Choose growth – making the future better than it used to be

This is the second in a series of articles called Leaders Speak, which are authored by the CEOs of the companies that make up Europe Delivers, a business partnership working to build future-fit growth in Europe.

Osvald Bjelland

CEO, Xynteo

´How dare we be pessimistic? Maybe the future is better than it used to be.´

I love this provocation, by world-leading futurist Peter Schwartz. I, too, am instinctively hopeful about the future. The pandemic has dealt us a serious blow, and probably changed forever the way we live, learn, work, invest and govern. At the same time, never before in history have we had so much capital, technology and knowledge at our disposal. And what feels very new to me to now is the sense of urgency – the desire for change is electric.

A second thing I like about the quote: it treats the future as changeable. It invites us to see that we can write the future we want, using today´s choices and actions as our ink.

The future is unknowable, but we have learned a lot about consequences these past few decades. We know what happens to our biosphere if destroying it carries no cost. We know what happens if we make it impossible for people to make a decent living and then provide no safety net when they lose their venture. We know what happens if shareholder reward comes at the expense of broader stakeholder value.

We get wildfires in Australia. We get sick lungs in Delhi, with early deaths and inflated public health expenditure. We get public mistrust of leaders and polarised communities in Minneapolis. We get pandemics – just one of the prices we pay for trying to colonise nature. And we get businesses that lack the licence to operate in the market of the future.

It´s not rocket science. We can repeat our mistakes, perhaps eking out a bit more revenue, or another four-year term. Or we can harness our hard-won learning to shine a light on the choices we should make now in order to build a form of growth that works for the 21st century. 

But what are these choices? This is the question that has inspired a body of work Xynteo has undertaken this year in collaboration with its partners in Europe Delivers – Mastercard, Verizon, Yara, Scania, Shell and DB Schenker.

Drawing on conversations with nearly 80 leaders (most senior executives from large European businesses – among them the companies above as well as businesses like AstraZeneca, Santander, Ørsted and BP), we identified over 70 drivers – the trends that these CEOs, senior executives, policymakers, experts and civil society leaders believed would exert the most powerful force on the near-term future.

We then selected the most impactful of these drivers to create three scenarios for 2025. Covering the good, the bad and the ugly of what could lie ahead, our scenarios are neither predictions nor visions. They are intended as plausible if provocative stories that capture the ambiguity and complexity of the future. 

Our ambition is that this work will help business leaders build their foresight capabilities – how to play with possible futures to make stronger decisions today. As always, Xynteo´s bet is that the work benefits from the multiplicity of the industries it draws on – converting individual insight into collaborative foresight.

A sketch of the first scenario – entitled Walls Up – has been shared on our new CHOOSE GROWTH microsite. This scenario invites us to consider the possible positive and negative impacts, on our competitiveness as European businesses and on European society writ large, if we allow ourselves to drift away from the global openness that has defined world dynamics since the end of the second world war.

Walls Up was inspired by an observation we heard from a range of the leaders we spoke with – namely that while the pandemic undoubtedly unleashed a lot of collaborative spirit, there was also a lot of ´every-man-for-himself´ behaviour.

If European countries choose a solitary path, Europe´s main source of competitive advantage – our togetherness – will erode. Without each other, we are just an assortment of mostly economically insignificant countries. Together, we are a global role model for how to run well-functioning societies as well as a powerful economic bloc with a deep knowledge of how to solve complex problems leveraging diverse capabilities. 

And at this moment in time, we need to deepen our collaboration, not let it fizzle out. Our recovery – the Green Deal – depends on it.

The second and third scenarios will be released over the course of this month and into December. And in January 2021 Xynteo and Europe Delivers will release a report including not only the full scenarios, but also how they can be used to help business leaders build commercial competitiveness while advancing Europe´s transition to a net-zero, socially just growth model.

For we have no time to waste. In 2020, as we sheltered in place, global emissions dropped by 8%. But the underlying system remains the same – we just hit pause on the same old song. To keep the world within the 1.5 degree target we would need to reduce emissions by 7.6% every year for the next 10 years. And we need to do so while creating jobs, not destroying them.

As one of the leaders we spoke with said: we can´t solve the climate crisis through lockdown. 

No. But we can solve it. We have what we need. Let´s get to work.

The growth model we need is within reach. Let´s make the future better than it used to be. 

 

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Osvald Bjelland is founder and CEO of Xynteo, which runs Europe Delivers on behalf of partners DB Schenker, ManpowerGroup, Mastercard, Scania, Shell, Verizon and Yara.