In these early days, there are many models and extravagantly different standards. Here are some of the rules with which we can separate the sheep from the goats.
1. the Oracle is dead.
Unless you are Malcolm Gladwell or Tom Wolfe, you can’t do good trend watching by yourself. Trends once ran through our culture and economy like big, slow breakers off the coast of Hawaii but now they tend to come at us more like a perfect storm. Almost certainly, a single individual is insufficiently multiple to capture the sheer range and contradiction of our present creativity. As Hillary might put it, it takes a village.
2. The trend team must be quick about it.
The first value ad here is picking things up early. The more notice we have the more thoroughly and intelligently we can prepare ourselves. Early notice is the difference between responding with tactics and responding with strategy. And we want to be strategic.
3. The trend team may not "name it and claim it."
Everyone dreams of being the intellectual equivalent of the European explorer, the first one to see a new continent, the first one to plant the flag. But this is a temptation that we must learn to resist.
As I have complained before on this blog, the people at trendwatching.com are inclined to come up with their own lingo for trends: inspirence, gravanity, maturialism. This does not help bring order a problem set that now howls with complexity and uncertainty.
Indeed, it prevents comparison and appears to be an attempt to persuade the client that trendwatching.com must be relied upon as a sole source. This is a kind of "winner take all" strategy and very high risk. If you win, you do sweep the marketplace. If you lose, the penalty is obscurity.
4. No cool hunting!
There is a terrible inclination only to report the things that are really, like, cool. But lots and lots of trends are not cool at all (a new building material, say). In my opinion, cool hunters are quilty of a fatal confusion between what they know about the world and what they wish to be true about themselves. They study novelty in order to make themselves more cool.
But frankly when you are acting as my trend watcher, I don’t care how cool you are. I just want you to be right. And the moment I suspect you are ignoring parts of the future because knowledge thereof does not augment your claims to cool, that’s when I ask for my money back.
This brings us to one of the problems with the business model. Some trendwatch enterprises depend upon free labor supplied by people who watch the world chiefly (and sometimes only) to augment their claims to cool. This builds the bias in. See if you can spot one here.
Join a Community of Trend Hunters – Do you crave cool? Do you live on the edge? Is your curiosity insatiable? If so, TREND HUNTER™ should become your new home on the web. There is no place more dedicated to the comprehensive discovery of cool. You can start Trend Hunting today. Engage your intellect with most dynamic individuals on the web.
There are lots and lots of edges in contemporary culture. When we pay attention only to the "edge" of music, and we do so because it makes us look cool, we have probably disqualified ourselves from supplying edge knowledge of many kinds. (Oh, here we go. Iif I were a real cool hunter, I would have by this time copyrighted KNOWL(EDGE).)
I have a cool hunter detection device. I ask the trend watcher if he or she can tell me anything about the "great room." Almost all of them stare at me blankly. This trend has transformed the middle and upper middle class American home. It is responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars of expenditure. And most cool hunters just missed it. (And this is because homes, suburbs, and families are, from the cool hunter’s point of view, not cool.)
5. The trend team must have an archeological instinct.
The team must be thinking about showing the trajectories of the new. It is not enough merely to trumpet the new. Any idiot can do that. In order to grasp the new, and especially to grasp its trajectory, we need to know where it comes from. As I was arguing in Atlanta this week (thank you, John Horton), the new symmetries in the relationships between doctors and patients have been in the works since deTocqueville.
6. The trend team must be interactive.
As it is, everyone doing trend watch appears to pitching what they have at the website, and rarely is there any evidence that they are interacting with one another. This team should be dividing the labor and then working with one another in order to spot the trends across trends. This is an enormous value ad. If we have the same trend at work in different sectors, we have the possibility of a systematic and more lasting shift.
7. The trend team should offer "big picture" observations.
As it is, we are getting a land slide of possibilities each day, which I have to say merely increases my conviction that the very possibility of pattern recognition has been elipsed. This is not helping! This is hurting! So we need something more than first order observations. We need something more thoughtful and aggregating. We need trend watchers talking to one another, and then we need a "meta-trend" team (sorry) aggegrating and a meta-meta-team agggregating still further. We need to give "observations" an opportunity to scale up to "insight" and insight an opportunity to scale up to "conclusion."
8. The trend team should be generative.
Piers Fawkes recently had a revelation at PSFK here. A piece of the future came winging its way out of all that trend watching, and he served it up. Now pattern recognition becomes idea generation. This turns out to be a really good idea, using the phone as a wand to direct media content to the nearest medium. Trend watchers should be trend generators.
9. The trend team should be making predictions.
The people in the capital markets routinely go back and try to determine where they went wrong. They scrutinize their assumptions. They ferret out the error. Unless we wish trend watching to be one big cocktail party in which everyone merely shouts opinions at one another, something more substantial is called for.
10. The trend team must be fully and soberingly disclosing of their talents.
As it is, the trend watching websites are shamelessly self promoting. Let’s be a little more like a great big consulting company. What I don’t want to read is something like this:
Michael Tchong’s father was born in Canton, China. His family name means “bell” in Chinese. No wonder Michael’s entire career has been focused on making things “clear as a bell.”
Trend Hunter here.
Michael Tchong here.
Thanks to Saminather, Nichola. Moving Online: The New Trend in Trend Spotting. Columbia News Services and to PFSK for spotting and posting the article here.
Conflicts of interest
PSFK cross links to this blog.