell in public concern for the climate and our consumption, then potentially we’re paving the way for some fairly ambitious commitments.”
4. Governments may have to treat reskilling like K-12 education.
We’ve spent years estimating how many of our jobs robots would take. It’s now time to think about how people will thrive in this new reality and about the nuts and bolts of constantly reskilling the workforce. There are three options, says Jason Wingard, dean of the School of Professional Studies at Columbia University: Workers fend for themselves in a contractor model, companies invest in keeping their talent on the payroll and up to date… or governments take it upon themselves.
“We have to ask some big questions: Is it our responsibility to make sure that our society is prepared?” Wingard asks. To prepare workers for the Industrial Age, nations built a primary and secondary education infrastructure. Now, governments may need to do something similar with adult education. Wingard is studying that option. “We need to have what used to be the community college, but in another form that prepares people continuously,” he says. “If you, as an individual citizen, are paying your taxes and willing to develop yourself and get new skills, they should be available to you, ostensibly for free, and that should make you a better piece of the labor market.” It is a matter of sovereignty and competitiveness, he points out. People and corporations can cross borders to find talent or opportunity; countries, however, get left behind.
5. We will talk more openly about mental health in the workplace.
Depression and anxiety alone cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity every year, according to the World Health Organization. For employers, it is a real talent retention issue, and for employees a growing need. The conversation is urgent, championed by a new generation, yet still tentative. “There’s a real fear from large corporations that they are not set up to handle the rise of that conversation in a way that is safe for the company and safe for the employee,” says Aaron Harvey, founder of Made of Millions Foundation. Harvey published a guide to mental health in the workplace after coming up short as an employer himself and started the #DearManager social media campaign to encourage conversation.
Bringing up mental health at work, however, raises issues of privacy, legal exposure and discrimination. Clinical psychologist Ellen Hendriksen recommends that, for legal reasons, only an employee should start the conversation. And because of lingering stigma, they should first gauge their company culture and decide whether there’s a risk in sharing. “Approach with both a disclosure and a plan” for reasonable accommodations, says Hendriksen. “It’s important not to present one’s mental health struggles as a puzzle for your boss to fix.” As for managers, they can lead by example by being open about their struggles. Building a supportive culture, with confidentiality, a plan for accommodations and benefits on par with physical health coverage, is key. “Instead of being a protector or a judge,” she says, “I would counsel employers to be a champion.”
6. The Asian century will dawn… under a dark cloud.
In 2020, Asian economies will be larger than the rest of the world combined for the first time since the 19th century. Asia will also be home to half of the world’s middle class. The world’s center of gravity is undoubtedly shifting east. But this Asian century could start off unsteady: the International Monetary Fund warned growth in Asia would slow down, with a sluggish China, tensions between Japan and Korea, and Hong Kong paralyzed by protests. In the last quarter, India’s growth fell to its slowest pace since 2013.
Slowing growth in Asia will put the system to the test, warns Esther Duflo, an MIT economist and 2019 Nobel Prize recipient. “China and India have been the engine of taking a lot of people out of poverty in the last 30 years,” she explains. “In a world where inequalities are exploding and the rich are getting richer, one thing that was true is that the very poor were also becoming richer. If China and India slow down and stop doing that, that is going to be a big question for the legitimacy of the entire capitalism project.”
7. We will hash out the meaning of meat.
Meat alternatives are making friends among consumers — and enemies in industry. Several agricultural U.S. states have passed laws restricting the use of words such as meat, burger or milk to animal products. The livestock industry has pushed similar proposals before the U.S. Congress and the European Commission. The beef isn’t trivial: the market for meat alternatives could be worth $140 billion by the end of the decade, Barclays estimates.
The real game-changer within the next 10 years? The arrival of cultured meat — beef, pork or chicken grown in labs from animal cells without slaughter. That changes our very relationship to food and farming, and everyone in the business will be watching. “The livestock industry sees a much greater threat from the arrival of cultured meat and is looking to get its ducks in a row now,” says Laura Wellesley, a fellow researching food at Chatham House. Meanwhile, she adds, “cultured meat companies are targeting meat eaters, the meat aisles and the meat counters. They won’t want their access to those areas or customer bases hindered.”
