Category Archives: trend watch

How to read a t-shirt (and the future)

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 3.15.59 421PMListening for the future is a tricky thing.

If we listen far enough out into the future, we are dealing with very weak signals. Or, better, we are dealing with noise that may or may not be signal.

One way to solve this problem is to enlist the aid of others. To let them listen for us. We need listening stations. Where ever they present themselves. (And they are likely to present themselves in the most unlikely places.)

One example caught my attention recently.

The first came from an essay by Lauren Sherman. Sherman is an impressive journalist. She examines the fashion world broadly defined and has a gift for seeing the pattern in the whirlwind of data that comes spinning up out of this world almost daily. (She writes for Fashion of Business.)

Recently, Sherman wrote about t-shirts.

Traditionally, the t-shirt is a perfect example of a commodity market. It may begin with robust margins but it’s not very long before people are slugging it out for tiny increments barely above cost.

But Sherman noticed a company called Everybody.World was doing very nicely indeed. Everybody.World had discovered that it can sell wholesale in the very teeth of the commodity market.

There was margin here. And lots of customers. The Trash Tee was a hit with streetwear brands including Noah NYC and No Vacancy Inn. It sold to to Shake Shack, Standard Hotel, Google, Airbnb and Dropbox. It was a feature of music festivals like Coachella.

This is a god send for someone who cares about the future. The t-shirt is a message from the future, a glimpse of the world in the works.

Case study learnings (from the ground up)

1. We can’t monitor everything.

2. We enlist the help of others, listening to the listeners, so to speak.

3. In this case, the journalist Lauren Sherman surveys the fashion business and spots something.

4. is making a success of t-shirts (of all things).

5. This is a big and unlikely change: The lowly t-shirt, once the unloved and unlovely child of the clothing biz, and almost the classic case of a commodity market, is undergoing its own little apotheosis. It has escaped the status of an undergarment, night shirt, softball team uniform and college wear. It is now punching above it’s weight and is now the medium for some very interesting messages. There is something to learn here.

This is where the culture watching really begins.

For starters we are looking at the expression of a couple of new sensitivities. These are, or should be, familiar territory, specifically:

6. People prefer things that are recycled.

7. And they prefer things that are manufactured in America.

Let’s treat these as “so noted.”

But the rest is new to me. How about you?

8. These t-shirts reveal something astounding about music festivals. They work there because they help festival organizers speak to 20 different segments. 20! (And the t-shirts work here because these groups are not going to signify their difference with a cheap and flimsy piece of polyester.) We are put on notice that festivals, once monolithic and a little repetitive, are now various. Very various. Certainly we have absorbed the “diversity” lesson from other sources…but this kind of cultural diversity tells us something about consumer taste and preference that our economic models were never designed to content with. Are we ready?

9. These t-shirts sell as street ware. The world of fashion is changing. Design and branding comes not just from on high from the great fashion houses and god-like designers. It comes also from the fearless, endlessly provocative efforts of people who routinely break the rules of the fashion moment. (In the current world of fashion, the insurgent designer, as Scott Miller would call him, is powerful and rising.) Let’s contemplate what this means for branding and PR. If we think we can speak to the world in the big booming voice of corporate self assurance…well maybe it’s time to think again. Everyone in the marketing and innovation biz is taking a risk on new voices. (Consider Nike as a recent case in point.)

10. These t-shirts work for companies like AirBnb and Google precisely because these companies are working hard to get away from that big booming voice of corporate assurance. Nothing says playful and propositional like a t-shirt. Especially when compared to the official bumpf issued by PR at HQ.

11. The t-shirt are also a calculated effort, as expert Sophie Wade tells us, to send a message to the Millennial employee for whom all companies must now compete. A t-shirt says, “look how much fun it must be to work here! We’re, like, super casual! And also totally awesome.”

12. Perhaps the biggest take-away is the evidence these observations give us of a world in which the basic rules and regs are changing. Three worlds, to be specific. That of the Music Festival. That of the street. And that of the organization. All of them have embraced the t-shirt for their own, revealing, reasons. All of them are primed for change. Are we monitoring these changes? Have we read the t-shirt? Have we grasped its message?

