What will the world look like in 2030? In 2050? No one can predict the future exactly, but if you can imagine it, you can help shape it. As the pace of change continues to accelerate and the planet becomes even more interconnected, it’s time to rethink assumptions about how organizations from all sectors serve their customers. It’s time to prepare for a very different future.

We don’t know exactly what it will be like, but we can see the direction of travel. We might be living and working in smart cities where municipal authorities use data collected from electronic devices and sensors to manage everything, from traffic and transport to waste management. Artificial intelligence (AI) could anticipate our nutritional needs and have our refrigerators routinely order groceries on our behalf. AI could improve health diagnoses and accelerate drug development, driving us towards a higher emphasis on prevention. Consumer goods, health, technology and payment companies will need to work more closely together and with governments as the way we live evolves.

Over the centuries, disruptive innovation has resulted in improved living standards in the long term. Businesses and governments have vast opportunities to help drive the economic growth that comes with innovation. So how can we prepare today for the world of tomorrow?

1. Imagine the future

In order to navigate through such huge change, we need to bring together diversified knowledge, wide-ranging expertise and the imagination to address the difficult questions created by the advancements of technology and society.

For example, the EY FutureConsumer.Now research has studied 150 drivers of change and identified eight hypotheses about forces that will transform how companies create and capture value. A series of “hackathon-style” workshops in cities around the world brought businesses and future-thinkers together to create 15 different "future worlds".

Examples include a “Home Anywhere” world, where consumers consciously limit what they own, instead subscribing to services, and a “Waste Nothing” world, where consumers want their values reflected in all their purchases and in the organizations they work for.

Businesses need to think about which future customers they’re designing products and services for, and whom they are looking to employ. Stress-testing the current state with future scenarios can help organizations focus on drawing the arc between present and future, and have an open mind about how they need to adapt and evolve.

2. Collaborate and transform

Industries will need to collaborate to access a wider pool of talent and data across different areas and specialisms. We will need to rethink assumptions, from whom we compete against to whom we collaborate with, as well as being prepared to co-invest to develop new business models and technology platforms. Value will be created where industries intersect.

Transformation of this scale requires careful navigation - prioritizing investment for the decades ahead, while protecting the business today. To handle uncertainty, organizations will require agile structures and flexible business models that allow them to respond quickly to changes in the market.

Part of the transformation will also involve a commitment to building the workforce of the future. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, 54% of employees of large companies would need significant re- and up-skilling to harness fully the growth opportunities offered by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

3. Be mindful of how you operate to drive inclusive growth

Throughout this transition, organizations need to consider their impact on a wide range of stakeholders. The days when businesses could think solely in terms of their bottom line and shareholders are long gone. We will need to monitor carefully the impact of transformation on our people, communities and investors, and be able to demonstrate how we are creating long-term value for them and for society.

But this is not just a role for business. Globalization is a force for economic development, and for all of society to enjoy its benefits, we need open borders to enable innovation at scale and drive greater progress for humanity. This will require business to work closely with government to advance regulation that suits society's needs.

For example, as we create more and more data - some predict a 530% increase in global data volumes by 2025 - organizations will need to show how they are acting responsibly in safeguarding it, to build trust and confidence. They must demonstrate how the data feeding AI and machine learning is being tested to avoid algorithmic bias and ensure fair outputs.

It is difficult to predict the future accurately. But you certainly can shape it, if you’re willing to think and act differently. For businesses to evolve, they will need to move from just protecting what they have today, to creating the organization they need to become. Governments and international institutions will also need to play their part. Public-private cooperation that enables a global flow of ideas, capital, technology and talent will be critical to driving broad-based, sustainable economic progress.

What future world are you working towards?

What’s possible in the Transformative Age? Join EY to discuss this and all the pressing economic and social issues as we look to the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019 from 22-25 January. Join the debate via ey.com/wef or using #WEF19 and #BetterWorkingWorld.

The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.