Naisbitt, John Harling 1929–

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Naisbitt, John Harling 1929–

PERSONAL: Born 1929, in Salt Lake City, UT; married Noel Senior (divorced); married Patricia Aburdene (a journalist, author, and business consultant; marriage ended); married third wife, named Doris (a publisher); children: (first marriage) five. Education: Graduated from University of Utah; graduate study at Cornell and Harvard universities.

CAREER: Social forecaster, publisher, lecturer, and author. Executive with IBM and Eastman Kodak Co.; affiliated with Unitarian Service Committee, Great Books Foundation, and Montgomery Ward & Co.; National Safety Council, Chicago, IL, director of information, 1960–63; United States Commission on Education, Washington, DC, special assistant, and special assistant to the secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, Washington, 1963–67; Science Research Associates, Washington, assistant to the president, 1967; Urban Research Corp., Chicago, founder and director, 1968–75; Center for Policy Process, Washington, founder and director, 1975–81; The Naisbitt Group, Washington, founder and director, 1981–. Publisher of Trend Report (quarterly social forecasting newsletter), 1973–. Visiting professor at Harvard University and Moscow State University; Nanjing University, China, faculty member. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps, 1946–48.

AWARDS, HONORS: Benjamin Y. Morrison Award, 1980; Frank Luther Mott/Kappa Tau Alpha Research Award in Journalism, 1984, for Megatrends; Distinguished International Fellow, Institute of Strategic and International Studies (Malaysia); World Review Award (England), for Global Paradox: The Bigger the World Economy, the More Powerful Its Smallest Players; fifteen honorary doctorates.

WRITINGS:

(With Maryl Levine) Right On! A Documentary on Student Protest, Bantam (New York, NY), 1970.

Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1982.

The Year Ahead: 1985, Naisbitt Group (Washington, DC), 1984.

(With wife Patricia Aburdene) Re-inventing the Corporation: Transforming Your Job and Your Company for the New Information Society, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1985.

The Year Ahead, 1986: Ten Powerful Trends Shaping Your Future, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1985.

(With wife Patricia Aburdene) Megatrends 2000: Ten New Directions for the 1990s, William Morrow (New York, NY), 1990.

(With wife Patricia Aburdene) Megatrends for Women, Villard Books (New York, NY), 1992, revised edition, Fawcett Columbine (New York, NY), 1993.

Global Paradox: The Bigger the World Economy, the More Powerful Its Smallest Players, William Morrow (New York, NY), 1994.

Megatrends Asia: Eight Asian Megatrends That Are Reshaping Our World, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.

Megachallenges, toExcel (San Jose, CA), 1999.

(With daughter, Nana Naisbitt, and Douglas Philips) High Tech/High Touch: Technology and Our Search for Meaning, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 1999, paperback edition published as High Tech/High Touch: Technology and Our Accelerated Search for Meaning, Nicholas Brealy Publishing (Naperville, IL), 2001.

Mind Set!: Reset Your Thinking and See the Future, Collins (New York, NY), 2006.

Author of a Japanese-language book, which translated means "Japan's Identity Crisis," 1992.

SIDELIGHTS: In his best-selling book Megatrends and sequels such as Megatrends Asia: Eight Asian Megatrends That Are Reshaping Our World and Megachallenges, John Harling Naisbitt identifies political, economic, and social trends that he believes are reshaping society. The most important of these changes, according to Naisbitt, is an epochal shift from an industrial society to a so-called "information society," in which the United States increasingly trades information for manufactured goods in the world economy. The other related trends he describes include shifts from robotlike, dehumanizing technology to a "high tech/high touch"—or a personally fulfilling—working environment; short-term to long-term planning; centralized to decentralized organization; vertical power hierarchies to horizontal "networking"; representative democracy to participatory democracy; institutional help to self-help; and either/or decision making to multiple-option decision making.

Naisbitt bases these conclusions on a research technique he calls "content analysis," which involves analyzing the contents of some two hundred local American daily newspapers to detect emerging social trends. The author's business consulting firm, The Naisbitt Group, pioneered this method in the early 1970s as the empirical basis for its respected quarterly newsletter, Trend Report. Content analysis has received mixed reviews from social scientists, with some academics dismissing it as a superficial and arbitrary cataloging of ephemera. Naisbitt himself, however, makes no pretense to scientific rigor, and many corporate and advertising executives find the method a valuable guide to emerging public attitudes and potential new markets if not to a deeper social reality.

