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The 8 Major Forces Shaping the Future of the Global Economy

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The 8 Major Forces Shaping the Future of the Global Economy

I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.

– Jimmy Dean

The world is changing faster than ever before.

With billions of people hyper-connected to each other in an unprecedented global network, it allows for an almost instantaneous and frictionless spread of new ideas and innovations.

Combine this connectedness with rapidly changing demographics, shifting values and attitudes, growing political uncertainty, and exponential advances in technology, and it’s clear the next decade is setting up to be one of historic transformation.

But where do all of these big picture trends intersect, and how can we make sense of a world engulfed in complexity and nuance? Furthermore, how do we set our sails to take advantage of the opportunities presented by this sea of change?

The Intersection of Data and Powerful Visuals

Interpreting massive amounts of data on how the world is changing can be taxing for even the most brilliant thinkers.

For this reason, our entire team at Visual Capitalist is focused on using the power of visual storytelling to make the world’s information more accessible. Our team of information designers works daily to transform complex data into graphics that are both intuitive and insightful, allowing you to see big picture trends from a new perspective.

After all, science says that 65% of people are visual learners – so why not put data in a language they can understand?

While we regularly publish our visuals in an online format, our most recent endeavor has been to compile our best charts, infographics, and data visualizations into one place: our new book Visualizing Change: A Data-Driven Snapshot of Our World, a 256-page hardcover coffee-table book on the forces shaping business, wealth, technology, and the economy.

The book focuses on eight major themes ranging from shifting human geography to the never-ending evolution of money. And below, we present some of the key visualizations in the book that serve as examples relating to each major theme.

1. The Tech Invasion

For most of the history of business, the world’s leading companies have been industrially-focused.

Pioneers like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison innovated in the physical realm using atoms – they came up with novel ways to re-organize these atoms to create things like the assembly line and the incandescent lightbulb. Then, companies invested massive amounts of capital to build physical factories, pay thousands of workers, and build these things.

The majority of the great blue chip companies were built this way: IBM, U.S. Steel, General Electric, Walmart, and Ford are just some examples.

But today’s business reality is very different. We live in a world of bytes – and for the first time technology and commerce have collided in a way that makes data far more valuable than physical, tangible objects.

The best place to see this is in how the market values businesses.

Market capitalization of tech companies

As you can see above, companies like Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft have supplanted traditional blue chip companies that build physical things.

The tech invasion is leveraging connectivity, network effects, artificial intelligence, and unprecedented scale to create global platforms that are almost impossible to compete with. The tech invasion has already taken over retail and advertising – and now invading forces have their eyes set on healthcare, finance, manufacturing, and education.

Will atoms ever be more valuable than bytes again?

Interesting Facts:

2. The Evolution of Money

Money is arguably one of humanity’s most important inventions. From beaver pelts to gold bars, the form and function of money has constantly fluctuated throughout history.

In the modern world, the definition of money is blurrier than ever. Central banks have opted to create trillions of dollars of currency out of thin air since the financial crisis – and on the flipside, you can actually use blockchain technology to create your own competing cryptocurrency in just a few clicks.

Regardless of what is money and what is not, people are borrowing record amounts of it.

The world has now amassed $247 trillion in debt, including $63 trillion borrowed by central governments:

Global debt by gdp

In today’s unusual monetary circumstances, massive debt loads are just one anomaly.

Here are other examples that illustrate the evolution of money: Venezuela has hyperinflated away almost all of its currency’s value, the “War on Cash” is raging on around the world, central banks are lending out money at negative interest rates (Sweden, Japan, Switzerland, etc.), and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are collectively worth over $200 billion.

How we view money – and how that perception evolves over time – is an underlying factor that influences our future.

Interesting Facts:

3. The Wealth Landscape

Wealth is not stagnant – and so for those looking to make the most out of global opportunities, it’s imperative to get a sense of how the wealth landscape is changing.

The modern view is either extremely healthy or bubbly, depending on how you look at it: Amazon and Apple are worth over $1 trillion, Jeff Bezos has a $100+ billion fortune, and the current bull market is the longest in modern history at 10 years.

Will this growth continue, and where will it come from?

Here’s one look based on projections from the World Bank:

Where is Global Growth Happening?

Despite these estimates, there is a laundry list of items that the ultra-wealthy are concerned about – everything from the expected comeback of inflation to a world where geopolitical black swans seem to be growing more common.

Here’s why those building and protecting wealth are rightly concerned about such events:

Geopolitical black swans and the S&P 500

But the wealth landscape is not all just about billionaires and massive companies – it is changing in other interesting ways as well. For example, the definition of wealth itself is taking on a new meaning, with millennials leading a charge towards sustainable investing rather than being entirely focused on monetary return.