Just-enough, a new trend in the works (or, why Paul Allen’s Octopus is really an Albatross)

They should draw an equation: What level of fame do you need to achieve to keep doing what you want?  Because you don’t want any more than that.  (Tina Fey)

We are hearing a "just enough" sentiment more and more.  It’s as if we are as a culture working on a new definition of what’s enough.  And this marks a change.  After World War II, big was it.  In those days, nobody wanted to have "some fame."  Celebrities like Fey wanted to be the biggest star ever.  Winner take all.  Frank Sinatra size.  Jumbo big. 

As I was saying in my PSFK talk, the old model was America the bountiful, land of plenty.  In the 1950s, it was one size fit all: gigantic or nothing at all.  We wanted groaning buffet tables.  We celebrated the "good life:" by consuming heroic quantities of sugar, salt, fat, nicotine, alcohol and sun (and as much carbon as possible).  We wanted cars the size of a 1958 Cadillac, block long conveyances, fins and all.  We wanted more shoes the Imelda Marcos.  We wanted homes the size of a small town.  Small town?  Dayton, we wanted homes the size of Dayton.

The world used a Denny’s model: all-you-eat plus 3000 calories more.  "No one leaves this place with an empty plate."  A Martian would wonder at this.  Denny’s had given us more food than we could possibly eat.  Food was being wasted.  There was irrationality here, no?  What the Martian did not see was that there was a greater ritual objective to be satisfied.  America is about plenty, plenty of plenty and more to come.  America was limitless in its ability to inspire needs and satisfy them. 

This is still the logic of luxury markets.  That car by Maybach, that Birkin bag, that hotel suit by the Four Seasons, the jewelry by [insert name of incredibly high end jeweler here, all I can think of is Tiffany’s].  The idea here is not to meet a minimum standard.  The idea is to  violate our scale of things and achieve the sublime.  The idea of luxury, even quiet luxury, is ever so briefly to take the breath away.

This idea will hold.  The rich will be with us always. But there is a new consumer aesthetic struggling to be born.  Some consumers, even very rich ones, now want just enough. 

When Yale economist Barry Nalebuff invented Honest Tea, he used this approach. 

Sugar, like most goods, has a declining marginal utility. One teaspoon takes away tea’s bitterness. Another adds a nice sweetness. That’s where we stop.

Newman’s Own now makes a line of cereal called "sweet enough." 

Just enough is audible even in the start-up world of small business.  Old entrepreneurs used to talk about scaling up till they could sell out.  We wanted to get as big as possible to sell for as much as possible.  New entrepreneurs talk about getting big enough to "get comfortable."  And the idea is not to sell out but to sit tight.  A small winery, small software company, small consultancy, that’s fine.  That’s just enough.  In the case of Hollywood, everyone used to want to be Steven Spielberg.  Now some of them, Fey included, what to be Christopher Guest.  "Just live your life, make hilarious movies with your friends, and then go home."

What are the motives and motors of "just enough?"

Fey has a practical reason.  Fame comes with a price tag.  If you get too famous, you lose your privacy or as she puts it, you have people wanting to take "a picture of your butt on the beach."

Speaking of butts, there is a second motive for just-enough and it’s the one that inspires us to shift from Coca-Cola as a sugary trophy of the consumer society to Barry’s Honest Tea exercise in marginal utility and diminishing returns.  We want as much satisfaction as we can get without having to pay for it with calories and an expanding butt. 

In the case of an entrepreneur, "just enough" is about control.  Staying small(ish), staying private, supplying your own capital, all these mean calling your own shots.  Venture capitalists and Wall Street can drive someone else crazy.  The just enough entrepreneur can take his or her own chances.  When it comes time to choose between interesting and profitable, you can go with interesting.  Just enough in this case is about control. 

I wonder if one of the motives is also about freedom and mobility.  Paul Allen, the Microsoft cofounder, has a yacht that is 416 feet long.  It cost something like a quarter of a billion dollars.  It carries two helicopters.  It’s so large it cannot dock anywhere on the French Riviera.  (That’s why it needs those helicopters.  They are the only way to get to port.)  The "Octopus" seems to be a perfect example of way-too-much.  Possessions of this kind act like barnacles that slow movement and limit freedom.  "Going for a sail" must seem to Allen like something that requires him to mobilize a third-world country, an event so wearying that it must seem better, most of the time, just to leave the thing be.  Allen’s Octopus is really an Albatross. 

