Three Trends for the Next 50 Years

Rise of trends in the idea economy

I’m not a big believer in the future. I mean, it will exist—we know that. But that’s about it.

CXO Advisory Group has analyzed the predictions of hundreds of pundits. Are the talking heads on TV right or wrong?

You know, the ones who say Ebola will end the world, or the ones who said Enron was just having accounting problems.

It turns out the pundits’ predictions are right only 47% of the time. I think they are being nice to the pundits. I would say pundits are right about 12% of the time.

But I pulled that number out of a hat, and they did a statistical study, so who knows?

I don’t like making predictions. They get in the way of my digestion. All of that future thinking clogs up the pipes.

But there’s a great way to evaluate whether a prediction is true or not. It involves a simple phrase we all know: “This time things will be different.”

We know that phrase is always wrong. We know that things stay the same.

I’ll give a great example: my 15-year-old doesn’t have email. She doesn’t really use a computer except for homework. But she does use her phone. She texts everyone.

Email has been popular for almost 20 years. But the phone has been popular for over 100 years.

Not that new things are bad. We’re not using the phone from the year 1900. We’re using a phone that is a more powerful computer than the top supercomputers from 20 years ago, and it fits into our pocket.

Two things happen:

  • what was popular in the past will be popular for at least as long in the future (expect at least another 100 years of teenage girls texting relationship advice to their friends); and
  • what was popular in the past will improve.

I have two experiences as a pundit for the future. In 2007 I said on CNBC that Facebook would one day be worth $100 billion. At the time it was worth maybe $1 billion. Everyone on the show laughed. I then invested in every Facebook services provider I could find.

And in my book, Choose Yourself!, written mostly in 2012 but out in 2013, I said that we can look forward to having a “smart toilet” that will diagnose all of our illnesses in our fecal matter and urine… a mini-lab in our bathrooms.

Anyway, recently, MIT said it’s working on just such a toilet.

Cost: $2,000, but it was going to bring the cost down to $100. Count me in.

But there are 10 trends from the past 100 years that I think are important to respect and will be important trends for the next 100 years. Knowing this can help us make money off of them.

(Note: Want to know exactly how I make money off of trends? I’ve used this copy and paste strategy for years – Learn it here.)

Trend #1: Deflation

Most people are scared to death of inflation.

If most people are scared of something (like Ebola), it probably means it was a media or marketing-manufactured fear that will never come true.

The reality is, we live in a deflationary world.

Warren Buffett has said that deflation is much more scary than inflation. It’s scary to him because he sells stuff. It’s great for everyone else because we buy things. However, to be fair, it’s a mixed bag.

When prices go down, people wait to buy, because prices might be cheaper later. This is why some of the scariest points in our economic history were in the 1930s and in 2009 when there was deflation.

How did the government solve the problem? By printing money and going to war. That’s how scary it was.

To solve the problem, we gave 18-year-old kids guns, sent them to another country, and told them to shoot other 18-year-olds.

People have all sorts of statistics about the government debt and the dollar decreasing 97% in value since 1913, etc.

I don’t care about all of that. I want to make money no matter what.

Here’s what I see: my computers are cheaper. Housing prices haven’t gone up in 10 years.

And people are finally starting to realize that paying for higher education isn’t worth as much as it used to be (too much student loan debt and not enough jobs).

All electricity is cheaper. All books are cheaper. And I don’t have to go to the movies to watch a movie. All my music is basically free if I watch it on YouTube.

Don’t get me wrong: inflation exists because the government and the corporations that run it are preventing deflation. But the natural order of things is to deflate.

Eventually something bad will happen, and the carpet will be pulled out from under everyone. Perhaps if we have an inflationary bubble. Then deflation will hit hard, and you have to be prepared.

In a deflationary world, ideas are more valuable than products. If you have ideas that can help people improve their businesses, then you will make a lot of money.

For instance, I know one person who was sleeping on his sister’s couch until he started showing people how to give webinars to improve their businesses. Now he makes seven figures a year.

This “webinar trick” won’t always work. But then he’ll have ideas for the next way to help people.

Ideas are the currency of the 21st century, and their value is inflating, not deflating.

Trend #2: Chemistry

The last 50 years was the “IT half-century,” starting with the invention of the computer, the widespread use of home computers, and then the domination of the Internet and mobile phones.

