Douglas Webber, Professor of Political Science

Period 3 | May – June 2018|
Fontainebleau: Seats: 24; Credit: 0.5

Course Purpose

You are about 30 years old, give or take a few years. On leaving INSEAD, assuming (perhaps mistakenly!) that retirement ages do not change radically and you retire at roughly the same age as most members of the labour force, you are going to work for about 35 years, i.e. up to at least 2050.

Thirty-five years ago, in the early 1980s, the world looked very different to what it does today. There were no mobile telephones, no personal computers and no internet. The concept of globalization had not been invented. There was still a Cold War between East and West. The economic rise of China, India and other ‘emerging’ countries had not or had barely started. Financial crises were things of the pre-Second World War past.

Learning Goals

Looking ahead 35 years, how different will the world look then to the one we know today? How – in what ways and to what extent – will the environment of business and management change in this period? What kinds of opportunities and risks will the changes that occur pose for firms and their managers?

This course will address these fundamental issues. Drawing on a wide range of social-scientific literature, it will provide you with theories and tools for thinking about the longer-term future and assess what kinds of demographic, scientific and technological, economic, cultural and political trends are likely to shape the world up to 2050, how these trends may interact, what consequences and implications they might have – and how firms and business might be affected by and respond to them.

We will discuss the trends themselves in the first hour or so of our sessions. In the remaining time we will focus on the implications of the trends for business, firms and managers.

Course Overview

  1. Introduction: The past & the future – prediction & scenario-building
  2. Demographic & socio-cultural trends
  3. Scientific-technological & economic trends
  4. Natural resource & environmental trends
  5. Domestic & international political trends
  6. No ordinary disruption: The four forces shaping the future of the world economy (guest speaker)
  7. Conclusions: Scenarios for the world 2050 & project presentations

The normal rules and guidelines apply. You must do the required reading, come to class, contribute actively and constructively to class discussions, and submit a (group) project.

Project groups may not have more than four members. Your projects may focus on the implications for business or specific sectors or firms of the trends that the course analyses. Alternatively, using the technique of scenario-building, you may like to develop competing scenarios of the state of the world, a region, a country, or a specific business sector or firm in the year 2050. You should submit your topics for my approval by Friday, 8 June.

Your project should take the form of a set of power-point slides that could be presented in class in no more than 15 minutes. We will collectively choose some projects for presentation and discussion in class during the last session.

The deadline for the submission of projects is 9h00, Wednesday, 20 June.

Course Sessions, Readings, Assignments, Deliverables

You should buy and read the prescribed chapters of the following book:

  • Mauro F. Guillén and Emilio Ontiveros, Global Turning Points: Understanding the Challenges for Business in the 21st Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

I encourage you also to buy and read the following two books, one pessimistic and the other optimistic, about the world’s future. In a way, they provide the intellectual ‘bookends’ of the course:

  • Naomi Oreskes and Erik M.Conway, The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014) (which is very cheap as well as short); and Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler, Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think (New York: Free Press, 2012).
  • Another good read and easy read is Steven Pinker, Matt Ridley, Alain de Botton and Malcolm Gladwell, Do Humankind’s Best Days Lie Ahead? (UK: Oneworld, 2016, only about 90 small pages long). This book contains the protocol of a debate between exponents of optimistic and pessimistic visions of the future.

Please note that the course syllabus distinguishes between required and recommended reading. You can ‘speed-read’ much of the material – it is important to get the main ideas from the readings, not so much the detail!

 Session 1. Introduction: The past & the future – prediction & scenario-building

Required reading:

  • John Maynard Keynes, Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren (1930), 7pp.
  • Lin Wells, ‘Predicting the Future’ (memo from US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to President George W. Bush, 12 April 2001), 2pp.
  • Spyros Makridakis, Robin M. Hogarth and Anil Gaba, ‘Why Forecasts Fail. What to Do Instead’, MIT Sloan Management Review 51:2 (Winter 2010), pp. 83-90.
  • DHL, Delivering Tomorrow: Logistics 2050. A Scenario Study, executive summary, pp. 12-16.