But the biggest motive of just enough is the environmental one, clearly.  Now that we can see that reckless quantities actually have a cost beyond our own little domestic world, now we have a motive both personal and public.  I saw a man get out of his Hummer on St. Laurent in Montreal.  He was strutting a little as if to say, "check out my wheels."  In a way I have never seen before, passers by gave off an unmistakable feeling of contempt as it to say, "get the fuck out of here, you self congratulatory prick."  And he did.  He slunk back to his car and drove ever so meekly away.

This is the week in Connecticut when those little yellow "pesticide applied" rectangles bloomed on my neighbors lawns.  I may once have admired their perfect lawns.  Now, I could hear myself thinking, "Surely, a "just enough" lawn would be good enough, especially if it protected the Long Island sound from yet another infusion of poison.  Or is your lawn more important?"

All the really big trends have carried by lots of little trends in that "perfect storm" construction needs to drive competing trends (and all the noise) in our culture out of the way.  There is privacy, control, choice, freedom, mobility, and the environment.  And what happens when that happens.  Does America become more European, more Japanese.  It certainly, in some fundamental way, becomes less American.  We are reworking the fundamental terms of the consumer contract, and from this difference many more differences must flow. 


Anonymous.  2006.  It’s hull to be famous.  The Sydney Morning Herald.  August 9, 2006.

Baldwin, Kristen.  2008.  The Accidental Movie Star.  Entertainment Weekly.  Issue. 987, April 18, 2008.  pp. 20-26, p. 24.

McCracken, Grant.  2008.  PSFK talk. 

Forecasting and trendwatching: when do politicians catch up?

Img_2554 Hillary Clinton has recently suffered the kind of "blind side hit" that routinely storms through industries and markets.

One hit came from without: Barak Obama.  The other came from within.  The decision to press Bill Clinton into the breach, after Iowa, proved disastrous.  Lecturing the press, making grand and dubious statements, Bill Clinton was a liability from the second week.  He was the blind side hit within. 

Poor Hilliary.  It puts one in mind of the roller derby (one of the homes of the blind side hit).  It was as if Barak and Bill skated up on either side of her, lifted her off the track by her elbows, and tossed her over the rail. 

On Sunday (February 17), Meet the Press shed some light on this development.  According to Tim Russert (the host) and Kate O’Beire, a panelist, the Clinton campaign had persuaded itself of its own inevitability.  The Clinton camp believed, as O’Beirne put it, "no one’s in a position to deny this to us."  We are told that Hillary Clinton supposed it would "all be over by February 5th."

Now, some say that Clinton harbors imperial presumptions, that she saw the White House as her due, that she was blinded by hubris.  This strikes me as unlikely.  I think Hillary did what all of us do.  She assumed that things were in order…until it was clear that they weren’t.  Lots of CEOs have been surprised in just this way.  There are always unknown unknowns.  Who expects the unexpected?   Human beings are good at glib assumptions.  Assumptions are in their very nature hard to see. Without vigilance, they are assumed and therefore invisible.  Hilliary made the mistake any of us might have made. 

Well and good.  What about stage 2?  What happens when glib assumptions give way to horrified understanding.  What happens when we know there’s a spanner in the works, when we have a fix on Obama rising and Bill on a rampage?  How quickly and how well does one react?

Obama’s camp appears to have the advantage here.  Russert quoted a passage from a recent column by Joe Klein.

If nothing else, a presidential campaign tests a candidate’s ability to think strategically and tactically and to manage a very complex organization.  We have three plausible candidates remaining — Obama, Clinton and John McCain — and Obama has proved himself the best executive by far.  (Time Magazine, Febrary 25th)

Where the Obama camp is strong, the Clinton camp is weak.  Another Meet the Press panelist, Al Hunt, Washington Managing Editor, Bloomberg News, quoted Josh Green in the Atlantic on the "total disarray of the Clinton campaign."  Hunt said

David Axelrod and company at the Obama campaign has run rings around the Clinton Campaign.  They weren’t prepared for a protracted battle, they weren’t prepared for a money fight, they weren’t prepared for caucuses, they weren’t prepared for a tough alternative.  Every smart politician and strategist… comes in with a game plan, but the really good ones are able to adjust, to throw out some stuff, to tweak some stuff, the Stu Spensers, the James Carvilles, these people [the Clinton camp] couldn’t adjust."  (emphasis added)

There is no easy out for Hilliary Clinton here.  If the campaign is not adjusting quickly, blame must go to the CEO who put the team together. And now there is, as Klein and Hunt say, grounds to doubt Clinton’s worthiness for office.  Not to expect dynamism is one thing.  Not to equip yourself with the ability to react to it, this is another. 

