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In my final blog post, it seems sensible to pull together some of the key themes of the past 2 years, and use this perspective to look forward at the likely outlook for 2017 and beyond.

I have argued that ‘demographics is destiny’ (ACS blog, June 2016).  In a consumer-led economy such as the USA, today’s ageing society means that we are seeing a secular change in the economic and political landscape.  Growth is inevitably slowing, and sustainability is moving up the agenda to replace globalization as a key drive for the economy.  We can summarize what this means by bringing together two models which have stood the test of time:

  • Elizabeth Kübler-Ross developed her ‘Paradigm of loss’ model in 1969, where she described the process by which people come to terms with loss
    and death.  It has since been widely applied to financial market developments, and we can see that it fits very well with the post-2008 experience
  • Bob Farrell is a member of Institutional Investor’s all-time Hall of Fame He realized early in his career that “If the majority of economists agreed on something, I knew I had to watch for something different”, and was an early advocate in the 1990s of seeing ageing populations as an investment theme

 

 

We are now 8 years later from the start of the financial crisis in 2008, and it is clear that this was not a “normal” downturn, swiftly followed by recovery.  Yet it does seem to be following the patterns described by Kübler-Ross and Farrell.  Trump’s victory, and the Brexit vote, suggests that we have finally left Denial behind and are now moving into the Anger stage of Kübler-Ross’ sequence, and Farrell’s Drawn-out Downtrend:

“As I look at these endeavors, what springs to my mind is a vision of a plumber trying to force water into a domestic waterflow system whose pipes are badly clogged, if not broken.

In terms of Bob Farrell’s concept, the Denial stage also encompassed the first two phases of a typical bear market in financial markets as he described it:

“Bear markets have 3 stages – sharp down, reflexive rebound and a drawn-out fundamental downtrend (with intermittent rallies)”.

Farrell’s “sharp down” period after the start of the Financial Crisis was duly followed by a “reflexive rebound”, which then ended in August 2014 with the start of the Great Unwinding of policymaker stimulus. 

  • Anger.  It therefore seems likely that we are still only at an early stage in the “drawn-out fundamental downtrend”.  This will become more apparent as we go into 2017, as the global economy seems likely to move into recession.  Further support for this analysis comes from the fact that we are also still early in the Anger stage, which only became more widely apparent with the Brexit vote in June.  Trump’s election confirms that it has spread across the Anglo-Saxon world, and the recent Italian referendum result means that the same issues are likely to impact the Eurozone during 2017.
  • Bargaining.  This is the next stage of Kübler-Ross’ ‘Paradigm of Loss’.  It is important to remember that her analysis was never meant to assume the existence of water-tight compartments between the 5 stages.  Instead, she believed that people were likely to fluctuate between them, as they tried to mitigate the pain they were feeling by testing out possible new ways forward.  Thus after 2008, some countries such as Greece moved between Denial, Anger and Bargaining.  President-elect Trump’s 100-day plan, announced at Gettysburg in October), suggests that the US is now likely to see the same pattern develop, with some still in Denial, and others in Anger, whilst he makes some preliminary moves into the Bargaining phase.
  • Depression and Acceptance. We are clearly a long way away from reaching the final 2 stages of Kübler-Ross’ analysis, even if it turns out that Trump’s policies do mark the start of a successful Bargaining stage.  It therefore seems likely that Farrell’s “drawn-out fundamental downtrend” may well continue for perhaps a decade, albeit with “intermittent rallies” along the way.

 

This is not a comfortable outlook.  But I would argue it is better to look facts in the face and prepare accordingly.  The alternative, of wishful thinking followed by an abrupt awakening, is likely to prove far more painful.  The other advantage of this approach is that it highlights the need to look forward and try to identify the opportunities which will likely develop in this New Normal world.  My view of these is summarised in the second chart.

Essentially what I am suggesting is that the successful businesses of the future will be those that move from providing products to supplying services – where the value proposition is based on the value provided, rather than just the physical product.  Instead of buying a car, for example, more and more people will buy a service that provides them with mobility – which may come from a car-sharing service, or from an Uber-type taxi service, or from autonomous vehicles or public transport. 

In turn, this means that companies will move towards being designers of materials and solutions, rather than simply supplying a physical product.

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Paul Hodges is chairman of International eChem (www.iec.eu.com), trusted advisers to the chemical industry and its investment community.  He is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Industrial Council on chemicals, advanced materials and biotechnology, and presents the ACS ‘Chemistry & the Economy’ webinars.

