The book: “FutureThink: How to Think Clearly In a Time of Change.” (304 pages, $24.99)

The authors: Edie Weiner and Arnold Brown

The skinny: The authors invite the reader to endeavor to think like an alien in order to overcome what they refer to as “educated incapacity,” that is, too much information to think clearly.

Authors: Pretend to be space alien when examining the future
Trends and countertrends

Yogi Berra spoke more wisdom than mirth when he advised: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

So say Edie Weiner and Arnold Brown in their thought-provoking new book “FutureThink.”

“At the fork in the road, businesspeople should not merely ask which is the best road to take,” they write. “We should also ask how our assets and competencies can be used to our advantage on either or both roads.”

They point out that executives at Victoria’s Secret did that despite an evident trend toward unisex clothing, and Southwest Airlines acted similarly as airlines tended to abandon direct routes in favor of hub systems.

“Countertrends can make money. Creating them or riding them makes money. Ignoring them means leaving the opportunity to the competition,” write the president and chairman of Weiner Edrich Brown, a New York City-based futurist consultancy.

Trends and countertrends are one of the patterns that individuals, organizations and even governments must be able to anticipate and act upon in order to compete effectively in a world characterized by rapid-fire change, say Weiner and Brown.

They trace that pattern to Sir Isaac Newton’s observation that every action has an equal opposite reaction.

Applying that law of physics to the world of human activity, Weiner and Brown maintain that every trend creates a countertrend.

Those countertrends happen, they insist, because of the trends, not despite them.

Terrorism: A countertrend?

One of the examples cited by Weiner and Brown is the trend of “disintermediation” in the marketplace:

“This involves bypassing traditional channels for the delivery of goods and services, offering lots more options, choices, and sources of information. Now it has become so pervasive that its countertrend, reintermediation, is developing with great force.

“This means that new brokers, agents, and software programs, affinity groups and advisers, reference materials and consumer reports are all emerging to help you navigate in a disintermediated environment.”

The authors examine several examples of trend/countertrend in depth. They even suggest convincingly that terrorism is a countertrend to growing secularism and modernity.

“This is increasingly (and desperately) expressed in rage and violence directed against both people and symbols of what the antimodernists hate and fear – such as the federal building in Oklahoma City, the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and a swinging nightclub in Bali,” they write.

Spiral vs. pendulum

Another pattern Weiner and Brown examine is labeled “substituting the spiral for the pendulum.” The authors take issue with the conventional view that everything proceeds in cycles, i.e., they swing to an extreme in one direction, then reverse course and come back through the center to the starting point.

“But people have gotten used to the pendulum analogy. Comfort with it creates a kind of mental laziness, so that we actually see pendulums even where they don’t really exist. A better model, as observation through alien eyes would reveal to us, is a spiral. Cycles do exist, but things never reverse themselves along the same path, and they never arrive back at the same place. They spiral up or down because the original point of departure is no longer there.”

However, it is not just the original point of departure that moves, as Weiner and Brown point out in the examination of the pattern they label “the extremes inform the middle.”

This is their version of the Hegelian construct of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

The authors suggest that in the face of extremes in politics, fashion, entertainment, religion, technology and other phenomena, the middle moves in reaction to them.

“FutureThink” offers guidance in how to adjust your thinking to anticipate those and other important patterns in human interaction and thereby become more effective in business, government or whatever you do as an individual or part of an organization.

The authors invite the reader to endeavor to think like an alien in order to overcome what they refer to as “educated incapacity,” that is, too much information to think clearly.

“To thrive – indeed, to survive – on the fast-paced journey into the 21st century, you need to selectively (but accurately) shed all of this educated incapacity – the baggage that makes you incapable of change.”

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