Surely, the political world is as unstable as the industrial one.  You think about the numbers of candidates that have "come out of nowhere" (Dean last election, Huckabee this one), the number of times voters have refused to conform to form, the elections that have spun wildly out of control.  Glib assumptions are as reckless and uncalled for here as they are in the business world. 

Except of course they are punished much more harshly.  The cost is not a bad quarter or even a lost job.  In some sense, the punishment is extinction.  If you fail to spot the blind side hit, you are in danger of ceasing to be a politician.  Screw up badly enough, and your career is over.  It’s not impossible to make yourself permanently unemployable.

Forecasting, trend watching, scenario planning, damage control contemplation, a willingness to grapple with uncertainty, hiring Piers Fawkes, Steven Postrel, and Andrew Zolli, all of these are standard issue activities for the corporation.  And it would appear that politicians have incentives more substantial than the average CEO.  When do politicians catch up to their brothers and sisters in the private sector?


For the Meet the Press website, and it’s reference to the February 17th show with Tim Russert, Bob Novak, Al Hunt, Kate O’Beirne, Mark Shields, and Margaret Carlson, here

Last note:

I watched the McLaughlin Group after Meet the Press, and I was impressed that McLaughlin remains a thundering blow hard and, more strikingly and not to be unkind, how much Monica Crowley looks like a Thunderbirds puppet. 

I’m just saying

Dsc00079 Fashion:

Paris fashion week: eight days, 90 shows, a cast of thousands, a budget of millions. And how many trends? Er, none, actually. Nada, zero, zilch. … there is no one mood, no single direction to be gleaned from Paris this season.  (Jess Cartner-Morley)


National powerhouses are losing all over the place. The team that’s sitting atop all the polls wasn’t even in the conversation for No. 1 a few weeks ago…  Being ranked No. 2 in the country has pretty much become a recipe for defeat. And nobody has any idea who’s going to play for the national championship.  (King Kaufman)



Cartner-Morley, Jess.  2007.  Fashion for all.  Guardian.  October 9, 2007.  here.

Kaufman, King.  2007.  King Kaufman’s Sport Daily.  October 23, 2007.  here.


Suzanne Hader for a fascinating conversation at the Futures of Entertainment conference this weekend.

Microtrends meet Max Headroom

Microtrends I had a look at Microtrends, the new book by Mark Penn. 

The Proposition:

The world may be getting flatter, in terms of globalization, but it is occupied by 6 billion little bumps who do not have to follow the herd to be heard.  No matter how offbeat their choices, they can now find 100,000 people or more who share their taste for deep fried yak on a stick.  (xiv)

As someone who made this argument in print 10 years ago, it is a little discouraging to see how little progress we have made.   

Penn offers us 75 microtrends, and declines any bigger picture.  "The one-size-fits-all approach is dead," he tells us.  Fair enough.  But does the death of monolithic trends mean that we live in a world consisting only noisy, little, episodic ones?

I guess we should be grateful that Penn is not offering up Chris Anderson’s "long tail" fallacy, the odd idea that because we have ceased to be a mass culture we are now an utterly particulated universe of ones.  At least, Penn is prepared to see the world aggregating in groups of 100,000.  I mean, that’s something. 

My argument: Penn is generalizing, he’s just not generalizing enough. And this is no small problem.  We are now looking at a world that so teams with variety, dynamism and innovation that thinking in a useful way about social and cultural worlds is extraordinarily difficult.  If we have any intellectual overhead left, let’s for god sake use it.  (Max Headroom, not just a highway warning anymore!)  If we can generalize, we must generalize.  Right?

Well, before we get to the generalizations, a word on the howlers.  In the chapter called "Unisexuals," Penn addresses "gender bending," by which he appears to mean the way in which the traditional markers of gender categories have broken down.  Men buy skin care treatments. Women lift weights.  Men work as nannies.  Women drive tractors.  That kind of thing.

