In this sequel to The Trendmaster’s Guide, Waters explains the “what” of Trend. Throughout much of the book’s narrative, she cites examples of how paradox “illustrates what’s going on out there in the world while at the same time cautioning that things are always as they appear at first glance. When examined with an open mind, paradoxes will help you read between the lines and reframe your perspective.” In this instance, I am reminded of the writings of the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who suggests that the nature of reality is best understood as a multiple of paradoxes. For example: “Expect the unexpected or you won’t find it” and “You can’t step into the same river twice.”
This is precisely what Waters has in mind when asserting that there is no single “next best” whatever. Rather, there are many. She quotes Charles Handy: “The more turbulent the times, the more complex the world, the more paradoxes there are.” Therefore, she suggests that today, “success belongs to those who learn to embrace complexity by reconciling the contradictions.” In terms of providing superior service, “There are many different ways to satisfy the same customer.” Waters believes (and I agree) that many of the best new ideas are really just old ideas reinterpreted, that customers will continue to demand a more personalized shopping environment and the ability to customize products to suit their individual needs, that more and more people will “trade-up” (as Michael Silverstein and Neil Fiske assert) to “luxurious commodities,” that consumers will (in Leonard Koren’s words) be attracted to products that “pare down to the essence” but which do not “remove the poetry,” that a new nomenclature is needed to describe the newest trends (e.g. “luxurious commodities,” “counterfeit authenticity,” and “extreme relaxation”), and that consumer demand for goods that are ethically produced will continue to increase.
Throughout her book, Waters identifies and discusses hundreds of examples of products which illustrate how various companies have not only learned to live with but have responded effectively to “the push and pull of opposites, to balance the contradictions and inconsistencies, and [embraced] the paradoxes – the trends and countertrends – that exist at a macro level in our world.” These products include the Hummer and Mini Cooper, of course, but also Ralph Lauren apparel, Tupperware, the iPod, M&Ms, Build-A-Bear, Whirlpool Duet, In-N-Out Burgers, 3 Vodka, “Virtual Venice” and “Fiberglass France” casinos in Las Vegas, Rainforest Café’s, Dream Dinners, and Metronaps.
Waters makes an important distinction between a trend guru or futurist and a Trendmaster. Her unique “trend from the inside out” perspective is this: “Trends are signposts pointing to what’s going on in the hearts and minds of consumers. These days, if you want to be `on trend,’ it’s more important to figure out what’s important, not just what’s next.” Futurists look outside to the marketplace, and at statistics and numbers to suggest what’s next whereas a Trendmaster looks inside the hearts and minds of the consumer, to figure out what really matters. She believes that paradox is a reliable tool to get at the “heart of things ” precisely because every human being is, at heart, a paradox. We all want to belong, and we all want to be unique. As Margaret Mead observed, “We are all unique, just like everyone else.”
Here’s a story that is brilliant in its insight and simplicity. I read it in The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.
David Lee Roth (Van Halen) has an obscure demand in his contract for his concerts. He wants/demands a bowl of M&M’s backstage, with no brown M & M’s in the bowl: “with every single brown candy removed, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation to the band.” At least once, he followed through on his threat.
At first glance, this sounds like a typical over-the-top demand from a rock star too full of himself. But, in fact, it is a brilliant demand. The contract is full of very important issues – the strength of the stage, the quality of the wiring, and much more. People can get hurt when tasks are done poorly or not completed in a big stage show such as his.
“When I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl, well, we’d line check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error…Guaranteed you’d run into a problem.” The mistakes could be life threatening.
This reminds me of a quote from Heb Kelleher (I’m sorry – I don’t remember which book I read it in). It went something like this: “if the rest rooms on our planes are not clean, then the passengers think that the engines might not be well-maintained.”
The lesson: Sweat the big stuff. And, have a check on something small to make sure the big stuff is handled well.