21st Century Megatrends

Best-selling author and world-renowned futurist John Naisbitt reveals the next big trends, his newest book and Hawaii’s role in the global economy

May, 2005

He may be one of the world’s greatest futurists, capable of predicting and identifying major economic trends decades in advance. But on one cold, Oahu day in January, John Naisbitt asked Hawaii Business to do the forecasting for him. “Do you think the weather’s going to hold up?” he asked, almost pleadingly. “My wife [Doris] and I want to drive around the island, but we understand it’s supposed to start raining pretty heavily.” Time was of the essence for Naisbitt, world-renowned author of the best-selling Megatrends book series, who had just wrapped up a three-day symposium and wanted to enjoy the rest of his time in the Islands.

Glenn Miyataki, president of the Japan-America Institute of Management Science, invited Naisbitt to Hawaii to speak at a public forum and lead an invitation-only roundtable discussion with a select group of senior executives. More than 200 Hawaii business and community leaders attended JAIMS’ public forum for the rare opportunity to hear Naisbitt share his predictions for the future. And about 40 executives from Hawaii, Japan, South Korea, Australia and the U.S. mainland attended the roundtable for a more in-depth discussion with Naisbitt, who currently resides in Vienna, Austria.

Drawing heavily on material from his upcoming book, The Elephant in the Boa Constrictor (due to come out this fall), Naisbitt shed light on the megatrends he says will shape the world in years to come. Among his biggest themes were decentralized globalization and, as we head toward a single global economy, the urgency on a national and local level in making education the No. 1 economic priority.

Your books aren’t so much about predictions as they are about revealing evolutionary patterns in technology, culture and society. What evolutionary trends are you seeing this time around?

I have a ‘behind-the-hat’ theory. If you look around, the world has been obsessed with terrorism. It’s been the defining characteristic of the state of the world. The media is dominated by the war on terrorism and the American empire, as it pertains to globalization. And yeah, that is going on, but if you look behind the hat, you see what’s going on behind that – that’s not really being reported – is this regrouping of the world at a higher level. The global economy is self-organizing, moving toward a single, overlapping economy for everybody. It’ll take a long time to get there, but it’s absolutely the direction everyone is going.

Now, at the same time, the more universal we become, the more tribal we act. What happens is that, as we become global and we become economically dependent on others, we are not independent anymore with our economic activities. We have to import. We have to trade. We have to be competitive with China and so forth. So the more interdependent we are on others, the more consciously or unconsciously we get concerned about our cultural identity. Things such as dress, place and stories become more and more important, because you’re holding onto your cultural identity as you’re absolutely dependent on others economically.

I got asked the question yesterday, “Does globalization mean Americaniza-tion?” My answer is no. The expression of globalization, especially in Asia, is the assertiveness of the manifestations of cultural identity. People want to hold onto that as we become one. It’s happening in Hawaii and all over the world. It’s a widespread phenomenon.

What advantages, if any, does Hawaii have in this new global economy?

There’s all this talk about “off-shoring is going to get you.” People are concerned offshore labor is going to get all the jobs. But why not turn it around and say, there surely are people of talent who are here and people with talent who might want to live here who could then offshore that talent from Hawaii to somewhere else. As we all know, this is such an agreeable place to live. So why not establish Hawaii as a place where people come to look for certain talents?

Because that is something else that we can expect as we develop globally – we are moving into this mass customization of talent. Talent is being shared around the world, and it is being used in other parts of the world at higher and higher levels. When people want the best physicists or accountants and lawyers and artists, they’ll look for them around the world, not just [locally]. But because of the advancements in technology, and because we’re moving toward globalization, there are a lot of people who can live anywhere and work from anywhere.

I just write books and give speeches and seminars, so I can base myself anywhere. And there is a whole bunch of people who are in the same position I am – who can live anywhere, who could choose to make a living in Hawaii. Spencer Johnson, the author of Who Moved My Cheese – he lives here. He can live anywhere in the world, because of what he does, but he just thinks Hawaii is such a wonderful place to live. Just think of all the talented people, like Spencer, who would love to live here, because they could do whatever they do in this new world, and with the enabling technology, be able to offshore their services elsewhere.

