The Needle in a Haystack: Understanding Moonshot Entrepreneurs
Okay, we’re going to be non-obvious here, so listen closely.
Since we’re in the business of coining catchy concepts about the future, let’s say we’re nonobs.
For some 30 years, since I wrote Microcosm in 1989 and Life After Television in 1990, I have been dubbed a futurist.
I said the dominant computer of the future would be a “teleputer.” I said, “It would be as portable as your watch and as personal as your wallet. It would recognize speech and navigate streets, collect your news and your mail…” and so on. Most of you have heard the riff. But no one called it a “teleputer,” so there was a crack in the crystal of my career as a “futurist.”
Usually disdaining the title, I say that I’m really just a historian. All the data is in the past, and the data, no matter how “big” it may be, does not reveal the future, no matter how clever your algorithm. The future is not accessible through poring through data. No matter how high your resolution as you comb the road ahead with your cameras and your lidar, you cannot descry the future. You cannot really look before you leap. To get a glimpse, you have to leap before you look. Faith precedes knowledge.
The Path to Nonob Futurism
Anyway, in my 30 years as an accused “futurist,” I had never heard of Rohit Bhargava until he contributed a savvy chapter to my Moonshot colleague John Schroeter’s scintillating futurist chrestomathy, After Shock.
I point that out because in his latest book, Non Obvious Megatrends: How to See What Others Miss and Predict the Future, winner of six major book prizes, he cites “Moonshot Entrepreneurship” as a futurist trend. He smarms, “A new generation of entrepreneurs is thinking beyond profit and placing social impact, not financial performance, at the center of their organizations’ missions.”
In other words, the “Moonshot entrepreneurs” are part of the ESG (ethical, sustainable, governance) investment movement.
Hey, those aren’t Schroeter Moonshots, but let it pass.
“The world’s problems remain complex,” Bhargava reveals. Moonshot entrepreneurs can “fill the gap left by ineffective governments.”
But Moonshots are not one of the ten “Megatrends” expounded in Non Obvious. They came up in the 10th annual edition of his wildly successful and popular Non Obvious Trend Report.
I have to confess that I predicted none of them. They’re nonob.
My path to nonob futurism is called Information Theory. It measures information by its “entropy” or surprisal. Entropy is a gauge of non-obviousness. Bhargava’s new book is full of surprising anecdotes and interesting reports, and his previous books nearly all have “surprise” in the title. But this book is reliably low-entropy and unsurprising in its prophecies.
The reason is Bhargava’s touted “Haystack method for curating non-obvious ideas.” Citing John Naisbitt of Megatrends fame and his habit of “scanning hundreds of newspapers and magazines,” Bhargava contrives what he calls a “curated” collection of stories and reports.
A trend, as he defines it, is “a curated observation of the accelerating present.” This definition is sufficiently non-obvious to offer little illumination. Curated is a museum or a church. The “accelerating present” reflects the vanity of “accelerationism.” I have always thought that the idea that progress constantly speeds up shows scant knowledge of history.
In any case, the process of amassing thousands of reports into a haystack and then assigning them to categories ensures that most of his observations will be obvious and trendy rather than unexpected and entropic.
Thus his megatrends, though decked out in pithy alliterations such as “purposeful profit” and headline coinages such as “ungendering,” turn out, at bottom, to be just more sustainability, feminism, diversity, transhuman artificial intelligence, climate quackery, and other ideas that bulk large in any haystack of journalistic detritus.
It’s not that this much-laurelled futurist is uninteresting. It is just that his actual predictions tend to be either trivial or crushingly obvious, caught in the coils of politically correct clichés.
Bhargava wants to reduce the future to algorithms. Collect enough data on the past and that “accelerating present” and shazam, you will have the future. And it will turn out to be more of the same.
Around here, we believe that the future is not algorithmic. There are no needles in that haystack of media clutter and clichés.
And one more thing. Nowhere in the smooth patter of Bhargava’s pages is there any mention of security problems on the net or monetary scandals in the world economy. Nowhere is there any mention of blockchain.
Who hacked that haystack, anyway?
Editor, Gilder’s Daily Prophecy