PenMicr 08-04-49  


The small forces behind tomorrow's big changes  


Mark J. Penn

David C Cook, 2007, 222 pp., ISBN  978-1-59669-227-5



Mark Penn is a highly perceptive pollster in American politics.  The inventor of the term "soccer moms" served as chief advisor to Senator Hilary Clinton's presidential campaign until he was fired for supporting a cause she is against.  Penn explores 75 microtrends, the counterintuitive choices of small groups that make big differences in the way the country goes in the future.  These are divided into fifteen categories such as Love, Sex, and Relationships; Work Life; Race and Religion; Health and Wellness; Family Life; Politics; and Leisure and Entertainment.  "This book is all about the niching of America,...the power of numbers and how they drive America and the world." (Introduction)



"Microtrends is based on the idea that the most powerful forces in our society are the emerging, counterintuitive trends that are shaping tomorrow right before us."  Penn identifies these small, intense subgroups. (xi)  "America and the world are being pulled apart by an intricate maze of choices, accumulating in 'microtrends' - small, under-the-radar forces that can involve as little as 1 percent of the population…."  (xiii)


"The art of trend-spotting, through polls, is to find groups that are pursuing common activities and desires, and that have either started to come together or can be brought together by the right appeal that crystallizes their needs."  (xiv)


"It takes only 1 percent of people making a dedicated choice -- contrary to the mainstreams' choice -- to create a movement that can change the world."  For example, illegal immigrants are making quite a political fuss.   (xiv)


"With the rise of individuality has come a rise in the power of choice.  The more choices people have, the more they segregate themselves into smaller and smaller niches in society." (xvi)  "Small groups, drawn together by shared needs, habits, and preferences, are on the rise.  They are powerful, and they are had to find.  This book aims to pin some of them down." (xvii)


"America is moving in hundreds of small directions.  At once.  Quickly."  (xviii)


"In today's splintered society, if you want to operate successfully, you have to understand the intense identity groups that are growing and moving, fast and furious in crisscrossing directions.  That is microtrends."  (xx)


"A microtrend is an intense identity group, that is growing, which has needs and wants unmet by the current crop of companies, marketers, policymakers, and others who would influence society's behavior." (xx)


Protestant Hispanics

About 10 million (almost one fourth of) U.S. Latinos are not Catholic.  They are Protestant (or other Christian).  Of those 10 million, 90 percent are Pentecostal,evangelical, or 'born again.'  (66)


Moderate Muslims

Estimates of the numbers of Muslims in the U.S. range from 2 to 7 million.  They are growing in numbers and political clout.  (71)



Almost 12 % of men aged 65-74 experience ringing in the ears (tinnitus). (98)


Pampering Parents

Most parents think they are strict but others aren't.  But they are kidding themselves.  Nearly all parents are more permissive than past generations.  Parents are in a state of denial.  (113)  "'Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child' has been replaced with 'Have a Good Heart-to-Heart Talk.'" "While more and more kids are getting a free pass, more adults are going to jail…" (116)


Dutiful Sons.  Male Caregivers in America

"The vast majority of seniors who need care either get help at home from unpaid relatives, or move in with family members altogether.  And that's for an average of four to five years.  That's a serious obligation for the caregiver." (124)


Impressionable Elites

In regard to politics, America's elite do not struggle with the issues of the common man.  They are into personalities.  The common folk are more educated and issue-focused then ever.  (131-32) "How many talk show guests make less than $100,000 a year?  How many reporters talk to many people making less than $100,000 a year?  The elite information circle is dominated by people who live in the world of the top 10 percent…." (134)


Swing is Still King [Swing Voters]

Because of increased information flow, voters are increasingly flexible on how they vote.  Swing voters are more important than ever. (137)


Newly Released Ex-Cons

More than 90% of prisoners are eventually released.  In 2006, 650,000 people in America reentered our communities, almost half as many as graduate from college.  They are typically low-income males with little education and poor reentry training.  Two-thirds will be rearrested and half back behind bars.  (150-51)


Black Teen Idols

There is a trend of young blacks doing better in America.  And a microtrend of them doing outstandingly well.  The high school dropout rates among black youth have fallen from about 30% in the late 1960s to about 10 percent now.  (165)  "There is an emerging group of black youth poised to enrich and lead society in substantial ways." (166)


Caffeine Crazies

"According to a 2005 study, soft drinks are now the leading source of calories in the average American diet…." (190)



The rational side of people is far more powerful in many areas of life than the purely gut or emotional side.  (198)


Native Language Speakers

Since 1970 the number of immigrants in the U.S. has more than tripled from about 9 million to over 28 million.  In more than 2/3 of the households classified as linguistically isolated, the head of the household was born here, not out of the country.  There is a large enough mass of Spanish speakers for people to feel comfortable not ever learning English.  (203)


We're no longer a melting pot.  We're a tower of Babel.  (205)


Bourgeois and Bankrupt

More people went bankrupt in 2005 in America than graduated from college.  The typical bankruptcy-filer is a white, middle-class head of household with children and a full-time job.  Almost all suffered a catastrophic personal event, like job loss, divorce or serious medical problem.  There is no margin.  (226)


Non-Profiteers  (Those working for not-for-profit organizations)

There are almost 1.5 million non-profits, more than doubling since 1993, made possible by donors. 



