July 2017 | 

A Front-Row Seat to the Third Industrial Revolution with Wharton Fellows

Front Row Seat to The Third Industrial Revolution

In 2013, Wharton marketing professor Jerry Wind started introducing senior executives from around the globe to The Next Big Thing. He convened three-day Wharton Fellows Master Classes in the boardrooms and workspaces of some of the world’s most innovative companies, exchanging ideas with tech developers, artists, restaurateurs, retailers, and Broadway producers who are redefining their industries. Each dynamic experience ended with participants sharing their action plans for implementing groundbreaking new lessons. Later word has revealed some startling applications and collaborations, in areas as diverse as energy, finance, manufacturing, and medicine.

Now, Wind is taking the Fellows on an even more ambitious ride. Partnering with economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin, he is providing an insiders’ view of the Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) — an economic model encompassing seismic shifts that are transforming business models, national infrastructure planning, employment opportunities, and society as a whole. Rifkin’s model is the subject of a new film that debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival, one that he hopes will encourage new audiences to “rethink economic assumptions and find new approaches to innovation, business, and employment.” He says, “There is no Plan B. Business models must be changed, or companies will be left behind.”

Originally met with some skepticism, including at his alma mater, the Wharton School, Rifkin’s TIR theory builds on the convergence of three technologies (in communication, energy, and mobility). Today, it’s the driving force behind economic development across the European Union and in China. The EU recently announced its “Smart Europe” plan for transitioning into a new infrastructure of 5G internet, renewable energy, and automated driverless transport internet. Many countries are already making headway.

Smart China, the country’s 13th Five-Year Plan, was spearheaded by Premier Li Keqiang after the leader read Rifkin’s book The Third Industrial Revolution. It includes investments of billions of dollars and engages virtually every industry, including information and communication technology (ICT), consumer electronics, telecom and cable, energy, construction and real estate, transportation and logistics, advanced manufacturing, the life sciences, agriculture and food production, financial services, and retail trade. Which brings us back to the Wharton Fellows.

“You can’t ignore China,” says Wind. “Not only are they putting Rifkin’s theories into practice, but they have almost as many Fortune 500 companies as the U.S., and their GDP is expected to surpass that of the U.S. soon. Companies of every size and in every industry need to understand Chinese markets and consumers.”

Creating New Growth Opportunities in the Third Industrial Revolution: Lessons from China will introduce participants to pioneering leaders in government, technology, retail, healthcare, entertainment, and energy in Shanghai and Shenzhen. It is the first of three planned Master Classes focused on the TIR. “We have selected companies in each of these sectors that are engaged in innovative new business models and collaborative partnerships along the Third Industrial Revolution spectrum, to provide a hands-on immersive experience and share best practices between the Wharton Fellows and our Chinese hosts.”

“The Fellows can decide what the TIR and examples from China can mean for them. The goal is for each of them to begin implementing lessons immediately,” says Wind. “Master Classes have never been a theoretical exercise, and Lessons from China is no exception.”