ACS Industry

Favorite Patents

Posted by ACS Industry Jan 4, 2017

Favorite Patents

 

As a boy interested in  science, I read voraciously on the topic.  To this day, I can still see the images of the pages in books that  taught me about the great men of science and technology.  Thomas Edison, I learned, was the king of inventors, with more patents than anyone else.  His inventions also are tops when it comes to everyday impact.  Electric light is at the foundation of modern life.  Edison, as young boys both before and after me learned, was the most prolific inventor, racking up 1,084 U.S. patents.  In July of 2015, the 1,085 U.S. patent was granted to Lowell Lincoln Wood Jr.  Edison was dethroned and the fact I have carried for decades is no longer a fact. 

 

I didn't actually comprehend Edison’s, now Wood’s, achievement when I was a boy.  I didn’t really understand what a patent meant.  I thought, incorrectly, that if
you had a great idea, you got a patent.  I must have construed that there was some kind of patent elf that, like Santa, watched over the world who gave out patents.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  I’ve patented inventions.   I’ve led the patenting efforts on several projects.  I have been responsible for intellectual capital management for both technology areas and organizations within my employer.  Patents are a lot of work.

 

There are many misconceptions about patents. I was fortunate to have good teachers to teach me about IP law.  I learned early in my career that patents actually don’t give you the right to make something, only the right to stop others from using your patent in their manufacturing.  To spur commerce, the government grants a monopoly period to an inventor.  After the patent expires, no more monopoly.  The government only grants patents after you apply for one.  Many times you have to argue with the government to get them to grant you a patent.  A jolly old elf giving out patents might be an improvement. 

 

I have surely read more than my fair share of patents.  I’ve read thousands of patents.  I have worked on right to practice opinions, reading and explaining complexities to patent counsel.  I have done analysis and mapping of technology areas.   Most patents aren’t fun reading, but there are certainly exceptions.  The work of Russell Morris Selevan, in particular, is both memorable and fun.

 

I am actually in awe of Russell Morris Selevan though I have never met him, have never seen a picture of him, and actually know very little about him.  It is through a single invention that I know of Russell Morris Selevan, and it is an invention that leaves me in awe.  It is a beautiful piece of work.  I wish I had thought of it.  To a certain degree, it pains me that Ididn't think of it.  It is one of those perfect inventions that, once you see it, is obvious, but no one else thought of it.  I clearly hadn’t thought of it.

 

You can’t patent something that is already known or is obvious.  Many patents are for the assembly of something useful and new made by combining well known pieces.   Assembling three well known technologies to create a new invention is how Russell Morris Selevan got his patent.  In putting three technologies together, he created something far greater than the sum of the parts.  I was well acquainted with the three technologies, and fully recognized the problem his invention solved.  I am still kicking myself for not making the connection.

 

Russell Morris Selevan assembled three main components in a way that is shear elegance. I actually saw Russell Morris Selevan’s invention of a store shelf, emblazoned with the patent number.  I slapped myself on the forehead when I first saw the invention because I hadn’t thought of it.  I knew about all the components.  I have a Ther-A-Rest® mattress.  This is a self-inflating mattress that compresses to almost nothing for backpacking.  Open a valve and the foam inside puffs it up, inflating it with no pump or lung power needed.  I am well aware of check valves from exposure to hydraulic, pneumatic and laboratory systems.  I know how check valves only allow gas to flow in one direction. 

 

What caused me to slap my forehead in the store was the perfection of Russell Morris Selevan’s coupling of a foam core and a check valve with a third component that I also knew well.  I knew all I needed to know, yet the inventive moment that came to Russell Morris Selevan eluded me.  By combining a piece of compressible foam, a check valve to allow self-inflation, and a whoopee cushion, U.S patent 6,331,131 granted to Russell Morris is for the "Self inflating noise maker”.   Russell Morris Selevan invented the self-inflating whoopee cushion. 

 

Other patents, and especially patent drawings, have made me smile.  US 20050064789, US 3,216,423, US 6,473,908, US 5,971,829 A, US 7,255,627 and US 7,745,197 all made me smile. Share your favorites.

 

 

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Mark Jones is Executive External Strategy and Communications Fellow at Dow Chemical since September 2011.  He spent most of his career developing catalytic processes after joining Dow in 1990.
He received his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry at the University of Colorado-Boulder doing research unlikely to lead to an industrial career and totally unrelated to his current responsibilities.