Business Leaders Summit 2016 - The future: globalisation, demographic, economic and technological change


We are living in an extraordinary moment in human history, Professor Ian Goldin told the audience in his keynote speech. Rapid technological change has given rise to an interconnected world unlike anything that has gone before.

Professor Ian Goldin

Director of the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford

He said five billion of us are “connected” via smart devices, creating a “cauldron of change” that could see the next Einstein or Mozart emerge from a slum in Soweto or Mumbai. Around the world, income growth is exploding beyond population growth and more people have escaped poverty during our lifetimes than at any point in history. That’s why this is the best time to be alive, Professor Goldin said.

But an era of great disruption is also one of great instability, he added. The Arab Spring is a recent example of how great change can occur rapidly, and sour just as quickly. Navigating this new environment – where events in one part of the world can swiftly impact those in another – requires an entirely new set of skills and attributes from management. Professor Goldin stated that now is the most difficult time in history to manage, noting that our MBAs, our textbooks of the past don’t prepare us for the challenges of “the new world”.

Among the new demands of management in an interconnected world are the ability to have “antennae” attuned to distant events and to see how events might have a knock-on impact. A state of “constant alertness” is the order of the day, Professor Goldin said.

He is an optimist who believes “passionately” in globalisation and open markets because he has “seen what it does to ordinary people around the world.” But the globalised era comes with two major risks he said he finds worrying.

Video: The Future: Globalisation, Demographic, Economic and Technological Change

“It is the most difficult time in history to manage. Our MBAs, our textbooks of the past don’t prepare us for this.”

The first is rising inequality, which he said every economy is experiencing because “the benefits of being at the frontier are so great”. Professor Goldin added: “If you have the right skills, the right attributes, if you’re able to seize the benefits of change, you do well. But if you don’t, you fall further and further behind.”

The second is that the same dynamics that allow good actors to connect and produce good outcomes also enable the opposite. Technological change has put powers into the hands of individuals, not all of whom have altruistic intentions. Balancing connectivity with security is a major challenge that looms ever larger, he added.

Unfortunately, in Professor Goldin’s view, many global institutions appear ill-equipped to deal with the uniquely 21st century challenges confronting them, whether rising extremism or climate change. “Short-termism” on a national political level further hampers efforts to adequately address the issues, he said.

However, Professor Goldin said the business world is well placed to step in and play a part as businesses are connected, see things coming and are able to manage.

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