10 of the World’s Most Groundbreaking Futurists


John Naisbitt

John and Doris Naisbitt speak at the Digital Life Design (DLD) conference at HVB Forum in Munich, Germany.
John and Doris Naisbitt speak at the Digital Life Design (DLD) conference at HVB Forum in Munich, Germany.
Johannes Simon/Getty Images for Hubert Burda Media/Getty Images

A former U.S. Marine and executive for IBM and Kodak, Naisbitt served as an aide to two presidents, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, before authoring the 1982 bestseller "Megatrends," which predicted the rise of a fast-moving global economy and a society for which information would be a commodity on par with manufactured products [source: Naisbitt.com]. In the days before news was available on the Web, Naisbitt based his predictions on what essentially was an analog, paper-based form of Googling; he and his staff searched through more than 200 daily newspapers, looking for recurring events and public behavior [source: Salmans].

Since then, Naisbitt has written numerous other books, including a 1990 sequel to "Megatrends," a version of "Megatrends" aimed at women, and the 2010 "China's Megatrends," in which Naisbitt predicted that China eventually would create an entirely new social and economic system that would serve as an alternative to western-style democracy. Naisbitt also forecast, among other things, the growing intellectual freedom in China and rise of a Chinese version of country music [source: Clifford].

Author's Note: 10 of the World’s Most Groundbreaking Futurists

I grew up reading Parade magazine articles about Jeanne Dixon, the clairvoyant, and I was fascinated in college with Nostradamus, the 16th-century French seer who hid his predictions in rhymes to avoid persecution as a witch. (My interest was piqued, perhaps, because British folk rocker Al Stewart did a catchy song that interpreted some of Nostradamus' verses.) But now that I've spent a few decades as a journalist, I've seen enough forecasts and predictions gone awry that I tend to view futurists with measured skepticism. Futurists, I've found, have a challenging time perceiving what lies ahead, because even if they correctly predict some developments, there are enough other unanticipated wild cards and nascent trends that never really blossom, and those things subtly alter the recipe for the future. While John Elfreth Watkins managed to predict the mobile telephone, for example, he had no idea that there would be such a thing as the Internet, or that phones would morph into smartphones -- multi-purpose, multimedia devices that would take the place of cameras, record players and even books. Whether one relies upon experts, media content analysis or wide-ranging data mining, revolutionary developments often are going to come out of nowhere.

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