How will the wealth landscape look a decade from now?

Interesting Facts:

4. Eastern Promises

The economic rise of China has been a compelling story for decades.

Up until recently, we’ve only been able to get a preview of what the Eastern superpower is capable of – and in the coming years, these promises will come to fruition at a scale that will still be baffling to many.

Understandably, the scope of China’s population and economy can still be quite difficult to put into perspective.

The following map may help, as it combines both elements together to show that China has countless cities each with a higher economic productivity than entire countries.

China cities vs. country GDPs

In fact, China has over 100 cities with more than 1,000,000 inhabitants. These cities, many of which fly below the radar on the global stage, each have impressive economies – whether they are built upon factories, natural resource production, or the information economy.

As one impressive example, the Yangtze River Delta – a single region which contains Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Wuxi, Nantong, Ningbo, Nanjing, and Changzhou – has a GDP (PPP) of $2.6 trillion, which is more than Italy.

Interesting Facts:

Don’t forget: our new book covers
all of these eight themes in detail:

5. Accelerating Technological Progress

As we’ve already seen, there are many facets of change that will impact our shared future.

But here’s the kicker: when it comes to technological progress, the rate of change itself is actually getting faster and faster. Each year brings more technological advancements than the last, and once the exponential “hockey stick” kicks into overdrive, innovations could happen at a blindsiding pace.

This could be described as a function of Moore’s Law, and the law of accelerating returns is also something that futurists like Ray Kurzweil have talked about for decades.

Interestingly, there is another offshoot of accelerating change that applies more to the business and economic world. Not only is the speed of change getting faster, but for various reasons, markets are able to adopt new technologies faster:

The accelerating rate of technology adoption

New products can achieve millions of users in just months, and the game Pokémon Go serves as an interesting case study of this potential. The game amassed 50 million users in just 19 days, which is a blink of an eye in comparison to automobiles (62 years), the telephone (50 years), or credit cards (28 years).

As new technologies are created at a faster and faster pace – and as they are adopted at record speeds by markets – it’s fair to say that future could be coming at a breakneck speed.

Interesting Facts:
Future tech facts

6. The Green Revolution

It’s no secret that our civilization is in the middle of a seismic shift to more sustainable energy sources.

But to fully appreciate the significance of this change, you need to look at the big picture of energy over time. Below is a chart of U.S. energy consumption from 1776 until today, showing that the energy we use to power development is not permanent or static throughout history.

Energy Use Since 1776

And with the speed at which technology now moves, expect our energy infrastructure and delivery systems to evolve at an even more blistering pace than we’ve experienced before.

Interesting Facts:

7. Shifting Human Geography

Global demographics are always shifting, but the population tidal wave in the coming decades will completely reshape the global economy.

In Western countries and China, populations will stabilize due to fertility rates and demographic makeups. Meanwhile, on the African continent and across the rest of Asia, booming populations combined with rapid urbanization will translate into the growth of megacities, holding upwards of 50 million people.

By the end of the 21st century, this animation shows that Africa alone could contain at least 13 megacities that are bigger than New York:

Megacities demographic animation

By this time, it’s projected that North America, Europe, South America, and China will combine to hold zero of the world’s 20 most populous cities. What other game-changing shifts to human geography will occur during this stretch?

Interesting Facts:

8. The Trade Paradox

By definition, a consensual and rational trade between two parties is one that makes both parties better off.

Based on this microeconomic principle, and also on the consensus by economists that free trade is ultimately beneficial, countries around the world have consistently been working to remove trade barriers since World War II with great success.

But nothing is ever straightforward, and these long-held truths are now being challenged in both societal and political contexts. We now seem to be trapped in a trade paradox in which politicians give lip service to free trade, but often take action in the opposite direction.

To get a sense of how important trade can be between two nations, we previously documented the ongoing relationship between the U.S. and Canada, in which each country is the best customer of the other:

USA/CAN Trade Relationship

With the recent USMCA agreement, the two countries seem to have sorted their differences for now – but the trade paradox will continue to be an ongoing theme in economics and investing at a global level for many years to come, especially as the trade war against China rages on.

Points to Consider:

How You Can Visualize Change

The forces behind change are not always evident to the naked eye, but we believe that by fusing data, art, and storytelling together that we can create powerful context on the trends shaping our future.

If you enjoyed our summary above, you can explore these ideas further with our book “Visualizing Change”, which offers 256 pages of infographics, data visualizations, and charts on the future direction of the global economy and technology.

