As this decade draws to a close, it’s natural to look ahead and wonder what the future holds. However, it’s also worth looking back to see how much things have changed in the decade just gone. As I reflected on the 2010s, there were 10 big business trends that defined the outgoing era.
1. The explosive growth of big tech.
As it stands, the world now has a handful of massive technology companies — Google, Facebook, Amazon et al — with the kind of wealth and power previously associated with national governments. The advent of scalable digital products, a growing global population of middle-class consumers and unlimited capital have fueled these companies into the stratosphere in the 2010s.
2. Smartphones, apps and Internet everywhere.
In 2010, the rollout of 4G networks began in most countries, and the result has been an advanced computer in our pockets. This tiny computer has a GPS, advanced media capability, access to cloud computing, vitally unlimited storage and an endless stream of new apps to solve almost any problem you can think of. This saturation of connected smartphones gave rise to new and disruptive approaches to business. The power of knowing who someone is, where they are, what they want to do and how they might pay for it has created new business models, and dozens of new multi-billion-dollar mobile apps have emerged. New transport, dating and social media apps wouldn’t have been possible if billions weren’t armed with a smartphone connected to 4G.
3. New ways of working.
Gone are the days when people expected to get a good job and stay with a company for life. In the 2010s, people changed jobs, started companies and participated in flexible working arrangements with more fluidity than ever. Technology has made it possible to start businesses with little more than a laptop and an idea. It’s also made it possible to work and earn in the gig economy. Another huge trend facilitated by cloud computing and fast internet is remote working. Many teams that work together every day might not have ever been in the same room together.
4. Emerging middle classes in Asia.
In the UK and the U.S., middle-class families have seen almost stagnant wage growth this decade, but the opposite is true in Asia. Wages in China, Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia grew considerably. In 2011, the number of middle-class people in Asia overtook that of Europe, and as we close the decade, more than one and a half billion people in Asia are considered to be in that bracket. It’s expected that close to 90 percent of those who join the middle class globally in the 2020s will be Asian.
5. Populism and nationalism re-emerge.
In 2010, most people considered the world to be evolving toward a global village. The idea of being a “citizen of the world” was taken for granted by millions of big-city dwellers. Today, there’s a huge swing towards nationalism and border protection. Political parties that are explicitly anti-immigration with authoritarian leaders have risen to power at a level not seen since World War II.
6. The rise of women in business.
Over the past two years, both the UK and U.S. celebrated a century of women’s suffrage, yet it’s taken nearly that long to see a significant boom in women acquiring leadership roles in business. Women are now leading businesses at an unprecedented rate. In the decade just gone, the number of women on FTSE100 boards doubled, as did the amount of VC capital allocated to female founders.
7. Falling prices of high-tech hardware.
The costs of sophisticated consumer and commercial equipment have dropped dramatically over the past three years. Whether you want to set up a solar system, 3D-print objects, get an MRI scan, tool-up a factory of robots or play antra-realistic computer games, the cost of the hardware to do it has likely been halved over the last 10 years.
8. The rise of SaaS business models.
With fast internet and cloud-computing infrastructure, it has become obvious for many businesses to make software available on recurring-revenue licensing models, with constant improvements updating automatically. This business model has impacted consumer markets including music, movies and gaming, as well as commercial applications like databases, office applications and learning-management systems. And all of it can be hosted in the cloud.
9. Increasing U.S. energy independence.
At the beginning of the 2010s, the U.S. imported a lot of oil, but as we enter the 2020s, it will be looking to export it. Thanks to the shale-gas revolution, the U.S. no longer needs to police the world, control the Middle East or patrol the seas in order to keep the lights on. It has so much natural gas that it often burns off the excess it can’t store. The U.S. looks to have all its energy needs taken care of in-house heading into the 2020s. This will fundamentally change the geopolitical landscape and challenge many assumptions we take for granted about how the world works.
10. The falling cost of capital.
After the global financial crisis of 2007/’08, major economies began printing money and dumping it into the economy, pushing interest rates to almost zero. Add to that the aging demographics of most western countries, and you have billions and billions of funds searching for a yield-producing asset. Those with a strong credit rating who already owned assets going into the 2010s were given a massive boost in wealth thanks to these economic factors, while younger generations hoping to buy homes were suddenly priced out of the markets. Cheap capital has given rise to private-equity megafunds that can operate massive businesses without taking them public. We’ve even seen money pour into alternative currencies as millions of people struggle to trust traditional fiat.
Living through a decade, it’s easy to take for granted how much things can change in a relatively short space of time, and the 2020s are shaping up to be even more disruptive than the 2010s. Expect massive breakthroughs in medicine, machine-learning and transportation, as well as a total transformation of the way the world trades and how people live and work. Hopefully, in 2029, we will also be able to say that the planet achieved its Sustainable Development Goals, eradicated poverty, addressed the environment and maximized human potential in ways we have not even thought of today.