Future Dualities: Centralisation & Distribution

Power is concentrated in the hands of the few and distributed amongst the many. This is part six of our Future Dualities series. If you’re new here, see the intro, parts two, three, four, and five before reading on.

Eden Dotan
Lasse Underbjerg

Thinking ahead is messy. In futurism, it's a widely accepted fact that we can't predict one true future. There is not one direction forward, but many different — sometimes contradictory — directions happening at once.

Paradoxically, we humans still love a simple story; Good and bad. Us and them. But more than ever, we need to shift away from simplified, binary thinking. If we want to design truly sustainable futures for both planet, people, and profit, we need to stop oversimplifying our choices. Explore the continuum, present and beyond. But it's not an easy feat.

To start, we interviewed thinkers and creators from across the world and across competencies to get a deeper and wider perspective on the possibilities and pitfalls ahead. Our conversations led us to five overarching dualities through which we can view, explore, discuss and even begin shaping strategies for potential futures.

This article will dive into the fifth and final duality: Centralisation & Distribution.

Centralisation: Power to the powerful

Power continues to concentrate in the hands of the big guys: Big tech, big banks, and, soon perhaps also, big marijuana.

‘There will be a double rule: The rule of the state, and the rule of big tech.’— Professor Oded Maimon, Tel Aviv University, Data Mining and AI

This concentration of power leads to increased consumer comfort. We really can get everything from the everything store — from books to batteries, groceries to cloud storage, and eventually, medications and insurance. And we can trust that we receive consistent quality and service across the board. What’s more, the centralisation of power can create impact on a greater scale.

‘Power continues to concentrate in the hands of the usual suspects. The Amazons, the Googles, the big tech.’ — Fernanda Torre, Innovation Consultant

But this concentration simultaneously exacerbates a widening inequality gap. Local businesses are closing as the dominance of big tech grows. Unemployment rates are skyrocketing while the lucky few work from their summer homes. Democracy is threatened in nations where the interests of a handful determine the fate of millions. With power comes the ability to effect change. But it must be wielded with caution.

‘Technology and design have not been equitable spaces. The people creating them are a very skewed demographic.’ — Alice Grandoit, Founder of Deem and Room for Magic

Consider the implications for your organisation. In a future of centralised power, you have the power. You must use it wisely.

  • How do you use your power to create positive impact?
  • How can you retain the power to create impact while maintaining your customers and partners trust?
  • Who has power in your organisation, and who is at the table when decisions are made?

Distribution: Power to the people

Thanks to the speed and visibility of social platforms, individuals have a growing stage on which to make their voices heard around the world. A sole individual can start a movement with a post and bring down a business with a tweet.

'Individuals recognise the power that they have and speak up. A single person posting a video of injustice and can change national policy.' — Etienne Fang, Principal Researcher, Amazon

As power spreads, expectations of consumers and employees are changing. Where we once sought brands that aligned with our values, we're increasingly looking for brands that invite us to create change with them. What was once about the demand for transparent leadership is increasingly a demand for diverse and inclusive leadership.

'Leaderless movements are the movements of the future: We're moving from the spider to the starfish. You cut off the head of a spider, and it dies. But cut off the leg of a starfish, and it will regrow. We are seeing new modes of connectivity, inspired folks that are rising with no centralised leader.' — Sybil Ottenstein, Co-Founder of Dinner Confidential

Organisations can grant consumers the opportunity to wield this power — or they can be taken down by it.

'The new generation is all about the collective. With 25–30-year-olds, you see amazing courage around equality, ecology, and bigger societal responsibility.' — Liv Dingsor, General Manager, Digital Norway

Consider the implications for your organisation. In a future of distributed power, you must open up and invite people in.

  • What is your relationship with your customers like today?
  • How can you give them a voice and a role in the actions you take?
  • How does the dispersal of power threaten your organisation, and what can you do about it?

Of course, the current of power is constantly in flux, continuously flowing and evolving as it moves between the hands of the few and the hands of the many. Hybrid frameworks of power can create impact at unprecedented levels. Most recently, joint task forces between competing pharmaceutical companies led to more rapid development of potential medications for COVID-19. By sharing the power amongst multiple players, joint values are achieved at greater efficiency and scale.

Possible futures lie on each end of this spectrum and at any tension points in between. Each of these futures carry implications on diverse industries and markets. And we can begin to understand and explore these implications when we turn imagined possibilities into tangible artefacts.

We use dualities to inspire tangible future scenarios that get designers and businesses thinking, feeling, and beginning to devise and test strategies for the future.

New ways of working.

The notion of work is rapidly changing as employees around the world find themselves going remote and others independent. What does the future of work look like when power is distributed? What does it look like when power is concentrated in the hands of the few?

Take a look at the possible future scenarios below. What implications could they have for employers and employees? What responsibilities and opportunities could arise for your organisation?

Pack your bags, we’re going to Google.

Keep the kids out, I’m logging into surgery.

We hope these dualities have initially served to spark interesting conversations, to help imagine future possibilities.

For us, these Dualities are enablers. They are schemes through which to understand the tensions arising in a complex and uncertain world. And beyond, they serve as a framework and mindset to help organisations explore and shape their strategies for potential futures.

Interested in giving the futures of your business some more thought? We’d love to have the conversation. Get in touch.