Critics attributed the huge popular appeal of Megatrends—the book sold more than eight million copies—partly due to the optimistic conclusions Naisbitt draws from social changes that have frightened and upset many Americans, particularly those dependent on the declining manufacturing industries. The book was ultimately published in fifty-seven countries. The author sees a more flexible, productive, and humane society in the information age, in which assembly-line monotony is replaced with creative input from a better-educated work force. Naisbitt renders these observations in a light, nonanalytic, example-laden prose style that New York Times Book Review contributor Karl E. Meyer dubbed "the literary equivalent of a good after-dinner speech." Ben Bova, writing in the Washington Post Book World, found Megatrends to be "an enlightening, heartening book" that offers "a clear blueprint for designing a young person's career—or making a midcourse correction in the career of a not-so-young person."

Naisbitt looks specifically at how the societal "megatrends" he has identified will affect the American corporation in Re-inventing the Corporation, written with his wife Patricia Aburdene. The authors see generally positive changes that will make business enterprises more dynamic, efficient, and responsive to workers' needs. Naisbitt and Aburdene identify the principal forces behind these changes as the shift to the information industry, which will require new initiative and decision-making input from its employees, and a developing labor shortage that will compel companies to offer better working environments to attract workers. Another important feature of the new corporate environment, according to the authors, will be the rise of what they call "intrapreneurs," or semi-autonomous entrepreneurial-style employees who develop new products and services within companies instead of leaving to form their own businesses. As the labor shortage (due to the relatively small post-baby boom generation) brings more women into the work place, the corporate office will also become more "feminized," with greater attention given to fostering supportive, pleasant working relationships. The impersonality of computers, fax machines, and other high-tech tools of the information age, finally, will be deliberately countered with attractive, "high touch" office design and greater corporate sponsorship of employees' recreational pursuits and the arts.

Re-inventing the Corporation's optimistic conclusions have been disputed by a number of sociologists and economists who perceive a growing divergence between a few highly skilled, professional positions and a large number of monotonous, button-punching jobs in the information industry. These experts also question Naisbitt and Aburdene's forecast of a serious labor shortage, noting that a sluggish economy and the trend toward two-income families and part-time work by retirees may counter the effects of smaller future generations. The authors' writing style and manner of presenting their theories prompted criticism from book reviewers such as Robert Kuttner, who remarked in the New Republic: "All the excesses of the good management/self-improvement genre are present in this single volume. There is hyperbole, redundancy, oversimplification, and the extravagant unqualified claim." But other critics and a great many corporate executives and general readers found Re-inventing the Corporation insightful and timely, and the book quickly became another bestseller.

Naisbitt kicked off the 1990s with Megatrends 2000: Ten New Directions for the 1990s, also coauthored with Aburdene. Many reviewers found the book a tired rehash of his earlier work, however. Susan Lee, reviewing Megatrends 2000 for the New York Times Book Review, faulted the book for its "breathless prose," "wide-eyed generalizations," and "frivolous observations." Naisbitt and Aburdene devote chapters to the booming global economy, the rise of the Pacific Rim countries, innovations in biology and biotechnology, and a religious revival coinciding with the millennium, along with other trends. Lee allowed that "if you have been awesomely out of touch … this book does provide a painless way to catch up. Megatrends 2000 bounces along, the facts come thick and furious and the thoughts are bite-sized…. [It is] a useful summary and an overview of what's been going on."

In Global Paradox: The Bigger the World Economy, the More Powerful Its Smallest Players, Naisbitt describes the way that nationalism and political independence movements have led to increased economic cooperation among nations. The paradox of the title is the fact that greater individualism and the rise of small companies have had a unifying effect on the global economy. Naisbitt was criticized by Karen Pennar, a reviewer for the New York Times Book Review, for what she termed his "platitudinous and … Pollyanna-ish assurances" about global economic health. Pennar accused the author of writing sections that read "like ad copy that would embarrass even the most gung-ho of publicists for the information age." She concluded that "there's little to learn from reading Global Paradox—save perhaps how depressingly easy it is for some best-selling writers to get published again."

