"A little more of the entrepreneur. A little less of the engineer."

Disruptive ideas and radical technological advances are shaping our markets – and our lives – ever more powerfully and in ever expanding ways. Entrepreneurial thinking and courageous steps toward action are becoming a matter of survival.

March 5, 2020

Interview with Nils Müller

Founder and CEO of TRENDONE

Mr. Müller, what is so fascinating about trend research?

Many people are afraid of what the future might bring. They are easily swayed by media reports or politicians warning about the impending climate catastrophe or the Chinese. But the future is something we have the ability to actively shape. So we don’t need to be afraid of it at all. Trend research not only helps us to grasp the opportunities the future holds in store but also to optimally shape the 21st century.

Is the preoccupation with future-related questions a privilege of the intellectual elite?

No, the human brain enables us to think in terms of scenarios. Everyone ruminates about the future – even when it’s a matter of basic questions of life like “What to cook the kids for dinner?” or “How should I spend the evening?”

What skills are essential for trend research?

Openness and the willingness to both see and ponder the unknown – science fiction thinking. Or to put it a different way: the ability to speak with conviction about things that are still not 100% certain.

"In China, politics, industry, and science are geared toward goals that are to be diligently implemented over the next 20 to 30 years."

But doesn’t that imply that there is no clear line between futurologists and quacks?

There is no scientific foundation in futurology, of course. No one really knows what will happen in future. But if I want to shape the future, I have to anticipate it. I must believe in it. Elon Musk is a good example. He believes in electric vehicles and builds Teslas. Trend research must be closely linked with the implementation of innovations. Today’s trend research is helping people to develop the capability to take action. Old-school trend research was limited to merely talking about the future.

How popular are futurologists among our engineers?

That depends. The German automotive industry, for example, is full of great engineers with a highly developed appreciation for problem-solving strategies. As a result, they tend to achieve incremental improvements. That simply won’t cut it. What we need is disruptive thinking: a little more of the entrepreneur, a little less of the engineer. We need more visionary engineers.

Do we lack long-term thinking?

The way I see it, yes. Take China, for instance, where politics, industry, and science are geared toward goals that are to be diligently implemented over the next 20 to 30 years. And, the Chinese have the resources to follow through on their goals. This ability to shape the future is a real asset.

"We need less lending in Europe and more venture capital "

That might work well in an authoritarian system, but in Europe …

… the framework conditions are much more challenging. We have a culture of debate in Europe, with no clear pronouncements from the top, and with a middle management that talks everything into the ground. Yet people in Europe also want to be able to plan for the long term and have a vision for the future.

Should we learn from the Chinese?

Yes – when it comes to their decisiveness, their speed, and the resources they invest in research and development, new technologies, and start-ups. We need less lending in Europe and more venture capital. Access to venture capital is a lot easier in the US as well.

What trends are you seeing in education?

Already today, learning and education are no longer confined to established institutions. Apps, online courses, and virtual reality content will make learning not only independent of location but also multidimensional and available for a lifetime.

What societal framework conditions will it take for edutainment to really become widespread?

Traditional educational systems must evolve. Schools must be allowed to make use of these offers. Policymakers have to massively promote these educational opportunities. Society must learn to accept that its children immerse themselves in virtual worlds. In Germany, things are still the wrong way round. If a kid in kindergarten says that he or she spends the evening playing Minecraft, they or their parents are bound to get disapproving looks. When in reality, Minecraft is precisely the kind of environment in which children are prepared for virtual worlds and learn how to navigate them.

What are the technological drivers behind edutainment?

Artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and scalability. AI’s scalability gives young people in Kenya, for example, the opportunity to take low-cost online courses and to study at Harvard University. As virtual reality spreads, so too will such programs – on a massive scale. AI and VR will trigger huge economies of scale in the educational sector, as well as in healthcare. AI and VR are on the verge of entering the mass market. The number of applications using these technologies is going to explode over the next ten years.

Can you name an example from the healthcare sector that you find particularly impressive?

In the US, a mobile ultrasound scanner has been developed that is operated via smartphone app. The app uses AI and enables anyone to perform an ultrasound scan without a physician being present. The app then performs a triage and forwards only unclear or abnormal findings to your physician. Intelligent software provides millions of people with straightforward and cost-effective access to medical diagnoses that they would otherwise be denied because of inadequate medical care and lack of infrastructure.

Nils Müller

In new Scope

Driven by disruptive innovation, the far-reaching changes taking place in asset management would have continued even without the COVID-19 crisis. The impact of the pandemic will nevertheless speed up this process of change, because the challenges have grown again at a global level.

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