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FNArena Book Review: The Future of (almost) Everything

Book Reviews | Apr 22 2016

By Rudi Filapek-Vandyck

UK-based Patrick Dixon gets paid to forecast the future. Judging by his curriculum vitae, and by the global companies and institutions that hire him as an advisor (such as The Pentagon and the World Bank), he is one of the best at what he does. In 2005 Dixon was nominated one of the world's top twenty most influential business thinkers alive. He's the author of 16 books, including The Truth About AIDS, The Genetic Revolution and Building A Better Business. In his latest, The Future of (almost) Everything, the author aims for the Grand Target, as the title suggests.

The problem with such Grand approach is not everything can be explained and dissected with the same care for detail. Instead, the reader is at times left with the feeling items are merely included to make sure every possible angle and subject have been covered. Dixon's urge to quantify everything in numbers and to -literally- try to predict every future outcome is destined to generate a lot of embarrassing misses. Make one grand forecast and you can be the world's hero for a while. Make a few hundred forecasts and thou shalt fire lots of blanks.

The Future of (almost) Everything is going to be proven wrong on many occasions in years to come. That's but the nature of the game called "forecasting". But for those who are interested in what possibly lies ahead, and how they might prepare themselves for it, Dixon's expose about future trends, major changes and new developments can function as an encyclopedia for everything concerning tomorrow.

To showcase his sophistication on this subject, Dixon structured the book around six megatrends poised to re-shape tomorrow's world, with the first letter of each combined forming the word "future":

– Fast
– Urban
– Tribal
– Universal
– Radical
– Ethical

As the book progresses, a world vision opens up wherein everything occurs at much faster speed. While demographics transition, people's need to belong to smaller groups will be exploited, while at the same time the world is morphing into one global village, with ideas and electorates radicalising and ethics and values changing and gaining importance.

All these major trends will interact. Meanwhile, for every trend there will come a counter-trend, leading Dixon to conclude: all thinking people today are Futurists and all leaders need to be Futurists. So get ready for human drones, incurable diseases, head transplants, the feminisation of society, a new world religion, and much more. Specifically for investors, Dixon shares timely insights into broken business models today (banks, telecoms, Apple) that need to be refreshed, if not reinvented to remain sustainable and relevant.

The following quote, from page 16, explains why, despite many challenges awaiting modern society, the author refuses to join the chorus of doom-forecasters:

"The truth, as we will see, is that our world is far more resilient than many fear. Humankind has an astonishing and accelerating capacity for genius and innovation, and this will solve many of the world's greatest challenges in ways that are very hard to imagine today. In addition, there are many natural balancing forces within global systems, including the oceans and the global economy."

And that is why the likes of Google, Microsoft, ExxonMobil and Credit Suisse write him a cheque every now and then to receive further updates on the Future and how it might affect their own.

The Future of (almost) Everything. The global changes that will affect every business and all our lives. By Patrick Dixon. Profile Books. 344 pages. ISBN 9781781254974 eISBN 9781782831815

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