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The Case for Optimism and Global Economic Recovery

Guest blog from Jim Carroll

I was in Billings, Montana recently, speaking at the annual meeting of a financial group.  The audience included a large cross section of business executives from throughout the Midwest. My talk centred around the trends that might provide for sustainable economic growth. Here’s what I focused on:

  • a significant and lasting change in perspective. I spend a lot of time with major international organizations, either in strategic leadership meetings or at various association events or conferences. I often run a text message poll at the start of such sessions to gauge the audience perspective of the current rate of economic growth. As I noted in this post, I’ve seen quite a change in attitude and perspective in the last few months.
  • significant growth is emerging from “solving the big problems.” I am a big believer that the efforts to solve the big challenges with respect to energy, the environment and health care will provide the momentum to kickstart the economy once again. I spend a lot of time examining signs of innovation and growth; and there is a tremendous amount of mind share being devoted to each of these areas.
  • fundamental and long lasting growth trends in global markets. Before the economy went sour in 2008, McKinsey was extremely bullish on the prospects for economic growth driven by the rapid industrialization of emerging economies, noting that “almost a billion new consumers will enter the global marketplace in the next decade …. with an income level that allows spending on discretionary goods,” and that “the ranks of the middle class will swell by 1.8 billion to become 52% of total population, up from 30% today.” I think on a long term basis, those trends are still valid and will provide for tremendous economic growth.
  • rapid response of organizations to the fast emergence of new markets and opportunities. I am seeing a significant number of organizations focused at the top on “revenue innovation” — that is, generating revenue by entering new markets or through new products and solutions. One CEO of a major global organization put it to me this way: “traditional markets are declining … we’re going other places that have better growth opportunities.” This is the concept of chameleon revenue, which you should read about here.
  • signs of various industries reinventing themselves. China and India and Brazil are cleaning our clocks when it comes to manufacturing, with sheer brainpower and design capabilities; the period from 1990 to 2010 saw the decline of the North American manufacturing industry with the resultant massive economic shock. But what I’m seeing out there tells me that North American companies will learn to compete again by challenging old assumptions, and by challenging themselves to do things differently this time around; for example, with mass customization, and through the reinvention of traditional manufacturing processes.
  • the emergence of intelligent infrastructure. Quite simply, every device around us is going to gain intelligence in the next decade. We’ll have awareness of their status, location, and address; this leads to the birth of countless new products, companies and industries. There is real transformative industry growth will come when everything plugs into the cloud, and as location intelligence becomes a significant transformative trend.
  • the impact of the next generation. While many people bemoan the ‘work ethic’ of Gen-Y, I think they are likely the most entrepreneurial generation ever. They collaborate, think, and generate ideas in exciting and different ways, and I think that provides them with a motivation to “do their own thing” unlike any other generation in history. And that is a significant driver for economic growth. During the recession of 2001, 569,750 new companies were created in North America – mostly small businesses. And companies with less than 20 employees accounted for 100% of the new job growth from 1990 to 2000. Global experience shows similar trends. That’s the context of what this ‘next generation’ will do.

As a futurist, I’m optimistic and bullish on the future. (I have to be; I can’t quite go on stage and say to people — “guess what — your future sucks!”)

I don’t think there is any wishful thinking behind this sentiment ; it comes from the discussions and observations I get from going out and speaking to tens of thousands of people at various conferences and events through the last several months.