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September 21, 2005

Five assumptions to question

Stephen Baker

Think back five or 10 years. Were there blips that you took for trends, fads that had you snookered? Step back 15 years, if you're old enough. Did you believe back then that Japan would eventually dominate the industrial world? Most of us have fallen into these traps. But which ones are we falling into today?

I've come up with a list of five common assumptions in 2005. Will they stand the test of time? Please send your thoughts on these, or add other assumptions that we should be questioning.

My preliminary list:

1) China will grow to become a dominant economic power, passing Japan in 15 years, the U.S. in 50.

2) The 30-second ad is dying. Newspaper classifieds are a relic. To survive, mainstream media must come up with new business models and embrace citizen's media.

3) American tech leadership hinges upon the country's ability to educate more scientists and mathematicians.

4) Terrorism is the leading military threat to democracies.

5) Google and Apple have mastered innovation and design; Microsoft is a fading force.

10:13 AM

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? Five assumptions to question from Genius Now

Stephen Baker, over at BusinessWeek Blogspotting, lists 5 common assumptions in the conventional wisdom about the future. He?? asking readers for more assumptions we??e making today, that may or may not be true.

I can think of a couple:

... [Read More]

Tracked on September 21, 2005 12:13 PM

I think more people will move from China to the United States than the other way around. People might complain about the government, fema, the president or whatever here, but I can't see them actually believing that China is superior. We have all these big new companies based in the U.S. and a bunch of them want to jump into China head first. In the age of global terrorism and global insecurity, I can't see how China is going to benefit the U.S. economy. China is looking out for China and that's the way it should be. I wouldn't want to go to China and I'm sure there are people in China that don't want to come here. The United States has gained more from the Chinese that have come here to become Americans than it has from the Americans who have gone to China in search of new wealth. If you can't find wealth in the U.S., you aren't looking very hard. Maybe we want to believe that China needs us. Without us they wouldn't have Coca Cola. Without them we wouldn't have millions of cheap assault rifles.

Posted by: Jim Dermitt at September 21, 2005 11:19 AM

Excellent question, Steven. Starting a trend forecast for the long term by questioning your assumptions is far more valuable than just banking on them.

Taking on your assumptions,

1) China will grow to become a dominant economic power, passing Japan in 15 years, the U.S. in 50.

A. My belief is that this, while a valid assumption, is too focused. Instead, question the entire role of Asia, low wage countries with higher populations who are educated in the sciences. India comes into play, and the region as a whole may see some upheaval with two giants battling for economic supremacy. Language and laws become another barrier. As long as issues such as the Yahoo/China controversy on free speech/action remain, can China truly take on a global position, moreso in today's connected economy?

2) The 30-second ad is dying. Newspaper classifieds are a relic. To survive, mainstream media must come up with new business models and embrace citizen's media.

A. Yes and no. If your forecast is US centric, than perhaps, TV still has penetration, entertainment in one form or another will still be paramount in this culture. But if you're looking on a global scale, consider the household penetration of television vs broadband, and keep literacy levels (something not required to own and use a TV) into account.

3) American tech leadership hinges upon the country's ability to educate more scientists and mathematicians.

A. Yes and no. The US, like it did before the Moon race in the sixties, can always attract relevant talent, the question however becomes are they outsourcing primary research to where there is already a pool of tech and science majors? Witness Microsoft, Google, HP, Intel all with significant research facilities in Asia.

4) Terrorism is the leading military threat to democracies.

A. We won't get into this discussion here, because it begins with questioning the premise of democracy.

5) Google and Apple have mastered innovation and design; Microsoft is a fading force.

A. I'd disagree. Google and Apple are more nimble right now, and would be well served to keep an eye out for a juggernaut that is not dead yet.

Posted by: Niti Bhan at September 21, 2005 02:10 PM

This is fun and I'd like to toss in my two cents.

1) China will grow to become a dominant economic power, passing Japan in 15 years, the U.S. in 50.

Who can say what will happen in 2 years, never mind 50. Without doubt it looks like China is on course to become a major economic power, but dominant? I'm not ready to write off the good old US of A yet. People have been doing that for decades - "the Japanese are coming! the Japanese are coming!" Now it's "the Chinese and Indians are coming!" Let them come. America never likes playing second best to anyone and having new competitors in the race encouraging us to run our hardest can only be a good thing.

