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JOHN NAISBITT

Mr. Megatrends re-set pictures of the global economy and the tech revolution

«Forget the Next Big Thing»

Jorge Nascimento Rodrigues with the author in Lisbon, February 2006

Interview in 1996 about "Megatrends Asia"

"We are in a time of digesting, extending and perfecting the technological and geopolitical breakthroughs we've seen in the last period of the 20th Century: the Internet, biotech, nanotech, the rise of the new China. We are in a period of incremental evolutionary change. We will spend the next half century absorbing and upgrading the big revolutionary innovations. Period. There's no next big thing anytime soon", says John Naisbitt, 77, one of the most famous American futurists. This sounds unpleasant for tech pundits and hype "spin doctors" in search of the "next big thing".

The big opportunity is talent. "The New Era is mass customisation of talent". And he recommends: "With talent becoming an interchangeable global commodity, Education assumes paramount position. In today's global economy it becomes the NUMBER ONE economic priority".

He is best known for his bestseller Megatrends of 1982. The book was a runaway sensation, enjoying 106 consecutive weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. "Megatrends" turned a global buzzword.

His approach is quite simple: the future is always 'embedded' in the present. "My point of departure was always the present". But you must know how to 'see' the present: "Look for what really is happening. Not for what people say. Pay attention for improbable things that happen".

For more than 10 years he wrote sequels about the theme: Megatrends 2000 (published 1990), Megatrends for Women (1992), co-authored with his wife at that time, Patricia Aburdene, and Megatrends Asia (1996), written when he had been living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Then Patricia continued alone this saga, publishing Megatrends 2010. In this period Naisbitt wrote other books of reference: Re-Inventing the Corporation (1985) and Global Paradox (1994). His Japanese language book Japan's Identity Crisis was a bestseller in Japan (1992). In 1999 he published, with his daughter Nana, High Tech, High Touch, a follow-up book devoted to one of the tem megatrends he predicted in 1982, at a time when the Web didn't even exist.

He forecasted a number of major trends that would shape the 1990's and the beginning of the 21st Century: the Information-based Society, the networking and greater human interaction, globalisation ("national economies are blending into a global economy), the emergence of Asia and the role of China, the buzzword of the 1990's ("think globally, act locally", the famous "glocal" - yet, later, he 'corrected' the motto for "think locally, and act globally"), privatisation of the Welfare State, the Age of Biology, political power gravitating toward the centre, with main parties looking more and more alike. Some of them may seen obvious today, but it wasn't so obvious in the 1980's and the 1990's. Other trends only now began to emerge to public perception: decentralization, women leadership in politics, direct participatory democracy.

In the year 2000 John,71, made a big shift in his life, in the dawn of the new century. He married Doris, an Austrian, his publisher in German language, and move to Europe, to Vienna. "It was a new beginning. My favourite definition of growth - also applied to humans - is regrouping in a higher level. Change of base would be interesting. Vienna is so beautiful and in the centre of Europe. Also closer to Asia", he explains with a smile. He continues his long range relationship with China: he is current faculty member at the Nanjing University. He adds: "As an American from Chevy's [the car, the Chevrolet] culture in Utah, now I can have a slightly different picture of the U.S.".

His forthcoming book is to be released in October 2006. Deals with "pictures" of the global economy. The long title "talks" about his goal with the book: Mind Set! Re-set your thinking and see the future. Our responses to reality, depends on a crucial element - our mindset, our "fixed" mental attitude. Naisbitt urge us to re-set our views about geoeconomy and geopolitics. He insists: we must correct the false impressions about reality; we have to see the big picture behind the false impressions.


Interview

From the megatrends of 1982 which of them came true?

You must ask which of them didn't came true. [big laugh].

Megatrends Asia in 1995 was also a big success...

Yes, now everyone talks about this great engine.

How you "sense" the megatrends? What's your methodology?

Look for what's really happening. Not for what people say. How improbable was "los blancos" of Real Madrid to be beaten by Zaragoza for 6-1 in the first hand of Copa del Rey? So, look for the scone of the game. Pay attention to the improbable. The future is always 'embedded' in the present.

Woman touch is the big megatrend in politics and management in the 21st Century?