You just completed a roundtable session with some of the state’s top leaders. What were the concerns they expressed, and how did you respond?

I sensed there’s a certain struggling with that question, “How can we position ourselves and Hawaii to be significant players in the global economy?” And I remember several hundred years ago, London realized that the time zone it was in meant that it could deal in the morning with Asia and in the afternoon with the states and build itself into the financial center of the world, because of its geographical location and time-zone considerations. And I know Hawaii has always been very conscious of being the geographical bridge or the point between the U.S. mainland and Japan, but I wondered if there wasn’t some advantage to the overlapping time zones you’re in. Because the three points of the triangle that are going to run the world, so to speak, are the United States and Asia and Europe. And Asia – China in particular – is liberalizing and democratizing at a rate not fully appreciated by the U.S. China’s an increasingly important player and the most economically dynamic growing player in the global economy.

What impacts will that growth have on Hawaii and the rest of the world?

Well first, to clarify, they’ve got 1.3 billion people. So every time their per capita income goes up a little bit, you multiply it by 1.3 billion. Pretty soon, in aggregate, you have a huge economy, but you’ve got 1.3 billion people there. So their standard of living is still very, very low. I’d say it’ll take 25 to 30 years until it gets around to what it is in developed countries. It’s not as if in a few years they’re going to dominate the world or be the next superpower, which, by the way, is old language – its Cold War vocabulary. But they are a fast-growing country and, as we continue to move toward one single economy, they will be an even bigger player. Because it will take a long time, but the direction we’re heading is such that, globally, we’ll all be so economically interlaced and interdependent that we can’t even tell where our GDPs are anymore. We’re moving toward that integration, and there will be many implications as that happens.

For example?

Well, as we’re moving to globalize, and moving toward operating as a single economy for the whole world, we’re also moving deeper into an educational crisis. The performance of our kids in school against other kids in schools around the world is going down, down, down. Kids in the U.S. used to be No. 1 in almost everything. And now [they’re scoring] very low, particularly in the global context. In America, we keep subsidizing the school system. And the more and more money we put in, we get a less satisfactory product. If you add up the local, state and federal monies going into education, it’s about three times what it was 20 years ago. And the product is less satisfactory. So I think something really dramatic has to be done to really shake everything up and improve our school systems. The reason higher education is so good is because of competition. The schools are competing against each other to get students. So maybe one way to shake it all up and get better results is to privatize the public schools, to create competition among the schools.

Do you believe privatization would work in Hawaii, where we have but one centralized public school system?

Why not? Why [would] schools run by private individuals in competition with each other be less efficacious than the ones being run by the same central school system? Obviously, what we have isn’t working. So why not give the parents the money, and they can decide what schools they want the allocations to go to. And then the schools sells them on their area of specialty: “Come to our school, we have an excellent arts program.” “Come to our school, we have a great remedial program and can crank your kids up to school.” Or, “Come to our school, we still teach Latin.” It’s sort of a shocking thought, but it would fit in with everything else that’s going on in the world, meaning, as we continue toward globalization, countries are going to have to be able to compete at higher levels in all areas.

But what about the less fortunate countries which lack the resources to compete?

We can’t do it for them. We must create the opportunity for people to do it for themselves, but we can’t do it for them. Take Korea, for example. Korea was such a poor country and now it’s one of the economic miracles. I take that back – it’s not a miracle; it’s the hard work of the Koreans. If some country, unlike Korea and Taiwan and Singapore, hasn’t got the gumption and ambition, who’s going to do it for them? We can’t do it for them. In this global economy, everybody has got to take the opportunities they have, and do it for themselves.

For more on John Naisbitt’s visit to Hawaii, go to www.jaims.org/naisbitt.

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