50 ideas that could change the world

Sep 11, 2017
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The FT’s quest to find ‘50 ideas with the power to solve the challenges facing the world’ will be a fascinating and ongoing discussion that L&D and corporate leaders should follow in detail. The subject categories—skills and education, population, energy and resources, health, nature and the universe—will affect the global business environment in almost every sphere, including how we learn.

Predicting the successful innovations is no science. History tells us that it’s not always the most dazzling invention that gets widely adopted, and it may be the incidental benefits not the initial purpose that truly change the world. As Tim Harford notes, it was seemingly mundane innovations such as toilet paper, barbed wire or shipping containers that did so much to shape the modern world. Companies understand only too well that bringing a new product to market is an unpredictable process. It’s why many embrace rapid failure and apply numerous commercial reality checks along the way.

However, we can still make educated guesses about what the future might hold. As the FT evolving list of scientific breakthroughs suggests, we already know what capabilities exist, even though they may take a generation or more to bear commercial fruit. We might also consider past experience of the social backlash as a guide to future reactions—as the debate over ‘job-stealing’ robots illustrates. And of course, there is science fiction, which at the very least has been a lodestar for the dreams of scientists and entrepreneurs, as is evident from our growing fascination for space travel.

For business to ignore such speculations would be a failure of imagination as well as strategy. One only has to look at the FT’s own expert recommendations, especially in healthcare, such as wearable MRI scanners with potential mind-reading capabilities, holographic computers used to teach anatomy, and self-learning neuromorphic chips that can identify heart abnormalities, to imagine the impact on that sector alone. Not only is the list of potential breakthroughs staggering in its breadth and implications, we have yet to consider how they might interact with each other, multiplying their potential impact.

Paul Lewis

Editorial director, Headspring

Paul Lewis is a writer and editor, specialising in business, management, economics and politics.