Okay. Done.

It’s not like innovation will stop in that area. It won’t. Every year computers will get better, more apps will be useful, etc. But the greatest innovations are over for now (DNA computing will happen, but not until after what I’m about to say does).

As an example: the next versions of my laptop and my cellphone have already come out. But, for the first time ever, I have no real need to get them. And I’m an upgrade addict.

But the upgrades just weren’t big enough.

I don’t even think I understand the differences between the next generation of cellphones and last year’s generation (tiny changes in battery and pixel numbers, but only tiny).

Here’s what’s going to change: chemistry. The number of grad students in chemistry is at an all-time low versus the number of grad students in computer science or information technology.

And yet, we’re at a point where almost everything we do requires advances in chemistry rather than IT.

For instance, Elon Musk is creating a billion-dollar factory to make batteries. Well, for Elon’s sake, wouldn’t it be better if we had a more efficient way to use lithium so that batteries can last longer?

DNA computing, while it would create a great advance in computer technology, is almost 100% dependent on advances in biochemistry.

Many people call the US the “Saudi Arabia of Natural Gas.” But what good does it do us if we can’t convert the gas into liquids that fill up our car?

Right now every country uses Fischer-Tropsch technology—a chemical process that is 90 years old—to turn gas into liquids. And it’s expensive to use it. Wouldn’t it be better if someone could develop a groundbreaking change here?

I can list 50 problems that chemistry can solve that would make the world better. But it’s not sexy, so people have stopped studying it. This will change.

Not because it’s a futurist trend, but because for 3,000 years, changes in society were largely due to chemistry advances (e.g., harvesting wheat) rather than computer advances. I’m just taking an old trend and saying, “Hey, don’t forget about it. We still need it.”

A simple example: DuPont and Dow Chemical, the two largest chemical companies, have had 50% and 38% year-over-year earnings growth respectively compared with Apple (12%). But nobody cares.

Trend #3: Employee-free Society

Before 200 years ago, we never really had employees. Then there was the rise of corporatism, which many confused with capitalism.

I’m on the board of a $1 billion in revenue employment agency. It’s gone from $200 million in revenues to $1 billion just in the past few years. Why did we move up so fast when the economy has basically been flat?

For two reasons:

  1. The Pareto principle, which says that 80% of the work is being done by 20% of the people. So a lot of people are being fired now, since 2009 gave everyone the carte blanche excuse.
  1. Regulations that are too difficult to follow. It’s getting pretty difficult to figure out what you need to do with an employee. Health care is a great example, but there are 1,000 other examples.

So what’s happening, for better or worse, is a rising wave of solo-preneurs and lifestyle entrepreneurs—exactly what happened for the hundreds of years that capitalism was around before stiff and rigid corporatism (teamed with unions) became the primary but fake “stable” force in our lives.

This is why companies like Uber are flourishing. You have a workforce (the drivers), logistics software in the middle, and people willing to pay for that workforce.

Our GDP and our startups are going to start to drift in the Uber direction. Uber in San Francisco last month did three times as many rides as all the cab drivers in SF combined.

Corporate life was never really stable, and now we know that.

The problem is: while we were all in our cubicles (and I’ve been guilty of this for many years as well), we stopped being creative, stopped having ideas, and just took orders from the gatekeepers: bosses, colleagues, government, education, family.

We let other people choose what was best for us instead of doing the choosing ourselves. If you let someone else do the choosing for you, the results won’t be good, and you’ll get resentful. Bad things will happen.

I don’t have a direct stock tip on this. This is not about stocks. It’s about taking an approach where you get your life back so you can have wealth and abundance over the next 50 years.

One thing to try is to write down 10 ideas a day. This exercises the idea muscle and gets you 100x more creative than the average person over time.

They could be business ideas, ideas to help other businesses, book ideas, or even ideas to surprise your spouse. Another trick is to take Monday’s ideas and combine them with Tuesday’s ideas. “Idea sex” is an awesome source of creativity.

Ideas are the true currency of this next century. I don’t care about the dollar or gold or health care. Any movement in those will just create opportunities for people who know when to take advantage of them.

The key is to become an idea machine.

