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Futurist: No China democracy, Iran a rising power

Thursday, 16 Jan 2014 | 6:30 AM ET
Iran to dominate Middle East?
Thursday, 16 Jan 2014 | 6:30 AM ET
CNBC's Michelle Caruso-Cabrera sits down with marketing executive Clotaire Rapaille to discuss one interesting anecdote on a focus group he conducted with the women in Iran. Based on those conversations, he thinks Iran can very well be a dominant country in the Middle East 25 years from now.

The future is Dr. Clotaire Rapaille's business.

Rapaille is the founder of ArchetypeDiscoveries, which specializes in discovering what truly motivates consumers, and then using that knowledge to help corporate clients create designs or products that will sell. He has been called "a corporate prophet."

The French psychiatrist is now a U.S. citizen and a researcher who specializes in intense investigation to discover a market's "archetype." He gained a great deal of interest when he helped in the design of Chrysler's successful PT Cruiser.

CNBC sat with Dr. Rapaille to ask what he expects the world to look like a quarter of a century from now.

A woman outside a Cairo polling station shows her ink-stained finger after voting on a new constitution on Jan. 14, 2014.
Ahmed El-Malki | AFP | Getty Images
A woman outside a Cairo polling station shows her ink-stained finger after voting on a new constitution on Jan. 14, 2014.

What are the big stories for the coming 25 years?

One of the big stories is going to be Africa. We don't realize, but Africa is going to be the future.

Everybody speaks about China, but what I've seen in Africa is the beginning of something. And in 25 years, it may be the New China. I know the Chinese are already there, by the way, because they have the feeling that this is where it is going to be. But I think it's going to be very interesting to see what is going to happen in Nigeria, in North Africa versus Central Africa and South Africa.

But I have another story for the coming 25 years that I think is very, very important as well: Women. If you do a lot of research around the world, and look at where are women in this culture or that culture—are they repressed? Are they trying to emerge? Cultures and nations and countries will let women contribute. They have no choice. It's biology. More than 50 percent of the population are women, and not to give this large part of the population a chance to succeed and contribute is just dumb.

"China will never be a democracy. I'm convinced of that. It's not in their DNA." -Dr. Clotaire Rapaille

What does a culture feel like when it's going in the right direction?

If you take other cultures that have a future, for me they are very interesting. Lee Kuan Yew (the first prime minister of Singapore) in 1965 had nothing. They were rejected from the Malaysian Confederation, and he ended up with a little island with no gas, no oil, no land, nothing. I think again it is something that you might be interested in in 25 years, other countries that understand what I call the "Reptilian Brand."

The Reptilian Brand is the basic impulse of life. Not ideology, not big things like that, but the reality of life. And you start with one word. And with one word, Lee was able to create a very, very successful place. With only 6 million people. It's amazing.

It all starts with one word. And what is this word? The word is "clean."

Pedestrians on a bridge overlooking the financial district in Singapore
Rosland Rahman | AFP | Getty Images
Pedestrians on a bridge overlooking the financial district in Singapore

'Clean'?

Clean. So Lee says, "OK guys, we have nothing, we are going to start now, there is one thing that is important: clean. You have to be clean. You have to brush your teeth, wash your hands, clean your room. Clean. I want the street to be clean. I want the school to be clean, everything to be clean." So that's the core, the center.

Around clean you start getting discipline. Aha! Discipline. So even today people complain, say, "Ah, Singapore is not a democracy. You cannot chew gum. It's illegal to chew gum."

So I did a lot of work over there, and when I study with young people, I tell them when they come in, "In other parts of the world, they say that in Singapore you cannot chew gum." And younger women—18, 19—they say, "Yes, but at 2 o'clock in the morning we can walk back home and we never have a problem." So the trade-off is do you want to chew gum or to be attacked when you go back home?

Will China live up to its promise 25 years from now?

I'm not sure. I'm not sure, because part of the Chinese—you know, my work is to study the collective unconscious. The way cultures and their conscious shape the future. When you react as a Chinese, you don't react as a Japanese, and you don't react as an Indian or a Brazilian. But China will never be a democracy, I'm convinced of that.

