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Forward Thinking

From the McKinsey Global Institute, conversations with today’s thought leaders to inspire tomorrow. Co-hosts Michael Chui and Janet Bush interview innovative thinkers and industry pioneers to explore the trends reshaping the global economy today and in the future.

Latest Episode

Forward Thinking on working at the interface of the environment and business with Justin Adams

– “I’m increasingly talking about the need to build a planetary restoration industry,” says a prominent investor in sustainability. “This, to me, is one of the great industries that we need to be building together over the next decades, and indeed beyond—the next centuries.”

Recent Episodes

Forward Thinking on what deep history might tell us about today’s turbulent times with Alan Taylor

– A leading economist uses a historical lens to gain insights into the economic consequences of pandemics, likely trends in wealth and globalization, and whether current economic turbulence signals the start of a new era.

Forward Thinking on how to get remote working right with Nicholas Bloom

– “There’s a lot of scare stories in the media saying hybrid doesn’t work,” says a leading economist. “My one piece of advice is just be intentional, be organized. Basically, get folks in on two, three days a week … and be really tough about having them come in. And then let them work from home on the other days.”

Forward Thinking on the complicated and contentious state of global trade with Chad P. Bown

– “This is certainly the most exciting, contentious, uncertain time when it when it comes to trade policy, certainly in my lifetime,” says a leading trade economist. “And I just had one of those big, round number—half century—birthdays, and so I’ve been around for a fairly long period of time.”

Forward Thinking on the meeting point of science and humanity with Jayshree Seth

– Persuaded by her parents to study science and engineering, Jayshree Seth retained her humanities mindset while becoming the first chief science advocate at the 3M company.

Forward Thinking on the fragility of the world’s food systems and how to fix them with Jessica Fanzo

– Many people think that hunger and climate change happen to poor people in faraway countries and won’t affect them, says a leading food systems expert. “But that is a naïve perception of the world.”

Forward Thinking on talent, state capacity, and being hopeful with Tyler Cowen

– A prominent economist, author, podcaster, and talent investor discusses how to better match human talent to opportunities, de-bureaucratize philanthropy, achieve higher-quality governance, and identify fields of likely progress, and how to get it all done.

Forward Thinking on progress in science funding, immigration, and biosecurity with Alec Stapp

– The co-founder and co-CEO of a new think tank, the Institute for Progress, talks about its mission to accelerate scientific, technological, and industrial progress while safeguarding the future of humanity.

Forward Thinking on the sustainability revolution in textiles and the fashion industry with Edwin Keh

– The leader of a cutting-edge institute talks about innovative new materials that “eat” carbon and may enable cotton growing without irrigation, as well as the potential for building the world’s shortest supply chain in two 40-foot containers.

Forward Thinking on people, places, and the revenge of places that don’t matter with Andrés Rodríguez-Pose

– A leading economic geographer talks regional growth and inequality, discontent and populism, innovation, migration, and development policies and strategies.

Forward Thinking on war in Ukraine, inflation, and cooperation in a fractured world with Jean Pisani-Ferry

– An eminent European economist discusses the economic challenges arising from the war in Ukraine, the spreading economic turbulence, and the need to work together to nurture global public goods.

Forward Thinking on measuring the value of the digital age with Avinash Collis

– Born in India and now a professor in Texas, Avinash Collis talks about his work on creating a data dashboard that will enable us to measure the true value of the digital age.

Forward Thinking on trade, vaccines, and sustainable and inclusive growth with WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

– The World Trade Organization’s first African—and first female—director-general reflects on the impact of the pandemic on trade, the imperative to ensure that vaccines reach Africa and other emerging economies, and how to ensure that trade is more inclusive in the years ahead.

Forward Thinking on democratizing technology with Anne-Marie Imafidon

– “Having a computer science degree should not be a prerequisite for being one of the only people in control of what happens next. It’s about democratizing. It’s about giving folks agency so we can make collective decisions about what happens next rather than it being that technical power race. I don’t know if we can call it race to the—I’m going to call it the bottom, race to the dystopia.”

Forward Thinking on the growing role of business in the net-zero transition with Claire O’Neill

– The former British politician who led the United Kingdom’s winning bid to host COP26 is now focused on coordinating an effective business contribution to the net-zero transition. She sees momentum building. “CEOs left COP saying, ‘We get it. Net zero is the thing we have to do.’”

Forward Thinking on tech and the unpredictability of prediction with Benedict Evans

– One of the tech world’s sharpest analysts talks about the frontier and how we got here, connecting the metaverse, Web3, and crypto with everyone from industrialist Henry Ford to writer Voltaire to historian Hugh Trevor-Roper.

Forward Thinking on sustainable and inclusive growth with Ron O’Hanley

– A leading US financier discusses the route to carbon neutrality, what the pandemic taught us about resiliency, and the true meaning of stakeholder capitalism.

Forward Thinking on pandemic paradoxes, labor market myths, and ‘cowboy capitalism’ with David Autor

– A leading US economist talks about what has changed in the pandemic, the rise of China, the globalization of trade, and spreading automation.

