Book Review: Microtrends – The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes

Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes by Mark J Penn is a fascinating compilation of how lifestyles are changing, and how this could present opportunities for businesses, politicians, and anyone who needs to know what is happening to the way we live.

Mark Penn was the man who used his statistical methods to identify Soccer Mums as a new force in American politics, and helped Bill Clinton to win the election by focusing on the issues that this group was fervent about.

What is a microtrend? According to Mark Penn,

“The whole idea that there are a few huge trends that determine how America and the world work is breaking down. There are no longer a couple of megaforces sweeping us all along. Instead, America and the world are being pulled apart by an intricate maze of choices, accumulating in “microtrends” – small, under-the-radar forcse that can involve as little as 1 per cent of the population, but which are powerfully shaping our society.”

The book identifies 75 microtrends ranging from love, sex and relationships, to health and wellness, money and class, and technology. Although focused mainly on America, some of these microtrends are probably global phenomena as well.

I’m going to list the chapter titles so you can quickly glance down the list to see if any group grabs your attention, because you are part of that group or have interactions with that group. Detailed analysis of statistics are provided in the individual chapters in the book.

Quick Overview

Love, Sex and Relationships

  • Sex-Ratio Singles
  • Cougars
  • Office Romancers
  • Commuter Couples
  • Internet Marrieds

Work Life

  • Working Retired
  • Extreme Commuters
  • Stay-at-Home Workers
  • Wordy Women
  • Ardent Amazons

Race and Religion

  • Stained Glass Ceiling Breakers
  • Pro-Semites
  • Interracial Families
  • Protestant Hispanics
  • Moderate Muslims

Health and Wellness

  • Sun-Haters
  • 30-Winkers
  • Southpaws Unbound
  • DIY Doctors
  • Hard-of-Hearers

Family Life

  • Old New Dads
  • Pet Parents
  • Pampering Parents
  • Late-Breaking Gays
  • Dutiful Sons

Politics

  • Impressional Elites
  • Swing Is Still King
  • Militant Illegals
  • Christian Zionists
  • Newly Released Ex-Cons

Teens

  • The Mildly Disordered
  • Young Knitters
  • Black Teen Idols
  • High School Moguls
  • Aspiring Snipers

Food, Drink, and Diet

  • Vegan Children
  • A Disproportionate Burden
  • Starving For Life
  • Caffeine Crazies

Lifestyle

  • Long Attention Spanners
  • Neglected Dads
  • Native Language Speakers
  • Unisexuals

Money and Class

  • Second-Home Buyers
  • Modern Mary Poppinses
  • Shy Millionaires
  • Bourgeois and Bankrupt
  • Non-Profiteers

Looks and Fashion

  • Uptown Tatooed
  • Showed-Under Slobs
  • Surgery Lovers
  • Powerful Petites

Technology

  • Social Geeks
  • New Luddites
  • Tech Fatales
  • Car-Buying Soccer Mums

Leisure and Entertainment

  • Archery Mums?
  • XXX Men
  • Video Game Grown Ups
  • Neo-Classicals

Education

  • Smart Child Left Behind
  • America’s Home-Schooled
  • College Dropouts
  • Numbers Junkies

International

  • Mini-Churched
  • International Home-Buyers
  • Live Apart Together (LAT) Couples
  • Mammonis
  • Eurostars
  • Vietnamese Entrepreneurs
  • French Teetotalers
  • Chinese Picassos
  • Russian Swings
  • Indian Women Rising
  • Educated Terrorists

Highlights

Five of the microtrends listed intrigued me, so I’ll highlight them here.

1. DIY Doctors

“The biggest trend in American healthcare is DIYDs: Do-It-Yourself Doctors. These are people who research their own symptoms, diagnose their own illnesses, and administer their own cures. If they have to call on doctors at all, they either treat them like ATM machines for prescriptions they already “know” they need, or they show up in their offices with full-color descriptions of their conditions, self-diagnosed on WebMD.”

What is the implication of this trend? Obviously there is a high chance of misdiagnosis if you are a DIYD, since DIYDs are not trained as doctors. On the upside, it’s so hard for doctors to keep up with all the advances in medicine nowadays that perhaps it is a blessing that patients are willing to share the load.

