Future Trends - impact on Baltic Region and Wider World. Interview on Infotech, biotech, Crimea, possible breakup of UK, keys to business success

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Media interview before Prime Minister's Global Forum in Latvia - Patrick Dixon's opening keynote at Riga International Leadership Summit

Can you give a brief summary of key messages:

"Our world will be increasingly interconnected and we will see key examples where a single event has triggered a wide range of unexpected results.  Expect successful corporations to develop more agile and dynamic leadership, with alternative strategies for innovation and change.  The keynote will create a broad 5-10 year vision of tomorrow’s world, based on fundamental trends which will dominate corporations and governments. 

"Huge demographic shifts together with urbanisation; rebalancing of global economic, political and military power, with the acceleration of emerging markets and explosive growth of their middle class populations; rapid changes in life expectancy in most nations with improved health care and biotech innovation; radical changes in web-based mobile technology including mobile payments, and a new retail revolution; impact of Big Data and the Internet of Things; growing impact on politics of social media and new activist movements; increasing concerns about sustainability, and how this will shape future government and corporate decisions.  And finally, how rapid innovation will deliver affordable solutions to many of the world’s greatest challenges."

You wrote "Building a Better Business" in 2005 - how do those ideas play out in 2014 and beyond?

"The book is based on a simple idea which is that it is impossible to sell a product or service, or motivate a team without the promise of a better future.  All leadership is based on a vision of a better tomorrow, and every change management programme depends on people believing that the proposed changes will make a positive difference.  The more powerful and compelling your vision of a better future, the more powerful and compelling your leadership will be. 

"Business and government can learn important lessons from people movements, non-profits, charitable foundations and other informal organisations where people give time and money for a future they believe in.  When business taps into that kind of passion, energy and transformation is unleashed.  The key themes of the book are even more relevant today than they were in 2005, and remain the core foundation of every political speech in every nation, and of every successful business strategy, of every motivational principle."

You are quite active in using social media – like YouTube. Do you think that governments will restrict social media in future?

"Leaders in government and business may love or hate social media, but the fact is that in our web-based world, the opinion of a single stranger can be trusted more than the official announcements of Presidents or Prime Ministers.  Social media can inflame irrational passions, but can also be an agent for rapid spread of information across a community.  In nations where press, TV and radio are trusted, social media has less power.  But as we have seen recently, in nations where the public feel the media are being manipulated or controlled by government, social media have especially huge power. 

"Society needs to decide how the web is used, and who should be able to access what.  This particularly applies to children and young people who are often at risk from anti-social, criminal or dangerous web influences.  We can expect that nations like Russia and China will lead this rethink, moving in favour of tighter regulation of content, and that Western Europe and the United States will also move more gradually in the same direction.  Governments around the world will work more closely with huge giants like Google to link web content creation to personal authorship - it is already happening with initiatives like Google+ ."

Your latest book is called SustainAgility - what are your ideas about the future of green technology in Europe and Asia?

"Expect to see $40 trillion of new green tech products and services over the next 25 years, waves of green innovation that will help create a more sustainable future in ways that we can afford.  The pace of change is astonishing.  Take for example the speed of development of shale gas in the US, lifting proven global gas reserves from 60-200 years in just 60 months.  Every power station converted from coal to gas saves huge amounts of carbon emissions.  Or look at the rapid fall of solar cell costs to the point where they are now generating cash without government subsidy.  Or the huge growth of wind power in Europe."

What will be the impact on the rest of the UK if Scotland votes to become independent?  What happens to development of North Sea Oil?

"Most referendums about independence are about people wanting to control their own destiny, rather than about economic growth.  We are seeing a global pattern to smaller nation states on the one hand, and to larger economic zones on the other.  If Scotland does leave the UK, you can be sure that they will want even stronger ties to the European Union.  If the vote goes in favour of independence, it will trigger a series of huge consequencies that few understand today. Large banks and other large corporations have already indicated that they may need to move operations to England for various reasons.  

"If there was a step by step break up of the UK to a point where England stood alone as the only custodian of the pound, it could make the currency less stable against other currencies in future, and make it more difficult in the long term to remain relatively detached from the rest of the EU.  But at the same time, we can expect further pressures on the Euro as a viable currency union, if there are further major economic shocks. So these things are very complex."

What kind of G7-sanctions will effective against Russia following annexation of Crimea?

Economic sanctions will not reverse events in Crimea, but they may possibly make similar events less likely in future - carried out by any nation, not just by Russia.  Over the last decade our world has seen many times that military action has very limited power to impose political solutions on people, and armies are good at fighting but not at nation-building.  The world’s greatest military power has been humbled by events in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria. 

"Events in Crimea have unfolded in a relatively peaceful way so far, because of ethnicity, loyalties of many Crimean people to Russia, and because of their history over the last 40-50 years and beyond.  The future will be dominated by asymmetric forces: we live in a world where a very small group of militant activists can gain huge media power, where a single child’s death can trigger the fall of a government.

Some Western "gurus" have claimed that the biological development of Homo sapiens sapiens civilization is finished. And only technological development is possible.  Is this true?

"As a physician and a futurist, and as Chairman of a biotech company that uses viruses to attack and destroy cancer, I would say that today we have the power to transform the very basis of life on earth.  Scientists can swop genes between animals and humans and between humans and humans.  We have the ability now to change genes of a human being in a way that will be transmitted to many future generations of their descendants.  So we will face at the same time some of the biggest moral questions that humanity has ever had to consider.

The role of intuition in decision-making in business - is it important? 

"All of human history has been dominated not merely by events or facts, but by emotional reactions to those events or facts (or perceptions).  All successful business leaders and government leaders recognise that emotions play a much larger role in decision-making than many people like to think.  And we know that intuition often provides deep, accurate insights about the future, in a way that can surprise data analysts."

You have written that many corporations have had a 'dangerous obsession' with shareholder value. Can you explain?

"We have seen many times that the fastest way to destroy shareholder value is to focus on it excluding all else. Ignoring the customer, not paying attention to corporate values or responsible business practices.  Here is the truth:  every product or service is sold on a Promise (of a better future).  The moral Purpose therefore of every business is to deliver on that promise.  And Profit is the reward that society gives when you do so. 

"Concentrate on making the promise great (offerings what customers really want or need), on delivering on that promise every time, and you will be likely to be highly profitable.  Of course that assumes that you also run in an efficient way, and keep costs low."

What industries in the Baltics Eastern Europe will most important in the next decade? 

"It is hard to generalise, but I am impressed by large numbers of entrepreneurs in the Baltic region who are developing fresh ideas to create wealth in future. Some are web-based - particularly in mobile, others are in engineering, smaller scale manufacturing or service delivery.  Latvian companies are unlikely to win by being the largest, but they can win by being the most innovative, rapidly evolving, smart and visionary. 

"Many multinationals are reshoring or inshoring their operations from countries like China, because of wage inflation and other risks.  Baltic states are well placed geographically, as part of the European region, closer to important consumer markets, with highly skilled workers that are lower cost than in Western Europe."

Need a world-class keynote speaker for your event? Phone or e-mail Patrick Dixon now


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