Over the summer, I’ve really enjoyed the work of Philip Auerswald, an academic who focuses on population trends, in addition to “firm learning,” or the study of how companies improve.
I first heard Auerswald on EconTalk discussing the reasons why populism is taking hold worldwide. Auerswald said that a “trend hidden in plain sight” is simply the population change into cities. Around the world, urbanization is occurring, and cities are getting richer. Meanwhile, rural areas everywhere aren’t feeling the effects.
I was pretty floored listening to it, and I tried my best to condense the show’s ideas into this tweetstorm:
What I’ve enjoyed from his work is this feeling of rediscovering the boring truth that isn’t much discussed.
Sometimes, in the tech world there’s a strong bias towards recent deals and trends. Hot areas for investment change every quarter, and hype trains seem to be shifting ever faster.
It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees.
Since reading Auerswald’s books, I’ve vowed to revisit some mega-trends. In a way, they’re answers to the Bezosian question: “what’s NOT going to change in 10 years?”
Some mega-trends I would offer up:
- health consciousness, which is totally transforming CPG
- smartphones are close to a universal product for humanity
- automation, be it in cars, retail, or factories
- lower social mobility, fewer rags to riches stories
- more religiously unaffiliated people
- people being “asset-light,” from the sharing economy, to status symbols becoming immaterial (experiences and health)
- Basically, anything Pew Research Center publishes
What other trends are hidden in plain sight?
And related to Auerswald’s point: which technologies alleviate this rural/urban divide? I think this tension may explain the rise of startups in co-living, digital nomad programs, or mega-cheap digital services like Root Insurance. If you’re going to brave city life, these sorts of services make it a little easier. (I, for one, certainly couldn’t have moved to NYC without connections and couches to sleep on.) With all that friction, making cities more accessible may be a great startup opportunity.