Get your copy of Visualizing Change today

Our book makes a great holiday gift. Get it on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca, or even customize a bulk order with your logo

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Technology

The World’s Tech Giants, Ranked by Brand Value

Tech giants and e-commerce brands are thriving—and running circles around less pandemic-proof brands.

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The World’s Tech Giants, Ranked by Brand Value

The pandemic has businesses everywhere on the ropes, with many firms filing for bankruptcy since lockdowns began. Despite the uncertainty, tech giants and major digital retail brands are still thriving—and some are running circles around those that are less pandemic-proof.

Using data from Kantar and Bloomberg, a recent brand report released by BrandZ shows which tech companies are proving their worth to consumers during COVID-19 chaos. With data covering almost 4 million consumers, BrandZ also reveals that the tech sector leads the world’s 100 most valued brands in terms of financial power and consumer sentiment.

Here’s how the top 20 tech brands from the report stack up:

RankCompanyBrand Value (2020)Change (%)
#1🇺🇸 Apple$352 billion+14%
#2🇺🇸 Microsoft$327 billion+30%
#3🇺🇸 Google$324 billion+5%
#4🇨🇳 Tencent$151 billion+15%
#5🇺🇸 Facebook$147 billion-7%
#6🇺🇸 IBM$84 billion-3%
#7🇩🇪 SAP$58 billion0%
#8🇺🇸 Instagram$42 billion+47%
#9🇺🇸 Accenture$41 billion+6%
#10🇺🇸 Intel$37 billion+17%
#11🇺🇸 Adobe$36 billion+29%
#12🇰🇷 Samsung$33 billion+7%
#13🇺🇸 Salesforce$30 billion+13%
#14🇺🇸 LinkedIn$30 billion+31%
#15🇨🇳 Huawei$29 billion+9%
#16🇺🇸 Oracle$27 billion+2%
#17🇺🇸 Cisco$26 billion-9%
#18🇺🇸 Dell$18 billion-2%
#19🇨🇳 Xiaomi$17 billion-16%
#20🇨🇳 Baidu$15 billion-29%

Out of the top five tech brands, Microsoft made the biggest moves with 30% brand value growth. Other big movers in the top 20 were Instagram (owned by Facebook), Adobe, and LinkedIn (owned by Microsoft), rising 47%, 29%, and 31%, respectively.

Broken down by nation, U.S. brands are dominating tech’s heavy hitters, claiming 14 of the world’s top 20 tech brands. Chinese brands round out much of the remaining top 20, including tech entertainment and social media giant Tencent, which rose 15% in brand value since 2019.

Big Tech’s Heavyweights

Tech’s top brands are raking in billions of dollars, capturing consumer mindshare, captivating people, and comforting them during volatile months. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Tencent, and Facebook—tech’s leading contingent—have made those moves look easy during what are rough times for many world brands. 

While most tech brands in the upper half of the top 20 saw significant increases in brand value, only Facebook and IBM were in decline from 2019, at -7% and -3% respectively. The biggest loss in tech’s top 20 came from China’s Baidu, which fell by -29% in 2020.

Waning consumer trust, thanks in part to the perceived misuse of personal data, is a gap that tech’s popularity alone won’t fill forever. (Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, nearly 25% of Facebook account holders reported being “extremely” or “very” concerned about their personal data.)

Pandemic-Proof Applications

Coming in at eighth place, Facebook-owned Instagram gained 47% in brand value—a huge percentage, but less than the whopping 95% growth it had in 2019.

On the whole, digital apps have been faring well during the pandemic, especially those built for entertainment, shopping, social connection, and delivery.

These brands had anticipated, even invented, the online-offline dynamics of modern life that became indispensable for survival during the lockdown homebound weeks of avoiding the contagion. 

— BrandZ 2020 Global Top 100 Report

Top Brands, by Category

While the brand value growth rates of tech giants aren’t entirely immune to the effects of COVID-19, the likes of Apple, Microsoft, and Google are growing steadily, surpassed only by e-commerce leader Amazon. 

With data collected into April 2020, BrandZ’s report on the world’s top 100 brands reflects multiple shifting needs and consumer concerns at a categorical scale. 

While consumer affinity for e-commerce and social media brands has increased, fast food and beer brands took a hit, despite reports of increased alcohol consumption and food delivery during lockdown. It would seem then, that consumers have been valuing their tools and means of consumption.

Of the report’s 14 brand categories, only six increased in value, mostly by less than 5%. Of the top risers, six were tech brands and six were mainly e-commerce. 

