Get Ready for the Biggest Shift Since the Industrial Revolution

The future is in Asia, James Bellini, futurologist and author, told delegates at the start of Process Excellence Week Europe in London last week.

"We’re currently undergoing the biggest shift in global reality since the industrial revolution, and the challenges ahead for business will be unprecedented," Bellini said.

The annual Process Excellence Week brought together professionals working in process improvement from a wide variety of industries across Europe. This year featured talks from companies like American Express, GE Capital, BNP Paribas, Deutsche Post, and Shell International, and was focused less on just improving processes and more on driving performance.

"We felt that the ‘Performance’ theme was particularly important this year," said Megan James, event director. "As companies are looking towards growth in what remains a competitive market and subdued economy, the need to not just meet expectations and do things well, but innovate new, more efficient ways of delivering results is more critical than ever."

And the slow moving processes that are provoking big changes in terms of technology and demographics are the long term trends that companies need to consider as they invent their processes for the future.

Shifting demographics and new technologies will have important implications for how businesses conduct themselves in the future.

Below are a few of the key trends that James Bellini, who headlined the conference, identified:

The Rise of the Asian Middle Class and the Shift to Emerging Markets

"The coming decade will see a fundamental shift in global economic realities from developed to emerging," Bellini told the conference. "This shift will lead to a worldwide urban explosion and a new two-billion plus Asian middle class."

The world is now an urban world. The United Nations predicts that within the next fifty years more than two thirds of humanity will live in cities. This rapid urbanization poses challenges from a development perspective – enabling access to clean water, urban poverty, education, etc.

But for companies, Asia holds the opportunities of the future – major infrastructure will need to be built and the mass markets of the future will be concentrated in Asian cities, according to Bellini. By 2025, for instance, China is expected to have a middle class of about 520 million people and Asia itself will have more than 2 billion middle class consumers.

Other emerging markets – including Russia, Brazil, Colombia, among others – will also play a more commanding role in the world economy.

Meanwhile, in developed markets, the demographics are both aging and declining. The fastest growing age group in Britain today, for instance, is the over nineties, according to Bellini. This will bring unique but huge challenges to a world where there are more old people than kids.

Mobile Technologies Reshape the Nature of Work

"Since the beginning of economic history we were determined by place," he said citing farming and manufacturing as two industries where the link to the land is critical. But mobile technologies and cloud computing are starting to free workers from "the tyranny of geography".

"We’re moving to economic framework where people will be able to work, where and how they want.," said Bellini.

The technological landscape is opening up opportunities for companies to innovate new ways of working and could be a key differentiator of successful companies of the future. Demographics again come into it, said Bellini. Even within the next decade, you will have a new generation of people entering our companies who understand technology and its role in supporting work quite differently from the workforce today.

Being able to anticipate and respond to these changes will be one of the coming challenges. And as anyone who has worked in process improvement knows, getting people to buy in to change and keep it sustainable is a major stumbling block.

"People don’t want to buy in because they are afraid of losing something," Michelle Ray, workplace relationships and leadership specialist who spoke after Bellini, told the conference. "People are afraid of losing credibility, control, relevance - especially these days when we’re under so much pressure to cut costs."

That sentiment was echoed by leadership expert Jim Steele. "Most people won‘t take action because they don‘t buy into the strategy. You need a big ‘why’ for people to buy in."

Michelle Ray said that something she called "personal leadership" was essential to implementing meaningful change within a company.

"Personal leadership is all about building relationships with other people," she said. "You are an influencer, a negotiator, and a communicator."

But none of this will be easy. There will be likely some difficult adaptations to make in a world where major shifts are expected to transform the way we live, work, and interact. Those companies and individuals that are prepared to take risks, are the ones who will ultimately be successful.

"Progress is the result of someone taking an uncomfortable position," said Ray.