Recommended reading:

  • M. Ayhan Kose and Ezgi O. Ozturk, ‘A world of change’, Finance and Development 51:3 (September 2014), pp. 6-11.
  • Daron Acemoglu, ‘The World Our Grandchildren Will Inherit’, in: Ignacio Palacios-Huerta (ed.), In 100 Years, pp. 1-14.
  • Peter Cornelius, Alexander van der Putte, and Mattia Romani, ‘Three Decades of Scenario Planning in Shell’, California Management Review 48:1 (Fall 2005), pp. 92-109.
  • Peter Schwartz, ‘Winning in an Uncertain Future Through Scenario Planning’, in: DHL, Delivering Tomorrow: Logistics 2050. A Scenario Study, pp. 27-32.

Session 2. Demographic and socio-cultural trends

Required reading:

  • Guillén and Ontiveros, Global Turning Points, chapter 4: ‘The new demography: aging, migration, obesity’, pp. 44-65.
  • Ronald Inglehart, ‘Changing Values among Western Publics from 1970 to 2006’, West European Politics 31:1-2 (January-March 2008), pp. 130-146.

Recommended reading:

  • John Gray, Al Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern (London: Faber and Faber, 2003), pp. 20-26, 75-82 and 112-119.

Session 3. Scientific-technological and economic trends

Required reading:

  • PricewaterhouseCoopers, The World in 2050: Will the shift in global economic power continue? Executive summary, pp. 1-5 and as much as interests you in the remainder of the study (
  • Diamandis and Kotler, Abundance, chapter 6: ‘The Singularity is nearer’, pp. 59-73 and chapter 19: ‘Which way next?’ pp. 236-239.

Recommended reading:

  • Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (New York: W.W. Norton, 2014), excerpts pp. 4-11, 72-75, chapter 7: Computing Bounty, pp. 98-106, and pp.173-185.
  • Robert Solow, ‘Secular Stagnation: Affluent Economies Stuck in Neutral’, Finance and Development 51:3 (September 2014), p. 16.

Session 4. Natural resource & environmental trends

Required reading:

  • William J. Ripple et al., ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice’, BioScience 20:10, pp. 1-3.
  • Guillén and Ontiveros, Global Turning Points, chapter 7: ‘The quest for sustainability’, pp. 105-120.

 Recommended reading:

  • World Wild Life Fund, Living Planet: Report 2014, introduction and chapter 1, pp. 8-43.
  • Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, excerpt from chapter16, ‘The World as a Polder: What Does It All Mean to Us Today?’ pp. 486-499.

Session 5. Trends in domestic & international politics

Required reading:

  • Yuval Harari, ‘The age of disorder: Why technology is the greatest threat to humankind’, New Statesman, July 2017
  • Michael J. Abramowitz, ‘Freedom in the World 2018: Democracy in Crisis’
  • Guillén and Ontiveros, Global Turning-Points, chapter 5: ‘From dictatorship to democracy and failed states’, pp. 66-85.

 Recommended reading:

  • Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty (London: Profile Books, 2013), chapter 3: ‘The Making of Prosperity and Poverty’, pp. 70-95.

Session 6. No ordinary disruption: The four forces shaping the future of the world economy

Guest speaker (invited)

  • Ms Tera Allas, Visiting Fellow, McKinsey Global Institute; former director-general, Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, UK government; INSEAD alumnus (1993)

Required reading:

  • Richard Dobbs, James Manyika and Jonathan Woetzel, No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Global Forces Breaking All The Trends (New York: McKinsey and PublicAffairs, 2015), introduction: ‘An Intuition Reset’, pp. 1-12.

Session 7. Conclusions: Scenarios of the World 2050 & Project Presentations

Required reading:

  • Acemoglu, ‘The World Our Grandchildren Will Inherit’, in: Ignacio Palacios-Huerta (ed.), In 100 Years, pp. 15-35.
  • Ian Morris, Why the West Rules – For Now (New York: Picador, 2010), excerpts from introduction, pp. 24-35 and chapter 11: ‘Why the West Rules ..’, pp. 576-581 and chapter 12: ‘.. For Now’, pp. 582-622.
  • Diamond, Collapse, chapter 14, ‘Why Do Some Societies Make Disastrous Decisions?’ pp. 419-440.

Recommended reading:

  • Stephen Hawking, ‘This is the most dangerous time for our planet’, The Guardian, 1 December 2016.