About ten times more men regularly visit pornography web sites than regularly watch baseball.  Porn is now the norm.  Most of these people otherwise hold high moral standards.  (276)


Video Game Grown-ups

Video games have become the biggest pastime of adults.  Nearly 100 million adults are "active gamers." (281-2)



The world did not get more secular as it got more modern in the second half of the twentieth century.  He cites the World Christian Encyclopedia for figures.  "The truth is that religion around the world today is the sum of tiny, furiously devoted, ever-evolving micro-alliances that push and pull at the landscape of belief." (312)


"But when it comes to the impact of religious conflict on the world, the more accurate picture is that billions of people are earnestly advancing thousands of religions, and the resulting tensions--both creative and violent--are propelling world change just as surely as the so-called Muslim-Christian 'showdown' that is drawing so much attention." (313)  [I wonder if he is right. dlm]


"Religion is fractionalizing, and the ability to bring together many people under a single religious banner is dwindling.  Clearly Islam, which to much of the West seemed pretty cohesive, has turned out to contain many warring factions.  But it's true of all the religions.  Organized religion is on the rise, but only through a multiplying of the organizations." (314)


International Home-Buyers

"Foreign ownership of U.S. residential real estate could be the hottest trend in the marketplace."  "…the upper classes from around the world are being drawn to American real estate.  (315)



Americans are reproducing at the replacement rate, 2.1 children per woman of childbearing age.  Europeans are on track to go out of business at 1.5 children per woman.  (328)


Vietnamese Entrepreneurs

"Vietnam has become one of the most entrepreneurial spots on earth."  "In the past fifteen years, Vietnam has done more than just about any other country on earth to reduce poverty and build up its middle class."  (333) Vietnam is the most optimistic country on earth. (334)  Some communist governments are learning that they can hold on to control if they loosen up on the economy. (335)


Educated Terrorists

"The power of small is biggest when it is destructive."  "Today, extreme movements can be small and yet they can potentially end society as we know it.  (353) 


There are 1255 terrorist groups in the world.  The largest is al Qaeda with about 50,000 members and bases in 45 countries.  This is nearly half of the estimated 125,000 terrorists.  (354) 


"Terrorism doesn't need a mass movement to be successful.  Rather, it needs a growing cadre of smart, sophisticated, tough operatives.  Its growth now depends not on attracting hundreds of millions but on successfully creating a leadership class that can mobilize money and resources and carry out operations." (355)


A 1980 study of radical Islamists being held in Egyptian jails…(found) the typical offender was a male in his early 20s, from a normally cohesive, rural, or small-town family; educated in science or engineering; upwardly mobile and had high achievement and motivation.  Not poor and desperate, but educated and rising. (356)


"…what tipped these 400 otherwise intelligent and privileged men to terrorism was their social networks.  Because they were so bright, they were sent abroad to study--and once overseas they felt lonely and excluded.  They gathered to eat and socialize in and around mosques, and it was there that radical leaders turned them on to violent jihad." (357)


"Terrorists are dedicated because they believe, and their beliefs are elaborate and sophisticated." (357)


Conclusion.  Microtrending

"Our culture today is increasingly the product of…societal atoms--small trends that reflect changing habits and choices.  They are often hard to identify…."  "Very slight changes in the mix of the cultural atoms will trigger profound changes in the shape of our globe and the character of our society." (359) 


"So for most subjects, people rely on a combination of news shows, Web sites, magazines, radio, chatter with friends, and their own gut.  And given how unscientific almost all of those sources are, most people end up being wrong much of the time about what is actually going on.  They are influenced by what looks right, and by what they want to see.  They rarely take the time to look at the cold hard facts of what is happening." (360)


"We are undergoing massive change in contradictory ways--a society that is fundamentally older, yet working more; a society that is striving to be healthier, and yet has never had higher obesity or caffeine consumption; a society that is increasingly discussing politicians' style and personality, and yet is more educated than ever before." (361)


"And the world itself is undergoing some very counterintuitive changes: As science becomes more important, we have had a rise in religion; as economic freedom and capitalism are winning out, democracy and human rights are lagging; societies that give the greatest encouragement to childbearing are showing some of the greatest population declines." (361)


"Microtrends reflects the human drive toward individuality, while conventional wisdom often seeks to drive society toward the lowest common denominator.  As I said at the start, we have seen the original Ford economy literally replaced by the Starbucks economy--the multiplication of choice as the driver of personal expression and satisfaction." (361)


"Movements get started by small groups of dedicated, intensely interested people.  That is why the al Qaeda model of organization, and the focus on the number of terrorist converts, is critical.  Winning movement are not necessarily majority movements, but they have drive and intensity behind them." (3620


"In critical area after critical area, we are seeing the potential for greater fragmentation, and the impact of microtrends in accelerating that fragmentation." (363)


"But the central thesis of this book is that society is changing in ways that few are really appreciating or understanding.  By focusing only on the major trends that reach a 'tipping point,' most observers are missing the fact that you no longer have to reach that point to be a successful trend with a vast potential impact on society." (364)


"Microtargeting will become the dominant means of advertising and marketing communication, replacing the old one-way TV and radio communications." (366)


"The next generation of workers will be better educated and more technologically comfortable, yet they will be more difficult to satisfy unless they are treated in new ways to match their expectations of unlimited choice." (367)


"The future rarely turns out as predicted."  "But as you dig deeper, you see a world teeming with lesser-known, harder-to-spot developments that really are the small forces that will drive tomorrow's big change." (368)



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