Where is the opportunity here? If you have an interest in health, you could become one of the many providers of information, either online or offline. There is a ready market. Watch out for giving misinformation though, especially if you are not a trained doctor. Remember, professional doctors insure themselves for hefty amounts, and for good reason.

2. Impressionable Elites

“A funny thing has happened to the American electorate; it’s flipped upside down. America’s elite – the wealthiest and best educated of our society – have become less interested in America’s economic and strategic challenges than they are in candidates’ personalities. Go to any upscale cocktail party, and listen in on what they think is most important important in the presidential election. I guarantee it – they will start off dissecting the personal traits of every candidate.

This is what makes it particularly ironic that when you ask elites why they are focused on personality, they will tell you that “The Voters” – ie lower-income and less well-educated Americans – don’t understand the issues and so they vote on the basis of personal traits. But nothing could be further from the truth. The so-called herd in America is better educated and more issue-focused than ever. Come to a political town hall, with America’s regular voters, and you’ll see that personality never comes up. Voters zero in on health care, education, and friends who are serving in Iraq. They have levels of knowledge about Medicare, Medicaid, our school system, and the global economy that would put many PhDs to shame.”

This was probably the microtrend that surprised me most of all, because it is so counter-intuitive. No wonder the charismatic Obama won the recent US election!

3. Aspiring Snipers

And this is the microtrend that surprised Mark Penn most of all:

“1 percent of California’s young (aged 16-22) respondents volunteered that, in ten years, they would most likely be snipers. Now in an open-ended question, for every one respondent who says something spontaneously, several more are thinking it. So this was truly news: A new ambition of the younger generation – not of a lot of them, but enough to be on a scale – is being a sniper…

“And why the sudden interest? Part of it, no doubt, is an increasing respect for the military and law enforcement in America… (however) there is more of a questioning about being a front-line soldier, when you can do more damage to the enemy and be safer behind the scenes… This is also the generation that was raised on a lot of shooter video games… Finally, the statistically significant appearance of Aspiring Snipers says something about the post 9/11 culture in America. More so than in decades, young people today are unabashed in wanting to take down Bad Guys.”

When I read this chapter, something clicked in my memory. I’d once heard a young American boy say that his ambition was to be a sniper. At that time I put it down to the video games he’d been playing. To realise that many other young boys are thinking the same way was an eye-opener for me.

You too, could know someone whom you think is slightly off the beaten track, yet that person could be leading a new microtrend.

4. Starving For Life

“These Thinning Thousands are not your garden variety anorexics (although sadly, they, too, are on the rise). They are not chasing a particular body weight, and they’re not necessarily repelled by food. Nor are these people your super0fit Gym Junkies, working out every day and boasting teen-type weights in their Golden Years. No, these apple-for-breakfast, lettuce-for-lunch Century Chasers are a discrete, intense group of people who believe – based on some decent scientific evidence – that cutting their calories to near-starvation levels will lengthen their lives by ten to twenty years.”

I’d heard before that you should eat until you’re 80% full, and then stop. This means you go through life never feeling gastronomically satisfied. I’m not sure I can do it, but for many people, eating at subsistence level is not a fad after all, but a whole new lifestyle.

5. Long Attention Spanners

“It is conventional wisdom that America’s attention span is shrinking. A couple of decades ago, we cut our sixty-second TV ads down to thirty, and not apparently the ‘right’ length of an Internet ad is fifteen seconds… How much more ADD could America be?

But – slow down a minute… Some people operate on a totally different wavelength. From books to movies to products to news, they want more depth, more information, real answers to more of life’s questions. They want substance, not style and flash.”

This microtrend came home to me when I started blogging and reading other blogs. Although you’d expect that with so much to read nowadays, people would prefer short, crisp posts, it was undeniably true that many of popular blogs had seriously long posts. I suppose the lesson here is to either keep it short and sweet, or to give it serious substance.

(This post, by the way, is about 1500 words. That is considered pretty long by blogging standards, though some other bloggers easily write posts of 4,000-8,000 words.)

On this last microtrend, I’d love to hear comments from readers about your preferences and from fellow bloggers about your experiences. Do you really prefer reading longer, more detailed posts? Do you find that writing longer posts increases your readership?

You can get Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes here for further reading.

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