Are you Ready? 15 Big Ideas that will change our world in 2021


LinkedIn 15 Big Ideas that will change our world in 2021

Chris C. Anderson

Senior Editor, Asia at LinkedIn News

No one saw 2020 coming. At the close of 2019, Japan was poised to open its doors to the world as host to the Summer Olympics, travel and tourism was riding high and the idea of online learning and remote working were niche at best. 

Then COVID-19 happened

The coronavirus brought the global economy to a standstill. Millions lost their jobs, and over 1.4 million people have lost their lives. Many of us went home, and stayed there.

2020 tested our resilience, forcing the world to change how it lives and works on the fly. As we near 2021, with the tenuous promise of forthcoming vaccines, we face a new test: We will need to decide what kind of post-pandemic world we want to build, for ourselves and for future generations. 

Every December, LinkedIn editors ask our community of Influencers, Top Voices and frequent contributors to share the Big Ideas they believe will define the year ahead. This year, in the shadow of a once-in-a-century pandemic, we offer a selection of predictions and thoughts on where we go from here — at work, at home and everywhere in between. 

This is by no means a complete list, and we invite you to join us! What Big Ideas do you think will emerge in the year ahead? Share your thoughts in the comments or publish a post, article or video on LinkedIn with #BigIdeas2021.

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1. The travel industry will go the way of Netflix 

The pandemic wreaked havoc on the travel industry in 2020. International travel all but halted for many countries. Airlines have filed for bankruptcy protection. Traditional tourist hotspots have become coldspots. The travel industry has been forced to rip up big chunks of its playbook and start fresh. 

One idea gaining traction? Travel subscriptions. Costco has partnered with WheelsUp to offer a yearly private jet subscription for US$17,499.99. Tripadvisor is launching a yearly subscription service called Tripadvisor Plus for US$99, which offers access to travel deals and other perks. And some airlines have begun experimenting with travel subscriptions as well, where they offer fixed rate flights in exchange for a secure, continuous source of revenue. 

“In Southeast Asia, we’ve already seen airlines testing the waters with this concept,” says Hannah Pearson, founder of Kuala Lumpur-based travel consulting company Pear Anderson. “AirAsia launched its Unlimited Pass for domestic flights in Malaysia earlier this year — and given that they’ve now rolled it out in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, we can deduce that it has been a success.” 

Another area Pearson could see taking off? Subscription work-ations, where “hotel chains [offer] flexible bookings and benefits for customers to stay and work out of any of their hotels across the country.” We are starting to see this crop up in countries like Singapore, where hotels are now offering specific work packages. — Chris C. Anderson

2. We will dive even deeper into virtual worlds...

2020 will be marked as the year many of us went virtual by necessity, as social distancing forced millions into remote working, learning and social arrangements. Expect 2021 to take things up a notch, with continued growth and acceptance of digital worlds as viable replacements for in-person experiences and connections. Companies like Epic, with their massively popular video game Fortnite, as well as the immersive experience engine Unreal, will bring large-scale social events like concerts and Esports into the virtual world via augmented reality tech. And collaborative gaming and programming environments like Roblox will bring together communities looking for social connection in a COVID-19 environment.

We can expect the growth and maturity of virtual environments to influence economic activity as well. Blockchain-based digital assets will gain steam, encouraging the increased adoption of decentralized financial markets for payments and trade. Augmented and virtual reality hardware will also gain wider adoption, especially as Apple moves closer to releasing its own AR glasses. And financial transactions will be woven into these hardware systems, changing the nature of banking and consumer expectations. — Lex Sokolin, global fin-tech co-head at ConsenSys and author of The Fintech Blueprint newsletter.

3. ...and Esports will continue its unprecedented rise

Esports were already popular heading into 2020, but the pandemic-induced lockdowns over the course of the year thrust Esports into the spotlight. This is a trend that will easily carry on into 2021.

Alvin Juban, president at Game Developers Association of the Philippines & National Electronic Sports Federation, points out there are 40M new internet users this year alone in Southeast Asia, according to Google’s e-Conomy SEA 2020 report. 

With new, young Internet users, Juban predicts a “mad dash for more team-based games, especially in Esports in the latter part of 2021.” 

Juban believes the businesses that will stand out in the online noise of the 2021 electronic entertainment space will be those choosing to engage in Esports. — Chris C. Anderson

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4. Planning will start on refuge cities to escape climate change

Over the past year, the world has been fixated on the pandemic and its effects on our lives, and for good reason. But an even bigger threat could change the way we live in a less rapid but more permanent way: climate change. 

