Magnus Lindkvist: The trendspotter

27 November 2013 | Kavit Majithia


Nothing in the digital world is as it seems. Magnus Lindkvist, a self-proclaimed trendspotter tells Kavit Majithia why.



The music video ‘Gangnam Style’ was a global phenomenon. It has now hit 1.8 billion views on YouTube and it is a consumer trend that no-one in the industry could have predicted. It came out of nowhere and the amount of data usage that video alone has generated is near-incalculable.

“I am looking for clues that will send our minds and ideas astray. This is what I am passionate about,” says Magnus Lindkvist, Capacity Europe’s VIP speaker and trendspotter extraordinaire.

“The problem with the future is that people think it should make sense – we thought the future would bring us flying cars and we got a Korean man dancing ‘Gangnam style’.”

It is exactly what Lindkvist scopes out in his work. He looks for things that provide a curve ball to the norm and this is how he carves out his niche when assessing the industry and how technology will develop.

A game of Mastermind
Lindkvist has now written three books based on his trendspotting services, and claims he carved out his career by “playing a game of Mastermind” with his future. He says people have two types of career, where one can take the option to be like the world-famous sportsman Bjorn Borg, who knew he wanted to be a tennis player by the time he was aged five, or one can play a game of Mastermind – put up five dots and find out which you want to do. Lindkvist chose the latter.

“I tried business school, film school, I wrote a novel and worked in advertising – all of it failed to some extent,” he says. “I started trendspotting in 2003 as a hobby, in 2005 I started my own company and in 2008 I started doing it full time.”

Despite his unique approach to planning his own life, Lindkvist does not claim in the slightest to know exactly how technology will evolve in the future.

“I feel like I am still playing Mastermind to some extent, and it will get honed to focus on aspects that I haven’t seen yet,” he says.

The underlying message
Lindkvist suggests that he “tries to put pinpricks in people’s brains to make them think in different ways – discover old issues in new ways”. He comes to this year’s Capacity Europe conference with a very clear message to his carrier colleagues.

Learn how to collaborate,” he says bluntly. “Everybody that I have spoken to always claims they want to work with carriers, but carriers just don’t know how to do it. They don’t have a collaborative DNA or a collaborative interface. ‘Please fix that and tell them to have that,’ they say.”

This is indeed a challenge that the carrier industry has faced for years, particularly since the launch of the digital internet. However, Lindkvist points out problems with the carrier business model that others may not have seen.

“There is a challenge within the industry that has been present for years – the distinct disconnect between linear thinking and exponential development,” he explains.

One in ten
Lindkvist claims that the industry’s inherent need to think in a linear way has held back its development.

“I found an article that predicted the top ten websites at the start of the millennium and the problem is they are defunct,” he claims. “The only one that was predicted correctly was Amazon.”

Linear thinking means thinking that things are unlikely to change. “We think in ten years the internet will be mobile, as it is now,” he says. This, he believes, could change, and technology, infrastructure and the internet could develop to become seamless, embedded, wearable or even invisible.

“It’s brave to plan the next ten years of the internet based on mobile. Like infrastructure today, the industry is struggling to keep up with the demands of today and constantly failing to anticipate the exponential change of tomorrow.”

The evolution of the internet will certainly be centred towards a more digital ecosystem, but is this a negative for the carrier community? Lindkvist says that people fail to take into account how successful the industry has been, and success can be one of the most dangerous things for a company.

“Carriers are challenged,” he says. “Who do you go to in order to discuss the future of digital? Google, Apple and Facebook. You would rarely go to the capacity providers.” This, Lindkvist believes, is a failing on a part of the carriers that must be addressed.

“Carriers need to reclaim their territory at the forefront of technology, and this is why the move towards a more digital internet is a challenge.”

A long history of industry success is now also beginning to take its toll on the carriers, and the expectation from investors is beginning to increase. Lindkvist says the industry is operating within the constraints of a broken model, particularly because the rate of technology development shows no signs of decreasing.

He believes the stock market and investors treat telecoms companies as dividend generators, with no thought to the overall growth of the business, or the industry.

“‘You’ve done your magic trick with a certain mobile standard, now do it again’ is the attitude investors take with the industry,” he says. Lindkvist says that this just day one of the development of the online world.

“We will see 5G, 6G, 7G and carriers will need to look for new investment. I have spoken to – and seen – insurmountable interest from Silicon Valley venture capital firms that have a simple mindset. For every megabyte that capacity increases, their business model and revenue increases as a result and they all want to be a part of it.”

And our trendspotter claims that investment and development in infrastructure now holds more of an opportunity for investment and profits than even the consumer side of the industry.

“The products produced to run this capacity are now becoming boring and predictable,” he says. “It is when people invest in the technology that the magic happens.” This is exactly why Lindkvist believes the true potential that mobile holds has not yet come to the fore.

“We haven’t seen a mobile killer app,” he says. “Mobile video minus mobile is simply YouTube. Social networks minus mobile can still be Facebook – it’s not groundbreaking, but they are the apps that are most used by consumers. We assume mobile is a wearable portable computer, which is why we haven’t seen the killer app, which makes the potential more interesting.”

Long-term thinking
Lindkvist urges a change in this mindset, particularly, to ensure the industry realises the true potential of mobile.

“You shouldn’t need to tell a phone you are running, because it should know without opening an app. It should be able to know you are in a shop or a resturarant. These are the developments I expect to see going forward.”

Controversially, Lindkvist claims the big brands that are today shaping the face of technology will all disappear.

“We will not have Google, Facebook and Twitter in the future. The brands that begin trends never have the longevity. Twitter liberates connectivity and transmits your thoughts at pace – something better will be able to utilise this demand one day.”

Lindkvist’s entire ethos is based on believing that the future is a state of mind, rather than a place, or a destination that we need to reach, and this is the message he wants to pass on to delegates at this year’s Capacity Europe.

“We think the future has to make sense, when a lot of things lie ahead for us that will not make any sense. We think our personalities and morals are timeless, when in fact they are very volatile,” he says.

“I look at failures, and learn from failures, which has to include experimentation and persistence in addition to the roll of peers. It is a guide to long-term thinking.”

Can Lindkvist open up the carrier mindset?


The CV
Nickname: Trendspotter extraordinaire.
Education: Graduated from the Stockholm School of Economics and UCLA School of Film, Television and Theatre. Lindkvist also created the world’s first academically accredited course in Trendspotting and Future Thinking at the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship.
Career: Lindkvist serves as a trendspotter and futurologist who forecasts what life, society and business might look like in the future. He has written three books, including When The Future Begins: A Guide to Long-term Thinking, published this year. Speaking all over
the world, his speeches offer a whirlwind of ideas to energise and intellectually refresh listeners using a mix of images, videos and sound.
Award: Lindkvist won the coveted ‘Business Speaker of the Year’ award in Sweden in 2009 and is a member of the renowned Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference organisation.