8. Capitalism will be put on the stand.
“The system of making capitalism work well for most people is broken.” No, this quote doesn’t come from U.S. Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders; it’s from a viral LinkedIn article by Ray Dalio, hedge fund manager and American billionaire. “The world is approaching a big paradigm shift,” Dalio warns.
- Option 1: Capitalism reforms itself, as promised in an August statement signed by 181 prominent CEOs. Businesses should serve the needs of all stakeholders, abandon short-termism and work to improve society, not just profit from it, members of the Business Roundtable wrote. Greed is good no more. Companies will adopt this “pie-growing rather than pie-splitting” mentality, bolstered by a growing body of evidence that good corporate behavior adds to the bottom line, says Alex Edmans, professor of finance at London Business School. “Corporate responsibility is not an optional extra.”
- Option 2: Voters — and the governments they bring in — will take the matter into their own hands. In 2020, even a professional platform cannot avoid talking about politics. In the U.S. presidential campaign, the question of the haves and have-nots has taken center stage again. Warren and Sanders were unimpressed by the Business Roundtable statement, considering it empty rhetoric. “We need to see some substance to offset the cynicism,” advises Jim O’Neill, economist and former Conservative minister in the British government. Reform “doesn’t have to happen through governments, but I strongly suspect it’s the only way it will,” he adds. “Business lives by the rules, and the rules aren’t tough enough.”
9. Japan will open its doors.
As it prepares to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, on the heels of a successful Rugby World Cup, Japan is looking to send a message to the rest of the world: Come and stay awhile. “It’s really a time for Japan to open up the country to a broader (set of) stakeholders in the world, not only tourists but also skilled workers,” says Tak Umezawa, partner and Japan chairman at AT Kearney. Looking back in a decade, 2020 will be seen as the turning point, he’s convinced.
Inbound tourism has been the fastest growth sector for the country’s economy, he points out. The government is aiming to welcome 40 million foreign tourists in 2020, on par with the U.K., and 60 million in 2030. To undo its insular reputation, Japan has also reviewed its immigration policies and shortened the path to permanent residency to just one year. “It has a system which is very immigration-friendly for skilled workers,” Umezawa says. “But the world hasn’t discovered it yet.” Let it be known.
10. Facial recognition will grow more ubiquitous — and more hotly debated.
Facial recognition tech seems to be everywhere these days. It’s being used to determine buyer intent in a show home in Australia, take attendance of office workers in Indonesia and even surveil schoolchildren’s attention span in China. A facial recognition algorithm has become the gatekeeper to jobs at some of America’s biggest corporations. The technology is in use in at least 17 U.S. airports, while the French government is readying a smartphone app that will require citizens to log in with their face to access a range of public services. China demands a facial scan to open a phone line and Huawei enthusiastically markets its facial recognition tech to African cities.
This transformation took hold with little public debate, until Hong Kong protesters brought the issue front and center. “If we don’t draw a line in the sand, this invasive technology will become a ubiquitous part of our lives, with devastating effects for human liberty,” says Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future. Critics like her point to issues of data safety, threat to civil liberties and loss of privacy. Proponents point to convenience and increased security. Whether and how to use facial recognition will be up for public debate in 2020. “We are at a crossroads,” Greer says, “where the policy decisions we make as a society will determine whether technology is used primarily to liberate or to oppress.”
11. The age of the entrepreneur-king will end…
The collapse of WeWork reminded us all that there is more to a business than a good story. NYU’s Scott Galloway predicts a 50+% decline in the value of privately traded unicorns in 2020 and an end to the reign of charismatic entrepreneurs. “Consumer companies posing as tech SAAS (software as a service) companies have replaced profits and margin with vision and growth,” he says. They’re incinerators, he adds, companies burning cash to buy growth without any prospect of ever getting to positive operating margins. Uber’s failed IPO was the warning shot — and WeWork’s the confirmation — that public markets won’t be seduced by the fast-talking founders and clever storytelling that swayed private investors. Capital, he predicts, will take back the power.
12. … but investors won’t entirely fall out of love with unicorns.
