No ordinary business book

This month marks the publication of No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Global Forces Breaking All The Trends (PublicAffairs, May 2015), a book by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) directors Richard Dobbs, James Manyika, and Jonathan Woetzel. As the title suggests, the book surveys powerful forces that are transforming the global economy, and argues that we all need to reset the intuitions and assumptions that drive our decision-making on everything from corporate strategy to personal investment.

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Publication coincides with the 25th anniversary of MGI and brings together many of the big ideas that our in-house think tank has developed and refined over the past quarter century. Inspiration for the book came at a resort on the Malaysian island of Langkawi, recalls Richard. The Malaysian prime minister and the board members of Khazanah Nasional Berhad, the nation's strategic investment fund, were holding a management retreat.

McKinsey was invited to outline trends that would shape the world over the next 50 years, over breakfast in an open-air restaurant surrounded by an ancient rainforest. This was strictly a no-PowerPoint affair, says Richard, "so I needed colorful examples to compete with the monkeys swinging through the trees."

Elsewhere, CEOs had been asking for an overview of MGI's perspective to complement its steady flow of research on topics ranging from globalization to disruptive technologies to obesity. So the project was born—a collective effort to show how the world is changing by combining fact-based analysis with eye-opening examples. As the manuscript took shape it became clear that there was potential for a book-length treatment. PublicAffairs, an imprint of Perseus Books Group, signed up as publisher.

The diverse backgrounds of the three authors contributes to the breadth of the story they tell. Jonathan, an American with a PhD in political science, has lived in China for more than 25 years. When not serving clients or engaged in MGI research he is co-chair of the not-for-profit Urban China Initiative—a joint venture led by Columbia University, Tsinghua University, and McKinsey. James, born and raised in Zimbabwe, a former member of the engineering faculty at Oxford University, and long-time resident of San Francisco, has a unique perspective on technology, growth, and globalization. Richard, now back into London after a six-year stint in Korea, is a former leader of our Corporate Finance Practice.

The book focuses on four major disruptions: the industrialization and urbanization of emerging economies; the accelerating pace of technological change; the demography of aging populations and declining fertility rates; and increasing global interconnectivity. Each of these trends is larger than any disruption the global economy has ever experienced. Yet all four are hitting at the same time—creating second-, third-, and even fourth-order effects that are scarcely possible to anticipate.

What will it take to succeed in this unpredictable new world? The book ends on a positive note. The first imperative for executives and leaders across all sectors (private, public, and not-for-profit) is to maintain an external orientation—that is, don't become so wrapped up with internal challenges that you lose sight of how the world is changing. A second is to be prepared to rethink your assumptions and stay agile, because change will play out in ways that are scarcely predictable. The third is to be optimistic—with three billion people set to join the the global middle class, and technological progress happening at breathtaking speed, there are huge opportunities for individuals and organizations. "We believe that optimism will still win the day, even in the trend-break era," the authors write.

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