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By Mark J. Penn with E. Kinney Zalesne
Read by Brett Barry

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The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes
By Mark J. Penn with E. Kinney Zalesne
Read by Brett Barry
Hachette Audio, (2007)
An Unabridged Recording on 10 CDs
ISBN 10: 1-60024-023-2
ISBN 13: 978-1-60024-023-2
Genre: Nonfiction - Business

Reviewed by Herbert White - September 5, 2007

Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes is an intriguing book to read. In it Mark J. Penn, along with E. Kinney Zalesne, examine more than 70 niche trends, ranging from an increase in older woman dating younger men to international home buying. The purpose of this book is to illustrate emerging social trends, many of which can be developed into a viable market, or which are having an impact, either negatively or positively on the economy. These social trends, which Penn calls microtrends, are small or underappreciated niche groups that have, or will have, a large impact on society as a whole, such as the increasing number of American who are being incarcerated, and then released back onto the streets without ever having received the rehabilitation or drug treatment that they need to become productive citizens.

Throughout this book, Penn examines a host of emerging social groups, such a French teetotalers and vegan children, and points out the trends associated with these groups. Thereby not only giving you a glimpse into what is - but also what might be - if you know what you are looking for. In addition, he discusses how these various trends developed, and their likely impact on society, and the economy, as a whole.

In the realm of business books, this one is unique, and fun to listen to. The book is read by Brett Barry, and his reading helps to enliven some of the more pedantic sections of the book. In addition, the audio edition includes a conversation with the book's author about not only the book, but also microtrends in general. The chapters in this book are very short, and it is a great book to listen to if you only have a few minutes at a time to listen to it.

The chapters are divided into fifteen thematic sections covering topics such as politics, fashion, technology, education, family life, teens, race and religion, and health and wellness. Within each section are several chapters dealing with emerging microtrends related to the given category. Throughout, Penn backs up his accretions with polling data.

Some of the varied social groups discussed in this book include: Overall, I found this book fascinating to read, and eye-opening in some regards, especially in just how influential - in market terms - a group of less than 1% of the population can have on shopping patterns. However, what I did not like about this book is that much of the data seems to be skewed to support Penn's suppositions, and much of it is presented out of context. It presents information based almost solely on poll data and Penn's personal experiences, but he does not provide information on the number of participants contacted in a given poll, how diverse the sampling was, how the polls were conducted, or how old the polls are.

Basically what you have in this book is unsupported poll data accompanied by Penn's personal commentary and analysis of each trend, without any concrete details about why or how a trend is developing - or if it is really a trend and not just Penn's supposition. He does however, provide a brief bibliography where he obtained the polling and data information he used in writing this book.

For instance, he states that "...Jewish women are at the forefront of the professional revolution of the last several decades, raking up unparalleled rates of college graduation, graduate degrees, and high-powered jobs. (Sixty-eight percent of Jewish women aged 25-44 have a college degree, by far the highest percentage of any religious group in America.)" (pg. 57). What he doesn't explain is what is driving these women to succeed academically and are they using their degrees in the workplace or are they just hanging them on the wall. Does getting a higher number of degrees equate to being at the "forefront of the professional revolution." If so, how? And what does Penn mean by the term "professional revolution?" He never defines it. Also, what are their degrees in. Without all this extra information, Penn data is just a collection of interesting factoids that doesn't provide sufficient information to enable you to accurately gage just how viable a given group is as a distinct market group - or if they actually constitute a separate social trend. Nonetheless, the information is interesting, and provides ample direction for further study, not only into the topic of microtrends, but also the possible markets that they provide.

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