The world continues to change. Over the last century, the economic, social, technical, and political climates have had no choice but to react to a group of large-scale trends that have shaped the values, ideals, and attitudes of the world’s next generation. My research identifies six distinct mega-trends that represent the socio-economic, demographic, environmental, and technological forces that are transforming the way people live their lives.

  • Globalization and Intercultural Competence
  • Shift to Knowledge Work
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • The Changing Workforce
  • Innovation and the Web
  • Ecological and Environmental Sustainability

Globalization is the development of an increasingly integrated global economy marked by free trade, free flow of capital, and the leveraging of cheaper foreign labor markets. Globalization allows companies like Apple to manufacture iPhones in Shenzhen, China, or a consumer to purchase a leather good on eBay from Riobamba, Ecuador. Globalization is also placing a spotlight on intercultural competence, the ability to interact effectively with individuals of other cultures (Moodian, 2009). Organizations and their leaders are fine-tuning their cultural intelligence through the use of assessment tools and cross-cultural training in an effort to increase their effectiveness across international borders. Leading globally now requires an appreciation for the world’s cultural nuances—religious backgrounds, customs, traditions, and languages. Globalization and cultural intelligence are increasing an organization’s reach and expanding its international footprint.

The United States has experienced a paradigm shift, moving from a manual-based labor force to a knowledge-based labor force. Knowledge workers are individuals who place an emphasis on problem solving practices that require a combination of convergent and divergent thinking—knowledge work will represent 75% of all jobs by the year 2020 compared to only 17% in 1900 (Trost, 2013). Many routine jobs from the early part of the century—assembly-line production and factory work­—have been replaced by automation and robotics. As a result, career opportunities have also shifted to respond to the demands of knowledge work; social media managers, data analysts, educators, therapists, and IT professionals are among the more common selections off today’s career menu. Organizational leaders are seeking creative, tech-savvy, and solutions-oriented individuals to help lead their organization into the future.

The emergence and practice of emotional intelligence has influenced the way in which people are interacting with family and friends as well as with their bosses, peers, and direct reports. The term “emotional intelligence” was first introduced and coined by Peter Salovey and John Mayer in 1990; however, it was popularized by Harvard-educated psychologist Daniel Goleman in 1995. Emotional intelligence can be described as a form of self and social intelligence that involves the ability to accurately appraise and monitor one’s self and others’ feelings and emotions, using information to guide thinking, action, and the expression of those emotions (Salovey & Mayer, 1990; Goleman, 1995). Emotional intelligence can be learned, and there are numerous appraisal tools available to help leaders and their teams improve their self and social awareness and relationship skills. Emotionally intelligent leaders communicate more effectively, empathize with others, manage their emotions better, and defuse conflict.

The United States workforce continues to experience a shift in its ethnic composition as minorities and immigrants account for the increase in the net population growth. The African-American, Asian, and Hispanic labor force participation rates are on the rise and expected to continue trending up through 2050. Organizations embracing the changing demographic landscape are reaping the economic benefits that come from nurturing a diverse and inclusive workforce. Organizations are seeking a competitive advantage by leveraging their employees’ differing backgrounds, skills, experiences, and cultures to breed innovation and solve complex issues.

The United States has also witnessed a significant shift in the role of women in the work force. Although the household appliance boom contributed to the movement, World War II significantly increased female representation by approximately 10% as 350,000 women served in the U.S. Armed Forces, 100,000 in the Woman’s Army Corp, and 27,000 were members of the Naval Reserve program known as the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES). In addition, more women have increasingly continued to work after marriage as compared to the early part of the century when women exited the labor force at marriage. Moreover, approximately 31% of heterosexual married or cohabitating couples report that women are the main household provider (Parker & Stepler, 2017). Women are also receiving more bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees than men and are landing more mid-level managerial roles than their male counterparts as well. Women have increased their participation in the labor force, their earning power, their leadership presence, and their contributions to household income; the gender pay gap continues to narrow. Today’s leaders need to be comfortable working across gender lines, leveraging and leaning on each other’s strengths.

There are more generational cohorts working together that ever before—engaging generational diversity is not optional, it is critical for organizational success. Boomers are turning sixty-five and exiting the workforce at the rate of 10,000 per day and leaving knowledge gaps known as “brain drain” in the wake of their departure. Generation X is in its prime working years and planning to work past retirement due to their lack of confidence in Social Security’s ability to provide full-benefits when they are of retirement age. Millennials are challenging employers to create innovative ways to attract and keep them happy as they will represent 75% of the global workforce by 2025 (Schawbel, 2011). Finally, Generation Z is coming of age and seeking to find its home in a complex and constantly changing environment. The youngest are entering middle school and the oldest are exiting college and entering the labor force. Generation Z will serve as the succession plan for retiring Boomers, replacing the intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of previous generations with its own (Aguas, 2018).

Advancements in technology and innovation have influenced the methods and speed in which people navigate their lives. Smartphones, tablets, and wireless earbuds are the norm—they keep users globally connected in real-time 24/7 through a variety of social networking and informational outlets: Instagram, Snapchat, online video gaming, and “Youtubing” are among the most popular. Artificial intelligence and robotics are becoming more common in the workplace. The way users utilize the Web has also evolved over the last two decades. Early on, producers generated and posted content, and users went to company sites to learn more about an organization. Sites were limited to a “Home” page, an “About Us” page, and a “Contact Us” page. Today, Web 2.0 allows users to review job postings, apply for open positions, order products, read and contribute to blogs, review product specifications and nutritional values, support an organization’s social responsibility efforts, or download software updates. Crowd-service review sites like Yelp, Google Review, and the Better Business Bureau are providing consumers and organizations with valuable information regarding their experiences. Companies are actively listening and reacting to postings to promote, protect, and improve their brand reputation.

Sustainability can be described as protecting the natural and ecological environments and human health, while driving innovation and not compromising our way of life. When we think of sustainability, we consider renewable fuel sources, reducing carbon emissions, protecting environments and keeping the delicate ecosystems of our planet in balance. While companies like Starbucks are investing in sustainable farming, Coca Cola is focusing on water stewardship and the State of California is moving towards LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings. Social entrepreneur and Dutch inventor Boyan Slat has developed technology designed to rid the world’s oceans of plastic, and Brooklyn-based Matt LaRosa founded a year-round, self-regulating indoor aquaponic system that has enabled the farming of ready-to-eat plants and fish.

The megatrends are defining the present and shaping the future by their impact on businesses, economies, industries, societies and individual lives. Organizations and leaders that understanding the thick, yet delicate interwoven tapestry between these large and transformative megatrends will best position themselves for a sustained, long-term, competitive advantage.