Book Review: Microtrends

This is a book review of Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes by Mark J Penn. He provides a fascinating compilation of how lifestyles are changing, and how this could present opportunities for businesses, politicians, and anyone who needs to know what is happening to the way we live.

Mark Penn was the man who used his statistical methods to identify Soccer Mums as a new force in American politics, and helped Bill Clinton to win the election by focusing on the issues that this group was fervent about.

What is a microtrend?

“The whole idea that there are a few huge trends that determine how America and the world work is breaking down. There are no longer a couple of megaforces sweeping us all along. Instead, America and the world are being pulled apart by an intricate maze of choices, accumulating in “microtrends” – small, under-the-radar forcse that can involve as little as 1 per cent of the population, but which are powerfully shaping our society.” – Mark Penn

The book identifies 75 microtrends ranging from love, sex and relationships, to health and wellness, money and class, and technology. Although focused mainly on America, some of these microtrends are global phenomena as well.

For this book review, I highlight 5 microtrends that most intrigued me.

Microtrend #1: DIY Doctors

“The biggest trend in American healthcare is DIYDs: Do-It-Yourself Doctors. These are people who research their own symptoms, diagnose their own illnesses, and administer their own cures. If they have to call on doctors at all, they either treat them like ATM machines for prescriptions they already “know” they need, or they show up in their offices with full-color descriptions of their conditions, self-diagnosed on WebMD.” – Mark Penn

Where is the opportunity here? If you have an interest in health, you could become one of the many providers of information, either online or offline. There is a ready market. Watch out for giving misinformation though, especially if you are not a trained doctor. Remember, professional doctors insure themselves for hefty amounts, and for good reason.

Microtrend #2: Impressionable Elites

“A funny thing has happened to the American electorate; it’s flipped upside down. America’s elite – the wealthiest and best educated of our society – have become less interested in America’s economic and strategic challenges than they are in candidates’ personalities. Go to any upscale cocktail party, and listen in on what they think is most important important in the presidential election. I guarantee it – they will start off dissecting the personal traits of every candidate.” – Mark Penn

This microtrend surprised me most of all, because it is so counter-intuitive. We expect the most highly educated people in society to be rational and base their judgments on issues. (I’m re-reading this in 2020 and Penn was right!)

Microtrend #3: Aspiring Snipers

This is the microtrend that surprised Mark Penn most of all:

“1% of California’s young (aged 16-22) respondents volunteered that, in ten years, they would most likely be snipers. Now in an open-ended question, for every one respondent who says something spontaneously, several more are thinking it. So this was truly news: A new ambition of the younger generation – not of a lot of them, but enough to be on a scale – is being a sniper…

“And why the sudden interest? Part of it, no doubt, is an increasing respect for the military and law enforcement in America… (however) there is more of a questioning about being a front-line soldier, when you can do more damage to the enemy and be safer behind the scenes… This is also the generation that was raised on a lot of shooter video games… Finally, the statistically significant appearance of Aspiring Snipers says something about the post 9/11 culture in America. More so than in decades, young people today are unabashed in wanting to take down Bad Guys.” – Mark Penn

When I read this chapter, something clicked in my memory. I’d once heard a young American boy say that his ambition was to be a sniper. At that time I put it down to the video games he’d been playing. To realise that many other young boys are thinking the same way was an eye-opener for me.

Microtrend #4: Starving For Life

“These Thinning Thousands are not your garden variety anorexics (although sadly, they, too, are on the rise). They are not chasing a particular body weight, and they’re not necessarily repelled by food. Nor are these people your super0fit Gym Junkies, working out every day and boasting teen-type weights in their Golden Years. No, these apple-for-breakfast, lettuce-for-lunch Century Chasers are a discrete, intense group of people who believe – based on some decent scientific evidence – that cutting their calories to near-starvation levels will lengthen their lives by ten to twenty years.” – Mark Penn

I’d heard before that you should eat until you’re 80% full, and then stop. This means you go through life never feeling gastronomically satisfied. I’m not sure I can do it, but for many people, eating at subsistence level is not a fad after all, but a whole new lifestyle.

Microtrend #5: Long Attention Spanners

“It is conventional wisdom that America’s attention span is shrinking. A couple of decades ago, we cut our sixty-second TV ads down to thirty, and not apparently the ‘right’ length of an Internet ad is fifteen seconds… How much more ADD could America be?

But – slow down a minute… Some people operate on a totally different wavelength. From books to movies to products to news, they want more depth, more information, real answers to more of life’s questions. They want substance, not style and flash.” – Mark Penn

I first realised this when I started blogging and reading other blogs. Although you’d expect that with so much to read nowadays, people would prefer short, crisp posts, it was undeniably true that many popular blogs had seriously long posts. I suppose the lesson here is to either keep it short and sweet, or to give it serious substance.

If this book review intrigues you, get Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes here for further reading.

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7 replies on “Book Review: Microtrends”

@ Tess,

Wow, I’m impressed that you actually thought of buying the domain oldnewdads… that’s entrepreneurial foresight indeed! Hopefully you made some money by selling it later.

@ Lance,

You are funny! I was laughing all the way through your comment. By the way, some long comments are worth the length too!

Thank you for coming back to read the post even though you found it long. Like you, I personally tend to skip long posts too. So I am very grateful that you made the time and effort to read through this. Thank you!

Hi Daphne,
So, I saw this earlier today…and skipped reading it (I don’t like long posts). That said, I do like your writing…so I’m back…and it was very, very good. So, in this case I was initially chased away because of the length, yet drawn in, also, because of the length – and how thorough it was. So what am I saying? You did good, Daphne. Yet, I think post length is an important consideration. I prefer shorter posts and more often than longer posts. However, this one worked well at the length it was. Some posts lend themselves better to longer write ups.

On to the subject of the book – a very excellent review, Daphne! I need to check this one out. The idea of microtrends is very interesting to me. And what those trends are…

So, this post lent itself well to an longer post. You couldn’t have shared nearly as in-depth of a review in a short post. Kudos to you for making it this length – the key for me was that once I started reading, I really appreciated the thoroughness of it.

(and now I’ve given you a long-winded reply!!)

@ Evelyn,

You’re right! When I read the book I started thinking, “Wow, there’s a whole lot of business opportunities right here!” In fact I started thinking about whether I wanted to make this blog go niche in one of those areas…

Thanks very much for the Stumble too, Evelyn!

@ Juliet,

Which categories do you fall into? I was inanely proud that I was in some categories too – part of the statistics! Ha ha. Speaking of which, yes his statistical methods are pretty rigorous, and all these microtrends are based on actual surveys, not casual observations. Very impressive stuff indeed.

Hi Daphne

Wow, the book sounds fascinating. I certainly fall into some of those categories.

Really interesting that the author is so observant to pick these up and come up with this concept.


Thanks for providing a quick overview on microtrends. I find it fascinating!! It can be revealing of the niches that we can focus on in terms of doing a business.

I also find it very interesting about the DIY Doctor. It is true that I do a fair bit of research on the web about health symptoms. But any DIY that I self-administer is on energy related work. Still, I recognize that the essence is about self empowerment in being DIY.

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