01/25/2016 04:26 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2017

How to fight the biggest challenge ahead: Fear of the future

The biggest global challenge right now is neither climate change, water crisis, refugee crises nor any of the challenges rated in The Global Risks Report 2016: It is fear of the future. That is the overall impression from the meeting of some of the world's most powerful minds. They met last week at World Economic Forum's summit in Davos to discuss "The Fourth Industrial Revolution". But that revolution did not catch many headlines. Instead, they signaled doom and gloom about a world drowned in crisis, mindsets of defeat, millions of jobs lost to digitization, pessimistic top executives, etc.

The mindset was set with documents like the Global Risk Report outlining what to fear in the future. Even the report about "The Future of Jobs", a main input to the debate on "The Fourth Industrial revolution", had a somewhat gloomy conclusion. Millions of jobs will be lost to digitization. Looking at the world today it might be justified to express fear of tomorrow, realizing that we are running out of well know solutions - realizing that we are facing a new kind of complex and interconnected risks. No wonder that a lot of black smoke was send out from the conference center in Davos, telling us that even the most powerful people were caught in disarray in their attempt to understand and handle a new and different normality.

But we have to reverse that mindset. If we do not, we risk that it becomes defining for the economic, political and financial decisions of the coming years - and therefore accelerating new crises. To fight this development and stop the fear from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, two conditions must be met:

First, we must have the courage to face reality. The crises confronting us right now have all passed tipping points that make them accelerate at an ever-greater speed, while there is a still widening gap between the known solutions and the real problems. Second, we need to reinvent the way we deal with complex challenges, so that we are able to turn the risks into opportunities.

Facing our fears

This week presents one example of a new mindset and a new optimism. It is the launch of the 2016 Global Opportunity Report. As a counterpart to the World Economic Forum's Global Risks report, this report seeks to turn the world's biggest risks into its greatest opportunities. The Report is developed in a close partnership between one of the biggest Norwegian corporations, DNV GL, UN Global Compact, and the Scandinavian-based think tank, Monday Morning Global Institute. Each year, the report identifies five global risks and develops concrete answers to them through a rigorous process involving panels and experts from around the world, as well as a review process with more than 5,500 international leaders from the private and public sector.

Take digitization. A theme at the World Economic Forum, this is a brilliant example of the very real risks we face and the opportunities they hold. Recent research predicts that digitization will replace 50 percent of all current job functions. Even advanced tasks performed by today's doctors will soon be replaced by the hands and intelligence of a robot. We are about to outsource big parts of the labor markets to artificial intelligence systems and turn labor markets upside down. There is no going back - sooner or later, digitization will force us to reinvent the human capacities and build the labor markets of tomorrow. Unfortunately, we have no plan for preventing the digital revolution from becoming a digital shock.
The Global Opportunity Report takes on this challenge in addressing youth unemployment, which the leaders in our survey named as this year's top risk. In all of the best efforts to address this problem, digital technologies play a key role: Digital entrepreneurship makes it possible for youth to create their own career paths around the globe. The labor market is growing digital, making it possible to match people with jobs across geographical and sectorial boundaries. Online learning platforms are closing the skills gap by educating youth for a changing labor market. We see the same tendency across all sectors, with large-scale health initiatives made possible by mobile apps and smart farming as a means to addressing resource scarcity. Digitization is here to stay, and whether we will benefit more or less from this disruptive change depends on when we decide to confront our fears and search for opportunities. Because the difference between a risk and an opportunity is how soon you discover it.

The Global Opportunity Report has found a myriad of sustainable business opportunities by bringing a new mindset to global risks such as loss of ocean biodiversity, resistance to life-saving medicine, accelerating transport emissions, youth unemployment, and the global food crisis. In the report, a world of smart farming, antibiotic-free food, digital entrepreneurship and changing diets and lifestyles unfolds. This is not a question of putting on rose-tinted glasses; it is a matter of combining astute realism with vigorous optimism. We simply must understand the world in a new way, because the world has changed.

Join the Solution Revolution

As a call for a new agenda for solving the world's problems, the Global Opportunity Report shares its mission with the new UN Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in September last year. These 17 goals can likewise be turned into new markets and grow into numerous new business ideas. In the years to come, these goals could inspire the direction of future global opportunities.

These goals and the Global Opportunity Report are just a first step toward an international solutions platform based the belief that though the risks have never been more numerous, neither have the opportunities. But to succeed is more than developing a new mindset. It takes new alliances, new commitments, and new role models. Complex challenges call for systemic and interconnected solutions. Within the last couple of years, the Global Opportunity Report has documented the potential in turning the biggest risk into new market opportunities and business ventures.

The launch of the Global Opportunity Report takes place in the little Norwegian village Hovik, North of Oslo. From here, white smoke is sent to the world outside, declaring that "The First Solution Revolution" has taken off.