2) The 30-second ad is dying. Newspaper classifieds are a relic. To survive, mainstream media must come up with new business models and embrace citizen's media.

Advertising that makes the mind think (or at least laugh) has the better chance of succeeding than pounding home one's message as violently as possible, and I think this is true whether the ad is 30 seconds or 5 seconds. The length of an ad is less important than whether it is entertaining and creative. So I don't see why 30 second ads need necessarily be a thing of the past. If it shows talent, people will tune in.

On newspaper classifieds, again I don't see these fading, certainly not for the millions of people who live outside major metropolitan areas and read local papers. I think it's a good idea for the mainstream media to "embrace citizen's media" more and they will, but the traditional media is not going away anytime soon, despite the hype. People are still going to want to read newspapers and magazines. I'm hoping blogs etc. help to raise reporting standards by encouraging reporters to factor into their stories what real people with real opinions are saying, rather than submitting to the temptation to skate by with telling us what we should be thinking. Perhaps there is a long way to go here. It takes a lot of drilling down to find those nuggets of wisdom on blogs. But it is developing and giving regular people much more of a voice.

3) American tech leadership hinges upon the country's ability to educate more scientists and mathematicians.

Probably a good idea, but I don't think American tech leadership hinges on it. Leadership of any industry goes to those who know how to do business, who have an understanding for what a market wants and can deliver it. It is businesspeople who lead industries, not geeks.

4) Terrorism is the leading military threat to democracies.

I think so and would add leading economic threat too.

5) Google and Apple have mastered innovation and design; Microsoft is a fading force

"Mastered' suggests something static, as though it's a state of being that allows a company the comfort to rest on its laurels. For now, Google looks strong and Apple is powering ahead, primarily in my view because Steve Jobs is running it. But things change, all the time. Microsoft is fundamentally flawed because it's products are poor quality. A salesman is now running it and his focus will not be on innovation; it will be on shifting more boxes. Now however we have better alternatives, Linux and Apple being two. I think cracks are showing in Microsoft.

Posted by: Noel Guinane at September 21, 2005 03:33 PM

Here are a few more assumptions:

* The Internet is growing at an exponential pace, attracting more content and users every day.

* Asia and Eastern Europe will continue to embrace capitalism.

* The birthrate in developed nations is falling below the level needed to replenish the population.

* The world (America in particular) will continue to be mesmerized by celebrity culture.

Posted by: Brian at September 21, 2005 04:01 PM

Interesting points. My short points:

1) China is definatley the most intersting corner of the world right now (my personal feeling).Especially in the Internet industry. I just presented at the Red Herring Asia 100 conference (for Maxthon) and it is amazing how many bright, well educated and business savyy professionals there are in China. China is also flooded with venture capitalists very eager to find new investments and a foot in the Chinese market. Just think about it China is producing more that 500.000 engeneers a year..At

2) Change the 30 second spot to the 30 topblog post thread. Although I agree that the fixation of the 30 seconds is not the point - we all like a funny ad spot, wether it is 30 seconds or not is irrelevant.

4) I definatley agree

5)Innovation is not static - it is a dynamic process. I am sure that both Google and Apple over time will fade as well,and new companies will riser and be more innovative. Its the law of nature, and having said that - I still think that Microsoft has alot more to give.

Posted by: Netanel Jacobsson at September 22, 2005 06:34 AM

3) American tech leadership hinges upon the country's ability to educate more scientists and mathematicians.

I think this needs to be taken a step further - that tech leadership hinges upon the country's ability to properly educate the next generation. There are so many areas of the country where getting a good education isn't a given any more. Budget cuts. Low teacher pay etc. etc. It's really a shame.

Posted by: Donna Tocci at September 22, 2005 09:24 AM

I'm not sure anyone has ever mastered innovation and design - there's always going to be ways to do something better, faster, sleeker, etc. Google and Apple are 'it' for right now - but another assumption I make is that change can happen so fast - and next year Microsoft could be on top - there are no guarantees anymore.

And I think the rise of India is underrated.

Thanks for a great post.

Posted by: nellie lide at September 22, 2005 10:52 AM


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