This is a useful observation, I guess.  It is a microtrend.  The way our culture defines maleness and femaleness is "under review" and the old boundaries have broken down.  But then Penn gives us an extended treatment of transgendered people.  And this tells us that he is now entirely out of his depth.  For the transgendered are not people who participate in the new approach to gender.  No, they so insist on the old approach to gender that they are prepared to go under the knife to acknowledge and preserve it.  Nothing wrong with that. It’s just that you can’t talk about gender bending and transgenderists as tokens of the same type.  At all. 

Oh well.  The other problem here is the armchair sociology problem. Penn is a pollster.  This means he has bags of quantitative data.  This data tell him some astonishing things.  They tell him, for instance, that a great many young men list "sniper" as a favorite occupation.  Sniper! 

Penn duly acknowledges this finding and his astonishment.  And then he speculates in the blithe, not very interesting, call-in-the-usual-suspects, turn-crank-till-done, kind of explanation.  But never does it occur to me to actually ask respondent what he thinks he’s up to.  I mean, this isn’t a laboratory.  (Nor is this the winter of positivism that prevailed in the period after World War II.) Those paramecium beneath the microscope have powers of speech.  They can tell you why they want to be snipers. Idle speculation (utterly untouched by any knowledge of contemporary culture, in this case, Bones) is unnecessary and, actually, uncalled for. 

Ok, I have totally run out of time.  This is quite different from merely running out of time.  When you have merely run out of time your wife is not ready to kill you for giving your Friday night to the blogosphere.  So, let me delay till Monday my attempt to use Penn’s 75 microtrends as a stairway to a few, useful generalizations.  While we still can, I mean. 


McCracken, Grant.  1997.  Plenitude.  Toronto: Periph.: Fluide. 

Penn, Mark J. with E. Kinney Zalesne.  2007.  Microtrends.  The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes.  New York: Twelve.

Trend watching (the meta-trend)

Meteor_shower_19thcentury_engraving Let’s hope that the new book on trends is itself a trend. 

Mark Penn and Kinney Zalesne have written a book called Microtrends which encourages us to stop waiting for big trends and go looking for little ones. 

This represents a new model of trend watching, one that acknowledges how decentered, multiple and various our culture and commerce are.

As Penn says, cultural innovation can come up fast.

By the time a trend hits 1 percent, it is ready to spawn a hit movie, best-selling book, or new political movement. 

We are now less like cool hunters, trying to figure out the NEXT NEW THING and more like Silicon Valley venture capitalists decide how to choose between thousands upon thousands of start ups. 

Naturally, this makes models more difficult.  It was one thing when all we needed was a kind of NORAD or a SETI capable of spotting the next NEW as it reached us from afar.  But what we are looking at now is a trend world in which the new comes, like meteors, in "showers." 

As a matter of fact, we weren’t all that good at trend watching when it was a matter of picking up single trends.  How are we going to manage now that we are being inundated with change?  How will we manage when confronted with great clouds of trends.  When are we going to cultivate the pattern recognition that this requires. 

I think the book by Penn and Zalesne is a good sign.  It helps us identify the true object of the trend hunter’s inquiry and the real intellectual challenge we are up against. 

What I think it’s missing is some feeling for the cultural tectonics at work in the world.  Penn and Zalesne note the following microtrends:

1) Americans over 65 who continue to work (there are 5 million of these),
2) older women dating younger men (there are 3 million of these so called "cougars"),
3) the rise of well educated nannies
4) children who are home schooled (1.1 million, up 30 % in the period 1999 – 2003)

Taken on their face, this looks like a blooming confusion of developments.  But, from an anthropological point of view, there are a few cultural ideas that help explain where these changes come from.  American ideas of age, gender, education, occupation, individuality, the family, the state, all of these are being reformed and this reformation throws off lots of "surface" changes. 

I don’t see enough in Penn and Zalesne that encourages us to seek this higher ground.  As it stands, Microtrends is going to frighten the children and it may even stampede the horses.  It opens Pandora’s box and shows us the scale of the problem without showing how the problem can be made more tractable.  This is the trend within the trend, and it’s a bad one.  We have quite enough "sky is falling" rhetoric as it is. 


Carew, Sinead.  2007.  Small, offbeat trends can change the world.  September 8, 2007.

Penn, Mark and Kinney Zalesne.  2007.  Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes.  New York: Twelve. 