The bubble-bursting narrative is seductive but isn’t backed up by data so far, argues CB Insights CEO Anand Sanwal. Sure, there will be more scrutiny of the terms of billion-dollar-plus valuations, especially from tech employees who were left holding the bag at WeWork, he explains. But there is simply too much capital in search of an outlet and too many industries in need of transformation for the unicorn phenomenon to end. “The end state of most startups is dead, so yes, there are going to be some bad companies funded. That’s just the nature of the game,” Sanwal adds. “It’s the few companies that survive that actually become the ones that transform things.” As for any hope that the culture will change, he points to Travis Kalanick. The controversial Uber cofounder raised $400 million from a controversial investor for a business posing the exact same ethical and legal questions as Uber. “If you’re a founder that has made your investors money in the past, you’re still going to get funded.”
13. A new kind of startup founder will emerge.
If investors catch on to the general fatigue with companies built on bombast and fanciful valuations, that leaves room for a new breed of equid on the startup scene: zebras. Hearken co-founder and CEO Jennifer Brandel, who co-wrote the Zebra manifesto, explains: Zebras are startups focused on fixing real-world problems by building sustainable and profitable businesses that grow at a manageable pace, refusing the usual cycles of funding rounds and blitzscaling. “It’s about being based on values besides ‘grow fast and exit,’” she says. Zebra founders are largely women and minority entrepreneurs who were left out of the venture capital model for years and now say they’re simply not interested. They’re not serial entrepreneurs looking for the first chance to sell their companies and cash in on stock options. “Unicorns are the biggest nonprofits you’ll ever see,” Brandel says. “I think the scales are starting to fall from people’s eyes.”
14. Your ability to focus will be your most important skill.
If you’ve found yourself mindlessly scrolling through your Instagram feed at work without even remembering how you got there, you’re not alone. In a study from learning platform Udemy, two-thirds of workers admitted to looking at their phones for at least an hour out of their workday. This is costing us and our employers dearly. “Each time employees reach for their phone or tend to a distraction, they have pulled away from their work, relentlessly,” warns Brian Solis, author of ‘Lifescale: How to Live a More Creative, Productive, and Happy Life.’ “This is having an incredible, understudied impact on employee productivity, creativity and happiness.” There is surprisingly little solid research on the topic, but a couple studies estimate the productivity cost comes to many hundreds of billions of dollars in the U.S. alone. “Although distractions aren’t necessarily your fault, they are your responsibility,” writes Nir Eyal, author of ‘Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.’ Eyal offers strategies that can help you reclaim your focus: master your internal triggers, plan your day, make pacts with yourself or your friends. Oh, and control your tech.
15. Climate change will become a pocketbook issue for homeowners, investors and insurers.
In November, a Redfin customer backed out of buying a house in an upscale neighbourhood of Houston, Glenn Kelman, CEO of the real estate tech firm, recounts. The flood insurance premium on the property was just too expensive. That’s one of the very real ways in which climate change is reshaping our urban geography. “That has become a very personal issue for people trying to sell their homes, and it’s definitely become pervasive anxiety for people buying those homes,” Kelman says. “Even if politicians haven’t put a price on that risk, the markets have.”
Institutional investors are putting pressure on asset managers to price in the climate risk of their holdings, explains Emilie Mazzacurati, CEO of market intelligence firm Four Twenty Seven. Is a property at risk of flood or fire? Will insurance premiums rise? What about local taxes? Will the region lose population and jobs? The exposure of the insurance industry is the “elephant in the room,” she adds. In regions where insurers will no longer take the chance, governments can step in with substitute insurance programs. “The problem, when you do that, is that you’re sending the wrong signal,” Mazzacurati points out. “You’re shifting the risk onto the government, which is good to protect individuals but isn’t sustainable if there is a risk all of those houses will burn over and over again.” The alternative is to abandon some areas to nature: whole Pacific island nations have relocated, state governments in New York or Florida are buying out homeowners in flood-prone areas and Wales is decommissioning an entire village.
16. Talk of recession will abate – but not end.
While the decade following the Great Recession has been good to the world’s developed economies, statistically they’re now overdue for a contraction, which is heightening anxiety among economists, policymakers and business leaders. The exact timing of the next recession is anyone’s guess; in last year’s Big Ideas, we had called it for late 2019 or 2020. (We’re not wrong… yet.) Influential minds such as U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and former Chair Janet Yellen see continued moderate growth in the world’s largest economy through 2020. Christine Lagarde, the new European Central Bank president, also said in September that her baseline outlook does not include a global recession, though growth is “mediocre” and faces a “major threat” in the ongoing U.S.-China trade conflict. Simon Thorp, chief investment officer at Aperture Investors, is concerned that traditional stimulative tools, such as interest rate cuts and bond-buying programs, will be less capable of spurring investment come the next downturn. And for those planning ahead, here’s a handy chart of what could trigger the next global recession when it does, in fact, rear its head.
