6 Disruptive Business Trends for 2014

The trends that will change our world

The CDC-7600, the world’s fastest supercomputer a mere couple decades ago, sold for $5million [€3.7million] in 1975. Adjusted for inflation, that would equate to €23million today. The iPhone 4 packs an equivalent performance and is in the pockets of hundreds of millions of people around the world at a cost of just €380. Innovation has accelerated human civilisation at an unprecedented rate and is completely transforming industries, governments and even human behaviour.

In a rapidly evolving world, here are 6 business trends to watch for that will shape the coming years and drive innovation in the future.

More with Less

A key innovation driver will be enterprise and initiatives that are able to do more with less. This has to be the ultimate defining mission of any enterprise that expects to be sustainable in the long term. It’s a bittersweet dichotomy—we celebrate the urbanisation of rural areas, increased life expectancy, growth of the middle class in developing nations, dramatic reduction in numbers of people under the poverty line, while being simultaneously aware that these same dynamics are placing significant pressure on scarce natural resources. Factor in an exponential global population growth expected to increase by 47% to 9billion by 2050, and it becomes very apparent why businesses and customers will have to prioritise products and services that are able to do more with less.

Traditionally independent disciplines must merge to allow cross-pollination of ideas that will spur a new generation of innovation that exists at the crosshairs. Advances such as plant fuels that can power jets, mushrooms used as plastic and home insulation, and ‘pleaching’, (architecture and biology becoming one), are just the start of the trend to do more with less.

“Population growth projection to 2050. Source: UN Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs/Population Division. World Population to 2300 report”

Sustainable Foods

Higher and more volatile food prices as well as growing populations will usher in more research around sustainable foods. Income growth, biofuel production, climate variability, trade distortions, oil prices, and urbanisation contribute to increasing food prices in traditional sources of food. Our growing awareness of the impact of our food consumption and the challenges of mass-producing the required levels of food is spurring interesting innovation such as Beyond Eggs, produced at Hampton Creek Foods (a fund backed by Bill Gates and partnered with Tony Blair). The success of Beyond Eggs centers on the fact that it is 19% cheaper than eggs, has a longer shelf life, and is healthier than traditional eggs. Add to this fewer carbon emissions by decreasing the amount of feed going to the chickens, and the appeal is evident. There is similar research, albeit in its infancy, into introducing alternative food sources such as insects into regular diets and efforts to produce meat without killing animals.

“No egg, Just Mayo from Hampton Creek Foods, pioneers of artificial eggs”

Mobile Everything

It’s the era of being able to access everything, anytime, and anywhere. Back in the ‘90s the goal was to get everyone online and make the Internet part of everyday life; a goal that has been largely achieved. Steve Case, cofounder of AOL, referred to that time as the ‘1st Internet revolution’. Well, the 2nd great Internet revolution is already here. The 2nd revolution merges the ubiquitous nature of the Internet with industries such as education, health care, energy, and transportation.

The explosion of apps will continue and the competition to inform end-user behaviour, not just document it, will increase.  In addition to this, growing confidence in cloud technology is accelerating Platform-As-A-Service activity faster than even Software-As-A-Service. The success of collaborative online services like AirBnB and Zipcar is proof of how ‘mobile everything’ is transforming human-human and human-device interactions and we can expect to see a growth of entire industries that maximise these.

“Google Glass. Photo: Wikipedia/Commons”

Third Industrial Revolution

A term coined by economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin, the Third Industrial Revolution involves IT and internet companies merging with energy companies to aggregate a flat energy internet across continents. New energy regimes allow for more complex human civilisation. New energy regimes need new communication to facilitate them and when the two converge, an industrial revolution begins.

The distributed, collaborative, and lateral characteristic of the Internet introduces a brand new communication medium for the new energy regime. Energy has made dramatic progress from fossil fuels to renewable energy but still accounts for a small percentage of the global energy mix. New technological breakthroughs are already transforming buildings and cars into power plants capable of creating their own energy and exporting the surplus. Smart thermostats like Nest and internet-enabled appliances—monitored, controlled, and optimised via the web or mobile apps—is only the first step into this Third Industrial Revolution.

“Power On. Photo: Lemsipmatt/Flickr”

The Power of Sharing

The sharing economy is steadily growing with concepts like Lyft, Relay Rides, Task Rabbit, and many others. AirBnB has disrupted the hotel industry and Zipcar is doing the same in the car market both on the premise of online sharing. The power of open source communities has now been established and the coming years will see enterprises that embrace crowdsourcing develop a real competitive advantage.

Through social media marketing tools, consumers have become powerful brand ambassadors to corporations. This trend will continue, as consumers also become keystones shaping R&D and innovation. CloudSpokes, a development and design community, is an example of the wave of what is becoming an intrinsic tool for innovation for any sustainable enterprise. This social sharing coupled with rapid data is also responsible for the death of the average, and the era of ‘you’. Not just limited to marketing, businesses with access to big data and social sharing will be able to truly provide products and services customised for the individual.

“The evolution of the digital economy. Altimeter Group, 2013”

Asian Tigers and African Lions

The categorical economic shift of power from West to East has withstood even the clutches of the tumultuous recession. The burst of the housing and credit bubbles has left many industries and economies reeling, but countries like China and India have displayed consistent growth. The growth of ‘mega cities’, massive injections of foreign direct investments, increase in educational resources, and attention of the world towards that region will sustain their economic prowess.

But this isn’t just true for the Asian tigers. African lions are right at their heels. The next trend will be North to South as economies and resources in South America and Africa are explored and engaged. Africa has one of the fastest growing middle-class and several of its countries rank amongst the fastest growing economies of the world. The world’s technology giants Microsoft, IBM and Salesforce have all committed significant resources and investments in Africa and will be quickly followed by those who have the foresight to tap into what are certainly the future economic global powerhouses.

So where does this leave Ireland?

Ireland has the infrastructure and potential to be the epicentre of this innovation. Multiple comprehensive studies have been meticulously conducted into the Irish startup scene and we are at par with the world’s most innovative regions. With some of Europe’s best accelerators, world-class educational institutes, supportive government initiatives, and access to ideas and finances, it’s time to move away from stultifying attitudes and instead firmly work towards embracing these business trends in order to steer Irish businesses and enterprises to success.

This article originally appeared in Newstalk Magazine for iPad in December, for more details go here.