A hat tip for PSFK for letting me know about Microtrends.


Thanks for your patience this summer.  I used August to work on the manuscript and now have around 25,000 words and a concept to show for my misery.  I think I have discovered a new aspect of contemporary culture, one of the "producing stations" of our world, one of those tectonics that create our surface culture, but I could be completely wrong about this.  It will be awhile before I know.  Thanks again for your patience.

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.

The mystery of soccer

Soccer_graphic Soccer is not a professional sports Americans care about very much.  It does not rank in the top 20 sports (as pictured) and it actually comes in below equestrian jumping and tractor pulls. 

This is a mystery. 

After all, soccer has four passionate fan bases in the US:

1) immigrants arrived from soccer mad countries (South America, Africa, Europe, um, like, the whole world)

2) women under the age of 55 (thanks to the triumphs of Mia Hamm and company at the World Cup events in the late 1990s)

3) kids now participating in school and neighborhood programs that have embraced soccer because it is 3.1 inexpensive, 3.2 co-educational (if required), and 3.3 easy to play badly.   Are there a lot of these kids?  I believe there’s a reason we call their mothers "soccer moms." 

4) kids who have graduated from said programs.  Kids have been passing through these programs in big numbers for at least 20 years.  This means that the first cohort is now in its mid twenties and in possession of the disposal income to support a local club and a national league.

This is what a marketer would call an "installed base."  Millions of people have followed or played the game.  If only 20% become fans, it should be more or less easy to sustain a professional league play.  But this has been really hard to do.  Soccer has struggled.

But things are looking up. 

According to an article in BusinessWeek, the money is now in place with investors pouring $1 billion dollars into the league in the last two years.  Red Bull putting down $100 million to buy a New York franchise.  New stadiums are being created.  Ticket sales are up 20% this year with attendance approaching 20,000 a game. 

This is good news for fans of dynamism because soccer is a dynamic game in a way that football and baseball are distinctly not.  George Will once said of the former that it combined two of the worst aspects of American life: violence and committee meetings.  Baseball would be improved by either one.  Soccer is all about pattern recognition on the fly.  Says the striker, "if this is true, and this is true, and this is true, then this pass is called for.  No!  He moved."  One of the real pleasures of the game is watching patterns form and reform on the field as these two little universes reconfigure themselves in a spectacular display of "sense and respond" as Steve Haeckel would call it. 

But there is room for product development.  Specifically, something has to be done about the physics of the game.  There is too much time and too much space.  A 90 minute game is too long and so is the field.  Both tax players so heavily that dynamism is actually suppressed.  I am not suggesting dramatic reductions.  Otherwise, soccer would become merely basketball played with one’s feet.  But I think 60 minutes and a smaller field would bring the game alive nicely. 

Will this happen.  Absolutely not.  Soccer fans are religious zealots.  There will be no reformation.  I think this means that while soccer will climb from its present obscurity, it will never be ready for prime-time, and the present marketing opportunity will be wasted.  Too bad. 


For more on the ranking of sports, go here

For more on Steve Haeckel and his ideas, go here.

Holmes, Stanley.  2006.  A breakout year for soccer?  BusinessWeek.  May 1, 2006, p. 86.

Trend watching: 10 rules

Binoncular_iiiTrend watching is a pressing business.  And we now have an increasingly crowded marketplace of suppliers.

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 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 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 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.


French_students_iiToday, I learned a new word.  It might represent a new trend.   Call it precarity. 

It comes  to us swirling up from the student protests taking place in France.  (The PM of France, Dominique de Villepin, has introduced legislation that would make it easier for companies to fire young workers.  Students are unhappy and now voluble:)

As students and workers continue to occupy the Sorbonne and march through the streets of France, we will join them with our virtual bodies from around the world. SOLIDARITY WITH THE STUDENTS OF FRANCE! SOLIDARITÉ!

The reference to "virtual bodies" aside, this is pretty much "politics as usual" for the French.  What caught my attention is one the ideas at work here.   

[P]eople around the world are suffering from the system that the French students are protesting against. The neoliberal, corporate model of society increases the precarity of life for everyone through employment instability, war and environmental destruction. It must be stopped. Youth all over the world face bleak prospects under the current models. New economic and social models must be developed.

