Read an Excerpt From 'Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes'

Yet almost every day, I hear experts say that voters and consumers are misguided scatterbrains, making decisions on the basis of the color of a tie. That's why politicians pay consultants to tell them to wear earth-tone suits. That's why many commercials feature pointless stories with no relation to the products. Too often, candidates and marketers don't believe the facts or the issues matter that much. Oftentimes, it is they who are the fools. I bet at least two-thirds of all communications are wasted with messages and images that only their creators understood.

The perspective of this book is that thirty years later, V. O. Key, Jr.'s observation is not only sound, but should be the guiding principle of understanding the trends we see in America and around the world. People have never been more sophisticated, more individualistic, or more knowledgeable about the choices they make in their daily lives. Yet, as Key observed, it takes intensive, scientific study to find the logical patterns that underlie those choices. When faced with people's seemingly contradictory choices, it can be a lot easier to chalk them up to brown suits and Botox.

And indeed, the contradictions today are striking. While people are eating more healthy foods than ever, Big Mac sales have never been higher. While Fox News is number one in the ratings, the antiwar movement dominates most news coverage. While America is growing older, most of what we see in advertising and entertainment has been created with youth in mind. While people are dating as never before, they have never been more interested in deeper, longer-lasting relationships. While more people than ever before are drinking clear, natural water, more people are also drinking "monster" energy drinks loaded with chemicals and caffeine.

In fact, the whole idea that there are a few huge trends which determine how America and the world work is breaking down. There are no longer a couple of megaforces sweeping us all along. Instead, America and the world are being pulled apart by an intricate maze of choices, accumulating in "microtrends" – small, under-the-radar forces that can involve as little as 1 percent of the population, but which are powerfully shaping our society. It's not just that small is the new big. It's that in order to truly know what's going on, we need better tools than just the naked eye and an eloquent tongue. We need the equivalent of magnifying glasses and microscopes, which in sociological terms are polls, surveys, and statistics. They take a slice of the matter being studied and lay it open -- bigger and clearer -- for examination. And inside, you will find yourself, your friends, your clients, your customers, and your competition clearer than you ever thought you might.

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