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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

Ranked: The Most Innovative Companies in 2021

In today’s fast-paced market, companies have to be innovative constantly. Here’s a look at the top 50 most innovative companies in 2021.

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Most Innovative Companies 2021

Ranked: the Top 50 Most Innovative Companies in 2021

This year has been rife with pandemic-induced changes that have shifted corporate priorities—and yet, innovation has remained a top concern among corporations worldwide.

Using data from the annual ranking done by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) using a poll of 1,600 global innovation professionals, this graphic ranks the top 50 most innovative companies in 2021.

We’ll dig into a few of the leading companies, along with their innovative practices, below.

Most Innovative Companies: A Breakdown of the Leaderboard

To create the top 50 innovative company ranking, BCG uses four variables:

  • Global “Mindshare”: The number of votes from all innovation executives.
  • Industry Peer Review: The number of votes from executives in a company’s industry.
  • Industry Disruption: A diversity index to measure votes across industries.
  • Value Creation: Total share return.

For the second year in a row, Apple claims the top spot on this list. Here’s a look at the full ranking for 2021:

 CompanyIndustryHQChange from 2020
1AppleTechnology🇺🇸 U.S.--
2AlphabetTechnology🇺🇸 U.S.--
3AmazonConsumer Goods🇺🇸 U.S.--
4MicrosoftTechnology🇺🇸 U.S.--
5TeslaTransport & Energy🇺🇸 U.S.+6
6SamsungTechnology🇰🇷 South Korea-1
7IBMTechnology🇺🇸 U.S.+1
8HuaweiTechnology🇨🇳 China-2
9SonyConsumer Goods🇯🇵 Japan--
10PfizerHealthcare🇺🇸 U.S.Return
11SiemensTechnology🇩🇪 Germany+10
12LG ElectronicsConsumer Goods🇰🇷 South Korea+6
13FacebookTechnology🇺🇸 U.S.-3
14AlibabaConsumer Goods🇨🇳 China-7
15OracleTechnology🇺🇸 U.S.+10
16DellTechnology🇺🇸 U.S.+4
17Cisco SystemsTechnology🇺🇸 U.S.-5
18TargetConsumer Goods🇺🇸 U.S.+4
19HP Inc.Technology🇺🇸 U.S.-4
20Johnson & JohnsonHealthcare🇺🇸 U.S.+6
21ToyotaTransport & Energy🇯🇵 Japan+20
22SalesforceTechnology🇺🇸 U.S.+13
23WalmartConsumer Goods🇺🇸 U.S.-10
24NikeConsumer Goods🇺🇸 U.S.-8
25LenovoTechnology🇭🇰 Hong Kong SARReturn
26TencentConsumer Goods🇨🇳 China-12
27Procter & GambleConsumer Goods🇺🇸 U.S.+12
28Coca-ColaConsumer Goods🇺🇸 U.S.+20
29Abbott LabsHealthcare🇺🇸 U.S.New
30BoschTransport & Energy🇩🇪 Germany+3
31XiaomiTechnology🇨🇳 China-7
32IkeaConsumer Goods🇳🇱 NetherlandsReturn
33Fast RetailingConsumer Goods🇯🇵 JapanReturn
34AdidasConsumer Goods🇩🇪 GermanyReturn
35Merck & Co.Healthcare🇺🇸 U.S.Return
36NovartisHealthcare🇨🇭 Switzerland+11
37EbayConsumer Goods🇺🇸 U.S.Return
38PepsiCoConsumer Goods🇺🇸 U.S.Return
39HyundaiTransport & Energy🇰🇷 South KoreaReturn
40SAPTechnology🇩🇪 Germany-13
41InditexConsumer Goods🇪🇸 SpainReturn
42ModernaHealthcare🇺🇸 U.S.New
43PhilipsHealthcare🇳🇱 Netherlands-20
44DisneyMedia & Telecomms🇺🇸 U.S.Return
45MitsubishiTransport & Energy🇯🇵 JapanNew
46ComcastMedia & Telecomms🇺🇸 U.S.New
47GETransport & Energy🇺🇸 U.S.Return
48RocheHealthcare🇨🇭 SwitzerlandReturn
49AstraZenecaHealthcare🇬🇧 UKNew
50BayerHealthcare🇩🇪 Germany-12

One company worth touching on is Pfizer, a returnee from previous years that ranked 10th in this year’s ranking. It’s no surprise that Pfizer made the list, considering its instrumental role in the fight against COVID-19. In partnership with BioNTech, Pfizer produced a COVID-19 vaccine in less than a year. This is impressive considering that, historically, vaccine development could take up to a decade to complete.

Pfizer is just one of four COVID-19 vaccine producers to appear on the list this year—Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca also made the cut.

Meanwhile, in a completely different industry, Toyota snagged the 21st spot on this year’s list, up 20 places compared to the rankings in the previous year. This massive jump can be signified by the company’s recent $400 million investment into a company set to build flying electric cars.

While we often think of R&D and innovation as being synonymous, the former is just one innovation technique that’s helped companies earn a spot on the list. Other companies have innovated in different ways, like streamlining processes to increase efficiency.