Precarity, huh?  Notice how elegantly it brings together three disparate topics (employment, war and environment) and bundles them so to recruit a larger body of protest.  (The fragmentation that makes life interesting for all of us is especially intense in youth cultures, and this makes it hard to establish consensus and mobilize action.) 

But what a strange little idea this is!  That life should not be precarious.  Wow.  If one idea has passed from currency, it’s the notion that liberal democracies can make life predictable and orderly.  The sheer force of dynamism in every aspect of contemporary life makes this unthinkable. 

But who knows, this might be the little idea that could.  Perhaps it will sew together acts of umbrage and outrage.  Perhaps it will mobilize students around the world.  In an odd way, it gets at the symptom of our contemporary condition most precisely.  Naturally, I can’t help feeling that when it moves French students to shut down parts of Paris, the notion of precarity is itself an agent of precarity.  But what do I know?  You can’t make a souffle without breaking a few eggs.

For more on the protest in France, and the source of materials quoted in this post, go here

The Gadgetification of America: The last frontier?

Swiss_army_knifeGadgets have a certain fascination, don’t they?  They promise technological enablement.  They make us see further, hear better, sort more intelligently, think more adroitly, connect more, er, better.  Gadgets extend the body and the mind.  Where would we be without them? What would we be without them?  Personally, they can have my laptop and cell phone when they pry them out of my cold, dead hands. 

But gadgets have been mostly a male obsession.  Indeed, there is not a male reader of this blog who has not been mocked by a women for being a little gadget crazy.  Women sometimes refer to "boys and their toys" as if gadget glorification were a male mania.  This holiday season, we will indeed find guys in the kitchen talking heatedly about wireless access, HD TV and Xbox360 refresh rates.  Women, many of them, will just roll their eyes, as if to say, "Guys!  What are you going to do?"

But times, they are a changing.  The P&G success stories of the last few years have been gadgets.*  Swiffer and swiffer extensions are little technological enablements.   Some of this is due to the influence of IDEO there.  Little machines is what they do.   And some of it is due to the margins to be made on appliances and the refills they demand.  But I believe there may have been a time when the female householder would look at something machine like, gadget-ish, and said, "No gadgets for Gidget, thank you just the same."

There are other hints of a shift in the way in which women see technology.  The renovation of the kitchen has seen the introduction, around 15 years ago, of the industrial stove.  Industrial stoves!  These are large, out of scale, indelicate and capable of feeding several hundred people at a time.  No body "plays house" with one of these monsters.  This is industrial strength.

And what about the Suburbans now so much in evidence.  In my parts (tiny town Connecticut), the car of choice used to be a white Volvo station wagon.  It said, "I am practical but not inelegant."  Suburbans are not much smaller than a mobile home.  To drive one of these cars as a "station car" for toing and froing from the commuter line, well, unless your husband or one of your children, or you yourself, hold high political office, it’s really more car than you need.

It does look like there is a cultural development here.  Once anti-tech and gadget mocking, women appear to be moving away from their traditonal position.  And if the micro trends noted here actually reflect the same thing, we can track the macro trend accordingly.  Fifteen years ago, the industrial stove, 10 years ago the Suburban, and just a few years ago the great Swiffer trend. 

We might have seen this coming.  We might have made a bundle.  We could have started a Swiffer start-up and then sold to P&G for a heart warmingly large sum of money.  But, oh, no, most of us were too busy standing in the kitchen talking about baud rates and internet access.

* (from BusinessWeek, ref. below) In the past year [P&G]  has launched at least eight mechanical or electric gizmos. They include Febreze Scentstories, an electric air freshener machine that plays CD-like scent disks; Tide Buzz Ultrasonic Stain Remover; and Tide StainBrush, a battery-powered brush. It also introduced Swiffer Sweep + Vac, a device that combines a Swiffer electrostatic dust mop with a vacuum, and Mr. Clean AutoDry, a water-pressure-powered car-cleaning system that dries without streaking. Sales of all P&G’s gadget-related items grew 16% last year and now total about 8% of its $54 billion in annual sales. That’s up from 2% in 2000, estimates Lehman Brothers Inc. analyst Ann Gillin Lefever.


Berner, Robert and William Symonds. 2005.  Consumer giant is leading the way in building brands with mechanical gizmos. BusinessWeek.  February 7, 2005. here. (subscription required)