Other upwardly mobile brands were those in the apparel and personal care categories. Much like retail, those categories had an increasing reliance on technology to deliver their products. 

The above chart shows overall categorical changes for 2020 led by retail, tech, and insurance. In the opposite corner, energy, and bank brands took the biggest hits.

Rolling with the Punches

The economic impacts of COVID-19 are undeniable. Even still, BrandZ’s top 100 brands marked a steady increase of 6% in value in 2020, compared to 7% the previous year.

This pandemic has offered up era-defining change, with tech and e-commerce seizing the day. But in a climate where nothing can be taken for granted, brands large and small are still taking their knocks.

For now, the brands that are embraced by consumers will be those that can apply a salve to the blows that 2020 keeps delivering. 

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Connected Workers: How Digital Transformation is Shaping Industry’s Future

This graphic explores the role connected workers play in achieving successful digital transformation and identifying new growth opportnities.

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Connected Workers: Shaping the Future of Industry

Digital transformation has upended businesses on a global scale, and no industry is immune from its powerful effects.

New technologies and enhancing customer experience are key drivers for companies investing in digital transformation, but the most important reason for prioritizing this shift is that it will allow them to leverage entirely new opportunities for growth.

However, with the speed of digital transformation accelerating at a furious pace, companies need to quickly adapt their working environment to keep up. This graphic from mCloud unearths the origins of the connected worker, and explores the potential applications of connected devices across industries.

The Rise of the Connected Worker

The mass adoption of smart devices has sparked a new wave of remote work. This type of working arrangement is estimated to inject $441 billion into the global economy every year, and save 2.5 million metric tonnes of CO2 by 2029—the equivalent of 1,280 flights between New York and London.

However, flexible or remote working looks different depending on the industry. For example, in the context of business services such as engineering or manufacturing, employees who carry out different tasks remotely using digital technologies are known as connected workers.

The term is not a one-size-fits-all, as there are many different types of connected workers with different roles, such as operators, field workers, engineers, and even executives. But regardless of an individual’s title, every connected worker plays a crucial role in achieving digital transformation.

Real Time Data, Real Time Benefits

When workers are connected to assets in real time, they can make better, more informed decisions—ultimately becoming a more efficient workforce overall. As a result, industries could unlock a wealth of benefits, such as:

  • Reducing human error
  • Increasing productivity
  • Reducing dangerous incidents
  • Saving time and money
  • Monitoring assets 24/7

While connected workers can enhance the potential of industries, the tools they use to achieve these benefits are crucial to their success.

Connected Worker Technologies

A connected device has the ability to connect with other devices and systems through the internet. The connected worker device market is set for rapid growth over the next two decades, reaching $4.3 billion by 2039. Industries such as oil and gas, chemical production, and construction lead the way in the adoption of connected worker technologies, which include:

  • Platforms: Hardware or software that uses artificial intelligence and data to allow engineers to create bespoke applications and control manufacturing processes remotely.
  • Interfaces: Technologies such as 3D digital twins enable peer-to-peer information sharing. They also create an immersive reflection of surroundings that would have otherwise been inaccessible by workers, such as wind turbine blades.
  • Smart sensors and IoT devices: Sensors that monitor assets provide a more holistic overview of industrial processes in real time and prevent dangerous incidents.
  • Cloud and edge computing: Using the cloud allows workers to communicate with each other and manage shared data more efficiently.

Over time, connected devices are getting smarter and expanding their capabilities. Moreover, devices such as wearables are becoming more discreet than ever, and can even be embedded into personal protective equipment to gather data while remaining unobtrusive.

Real World Applications

With seemingly endless potential, these devices have the ability to provide game changing solutions to ongoing challenges across dozens of industries.

  • Building Maintenance and Management
    Facility managers can access real time information and connect with maintenance workers on site to resolve issues quickly. Building personnel can also access documentation and remote help through connected technologies.
  • Task Management
    Operators in industrial settings such as mining can control activities in remote locations. They can also enable field personnel to connect with experts in other locations.
  • Communications Platform
    Cloud-based communication platforms can provide healthcare practitioners with a tool to connect with the patient, the patient’s family and emergency care personnel.

By harnessing the power of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and analytics, connected workers can continue to revolutionize businesses and industries across the globe.

Towards a More Connected Future

As companies navigate the challenges of COVID-19, implementing connected worker technologies and creating a data-driven work environment may quickly become an increasingly important priority.

Not only is digital transformation important for leveraging new growth opportunities to scale, it may be crucial for determining the future of certain businesses and industries.

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