Kelly Dawson Head of Insights and Innovation

Pioneer or prepare? The influence of megatrends on innovation and business…


If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem, and only 5 minutes finding the solution.

Albert Einstein


Megatrends are one of the largest influences on business. They are driving forces that are defining the world today and will shape our future. Significant megatrends in the world today include climate change and resource scarcity, rapid urbanisation, demographic shifts, and advancements in technology.

Megatrends are influenced by shifts in behaviour, attitudes and changes in society. They will ultimately have impacts that unfold over many years. For example, while driverless cars may have seemed like science fiction until recently, we now have these vehicles on our streets and there are predictions that we could soon see the official launch of a commercial ride sharing service comprised entirely of autonomous vehicles.

Megatrends can often be found at the core of company strategies to drive sustainable business growth; ensuring global consumers’ changing needs and behaviours underpin the decisions they make. However, as the change driven by megatrends develop over many years, they can be overlooked, particularly in businesses that have a near-term mindset rather than taking a long-term view.

Innovation should be driven by a deep understanding of the implications of emerging trends and longer-term projections of change. All too often we jump to solutions before we’ve defined the problem or opportunity. To shape innovation, one approach is to consider whether you are preparing for global change, OR pioneering change that will shape the world.

Are you solving a problem such as the challenges caused by water shortage?

Or, do you have an idea that might change the way we interact with the world around us, such as the emergence of voice recognition?

Preparing for indeterminate forces in a changing world

Whilst we don’t necessarily have the foresight to determine the full extent of future consumer needs and the extent of change on the horizon, it is possible to define and prepare future scenarios on how global change might impact your brand and consumers.

For example, climate change and water shortage is perhaps closer than we might think. We are already seeing the impact on people around the world. People in São Paolo, New Delhi, Cape Town and California are having to prioritise water usage in the home, reusing where possible. Fourteen of the world’s twenty megacities are experiencing water scarcity or drought conditions.

Combine water shortage with rapid urbanisation and the world will have just 60% of the water it needs by 2030. The impact will no doubt be felt throughout households, effecting peoples’ behaviour to how often they shower, clean the home, wash clothing and flush the toilet. Attitudes are already changing to a resource that is often taken for granted.

“I think twice about every single choice I make – do I really need to wash that top? I feel like we’re having to learn the value of every drop the hard way, and maybe in the long-term, that’s a good thing.”

The world’s first dry-wash spray, Day 2, launched last year by Unilever, signals a preparation for the changing needs on the horizon in the laundry category. Whilst the product innovation claims many benefits, its purpose is to extend the wear of clothing. As this example highlights, by innovating, a new platform and business opportunity is growing where global challenges have emerged.

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Pioneering new technology and innovation

An alternative direction to approaching innovation is through focusing on the opportunities associated by pioneering new technology. Technology-led companies can also see disruption impact them and change the industry.

Kodak failed to capitalise on the opportunity when they created the digital camera. They did not market and launch the technology for fear of impacting their film business. They failed to realise that online photo sharing was a new business opportunity, not just a way to expand the printing business. They lacked the foresight on where consumer behaviour was heading and didn’t pioneer innovation that could have driven significant growth in their business.
Pioneering innovation requires a deep understanding of people. It requires insight on how individuals, families, communities and countries are changing and how they might interact with emerging technology. Pioneers must understand people, as well as understanding the technicalities of how technological change might progress.

To prepare or pioneer?

At the start of an innovation process, it’s worth actively considering whether you are preparing for significant change that will impact your sector or whether you are pioneering new technologies that might shape our future.

If global change will impact your business, there is a strong likelihood you need to prepare an innovation strategy for future horizons. Conversely, if you develop and pioneer new technology, there will need to be a compelling need and use case that will aid product or service success.

Understanding problems and pain points on the horizon should signal how best to prepare an innovation funnel. Defining what might make you irrelevant over the next ten years poses a great opportunity if considered strategically.

Of course, some innovation will sit at the intersection of preparing and pioneering. For example, renewable energy opportunities are drawing on advancements in technology, but they are also a response to a clear compelling need for urgent energy alternatives for the good of the planet.

The intersection between preparing and pioneering is perhaps where some of the most exciting game-changing innovation can be found.


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