Global warming has already forced an estimated 20 million people to flee their homes every year. Rising temperatures combined with population growth means three billion people — one third of the projected global population — could be living in “unlivable” conditions by 2070. The inevitable result will be mass migration to “climate havens”, or cities sheltered from extreme weather with the capacity to grow. “After climate mitigation and adaptation efforts fail, the only recourse will be migration. But this is an opportunity, not a surrender,” says Greg Lindsay, director of applied research at nonprofit NewCities Foundation. 

As policymakers redesign their cities to accommodate climate migrants, urban planning can at the same time tackle other issues, such as inequality and sustainability. “The questions we should be asking is how to protect the most vulnerable residents; how to develop new carrot-and-stick approaches to steer people away from the highest-risk areas; identify which areas — locally, regionally, and nationally — are more resistant to the effects of climate change, and start planning for long-term migration.” — Pieter Cranenbroek

5. Bicycles will continue to claim back streets even as the pandemic winds down 

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a bicycle renaissance. Newly created bike-friendly “slow streets” are changing urban centres while some cities are already thinking long-term with ten-year plans to reclaim streets from cars. People are showing overall support for new bike lanes; companies like Harley Davidson are getting into the ebike market and in the Netherlands they’re even replacing public ashtrays with ebike chargers.

Bikes are continuing to sell so fast there are shortages in the US; parts makers like Shimano are getting a boost from the cycle-to-work boom and the market has grown to $10.5 billion in 2020.

Group CEO at Sindicatum Renewable Energy Assaad Razzouk says, “In a post-coronavirus world, people will demand clean air to breathe”. He believes bicycles are cheap, not-so-secret weapons promoting cleaner air and that bikes are “one of the most hygienic alternatives for the prevention of the virus and it’s changing the world before our eyes”.

Razzouk predicts as bicycles allow us to re-imagine how we travel, cyclists “will strongly influence the future shape of the real estate, transportation, consumer, healthcare and energy sectors”. — Chris C. Anderson

6. We will name heatwaves like major storms

The last decade was the hottest on record and in the past few months alone, heat records were shattered around the globe: Death Valley, CA topped 130° FSiberia and Europe routinely hit temperatures 7 degrees Celsius and 2 degrees Celsius higher than average, respectively; and extreme heatwaves in Australia have fueled the worst wildfires ever seen. By the turn of the century, without preventive measures, heat waves may affect 75% of people on the planet and more than 3.5 billion people by 20701.6 billion of whom will live in dense urban areas where built environments magnify heat exposure. No corner of the earth is unaffected. 

Heatwaves do not dramatically rip the roofs off of buildings and what they leave in their wake cannot be photographed or broadcast in the same way that wildfire, hurricane or flood damage can. Yet their effects are no less pernicious. In the U.S., more people die of extreme heat annually than any other weather-related event. 

We have been naming tropical storms and hurricanes since the 1950s. Naming heat waves will create a similar culture of awareness and preparation around the risks and impacts of heat and galvanize the necessary resources to protect and save lives. In 2021, we will name heatwaves like tropical storms and hurricanes and extreme heat will be a silent killer no longer.

Let’s get ready - Heatwave Harry is coming. — Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center at the Atlantic Council.

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7. Next year’s must-have tech? Anything that makes us feel safer

Forget faster, better, newer and different. Next year’s technology and innovation wish list will focus on products and services that make us feel safer. Like the pulse oximeter. I hadn’t even heard of it until last March, when my wife insisted we order one. That way, if either of us contracted COVID-19, we could check our blood oxygen levels to determine how serious our illness was. Now Apple’s latest Smart Watch advertises the fact that it can detect blood oxygen levels. We will want to travel on planes that have been cleaned with an electrostatic sprayer. Those of us in fire-prone regions like Australia or the West Coast of the United States will ask Santa for an air purifier to address heavy smoke pollution. Our employers will invest in voice-activated smartphones that let first responders communicate without removing their personal protective equipment and security cameras that can map whether people are social distancing

This demand for safety will also extend to methods large tech companies use to protect their members from harassment. We have grown increasingly worried by the risks that data misuse and misinformation pose to the people who use these services—and society at large. With widespread commercialization of everything from facial recognition to voice technology, we will lean on both government regulators and commercial advertisers to pressure these companies to handle our data responsibly. — Jessi Hempel

8. Get ready for global recession, Act II

As a year that’s produced no shortage of surprises comes to a close, economists are already signaling a big one for 2021: This global recession may only be the opening act.

The initial economic downturn — induced by synchronous global shutdowns as the pandemic proliferated — has led to conditions that now expose an underlying, more fundamental recession, according to economist Ernie Tedeschi. The signs? Industries that weren’t directly affected by the health crisis are now experiencing job losses, business failures and declines in spending; more layoffs that were originally classified as temporary are being classified as permanent; and the rate of long-term unemployment — a disturbing hallmark of the Great Recession — is on the rise.

