Jeremy Gutsche is the founder of TrendHunter, and the author of the recent book about innovation ‘Better and Faster’. By courtesy of Jeremy, the first chapter of is available through this link. Below is the interview Jeremy gave us about his book, and his fascinating itineray.
Hi Jeremy, tell us a little bit about yourself: how did you come to found TrendHunter.com, the famous trend-spotting website, and what did you enjoy most in this venture?
Jeremy: All I ever wanted to do was to be an entrepreneur, but I could never find the idea that was right for me. And actually, my search was relentless! As a student, I’d started half a dozen little businesses, but no inspiration. In the corporate world, I’d spent a decade helping large companies find their big ideas, while ironically not being able to find my own. By the end of that search, I grew an idea pipeline for a bank and led a team to grow a $1 billion business. That sounds great on paper, but I felt like I had burned a decade of my entrepreneurial years. So I started a place where people from around the world could share their business ideas, hoping I might find my own big breakthrough. It took off! It seemed that the world was full of other people like me who wanted to “find better ideas faster.” Those four words would become our mission. Today, more than 100,000,000 people have come through Trend Hunter, and interestingly, the entire site is structured like a giant innovation focus group. We measure people’s choices and look for patterns of opportunity to help innovators be more scientific about their next big idea. On the front of the site, we are a media publication, but my favorite part is that on the back side we are methodically helping innovators like Adidas, Samsung or NBC to help them find better ideas faster. 🙂
You recently published, Better and Faster, a book to guide you to be a better innovator, manager, and investor. It builds on the experience of the successful ideas spotted at TrendHunter.com, an unrivaled base of 250000 ideas. How did you sort out the data to reach the frameworks for creativity, and opportunity described in the book?
Jeremy: Better and Faster was inspired half by Trend Hunter, and half by my experience consulting CEOs. About 6 years ago, I published a book called “Exploiting Chaos: 150 Ways to Spark Innovation During Times of Change.” That book came out right before the world went really chaotic, and its timing led me to work with about 350 CEOs, brands and even a handful of billionaires who wanted to reinvent during their time of chaos. It was an incredible experience. What I learned was that it doesn’t matter if you are innovating in fashion, tech, retail, design or science, breakthrough innovation tends to follow a similar set of patterns. But to even see those patterns, you need to understand traps that block you from realizing your full potential. Better and Faster is structured to first make you BETTER by helping you to understand these traps so that you can adapt to change. Then it makes you FASTER by showing you the more specific 6 patterns that could help you see that potential quicker. Understanding the patterns, could help you become a better innovator, investor, manager or simply better at adapting.
Talking about the traps, I enjoyed very much reading the story about how you change from Hunter to Farmer, with Microsoft as a hunter innovating by launching Encarta CD Rom and being rejected by book leader Britannica, and then later, having become CD Rom leader, in other words, a farmer, declining to share it to the Internet, and setting the stage for Wikipedia. Also the creative-destruction pattern incorporated in Crayola game is terrific, and the awesome story of your sister’s relentless and successful search for a better way!
Then, ‘Better and Faster’ highlights 6 patterns of opportunity: convergence, divergence, cyclicality, redirection, reduction, and acceleration. Could you give us a quick preview on each pattern, and tell us whether you consider one pattern to be more adapted to the digital industry?
Jeremy: Each pattern comes with a series of sub-patterns and captivating examples that can be adapted to the digital industry, so it’s tough to pick a favorite. But let me give you an example of how the patterns look to give you a general illustration. I think of any big innovation like a splash in water. That splash creates ripples of opportunity, which flows in several directions. By learning to understand those patterns, you can find quicker, faster, easier paths to success. For example, imagine looking at Facebook way back in 2007. Back then, Facebook had 50,000,000 users. It was already too big to challenge head on, but certainly companies like Google tried their best. But Google tried taking Facebook head on. No luck. If instead, you looked at the patterns, you could have predicted dozens of opportunities. At the time, Facebook was: 1) a site for friends; 2) to archive photos; of 3) their everyday life. Just one pattern would be ‘divergence’ meaning the opposite of the mainstream. So if Facebook is (1) a site for friends, there is an opportunity for something that is “not just for friends”… Twitter. If Facebook lets people (2) archive photos, what if I don’t want all my photos archived forever? That’s Snapchat, $4 billion a half decade later. And finally, if people are now sharing their (3) everyday life, the art of photography will be ruined by all of the generic photos in your feed. Something needs to bring the art of photography back. That’s Instagram, $1 billion, years later.
The book is called Better and Faster: according to you, which of the 6 patterns are faster than others? (Redirection? Acceleration?) Which ones have a chance to lead to more disruptive, and game-changing innovations (divergence? Reduction?) Or do you consider the 6 approaches to be both fast and impactful?
Jeremy: Each of the 6 Patterns offer very different strengths and weaknesses and could be used for big ideas or little ones too.
After evaluating over 250,000 ideas, we’ve seen that breakthrough concepts typically reflect one of six patterns. If you study your market or competitor, you can use the patterns to help spot opportunities that others overlook.
- Convergence: “Creating a winning business or product by combining multiple products, services, or trends. Includes: mixing, product integration, social integration, bringing people together, adding value through layering, drama, multi-functions, and co-branding.”
- Divergence – “Products and services designed to oppose or break free from the mainstream. This opportunity pattern extends beyond rebellion to include personalization, customization, status, and luxury.”
- Circularity – “Predictably recurring opportunities. Includes: retro, nostalgia, economic cycles, seasonality, generational patterns, and repetitive cycles.”
- Redirection – “The art of channeling the power of a trend, behavior, or demonstration of need instead of fighting it. Includes: refocusing, reprioritizing, rationalizing, reversing, and gamifying.”
- Reduction: “Simplifying a business concept or focusing it more on a specific idea. Includes: specialization, removing layers and steps, fractioning, crowd- sourcing, subscriptions, localization, and efficiency.”
- Acceleration: “Identifying a critical feature of a business or product and dramatically enhances that element. Includes: perfection, aspirational positioning, exaggerated features, and reimagined solutions.”
- First principle is to give autonomy to the innovation team, assuming autonomy is the mother of motivation and creativity;
- Second principle, is about ‘creative tension’: considering that fuzziness does not help the innovation team, we suggest company’s leader should commit to set-up stretched goals, and then let the team lead the team in a start-up mode, progressing collectively.
- Third principle is strategic alignment: being different does not mean being separate, innovation team needs alignment with the core, involving a shared innovation portfolio, and nurturing a network of innovation peers an relationships;
- Finally, fourth principle is modular design: to facilitate cooperation, let’s design modules and deliver API (difital connectors across applications) that will let others create value on top of your platform.
What is your opinion on this framework? How would you combine the 6 patterns for innovation with this platform: maybe mainly in the ‘creative tension’ step where you search for creative opportunities.
I particularly like the concept of creative tension. Teams that have a goal to hit a 10% return will figure out how to get to that 10% return, but if you are actually committed to stretch to grow 2-3x, you will think bigger and solve problems that you never would have been able to achieve. I remember once solving a construction puzzle that requires a full team. The puzzle has about 20 really big pieces and you need to fit them all together. It took us 10 minutes. Then the facilitator said the best teams can do it in 5 minutes. We rethought our process, division of labour, and ended up doing it in 3 minutes. Then the facilitator said the best teams can solve the puzzle in a minute. We re-thought about the puzzle, created a machine like way to just put everything together at the same time, and solved it in 10 seconds. It was a powerful way to realize how stretch goals impact a team’s thinking.