Forward Thinking on the social contract in a postpandemic world with Minouche Shafik and Andrew Sheng

– “Our social contract is broken. And that is at the heart of why our politics is so divided and so many citizens around the world are disappointed and frustrated.” “Modern society is killing Mother Nature. And if you kill Mother Nature, you kill ourselves. We really need to achieve a social contract between us and other humanity and also Mother Nature. And this conversation is only beginning.” Two stark views on the state of today’s social contract.

Forward Thinking on the transformative role of intangible assets in companies and economies with Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake

– “William Blake talked about the dark Satanic mills, these inhuman pieces of tangible capital. Intangible capital is in some ways about what makes us human. It’s about ideas, and it’s about relationships. It’s about expressiveness. Some people may ask whether we should be making that the basis of the economy. But we would argue that this is actually making those things that matter to us as humans more central to our thriving.”

Forward Thinking on globalization and the evolving role of corporate leadership in the 21st century with Matthew Slaughter

– A leading economist and business school dean reflects on globalization, concluding that “we’ve learned people want to know policies will matter for them”, and that “a lot of us underestimated the possible magnitude of distribution pressures from freer trade and immigration and flows of capital.”

Forward Thinking on the enduring power of engineering in a digitizing world with Hayaatun Sillem

– The first female CEO of the United Kingdom’s Royal Academy of Engineering reflects on the evolving role of engineering in a dematerializing world, its vital role in science and sustainability—and collaborating with a Formula One world champion.

Forward Thinking on making labor markets work smarter—for people and companies—with Beth Cobert and Byron Auguste

– Two US leaders focused on developing a more skills-based labor market explore ways to broaden opportunity for workers while helping companies plug talent gaps.

Forward Thinking on pandemic preparedness, climate risk, and Europe’s recovery with Guntram Wolff

– The director of one of Europe’s most influential think tanks reflects on how to better prepare for the next pandemic, and turns his attention to the challenges of postpandemic economic recovery in an era of rising climate risk.

Forward Thinking on economies beyond COVID-19 with Michael Spence

– A Nobel laureate explores postpandemic prospects, explaining why his cautious optimism about the economic recovery has been replaced by concern related to the slow vaccine rollout in lower-income economies, fragile supply chains, and extreme weather events.

From fighter pilot to robotics pioneer: An interview with Missy Cummings

– One of the US Navy’s first female fighter pilots, the engineering and robotics professor talks about the promise and peril of automation in airplanes and cars, predicting a “very distinct shift away from replacing human reasoning to augmenting human reasoning.”

How Hamilton stayed alive during the pandemic: An interview with producer Jeffrey Seller

– “I’m looking at theater over the course of the next generation. And ensuring that theater is accessible to the many, not just the few.”

Forward Thinking on economic recovery and gender equality with Laura Tyson

– In addition to the moral argument, the former White House economic adviser explains that gender diversity is “a matter of human capital. It’s a matter of talent. It’s a matter of the evidence mounting over time.”

Forward Thinking on technology and political economy with Daron Acemoglu

– The influential economist connects the dots between artificial intelligence, productivity, wages, and inequality, and how to counterbalance the impacts of automation.

Forward Thinking on China and artificial intelligence with Jeffrey Ding

– This researcher is making sure more AI information flows back from China to the West, and his insights are surprising.

Forward Thinking on artificial intelligence with Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott

– How could AI help create jobs even in rural areas, and what would it take? In this podcast episode, Kevin Scott shares his ideas with James Manyika.

Forward Thinking on measuring GDP and productivity with Diane Coyle

– “If you look back at episodes of these periods when there has been technical change, and some big cataclysmic event in the economy, things end up being quite different a bit later.”

Forward Thinking on unemployment with Sir Christopher Pissarides

– The Nobel Prize–winning economist talks job loss and creation after the pandemic, plus what economic researchers should be addressing today.

Forward Thinking on the Bio Revolution with Jason Kelly and Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath

– The leaders of Ginkgo Bioworks and the BIO organization discuss the future of biological technologies, from developing vaccines faster to changing how we produce food.

A happy warrior: Mellody Hobson on mentorship, diversity, and feedback

– The co-CEO of Ariel Investments shares honest thoughts about pushing for diversity in corporate America and reflects on her path to success.

Related Research

The Bio Revolution: Innovations transforming economies, societies, and our lives

– Advances in biological science could transform economies and societies, helping to tackle global challenges from climate change to pandemics.

Will productivity and growth return after the COVID-19 crisis?

– Bold innovation by some firms under pressure of the pandemic could deliver a productivity dividend, but that depends on corporate action broadening and robust demand.

The consumer demand recovery and lasting effects of COVID-19

– The pandemic led to an unprecedented consumption shock across countries that upended long-standing consumer habits. But what happens once the pandemic is over?

The future of work after COVID-19

– The pandemic accelerated existing trends in remote work, e-commerce, and automation, with up to 25 percent more workers than previously estimated potentially needing to switch occupations.

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