IAN MANN REVIEWS | From 'ungendering' to death by selfie: Rise of the megatrend

A man takes a selfie with his baby along a hiking trail. (AFP)
A man takes a selfie with his baby along a hiking trail. (AFP)
  • Fads pass relatively quickly. These megatrends have shifted underlying human behaviour or beliefs.
  • They include a bigger focus on individual identity - with some unpleasant side effects, including several people falling to their deaths trying to take the 'perfect' selfie with a steep drop behind them. 
  • Other megatrends include a shift away from binary male and female genders, and a desire for "instant knowledge". 

Non-Obvious Megatrends: How to See What Others Miss and Predict the Future, by Rohit Bhargava

A large part of this book is designed to teach you to identify trends and better understand the world and see what others don’t see. It will perk up your interest and perception, but it will require what author Rohit Bhargava and his team have done annually and extraordinarily well since 2011: reading widely and intentionally.

Few people will have the luxury of doing this and holding down a full-time job.

Your time would be better spent reading this book carefully. It is not only the 10 new megatrends Bhargava has identified but also includes a review of all the megatrends he has identified in his previous books. He also critically rates how correctly identified the trends were, and it is impressive.

The books have been translated into eight languages, have earned nine prestigious international book awards, and have been read by over 1 million readers.

I will focus on the first three megatrends that will shape this decade, as well as their implications for culture, business, and living generally. While fads are only briefly popular, trends shift underlying human behaviour or beliefs.

Amplified identity

The first is 'Amplified Identity'.

There is a fast-growing worldwide shift towards individuality. This is amplified, as almost everyone has the means to control their stories, so we all spend more time thinking about how we present ourselves. Our online identities are the ultimate expression of this trend, and that comes with both positive and negative aspects.

The downside (literally) first. Several people have fallen to their deaths trying to take the perfect selfie with a steep drop behind them!

On the less literal downside, an outsized sense of self is not too far away from narcissism, and the selfie represents a dangerous reflection of our growing need for approval. A high profile makes us vulnerable to targeted criticism, and more vulnerable to identity theft.  

On the positive side it allows for a greater exposure to and of people, who in the past had little voice or were considered outcasts. There is an evolving willingness to embrace these people who are now finding more acceptance in mainstream culture, especially in entertainment and media.

There is evidence to show that people are becoming more accepting of others, not less. In fact one study found that despite three years of Donald Trump, racial prejudice in many areas of the United States actually went down.

The selfie is a ubiquitous example that can be seen as a statement of power. "A selfie suggests something in picture form—I think I look [beautiful] [happy] [funny] [sexy]. Do you?" Now that is something one would rarely say any other way.

Selfies also allow us to curate the version of ourselves that we want distant friends and relatives whom we see rarely in real life, to know us as.

Researchers have found that people are more truthful on social media. This is probably because your social network is likely to know when you’re lying. A Cornell University study found that university students seem to be less deceitful when creating LinkedIn profiles than when writing their CV.

As we develop an amplified sense of self, embrace our individuality, and share it with others, we can appreciate, accept, and even celebrate the identity of others. This is perhaps the most hopeful of the megatrends presented in this book.


The second trend identified by Bhargava is 'Ungendering', particularly relevant to Pride month.

In the past, gender was binary and established at conception: you were either female or male. Today, the megatrend is the replacement of traditional gender divisions and labels with a more fluid understanding of gender identity. This trend is forcing a re-evaluation of how we see employees, customers, and one another. It is forcing a reconsideration of basic assumptions of our marketing messages and even the categories of products themselves.

Facebook once had limited gender options for personal profiles. It now has fifty-eight new ones. More and more, people no longer consider gender to be a label determined at conception.

The trend for women and femininity has been in play for more than a decade, whereas for men and masculinity it has only taken hold and started accelerating recently. The result is that we are still confused about masculinity and fatherhood. Some 74% of millennial fathers felt that advertisers and marketers were "out of touch with modern family dynamics".

Some assert that schools and parents are still sending the message to children that ‘boyish’ girls are not okay, but ‘girlish’ boys are embarrassing. It is as if society is telling children that society values and rewards masculinity, but not femininity.

"Though the concept of a nonbinary gender identity still might seem like a fringe idea, there are signs that this often-misunderstood label is gaining mainstream acceptance," Bhargava explains. JWT research found that 82% of people born between 1995 and 2015 think that ‘gender doesn’t define a person as much as it used to.’

This indicates that there will be new opportunities to open the market for previously gendered products and experiences to more diverse audiences. It should also encourage a more inclusive workplace that benefits from the diverse perspectives of those who see gender as a spectrum, rather than a binary choice.

Instant knowledge

The third trend is "Instant Knowledge". With the abundance of information on the internet we are consuming bite-sized knowledge on demand. We benefit from learning everything more quickly, but risk overlooking the value of mastery and wisdom.

There is a clear difference between watching lectures online and a lively classroom debate among peers. This is equally true of actually interacting in person with a great thinker, rather than posing questions through a chat box. For better or worse, the world seems increasingly willing to make this compromise, and not only because of lockdown.

Knowledge—a term that superficially describes what you know—is different from wisdom.

Today more people than ever are curious, ambitious, and willing to learn, but are strapped for time. It is easy to make the mistake and believe one can absorb and understand any topic quickly if it’s taught by reputable experts in an accessible way. Acquiring knowledge can be achieved in this way, but not wisdom or deep understanding.

Fender, the maker of high-quality guitars, found that many students who pick up the guitar quit within the first year. In response they developed Fender Play, an online platform that offers video instruction on demand. Clearly across a spectrum of activities, the idea of acquiring a new skill at speed is more important than ever.

We are able to access and to learn from renowned experts as never before, online and for a relatively low fee. You can learn comedy from Steve Martin, photography from Annie Leibovitz, and chess from Garry Kasparov. The medical industry is using virtual tools to help students learn anatomy, even learn surgical techniques, and develop better communication skills with patients.

"While we know a little about a lot, people who know a lot about a little risk becoming a dying breed." Entire segments of human knowledge that take a long time to acquire, are disappearing.

This megatrend comes with a concerning downside. Will we become a society where quick sound bites and surface knowledge replace depth and wisdom?

The book’s megatrends are accessible and engagingly presented. One can easily skip the section on how one can identify trends for oneself and still feel that buying and reading the book is very worthwhile. Why? "Trends are profits waiting to happen."

Readability                      Light -+--- Serious

Insights                           High +---- Low

Practical                          High ---+- Low 

*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on strategy and implementation, is the author of ‘Strategy that Works’ and a public speaker. Views expressed are his own.

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