In a review of Nassim Taleb's book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, I described the book's central thesis: The world is governed by random, unpredictable events and people's attempts to predict the future by reading newspapers is not only a waste of time, it is toxic because it reinforces conventional wisdom.
John Naisbitt, the author of the best-selling Megatrends, disagrees with that book's theme. He reads more than 160 newspapers every day. (He has a staff to help him). It is his contention that the future is embedded in the present, and in his new book, Mind Set!: Reset Your Thinking and See the Future, he shows his readers other ways to look at the world and how he can discern the future from newspapers.
The two viewpoints could not be more opposed, but neither one is superior. Both offer useful approaches for identifying future investment opportunities.
Adopt a new mind-set
Naisbitt begins by delineating 11 mind-sets to help readers reset their thinking. For instance, his first one is: "While many things change, most things remain constant." In today's world new products and technologies are being thrown at consumers every day, and this can be helpful to remember.
In 2005, Coca-Cola unveiled Vanilla Coke to great fanfare, but ended up pulling the product from the market after only 30 days (it is starting to make a comeback today). Last week, Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) announced the release of Kindle -- the latest in a long line of electronic books -- to similar fanfare. The product has many innovative features, but slim chance of becoming a runaway hit because the vast majority of people are resistant to change.
Kindle could certainly become a huge success (fellow Fool Rick Munarriz thinks so); but mind-set No. 8 informs us: "Things that we expect to happen always happen more slowly."
That's a good point to remember when investing in any emerging technology company -- be it RFID manufacturer VeriChip (Nasdaq: CHIP ) , or Stratasys (Nasdaq: SSYS ) , which is a leader in the field of rapid prototype manufacturing.
Another useful mind-set reminds people not to "get so far ahead of the parade that people don't know you're in it." For investors in robotics and nanotechnology, it is advice worth taking to heart.
Picture the future
Naisbitt outlines five trends -- what he calls "pictures of the future" -- that he says will dominate the future. Like many of his mind-sets, some are obvious; but they have value for investors.
His first picture is: "A visual culture is taking over the world." This trend, Naisbitt argues, is bad news for major newspaper companies such as the Washington Post (NYSE: WPO ) and the New York Times (NYSE: NYT ) . In fact, it was recently reported that newspaper sales slipped another 3% in the past six months.
This visual culture emphasizes the importance of design, evident in Motorola's Razr phone and Apple's iPod. It's a lesson that Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG ) has taken to heart. Its CEO, A.G. Lafley, says the company is attempting to fuse design "into its DNA."
Another of Naisbitt's pictures of the future posits that "the periphery is the center," and it centers on China's growing relevance. In China there are 166 cities with a population of more than a million people; the U.S. has just 12. So scanning hundreds of newspapers in to get a glimpse of the future makes sense -- it is possible the next great idea or company could just come from one of those cities.
Foolish final word
Promising investment opportunities are embedded in the present. Naisbitt provides readers a useful and legitimate set of tools to process the reams of information we receive every day so that we can make better informed and timelier investment decisions.
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