Described by The Daily Telegraph as “America’s most influential trend spotter,” Michael Tchong has been at the forefront of internet, social media and computer innovation throughout his career. His start-up companies have been at the cutting edge of now pervasive trends including desktop publishing, personal information management, Internet research and online marketing.
SPEAKING.COM: What characteristics set “Ubertrends” apart from regular trends?
TCHONG: In German, “über” means superior or above, so “Ubertrends” are massive waves that cascade through society leaving many subtrends in their wake. A close examination of these Ubertrends shows that they’re reshaping society in unexpected ways. Ubertrends exert a powerful influence on society because they cause a significant change in lifestyle values, which make them all the more remarkable.
SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the Ubertrends you follow and what influence are they having on the way we live and do business?
TCHONG: The “Digital Lifestyle” Ubertrend — the marriage of man and machine — is today’s biggest wave. It’s like a tsunami that is inundating society with a host of subtrends, including artificial intelligence, big data, the cloud, machine learning, robots, self-driving cars and, gasp, social media. Another great Ubertrend is “Time Compression” — the acceleration of life. Time Compression is responsible for such sub-trends as ADD, multitasking, too busy disorder, the explosive growth of the coffee and energy drink markets, FedEx, the lack of sleep phenomenon, and even rap music, plus the popularity of such concepts as instant gratification and TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read).
Another major Ubertrend is “Unwired” — “Control Freak Generation” as I have labeled it. Unwired is all about untethering and disconnecting from wires and even relationships. It rules smartphones, the app economy, GPS, Wi-Fi, tablets, plus the singles’ households trend. By putting so much control in the palms of our hands, it’s also propelling another sub-trend: the growing urge to control our world. A perfect illustration of the Control Freak trend is National Car Rental’s “Control Enthusiast” ad.
SPEAKING.COM: In your upcoming Ubertrends book you write that “most trends don’t evolve quickly, particularly Ubertrends.” Could you tell us more about why you believe this, and give us an idea of how fast trends do move?
TCHONG: Some trends take a long time to develop. Time Compression, for example, started in the 1940s. Unwired emerged in the era of radio, more than 100 years ago, but took off after the debut of the cell phone in 1972.
Flip-flops are a perfect example of a trend with a very long history. Their history dates back to the Japanese Zori sandal, which made its debut in 794. It wasn’t until 1962 that flip-flops got a big lift. That’s when a company based in São Paulo, Brazil, called Alpargatas, began producing a sandal based on the Zori design called Havaianas. Initially called chinelos de pobre, because they were only worn by poor people, Havaianas had caught on among Brazilian middle and upper classes by 1994. In 2003, NPD reported that flip-flops had become the world’s most popular footwear, with sales of more than $1 billion worldwide. From the initial creation of the Zori to 2003, this trend took 1,209 years to develop.
SPEAKING.COM: How can people and companies spot Ubertrends before they go mainstream?
TCHONG: See a huge trend that’s rippling across society leaving a lot of trends in its wake? Does it change population values? If so, you’ve spotted an Ubertrend. I have identified eight, which I will cover in great detail in my upcoming book,“Ubertrends — How Trends and Innovation Are Transforming Our Future.” There are not many Ubertrends because they require a convergence of forces to help create a pervasive change in society. In many cases, these forces coalesce with the introduction of a powerful new technology, for example, the debut of the microwave oven and Polaroid camera for Time Compression.
What will create the next big Ubertrend? Space travel could create it. So could virtual reality. To be sure, virtual reality is a spinoff of the Digital Lifestyle Ubertrend, but once a sub-trend starts to spawn its own sub-trends, much the way that the Unwired Ubertrend has fostered distracted behavior and control-freakism, it becomes a good candidate for an Ubertrend.
SPEAKING.COM: How much attention should businesses pay to countertrends and do you see any significant countertrends forming in response to the Ubertrends you research?
TCHONG: Ubertrends foster many opportunities to develop businesses that counter subtrends. The Casual Living Ubertrend — the evaporation of decorum — has ushered in a more casual lifestyle in which formality is on the decline, i.e., casual Fridays. It’s also responsible for a decrease in civility and manners, being the force behind such egregious manifestations as air and road rage, graffiti, speech interruptions, soccer hooliganism, YouTube fights, etc.
Casual Living led to the establishment a few years ago of etiquette schools, which seek to counter this Ubertrend. Incidentally, we need many more of those if our current presidential election is any indication. Other examples of countertrend markets are spas and yoga, both experiencing explosive growth due to the Time Compression Ubertrend, which is contributing to the stress of life.
SPEAKING.COM: What industries do you see experiencing the most change in the next three to five years?
TCHONG: All industries will be significantly impacted by:
• The introduction of robotics, like Uber’s self-driving cars or Hilton and Aloft hotel’s guest robots.
• The cloud for offloading formerly standalone software applications.
• The rapid advances being made in artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Google, for example, just introduced an “Assistant” feature in its Google Analytics mobile app that is a preview of things to come. It points to a future where most marketers will be able to use these “machine learning” apps to improve their digital marketing practices, which now require the employment of either expert employees or consultants.
SPEAKING.COM: How do you think electric cars will affect the auto industry within the next decade?
TCHONG: Tesla showed the automobile industry that you can make a great electric car. The Tesla Model S is such a disruptive force that it’s sending shock waves through Detroit and other automakers, forcing them back to the drawing boards to create their “Tesla killer.” The result is rapid development of electric cars that are practical, i.e. with a driving range greater than 300 miles, which only Tesla has achieved so far. Once this hurdle is overcome, electric car sales will take off. Expect this to happen in the latter part of the following decade.
SPEAKING.COM: Do you foresee any developments that will disrupt the smartphone industry or perhaps even extinguish it?
TCHONG: If you’ve ever seen one of those old Star Trek episodes where Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock use “Communicators” to analyze the composition of a rock or to measure oxygen levels, you can imagine the bright future of smartphones. They’re already starting to play a prominent role in healthcare so nothing can disrupt them, but as Star Trek suggests they will play such a key role in society that the moniker “smartphone” will one day seem as quaint as a fax or Xerox.
SPEAKING.COM: You discuss robots quite a bit. What steps can people take to ensure that robots and digital systems do not make employees obsolete?
TCHONG: We need a massive retraining program that prevents wholesale layoffs of unskilled and middle manager workers. Unfortunately, we don’t have the leadership vision needed in Washington to be able to manage this transition well. This week, Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft created a consortium to establish ground rules for protecting humans and their jobs in the face of rapid advances in artificial intelligence, dubbed The Partnership on AI. Hopefully, these types of efforts will help create a set of best practices that can form a blueprint for private industry.
SPEAKING.COM: What kinds of companies or start-ups would be a good match for the services your incubator and consulting agency, ubercool INNOVATION, offers?
TCHONG: Unlike most innovation consultancies, ubercool INNOVATION features an ideation practice that trains clients on how to better implement innovation at their own organizations and also offers pre-packaged solutions that can be carried out by companies looking for ready-made innovations. Our pre-packaged solutions cover the gamut from digital marketing to entertainment to hospitality (both hotels and restaurants) to packaged goods and real estate. Any organizations that converge with those industries, either vertically or horizontally, would be a great fit.
To bring Michael Tchong to your organization, please contact Michael Frick at: Mike@Speaking.com