"France, for example, is becoming a tourist garbage can. It is going to be just a museum. Why? Because if you look at the way French culture is going: People are depressed." -Dr. Clotaire Rapaille

China will never be a democracy?

It's not a part of their DNA. No. They don't need it. They don't want it. They have leaders to tell them what to do, and they are very happy. As long as there is prosperity. The Communist Party is very aware of that.

That's contrary to the American way. We assume everyone wants to have a say in who rules them.

I'm an American by choice, and I'm very proud to be an American, but I have bad news for America. American democracy in 25 years will not be the standard way of functioning around the world. When I am in Dubai or Iran or a place like that, the people there tell me, "You guys, your American democracy, what do you mean? Pornography? Same-sex marriage? Violence all the time? And now drugs in Colorado? That's what you mean? We don't want that."

Editor's note: This feature is part of a series of articles and additional coverage that CNBC will be rolling out over the year as the network celebrates its 25th anniversary by looking ahead to the next 25 years.

Clotaire Rapaille
Source: Clotaire Rapaille | Facebook
Clotaire Rapaille

That's what they associate with democracy?

Of course! This is a global world. And this global world is created by what I like to call the "global tribe." You might be a member of the global tribe. What is the global tribe? People who communicate all the time. They share and set benchmarks for the world all the time. They determine what is best.

Here's another thing that's important. In the future, we are going to have a new main organizational structure for the world. It won't be nations. It will be city-states. The biggest successes in the world are countries with less than 10 million people: Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai.

They don't have to worry about all the rest of the population. They can focus. You know, I like the saying, I don't remember who said it: "If horses had the right to vote, we never would have invented cars." So today the world is run by horses. You see?

No, I don't get it. Explain.

That's a big issue. Some countries have to listen to the horses. So one thing you might see in 25 years, unfortunately, is that France, for example, is becoming a tourist garbage can. It is going to be just a museum. Why? Because if you look at the way French culture is going, people are depressed. There is no optimism. People are leaving. And it's not just rich people, it's young people with a lot of ideas and energy who want to create a new Silicon Valley.

Dubai
Anna Shtraus | Flickr Vision | Getty Images
Dubai

What about the Middle East in 25 years?

They're rich now, and they don't need to work. They have plenty of money, and they don't care enough about things like education. They have a lot of oil, and everybody wants to buy their oil, so they can spend all the money they want. But when nobody wants to buy their oil, what will they do?

As for the rest of the Middle East, in 25 years, Iran might be the center of the Middle East.

Why Iran?

It's their DNA. They say, "We're not a culture, we're a civilization. The Persian civilization." There is all this continuum from the Persian culture, a very sophisticated culture.

I talked to a woman in Iran. She said, "We went to Dubai the other day." "Well, how was it?" I asked. She said, "I cried. I could not stop crying when I saw Dubai." So I said, "Why did you cry?"

"That should be us," she said. "Thirty years ago, these people were peasants, eating sand, no education, and we were already a civilization, and then the train stopped. Thirty years, and we are still at the same station. This should be us, not them."

What I like about that is the frustration. I can feel that. These people are in the starting block. We're going to be very surprised.

What about China's economy? Everyone expects its economy to surpass America's to become the biggest in the world.

I'm not sure at all, for several reasons. First of all because they don't have the same kind of creativity. I know this because they ask me to do discussions on creativity and innovation in China. But that's still not part of their DNA.

Tell me again about the characteristics of the "global tribe."

The global tribe, they are homeless people with 15 homes. They're never there. They're always traveling. They migrate, all together, through different places. There are places where you should be there, and you should be there when it's time to be. Like Palm Beach in the winter, the Hamptons in the summer.

They just migrate together. They travel and they benchmark the world. And because they benchmark the world, they're becoming the reference point for the rest of the population. Where do you send your kids for education? Switzerland. Where's the best place to retire when you're 75? Norway or Sweden. Where is the best place to invest your money? Maybe Singapore.

What kind of loyalty do they have? They have a loyalty to the best, and they know where the best is.

—By CNBC's Michelle Caruso-Cabrera. Follow her on Twitter @MCaruso_Cabrera.

Editor's note: This feature is part of a series of articles and additional coverage that CNBC will be rolling out over the year as the network celebrates its 25thanniversary by looking ahead to the next 25 years.

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