Naisbitt followed his tried-and-true format again in Megatrends Asia, analyzing eight major trends pointing to Asian domination of the world market. He illustrated the stagnation of Japan's economy and the rise and rapid modernization of China, and explored the need for Western companies to form new entities within the Asian market, rather than opening branch offices. The author was again criticized for producing a superficial work. Economist writer Nicholas Brealey went so far as to say that Megatrends Asia "reads as if it were written at one sitting by a man who had decided to stay up for a week, pounding at a keyboard, gulping down black coffee and working through a pile of press cuttings." Naisbitt defended his work in an interview with John Yarbrough for Sales & Marketing Management, in which he was quoted as saying that economic growth in Asia is "the most important thing going on in the world, not just for Asia." He further contended that "most people in the West don't have the faintest idea what's going on in Asia. So this is an introduction, this is a primer, for people who know almost nothing about Asia but have this nagging sense that they ought to know something."

Two themes from previous books form the core of High Tech/High Touch: Technology and Our Search for Meaning. "High tech/high touch," a concept introduced in the original Megatrends, is the conflict between the increasingly high-tech world and mankind's growing need for emotional authenticity. The other major theme in the book is that of religious revivalism. Naisbitt warns that technology, while in many ways beneficial, has relentlessly accelerated our lives and has introduced new problems, such as children desensitized to violence by bloody video games. In fact, he states that Americans have entered a mind- and soul-numbing "Technology Intoxication Zone" and warns that through television and computers, children are being drafted into a "Military-Nintendo Complex." The author advises readers to remember to turn off their computers and reconnect with simple pleasures, and to use other means to ensure that mankind's relationship with technology is beneficial rather than toxic. "In our craving for emotional authenticity … Naisbitt locates the great challenge of our frenetic era," asserted Bryce Christensen and Gilbert Taylor for Booklist.

Mind Set!: Reset Your Thinking and See the Future begins with a section that advises readers that they can plan and get ahead by adopting various mind-sets that allow them to think independent of preconceived notions and popular assumptions. Part two offers a look at future trends, including global trends. While a Publishers Weekly contributor found Naisbitt's insights a bit too vague to be useful, Library Journal critic Susan C. Awe wrote that the mind-sets "will enable readers to prepare for the future and understand the global changes that are underway."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Artforum, September, 1995, Brian Massumi, review of Global Paradox: The Bigger the World Economy, the More Powerful Its Smallest Players, p. 16.

Black Enterprise, October, 1995, Ann Brown, review of Global Paradox, p. 38.

Booklist, February 1, 1996, Bonnie Smothers, review of Megatrends Asia: Eight Asian Megatrends That Are Reshaping Our World, p. 899; October 1, 1999, Bryce Christensen and Gilbert Taylor, review of High Tech/High Touch: Technology and Our Search for Meaning, p. 313; September 15, 2006, David Siegfried, review of Mind Set!: Reset Your Thinking and See the Future, p. 10.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July-August, 1995, Georg Sorensen, review of Global Paradox, p. 69.

Economist, December 16, 1995, Nicholas Brealey, review of Megatrends Asia, p. S6.

Foreign Affairs, May-June, 1996, Donald Zagoria, review of Megatrends Asia, p. 156.

Fortune, February 19, 1996, Louis Kraar, review of Megatrends Asia, p. 104.

Library Journal, December, 1999, Laverna Saunders, review of High Tech/High Touch, p. 180; September 15, 2006, Susan C. Awe, review of Mind Set!, p. 70.

New Republic, April 28, 1986, Robert Kuttner, review of Re-inventing the Corporation, p. 30.

New York Times Book Review, December 26, 1982, Karl E. Meyer, review of Megatrends, p. 8; January 7, 1990, Susan Lee, review of Megatrends 2000: Ten New Directions for the 1990s, p. 20; February 27, 1994, Karen Pennar, review of Global Paradox, p. 16; March 3, 1996, Fred Brock, review of Megatrends Asia, p. 18.

Pacific Affairs, fall, 1996, Philip Kelly, review of Megatrends Asia, p. 397.

Publishers Weekly, January 1, 1996, review of Megatrends Asia, p. 67; September 20, 1999, review of High Tech/High Touch, p. 66; August 14, 2006, review of Mind Set!, p. 196.

Sales & Marketing Management, August, 1996, John Yarbrough, interview with John Naisbitt, p. 64.

USA Today, September, 1996, Gerald F. Kreyche, review of Megatrends Asia, p. 80.

Washington Post Book World, October 17, 1982, Ben Bova, review of Megatrends, p. 1.

ONLINE

Harry Walker Agency, Inc. Home Page, http://www.harrywalker.com/ (December 30, 2006), biography of John Naisbitt.

John Naisbitt Home Page, http://www.naisbitt.com (December 30, 2006).

USA Today Online, http://www.usatoday.com/ (September 25, 2006), Edward Iwata, review of Mind Set!.