Look: how extraordinary was the German case! Who thought possible that a woman become Chancellor? Mrs. Merkel become Germany's first woman leader. Yet, it's a slow process. It's coming. Once I said that woman's leadership style is more in tune with the Information Society. I am not discourage. I am very much in favour! (laugh).

You referred in your book co-authored with your daughter that high touch is the leading differentiation for businesses today. Why? What are the consequences?

High touch differentiates companies. In a tech world, the question is: how they can humanize? As I said in 1982: the more high tech around us, the more the need for humam touch. That's why DESIGN is so important - because design humanize. Anyway we need a balance - a balance between high touch and high tech. The danger is unbalance.

You are currently working on a new project about the global economy. Can you anticipate the guidelines of your forthcoming book?

The book is all about what will dominate the first half of this Century. I describe the "pictures" of the future I have in my head. Mind set!, because mind sets are frames how we look the world, how we 'filter' it. For the moment, I would refer five "pictures": 1. The shift from Nation-States to 'economic domains' - the world is a collection of economic domains (for instance the automobile domain in Portugal) and the force that is behind them it is decentralization; 2. China - there's a lot of great exaggeration about its growth; 3. what´s going on in Europe - there's lips service about reform, but nothing happens; 4. The fact that visual culture is taken over the world; 5. and the worse less idea of searching for the Next Big Thing.

But you choose to leave in Europe, despite the decline?

I like the lifestyle and my wife. It's a real dilemma. The short list in Europe is high taxes plus big government. Europe has a choice: or reform, or continue the social model. I think Europe will continue with its model in a decline context. But in the meanwhile I have good time! (big laugh). I must add also: European companies work well in the economic domains, even if countries decline.

You refer the fight for talent and the paradox about 'politization' of outsourcing...

Outsourcing is politically sensible. But in sports that's something we are used to - and no one rejects. We never call this recruitment of talent, outsourcing. Outsourcing is a big issue when it refers to common mortals. Why it was ok for professional sports, but it was considered an outrage to offshore labour, even knowledge one? The new Era is one of mass customisation of talent. So be prepared!

How?

With talent becoming an interchangeable global commodity, Education assumes paramount position. In today's global economy it becomes the number one economic priority for an individual or a country to function in the world of today. Look: South Korea has more PhDs per capita than other country in the world.

Do you believe in the upcoming clash of civilizations?

I do not believe that. A lot of radical Muslims are creating an impression of an apparent clash of civilizations.

It's a "spasm"?

I think it's a "spasm" against modernity.

You said that there's a lot of exaggeration about China...

Yes. I mean, they need 30 to 40 years to catch up with America. And at that time the geopolitical scene will be very different. We can't anticipate that. We only can anticipate big shifts. I think they will dominate the world sports before the world economy. They will have global supremacy in sports. We will see what happens in the Olympics of 2008. But be aware: China is more than the workshop of the year. China designs and will become a great designer centre. China is also moving in the innovation side, with the reverse brain drain from the U.S. to mainland.

You refer also the visual thing as a big shift. What you mean by that?

I think the written world is been substituted. We are witnessing a slow death of the newspaper culture. We see a serious decline of the novel - Harry Potter gave only a momentary correction. We see fancy designs for goods. And the role of architecture and visual art. Look at the Guggenheim effect - the Museum in Bilbao by Frank Gehry. It's an unbelievable Renaissance! Art-Fashion-Design are driving forces today. Visuality dominates the digital world. We are living in a visual culture, in a visual world. We must speak of a new visual language. We communicate visually.

You are 77. If we take Peter Drucker as an example (he died with 95 last November) probably you have more 15-20 years for your work as a futurist. How you see this period of your life?

Peter Drucker was an amazing person. I met him in Malaysia in 1985 - he was 76 -and he said to me in a coffee: "Let's go for a hike". He is an example for all of us. He died with his boots on.


John Naisbitt Profile

He is 77 (2006).

He studied Political Science at Harvard, Cornell and Utah Universities. But as a high-school drop out, he is mostly self-taught. He was an executive with IBM and Eastman Kodak. Also assistant secretary of Education to President Kennedy and special assistant to President Johnson.

He is current faculty member at the Nanjing University, in China. He is director of the World Future Society.

Recipient of 15 honorary doctorates.

His official website at www.naisbitt.com

 
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