Pattern Installation: trends and trend awareness

Pantheon I had lunch with Andrew Zolli, a name now so potent in trend watching circles that the recipient is obliged to drop it early and often. Andrew Zolli.  Andrew Zolli.  Andrew Zolli.

The conversation pin wheeled from topic to topic but we did dwell from time to time on how trend awareness creates value.  (This is my rendering of my recollection of my half of the conversation.  Andrew may or may not approve what follows.)

It seems to me that trend awareness is mostly about the difference between blinking and nodding.  Blinking is what we do on first hearing about something new: email, crunking, or cold fusion, say.  That "huh?" moment, the "wha?" moment.  No, we haven’t heard about it.  We struggle.  We’re at sea.

Nodding is what we do when we have prior notice.  Email, got it.  Crunking, got it.  Cold fusion, er.  The nod says, "I’m with you.  I have a couple of understandings in place.  I am prepared to reckon with what follows. Pray proceed."  Nodding says that "pattern installation" has taken place.  The bearer is not clueless and flatfooted.  He or she is now prepared to reckon with novelty.  Pattern recognition is now possible.

(There is a totemic thing happened here.  If we nod, we are part of the tribe that "get’s it."  If we blink, we are one of those clueless strangers to whom the future is going to come as a big, constant, and grueling surprise.  (This must be another reason we like Borat.  Everyone, even me, qualifies for tribal inclusion more surely than poor old  Borat.) And of course a lot of us nod in conversation to conceal the blinking.)

Trend education is mostly about taking the client from blinking to nodding. It doesn’t have to be a lot.  Mostly, it begins with a great and powerful act of elimination.  All of these endless and confusing possibilities.  Those don’t apply here.  What you need to know are these few things.  The pattern is now installed.

The trouble is that blinking threatens to perpetuate itself.  This is what confusion is, the failure to find the templates with which new data can be rendered less confusing.  Astonishment is useful in its first moment.  It puts the creature on alert.  The world has taken leave of our senses, our understandings.  After that, it’s a problem. Astonishment can leave us hydro planing as a layer of missteps and confusion build up between us and the world.

Pattern installation isn’t very complicated.  We are not giving the client an encyclopedic grounding in the topic.  We are merely give them early notice.  It’s not really knowledge so much as a right to knowledge, a license for inquiry, a precondition for understanding. 

We could compare pattern installation to tourism.  One trip to New Orleans is always tremendously better than no trip to New Orleans.  And there is a puzzle here.  One trip shouldn’t make the difference it does.  It’s useful, though, because now we have a place to start.  We can know see what would be useful to learn and what would not be useful to learn.  We can now identify what assumptions are plausible and which once are to be dispensed with.  We can now distinguish between good questions and bad questions.  We now know what we need to know.  All assumptions are now longer equally plausible.  We now have traction.

This is what the grand tour was for.  The education of an English child of privilege in the 18th century was incomplete until they had done a little nosing around on the continent.  It wasn’t much.  But it was vastly, disproportionately better, than no tour.  The traveler remained hermetically sealed in a bubble of Englishness, traveling usually a well traveled path with friends and servants.  But it cleared away some of the things that compete for wisdom, and it installed a platform for other understandings.  The grand tour made an enormous difference.  Having seen the low countries actually did  make you a better candidate for Parliament. 

Trend awareness is about taking the client from no clue to a rough, first acquaintance. It’s not everything.  It shouldn’t be everything.  This is what confusion is: everything trying to get in.  What we need are a few understandings.  What we want is a pattern installed.

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