The implication: A “double-dip” recession is the greatest risk for 2021, according to economist Campbell Harvey. Economist Mohamed El-Erian agrees, deeming the risk of a subsequent recession “high and rising,” based on global data he’s watching from the manufacturing and services sectors.

“The long ascent out of this year’s deep recession will be uneven, uncertain — and prone to setbacks,” Kristalina Georgieva, the head of the International Monetary Fund, told LinkedIn News. “The road to strong, sustainable, balanced, and inclusive growth will be long and difficult.” — Devin Banerjee

9. Ant Group's suspended IPO will be a catalyst of Asia Fintech growth

The suspension of Ant Group’s hotly anticipated IPO sent shockwaves through the tech and finance worlds. According to banker, lecturer and LinkedIn Top Voice Eric Sim, those ripples are set to carry over into 2021. Other players in the Fintech industry are set to benefit as space is cleared for added funding and attention. 

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While the idea of Fintech might still be a term more widely associated with cutting-edge or new technology startups, Sim points out that the Fintech industry includes both traditional and new businesses. Hong Kong’s Octopus Card, which has been around since 1997 is a Fintech company, and so are digital banks like Sygnum Bank and ZA Bank. — Chris C. Anderson

10. Schools will start to shift focus to looming world problems

In 2020 the coronavirus pandemic caused upheaval in schools and education systems across the globe and in Asia. Teachers and students have been forced in varying degrees to engage with remote, online learning and to deal with the host of challenges it presents. In 2021 schools will be concerned with enrolment challenges and how to deliver more effective distant and online education.

Christina Teo, angel investor and Chief Builder at she1k says “Schools would have to deal with the hard commercial aspects rather than focus on the future of learning to prepare the future generations to tackle looming world problems.” 

The businesswoman, whose global corporate executive network with 80% female representation that empowers, funds and boards startups said a complete revamp of curriculum is needed. “We need re-education from kids to adults. Be it tools to hardcore skills. It's not upskill. Its total re-skill. So much content is obsolete they should in fact be washed out across all mediums. So it's not just about the birth of new schools but old schools need to be re-born.”

Teo identifies food as one such looming global problem which needs a better curriculum to support future leaders in food science. “Schools need to re-design what to teach future generations to solve looming problems. To sustain the world's population with enough food and cope with climatic challenges or new sources of energy, our curriculum needs to repurpose existing concepts and/or create new, more relevant content.” — Chris C. Anderson

11. Pandemic prevention will stretch far beyond medicine

The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear that our health is inextricably tied to larger environmental issues. Increased population density, global travel, deforestation, large-scale farming and melting of the permafrost has disrupted animal habitats, bringing them in closer contact to humans. This has raised the risk of more frequent zoonotic disease outbreaks, and therefore a higher potential for another pandemic. 

Last century, there were only a handful of diseases linked to animals. But those numbers have accelerated in the last decade. Now, they’re averaging every two years, said Health Service Executive’s Martin, listing Ebola, Zika, SARS, MERS and swine flu as recent examples. Not all zoonotic outbreaks lead to pandemics. But “if we are rolling the dice that often, you’re going to get a set of double sixes,” Martin said. “We’re playing the odds.”

The pandemic has also shown that health is a matter of racial justice and inequality as well, with the crisis posing a disproportionate impact on communities that are Black, indigenous and people of color. This has pushed health care providers and governments to tackle the socio-economic factors that influence who gets sick and who recovers. 

“COVID-19 has laid bare our public health system,” said Rich Roth, chief strategic innovation officer at CommonSpirit Health, one of the largest health care providers in the U.S. “It’s put a spotlight on the frailties within the system.” — Beth Kutscher

12. Yes, we’ll have vaccines. No, it won’t let us out of social distancing

Everyone is hoping that 2021 will bring relief from the COVID-19 crisis, and public health experts believe there’s a reason to be optimistic. “The potential to have a major impact on this pandemic is very real,” said Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease and Research Policy. “And it’s all focused on a vaccine.” 

But there are some caveats. While the first vaccine candidate is already moving through the approval process, it’s likely we’ll see two or three generations of vaccines over the next few years. A vaccine needs to not only be effective, but also durable — meaning the protection lasts for an extended period of time. And people must be willing to take it.

Osterholm, an advisor to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, stressed the importance of making sure that low- and middle-income countries have access to it as well; otherwise, the virus will continue to cross borders. 