17. Regulators will come at big tech companies from new angles.
We should be living in an era of innovation, with fast-growing sectors attracting hundreds of new ventures. But we aren’t, says Galloway. “Twice as many startups were being formed during the Carter administration than are being formed today,” he points out. “And the reason why is the fastest-growing parts of our economy —tech hardware, social media, search, e-commerce— are controlled by one or two companies.” Antitrust action could address that, Galloway says. That process will start in Europe, he adds, while Big Tech keeps its friends in Washington D.C. Witness France’s attempt at imposing a topline revenue tax on tech companies, which was met with threats of retaliatory tariffs by the U.S. From London, Azeem Azhar also sees regulation coming, but in disorderly fashion: “I don’t think it will be coherent, more like eager — which is a good start.”
In the U.S., cities and states are leading the antitrust charge. In 2020, the focus will shift to tech’s impact on small businesses. Local firms have been increasingly forced to use Google, Amazon and Facebook to reach customers. But those same platforms have been accused of undercutting smaller competitors by altering search algorithms and reducing their web traffic. “The sheer size of these companies, along with pervasive integration of these platforms… raises questions that should concern anyone who cares about market access, data privacy, small business development, entrepreneurship, and innovation,” said Nydia Velázquez, chairwoman of the Small Business Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, in a November statement.
18. The world will confront a global nursing shortage.
Countries around the world are grappling with a shortage of healthcare providers — an estimated 18 million of them over the next 10 years, about half of the nurses and midwives, according to the World Health Organization. The need is particularly acute in low- and middle-income countries. So WHO is calling 2020 (the year when Florence Nightingale would have celebrated her 200th birthday) the Year of the Nurse and Midwife.
WHO is planning a major push to promote education, training and on-the-job support for nurses, an effort that goes beyond filling a critical workforce gap. “Because 70% of the global health workforce is female, jobs for health workers are jobs for women,” says WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “So, in other words, investing in health workers pays a triple dividend, for health, economic growth and gender equality.”
19. Brexit will still monopolize the British and European agenda.
March 29 and October 31 both came and went without the U.K. leaving the European Union as scheduled. The third Brexit deadline, January 31, could well be missed too, with much hinging on U.K. general elections to be held on Thursday.
Whatever transpires, Brexit will remain front and centre in European capitals in 2020 and beyond. Negotiating trade deals, figuring out new operating principles on trade and migration, and settling into a new normal with the European Union will take many years, says Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer. “The U.K. has done itself an enormous disservice for both its economic realities today and the longer-term trajectory,” Bremmer says. “And this is going to be true for a long time.”
“It isn’t the most important thing facing Britain’s economic future,” counters Jim O’Neill, who sees a bigger threat in deteriorating productivity, skills gaps and inequality. But it is the most distracting issue, he agrees. Expect to see Brexit again in Big Ideas 2021.
20. We will question the value of work itself.
One central idea connects the increased attention to flexible work, the four-day workweek, mental health on the job and other rising workplace trends: Maybe work was a false idol all along. Europe always had its doubts, but even the most work-obsessed nations are now questioning an always-on, achievement-centric culture. Members of America’s affluent class have begun to make plans to retire early, while Chinese workers are starting to rebel against the 9-9-6 model (working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week). “This generation of people is really careful about what they give at their workplace and what they give everywhere else,” notes Redfin’s Kelman. Leaders have to adapt if they hope to attract and keep the best talent.
Kelman has mixed feelings about this shift. He rose up in the “sleeping bag under your desk” culture of Silicon Valley. “This obsession with productivity, growth and competitiveness just spurred every new generation to prove its mettle by working all the time,” he says. It could be destructive but it also produced results, for individuals and for nations. That hunger has abated. “Part of it is just the fruits of affluence, and part of it is some deeper scepticism about capitalism,” he says. “We just need to make capitalism work better if we want people to work hard at it.” Or perhaps our values are evolving and that’s okay. “We’re less acquisitive, how could that be a bad thing?”
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