People say “ideas are a dime a dozen” or “execution is everything.” These statements are not really true. It’s difficult to come up with 10 new ideas a day (try it), and execution ideas are just a subset of ideas.

I was going to make this 10 trends I see coming over the next 10 years. But at 1,900 words, I already shared three solid ones.

Maybe I’ll do a part 2 for the rest, but these three trends are an important start.

They’re already here, they’re already deeply affecting our society, and being ready for them will be the key to success in the coming years.

 

  • Just tweeted this out and wanted to see your thoughts on the Fast Company article on Freelancer America – http://www.fastcompany.com/3047848/the-future-of-work/the-state-of-the-american-freelancer-in-2015. 40% of the workforce will be in this category by 2020. We’re trying to figure out how to use this global network to help small businesses.

  • Patrick Magnusson

    Your articles have prompted me to check out a few of the freelance sites recently. The high quantity of talented people competing for fairly paltry compensation on these forums is somewhat disturbing.

    No better evidence to follow your advice to become an idea creator. You can buy execution for peanuts. And, without ideas, peanuts you will receive.

    • Selena Maree Sparks

      Agreed!

  • Very interesting thoughts indeed. What all may happen in the future is perhaps easy to predict but how many and which predictions would prove to be true is hard to predict. Prediction or no prediction, some trends which seem to become more and more prominent with each passing year include the following – increased volatility in world economy, higher intolerance and propensity to violence in the society, exponential pace of production and consumerism and most dangerous of all, gradual erosion of basic values and decline of ethics in business, politics and public life. The above three trends are going to make things even worse in the years to come.

  • I’m on the board of a $1 billion in revenue employment agency. It’s gone from $200 million in revenues to $1 billion just in the past few years. Why did we move up so fast when the economy has basically been flat?

    didn’t that company go bankrupt CRRS

  • alexrodz83

    Hi James. Long time follower. (book,podcast,quod) First, I just want to say that I really admire you for being genuine, putting yourself out there, and the various life philosophies you have. Second, I would like to suggest that you interview someone who has followed the 10 ideas a day exercise for an extended period of time in order to see how the exercise has affected their life. Think of it as an experiment that tests your theory. You could probably write a really book on it if you get various people to participate. Just an idea ;) Anyways, keep on doing your thing man. Thanks for the laughs and all the free content.

  • As I read the 3rd to last paragraph I couldn’t help thinking “ideas are a dime a dozen, execution is everything.” Then I got to the 2nd to last paragraph which states “People say “ideas are a dime a dozen” or “execution is everything.”
    Well played.

  • Great article. I’m in awe at how you manage to capture and hold my attention for 1,900 words. I’ll admit, I did take a momentary twitter break but I immediately returned to finish!

  • Very interesting post James.
    I never really have thought about Trend #2 Chemistry that you mentioned. What you’ve said makes total sense I’ll have to ponder that trend some more. I’d enjoy seeing you expand on your thoughts on Trend #2.
    Trend #3 I think is ringing truer and truer each and every day. I think this trend will only grow more and more in the years to come.
    Overall another great article James!! Thanks for always challenging my mind and helping me to always learn new things. You are one of my favorite “Disruptive Thinkers” please keep doing what you’re doing James. You are making a difference my friend.

  • Christopher Butler

    Trend #3: I wanted to point out that I have been doing the freelance gig for three months. And the comments about talented people competing for peanuts is accurate. But it is paying your dues – building a reputation and relationships with clients. Then you will see things start to change. Most recent example: I work as a freelance writer. Client had a project with a very low budget in relation to the project. I bid on it at 3x the budget, explained the necessity of higher bid, and ultimately the outcome and quality of the project if he went with a freelancer that was willing to do it for his budgeted amount. The end result was that the client hadn’t considered. Since I recognized the full extent of the project he was willing to have me do it for the amount I bid one condition: He wanted me to give him feedback on two 15 page e-books he had written. And he awarded me the contract.

    I have also tried to find a niche within the various types of writing. Initially my goal was to be an expert in SEO, building WordPress blog sites, etc. But I found those areas were just as undervalued as everything else. But writers have always been undervalued so that’s nothing new. But I found if I let my niche evolve organically in an area of writing for which I have a passion … then the results are different. So I did just that and focused on creative writing, adapting or doing rewrites on screenplays, narrative non-fiction, etc. And now I have clients coming to me to bid on project. One client in particular asked me to read his screenplay outline and just give him my opinion on whether it would make a good script.

