Monday, November 07, 2011

Micro trends, the small forces behind tomorrow's big changes

I have just finished Mark Penn's book about how small groups can have a big impact on our culture, both from a political and commerical point of view. Penn is best known for his work for first Bill and then Hillary Clinton. I was delighted to discover that Penn shares my admiration of V.O.Key Jr.

I love how this book eviserates sterotypes, such as the anti-social engineer. Penn documents how technology culture is super social. (As an aside I would suggest that this socialbility predates the internet, the technically inclined have always had their clubs and hobbyist groups, it is just that no one paid attention until the Internet became popular.)

Penn also demolishes the stereotype that most annoys me, that women are not an important factor in technology. Penn points out that women outspend men on technology 3 to 2. That is quite a gap, and I am grateful to Penn for pointing out that technology marketing has yet to adapt to this. Even in such basic matters and product design and testing, women are invisible. For example it seems that the first video conferencing systems were not calibrated to pick up the voices of women, we were literally invisible.

Penn's book deals with mass market products; but I would point out that women are also ignored by companies in the enterprise technology sector. Even though women have played key roles in the procurement of technology in the federal government for decades, and even though there have been women editors directing reporting on enterprise computing for decades, marketers for these companies persist in acting as if we do not exist. Why?

I find Penn's writing about politics less persuasive. I certainly concur with his suggestion that our elites are hoplessly out of touch with popular opinion. Indeed, I would love to know what Penn makes of the Occupy movement. Where I part company with him is in his discussion of swing voters. Penn continually conflates independent voters (actually non-affiated is a better and more accuarate term) with Independent voters. Penn capitalizes Independent and this creates confusion. Independents are actually a political party in several states, including Connecticut. It is true that the Independent party of Connecticut did not nominate anyone for US Senate in 2006, the year that Penn was adivisng Lieberman, but it is a significant force in Connecticut with many elected leaders at the town level.

Penn's book was written in 2008, which may account for why he has failed to pick up on the growth of emergent parties as a crucial micro trend. In 2010 Elliot Cutler, an independent candidate for Governor of Maine, came in second with 30.9% of the vote. In every state emergent party candidates have been gaining support. While they have yet to win at the state wide level, political observers ignore the emergent party vote at their peril.

Women will love this book. Penn understands that women exist, that we have opinions, that we have both purchasing and political power and that the powers that be ignore us at their peril.

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