Treatments and diagnostics are also likely to improve, meaning that mortality rates should continue to edge downward. But next year is also likely to bring a fair bit of frustration. “The rollout of the vaccine will take longer than expected,” said Greg Martin, a Dublin-based public health specialist at Health Service Executive, who estimated that it will likely take six to nine months after approval for the general public to have access to it. With little political appetite for more lockdowns, and a collective stir craziness, cases may spike even after a vaccine is available. “We have to make sure we don’t take our foot off the pedal,” Martin said. — Beth Kutscher

13. The 9-to-5 will become the 3-2-2

Business leaders are being forced to rethink how their companies will work in a post-pandemic world. One of the biggest questions they will face? Where — and when — employees can work. 

By the time it’s safe to return to the office, many workers will have spent a year or more working from home. And many are enjoying the extra time and flexibility. Companies may let employees work from home two or more days per week, with some opting for three days in office, two days remote and then two days off — a 3-2-2 work week, if you will — according to Ashley Whillans, a professor at Harvard Business School. Some employers may even cut down to a four-day work week altogether. 

“Employees will demand greater flexibility and organizations will require it,” Whillans said.

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Recent data from LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index shows roughly half (47%) of U.S. professionals believe their companies will allow them to be — at least partially — remote after the coronavirus pandemic wanes. That percentage is even higher among certain industries which see flex work as the future, including tech (73%), finance (67%) and media (59%). — Andrew Seaman 

14. Offices will be redesigned to thrill us

After a year of working from home, power dynamics have shifted. Companies will need to give employees a reason to return to the office. On offer? Spaces designed for what we’ve been missing all along: Human connection, and maybe a bit of rest and relaxation, too. 

“People miss people the most. There’s a credible value to real life in-person contact,” says Liz Burow, the former WeWork vice president of workplace strategy. Burow says offices will function in two key ways: As spaces where people gather for leadership, personal development and culture; and as clubhouses where they come together to collaborate and congregate. Either way, we won’t be gathering in them five days each week anymore.

This transformation won’t simply be philosophical; it’ll be physical, too. 

Assigned seating is gone, says Brittney Van Matre, Nike’s director of workplace strategy and operations. Surveys from Nike show employees want to work in an office, but only twice a week. And when they do come in, they want it to be collaborative. Office design needs to accommodate this “activity-based working,” she says — the term for flexible spaces that suit a variety of needs. 

But collaborative spaces alone may not be enough to draw people back, warns Van Matre. She believes companies would be wise to entice people with either “a kickass headquarters with a lot of amenities and a super slick experience” or “a really unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else.” Van Matre suggests companies may want to consider setting up outposts in unconventional locales, like rural, scenic areas more associated with leisure, creating “a reprieve” employees can gravitate towards. — Susy Jackson

15. For leaders, character will be everything

As we strive to overcome a global pandemic and an economic recession, the character of leaders will matter as much as their competence. In 2021, servant leadership will be a competitive advantage. 

Psychologists find that in the face of threats to our jobs and our lives, we become more concerned about precarity and purpose. We’re looking for a sense of confidence that our jobs are secure and a sense of contribution to a cause larger than ourselves. This will give servant leaders an edge in recruiting, motivating and retaining talented people.

Servant leaders are givers, not takers—we can count on them to put our interests above their own. They recognize that people aren’t the most important resource in a company; they are the company. They won’t lay us off at the drop of a hat; they’ll do whatever they can do to save our jobs. They won’t keep us tethered to an office or a schedule, they’ll give us the freedom and flexibility to work wherever and whenever works for us. They won’t become micromanagers; they’ll be “macromanagers” who rally people around a meaningful mission. They won’t keep us stuck in dead-end jobs; they’ll create opportunities for growth and advancement. And if there isn’t a path up, they’ll care enough to support us in finding a safe path out. — Adam Grant, organizational psychologist at Wharton, host of the TED podcast WorkLife and author of “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know,” available on February 2

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Reporting by Chris C. AndersonDevin BanerjeePieter CranenbroekJessi HempelBeth KutscherSusy Jackson and Andrew Seaman. Art direction by Greg Lee

What will you be watching in the year ahead? Share in the comments or publish a post, article or video on LinkedIn with #BigIdeas2021.

Published by

Senior Editor, Asia at LinkedIn News
Every December, LinkedIn editors ask our community of Influencers, Top Voices and frequent contributors to share the Big Ideas they believe will define 2021. This year, in the shadow of a once-in-a-century pandemic, we offer a selection of predictions and thoughts on where we go from here — at work, at home and everywhere in between. 💡 This year’s list includes predictions that the hashtagtravelindustry will go the way of Netflix, hashtagEsports will continue unprecedented rise, Ant Group's suspended IPO will be a catalyst of Asia hashtagFintech growth, the 9-to-5 will become the 3-2-2 and much more. 👉 This is by no means a complete list, and I invite you to join us! What Big Ideas do you think will emerge in the year ahead? Share your thoughts in the comments or publish a post, article or video on LinkedIn with hashtagBigIdeas2021.