We have read many books about the future. Most recent “The day after tomorrow”, “Thank you for being late” and “The industries of the future”. All about the speed of change. They are all excellent.

You should add “No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Global Forces Breaking All the Trends” to the list. What makes this book different is rather than focus on only technology or climate, it is focussing on demographics, trade flows, emerging markets and more specifically emerging cities. With hard statistics as the basis of the book.

The key points

Focus on emerging economies

Emerging economies are growing 75% more rapidly than developed counties, and by 2025, the economic centre of gravity is expected to be back in Central Asia. By 2025, nearly 2.5 billion people will live in cities in Asia—that’s one of every two urbanites in the entire world. Financial outflows from emerging economies rose to 38% of global total.

Focus on emerging cities

By 2025 440 cities in developing nations will generate nearly half of global GDP growth, But only about 20 or so of these emerging-market dynamos are likely to be familiar names, such as Shanghai, Mumbai, Jakarta, São Paulo, or Lagos. The other 420 are names that don’t roll off the tips of our tongues. Time to read up (Surat, Foshan, Porto Alegre, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shenzen, Benin City, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Abuja, Kumasi, Hsinchu, Ibadan to name a few)

Digital capital

They estimate that digital capital is now the source of roughly one-third of total global GDP growth, with intangible assets (think of the value of Google’s search algorithm or Amazon’s recommendation engine) being the main driver.

Pension bomb

The human population is getting older. Fertility is falling, and the world’s population is greying dramatically. The greying population will impose an additional “off-balance-sheet commitment” of 3 percent of GDP by 2030. In 2013 S&P 500 companies reported a collective pension fund gap of 355 billion. We can expect an impending pension time bomb.

Job creation

Job creation is a critical challenge for most policymakers even as businesses complain about critical skill gaps. Meanwhile, greying populations are starting to fray social safety nets—and for debt-ridden societies in advanced economies, the challenge can only get more pressing as the cost of capital starts to rise.


Between 1980 and 2007 annual cross-border capital flows increased from 0.5 trillion to 12 trillion. In 2013 there were more than 1 billion international tourists. The number of international immigrants grew from 75 million in 1960 to 232 million in 2013.

Commodity prices are going up

Demand for commodities has risen between 600 and 2000 percent. Demand for water has doubled between 2000 and 2013. Copper prices have risen by 344%. Rubber prices soared by 350%. Food prices rose by 120%. Demand for steel is expected to increase by 80% in the next 20 years. Reserves of zinc and tin will be depleted.

Environmental cost

Government regulation around the environment (emission, water, damage to the eco system) will drive up production cost.

Interests will go up

The global level of infrastructure investment will rise to 67 trillion, which is a 60% rise. The world’s growing cities need to double their stock of physical capital investment from 10 trillion in 2013 to 20 trillion in 2025. The growing demands for capital, combined with waging populations underinvestment in infrastructure by advanced economies and long-term government defects. By 2030 there will be a supply and demand imbalance of 2.4 trillion. All of this will push the cost of capital.

Creative destruction

In 1950, the average S&P 500 company could expect to stay in the index for more than sixty years. In 2011, that average was down to eighteen years, and the trend shows no sign of easing.75 percent of the S&P 500 will be replaced by 2027. They will be replaced by 230 companies form emerging counties. Emerging companies are growing twice as fast. Large companies from emerging countries will increase from 2,200 to 7,000. China will house more large companies than the USA or the EU by 2025.


Between 1990 and 2005, US companies had almost always allocated resources on the basis of past, rather than future, opportunities. Based on data from more than 1,600 companies, we found that total return to shareholders of the top one-third most agile companies—those with the highest capital reallocation year over year—was 30 percent higher than that of the least agile companies,

How does this feel for a CEO

At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, thirty-two teams competed. All of them used the same ball, played on a field the same size, and had to abide by the same rules. Thanks to the rapidly changing basis of competition, however, the economic World Cup is more like a free-for-all. Competitors can show up from any corner of the earth with skilled strikers and unbeatable goalkeepers, and they bring their own rules with them. Some may field eighteen players at the same time instead of the standard eleven, while others may use a ball that can be manipulated by remote control.

What do you need to do

Understanding all of this is now a core skill required of every business leader. Leaders must build and manage systematic ways of keeping the skills of employees up-to-date and must ensure that executive teams and boards remain well informed about the latest developments. Long-established strategic planning processes will also need to be reimagined—to include reliable monitoring of trends, to plan for a range of scenarios, and to jettison old assumptions about potential sources of competition and risk.


  • Recruit talent by emerging city
  • Focus on cities and urban clusters, not regions or countries.
  • Go digital
  • Reimagine a workplace with older people as assets (look up the Snowbird programme)
  • Market to an ageing population and re-imagine products for older people (silver dividend)
  • Read “Overconnected”. The feedback loops will become more intense. The extreme interconnectivity creates all kind of unexpected events, including a micro-multination disrupting your business overnight.
  • Design for switchability or go circular to secure your supply lines and counter future environmental cost.
  • Improve capital productivity and develop a more liquid model (look up payment policies of Amazon and Tesla).
  • Find different sources of capital (sovereign wealth funds, peer-to-peer, crowdsourcing)
  • Change your financial metrics, risk appetite and the timeframe of your investment decisions
  • Hedge

Hard statistics

The book is the hard-nosed business version of “The Big Pivot” and “Drawdown”. The rally cry to examine your business model in a world where all the basics you relied on are in question.