    Also, if someone sends me a message that they went with another freelancer and it was a tough decision then I will usually offer to review the final product and give them feedback on the quality of the work. And that is goodwill that doesn’t have a price tag.

    I guess the point is to separate yourself from the pack any way you can. Low bidder wins is a miserable system and more times than not produces mediocrity. In the beginning I bid on work with the client’s budget and provided a compelling proposal. And then I got awarded the project and thought – shit … I didn’t want to do this.

    This trend is coming so getting ahead of it sooner rather than later is the smart thing to do. And I look at the freelance platform as a first step toward complete self employment.

    And one last thing: I turned down a decent job to do this and janitorial work on the side. The janitorial job never came through so I am trying to support a family with this freelance work right now. And it’s not easy but I feel like I’m investing rather than treading water.

    And coming up with ten ideas per day is still the biggest challenge I have!

    • You are carving out a niche that will allow you to cut through the clutter and stand out without needing a massive marketing investment. What you’re doing sounds really efficacious. Keep going. I like the idea of coming up with 10 ideas a day this article suggests when you’re in the stage of deciding what to do, but it seems you already found that. You need 100% of your energy going toward ways to do what you’re doing in a way that provides increasing value to others and increasing enjoyment to you. Come up with 10 new ways of doing either of those things each day instead.

  • future is what we do today

  • Cannot really comment on the chemistry aspect of this Post although to a lay person like me it makes sense. Respectfully however the deflation and employment sections are problematic. 20% of the workforce is responsible for 80% of the work? Really? How about 99% of the workforce is responsible for 100% of increased productivity; innovation etc which is then drained off by a parasitic 1%? Maybe this explains the “disappearing ” employee. ? The 1% allocates all profits to itself; hence the disappearance of defined benefit retirement plans; employer sponsored health care and insurance plans etc. Therefore employees are replaced by “independent contractors” or “solopreneurs” as you refer to them. This also might explain deflation: fewer employees, especially with no union bargaining power means no “ratchet syndrome” of demands to increase wages so prices decline. Big problem for capitalism as currently configured, hence trade agreements seeking access to ever cheaper labor markets but also societies which have pent up demand (think PRC; etc.)

    • nick

      Hey Peter – I respectfully disagree with your numbers and your comment that all that is happening is that the workforce is being transitioned from employees to independent contractors. First of all, in the USA we have at least 100 Million able bodied workers that are not working, they are no longer being counted, employees or otherwise. Jobs are going away and they have been for 50 years. In a larger sense 100% of the work is being done by the employed 47% of the workforce and the rest are not showing up, and I’m not thrilled to be paying for them. I understand that many employers are converting positions to independent contractors, that was my life 15 years ago. Feel free to try to compete with job deflation if you like, but I’d rather own a business and come up with new, innovative ideas and provide companies with cost-effective niche solutions that they will pay for rather than waiting for a pink slip.

  • Stockdoc9999

    What planet do you live on if you think housing, or grocery prices have gone down in the last decade? Utility bills have been pushed higher due to ‘green’ mandates despite the drop in oil and gas prices.

    You dismissed the very real 97% drop in consumer purchasing power since the Fed took over as if it didn’t happen. I’m calling B.S. on that.

    http://www.gurufocus.com/news/417945

  • James,
    I always love your insights. They are unique and I love the way in which you present them. They’re amazing! Thanks for this wonderful post.

  • Infallibilitude

    One of the trends you’d thought possible elsewhere is driverless cars.

    Well I’ve got a some minor amount of dev. experience. Such cars require software that can make predictions about other people’s actions. We haven’t even reached a level to predict the actual users’ actions. Forget about interactivity.

    How will such cars run through an orange (or yellow) light about to turn red. Their software won’t allow it.
    Where I live, it’s standard practice to try to “beat” the lights. Not an exception.

    Maybe your rear view camera will warn the driver. A driver will need at least 5 seconds to take evasive action or go across the signal. How many people can handle such cases? This is just one example.

    How will upgrades be handled? IT upgrades have a system admin. Who will handhold a car owner through an upgrade to the cars’ operating system? When is the downtime (as in the IT business) for a car? And it will be needed.