For instance, in 2021, Coca-Cola performed an analysis of their beverage portfolio and ended up cutting their brand list in half, from 400 to 200 global brands. This ability to pare down and pivot could be a reason behind its 20 rank increase from 2020.

Innovation Creates Value

As this year’s ranking indicates, innovation comes in many forms. But, while there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, there is one fairly consistent innovation trend—the link between innovation and value.

In fact, according to historical data from BCG, the correlation between value and innovation has grown even stronger over the last two decades.

Most Innovative Companies 2021

For example, in 2020, a portfolio that was theoretically invested in BCG’s most innovative companies would have performed 17% better than the MSCI World Index—which wasn’t the case back in 2005.

And yet, despite innovation’s value, many companies can’t reap the benefits that innovation offers because they aren’t ready to scale their innovative practices.

The Innovation Readiness Gap

BCG uses several metrics to gauge a company’s “innovation readiness,” such as the strength of its talent and culture, its organization ecosystems, and its ability to track performance.

According to BCG’s analysis, only 20% of companies surveyed were ready to scale on innovation.

Scaling Innovation

What’s holding companies back from reaching their innovation potential? The most significant gap seems to be in what BCG calls innovation practices—things like project management or the ability to execute an idea that’s both efficient and consistent with an overarching strategy.

To overcome this obstacle, BCG says companies need to foster a “one-team mentality” to increase interdepartmental collaboration and align team incentives, so everyone is working towards the same goal.

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Timeline: Looking Back at 10 Years of Snapchat

A high level look at Snapchat’s 10-year history, including user growth, innovative product design, and the twists and turns along the way.

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10 years of snapchat

Looking Back at 10 Years of Snapchat

Over the years, many ideas have emerged from the dorm rooms at Stanford University, but not all of them evolve into billion dollar companies.

Snapchat, however, has beaten the odds. The company’s stock has recently shot up during the COVID-19 pandemic, a bright spot in a decade of highs and lows.

The graphic above is a high level look at Snapchat’s 10-year history, including user growth and financials. Snapchat’s wild ride from start-up to massive success is well documented, so we’ll focus on key elements of story—product design, the Facebook rivalry—and look at how the company is doing today now that the hype surrounding the app has died down.

But first, a quick history…

Setting the Scene

Snapchat originally began its life as a project called Picaboo in 2011.

Cofounders Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown, who were attending Stanford, began building an app that could send photos that disappear after a certain amount of time.

Picaboo was renamed Snapchat in 2012, and by the end of that year, it was clear that the start-up was onto something big. A $13.5 million Series A financing in early 2013 helped fuel the company’s explosive growth.

Positive Momentum: Product Design

One of Snapchat’s biggest strengths over the years has been innovative product design. Many of the features we now see baked into every social app originated from Snapchat.

Here’s a quick rundown of Snapchat’s key feature and product development over the past decade.

snapchat feature product timeline

Of all the features listed above, the concept of stories is perhaps the most significant contribution to the digital landscape. Disappearing short-form videos started off as a messaging tool, but ended up transforming the way people share their lives online.

As well, the forward-looking acquisition of Looksery in 2015, helped introduce millions of people to augmented reality (AR). AR continues to be a major growth driver for Snapchat today, as advertisers embrace the Lenses feature.

Negative Momentum: Facebook Rivalry

To Mark Zuckerberg’s credit, he realized the potential of Snapchat early.

When the company was only one year old, the Facebook CEO offered the Snapchat founders $60 million to buy the company. When they rejected the offer, Facebook almost immediately launched an app called Poke which was extremely similar to Snapchat’s offering. You’d be forgiven for not knowing what Poke is, as the app received a tepid reception and was quietly shut down in 2014.

“I hope you enjoy Poke.” – Mark Zuckerberg, in an email to Evan Spiegel

For Snapchat, Poke was a blessing in disguise as it brought even more attention to their growing app. Mark Zuckerberg, however, was not done trying to steal the company’s thunder. After offering $3 billion in cash to purchase Snapchat (the offer was once again rebuffed), Facebook copied a number of features from Snapchat and integrated them into Instagram.

Stories were a massive hit for Instagram, and Snapchat, which could not yet match Instagram’s scale, took a big hit. Growth began to slow noticeably after that Instagram update.

Snapchat Today

Snapchat hit rock bottom in 2018 after shares dropped below the $5 mark, and user growth had stalled out. As well, underwhelming sales of Snapchat’s Spectacles product garnered negative press and hurt the brand’s “cool factor”.

Today though, the situation looks much different. The app still has a strong market share with the younger demographic, and close to 300 million daily active users. Snapchat was one of the many digital companies to benefit from the COVID-19 pandemic (or, at least, the increase in digital content consumption), and the share price has rocketed to new highs. One other promising indicator is the company’s rising average revenue per user, or ARPU.

arpu revenue per user snapchat

Of course, as the last 10 years have shown, success is not guaranteed. TikTok is still a significant competitor with a lot of momentum, and tastes can change quickly in the digital world. That said, there is a positive path forward for Snap Inc.

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