TUESDAY MARCH 28, 2017
 
Blog TALKING TO
JEREMY GUTSCHE
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King of What’s Cool Next, Jeremy Gutsche is in high demand these days. He´s the man who has a genius for spotting the next flashy, radical, paradigm-altering thing on the horizon, or just around the corner, and more and more people are not only listening to him, but seeking out his words and means directly. TORO decided to take Gutsche’s advice of creating more than one option for search engines to find by adding an interview to the glowing review we already gave of his book Exploiting Chaos. It’s unlikely we’ll do a third or fourth thing, as he would suggest, but you never know.

Gutsche, 31, founder of TrendHunter.com, one of the more popular websites of its kind in the world, has gone mainstream with the recent launch of his book and a creative media campaign that’s quickly spreading the good word. Gutsche has managed to parlay his web savvy, prescience and superb communication skills into the first seeds of a media empire. Raised in Calgary, and the son of a venture capitalist and a psychotherapist, he seems to have brought elements of both familial strains into his project. However wise his advice may be about innovation, reinvention, tearing down structures and so on, his messaging wouldn’t be his without the enthusiasms and encouragements of a motivational speaker that he provides.

As if taking his own advice more seriously than anyone else, Gutsche won’t let Trend Hunter get stale for a second. Site redesign takes place quickly and frequently. Inertia is death in this business. The site is designed to generate numbers, big numbers, and numbers it does, crunching them constantly to see exactly where it stands in the matrix. The contest for numbers and hits and supremacy never really ends. You have to be light, quick, built for speed, open to the new, willing to destroy the old. Jeremy Gutsche talks fast. TORO spent some time chatting to the verbal dynamo about Trend Hunter, Exploiting Chaos and other things.

Q: Talk a little about the genesis of TrendHunter.com – how did it start and what inspired you to start it?
A: I travelled east from Calgary to study at Queen´s in Kingston and went into management consultancy. Five years later, I was running a billion-dollar luxury credit card concern for Capital One. While still working there, I began building Trend Hunter at night. I taught myself how to code and design. I initially saw Trend Hunter as a virtual community to discuss business ventures and to help find one for myself. There were a lot of nights up till four in the morning toting new parts of the site and tinkering. Eventually it started taking off and then it got 10-times bigger than the next biggest trend site, and then I realized that it would be my business idea in itself. The cool thing is I never really had to pick a business – I’ve sort of just been doing what I love to do all along. And so it feels like a hobby and not really a job.

Q: It’s been extraordinarily successful and now will jet into the mainstream. Can you explain it’s success – and did you anticipate it?
A: Well, I think that there’s a lot of sites out there that cater to random ideas, but Trend Hunter is a little bit different in that it’s trying to push every idea just a little bit further – to a title that suggests, What’s the unique idea here? And if you look at the first part of any of our titles you’ll never see the product name, you’ll see the idea. And from that idea maybe you can get a little inspiration for something that you’re trying to do. From that aspect we kind of cater everything a little bit differently than a lot of the sites out there. But I think the difference compared to innovation sites is that most of the innovation sites out there tend to be something that runs on the side from a consulting company or some sort of marketing company. My team and I at Trend Hunter are so incredibly passionate about trying to make it an enjoyable user experience we’re putting that at the forefront of what we’re trying to do, thus resulting in an experience that’s different than a lot of the other websites.

Q: I found your new book Exploiting Chaos quite enjoyable, not only for its distillation of a wealth of information and ideas, but also for its streamlined and visually appealing format, which is essentially a PowerPoint presentation. Was this a natural choice?
A: I really wanted to have a different format. I wanted each page to have a bold statement at the top and some visual imagery. And I think that’s reflective of how reading habits have changed in the last few decades. And with so much training and reading online now, that’s how I think they’re used to looking for information. So what I often would find is that when I read a business book it was all text, and that too much of it seemed excessive and too verbose. And if you read a typical design book it’s not necessarily continued to end like a story. So I felt like it was an opportunity to create a new type of business book, and that’s what I was hoping to do.

Q: The response to the book has been quite enthusiastic. What were your hopes for it?
A: Well, we’re only a few days into it. But it’s been interesting to see how much is actually involved in launching a book. We set out really ambitious plans for what our online launch strategy would be, and in the last month or two before the launch we really started gearing up to make that happen. I guess the next few weeks are going to be really exciting. We’ll have more media, and we have a publicity stunt which I hope will be nothing short of epic. [TORO spoke to Gutsche on September 3, 2009. The "epic high-five battle" promotion between Kanye West and Ashton Kutcher was recorded six days later at Toronto´s Yonge-Dundas Square. See video below.]

Q: You’re doing a lot of speaking engagements. What message are you spreading?
A: I’ve been doing about five to 10 speaking engagements a month, and I’ve been on the circuit for a couple of years, I guess. And so really what’s interesting is that I was a speaker before the book, and that makes a lot of my ideas benefit from getting a lot of feedback from the people that I’m presenting to. So basically, I presented the concepts to about 40,000 or so people so far. And so each time you get people who come up to you after – they say, "Hey, you know you said this idea, well this idea is also good and maybe you want this example." And I’ve had the good fortune of kind of socializing my book for a year and a half or so before actually writing it.

Q: Many of the ideas distilled in the book are familiar – but you’ve summarized them in an elegant, streamlined manner. Were most of the ideas generated from Trend Hunter?
A: I think as with many an author’s first book it’s really a combination of everything; from my finance undergrad, my M.B.A., study at Stanford, the work I’ve done researching Trend Hunter, books I’ve read on my own, a lot of the work, too, that happens along the way when you’ve got your book idea and you start writing it and you realize that there’s gaps or things that you really want to try and fill in.

Q: I was going to ask you, in relation to that, what or who are some of your intellectual influences?
A: One of my inspirations for the book and the format itself was a book by Paul Arden, who was the chief creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi for about 25 years, and his book is called It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be, and the subtitle is “The World’s Best Selling Book by Paul Arden.” Of course it’s his only book. But it’s a book where there’s less text than mine, but every page of text has a corresponding picture and that whole take-away on the top. And so when I saw that book what I thought was so interesting about it was we received it in our M.B.A. program, along with lots of other books, but when you go to visit any of your colleagues or peers from school that’s the one sitting on their coffee table. You have a visual book with ideas that can inspire to the next level that you kind of reread when you kick back and want to get some inspiration. I wanted to create something about the end-to-end process of innovation. So that was one big inspiration for the book itself.

Another inspiration would be the time that I spent consulting and just seeing how so many companies that are Fortune 500 brands that seem to have things so together still run in such old school ways. And by that I mean the old corporate offices with doors that separate people and ideas with its walls and formalities and business structure – that sort of thing is so different from the way that cutting-edge companies are organized. So I thought it was something really interesting that needs to be explored a little further. And of course when you have tons of chaos like now, with the financial disorder and credit crunch and all these wonderful things, these old companies will start to topple if they don’t adapt their business models. So I wanted to write something that talks about how that works.

Q: And of course adaption seems to be the central theme of the book, if it can be summarized in a word. Explain why this is so important now in the chaotic beginning of the 21st century.
A: Basically, companies create structure and procedures in order to preserve the status quo. So we find out how to make a profitable product and we try and preserve that and grow it as much as we can, but we don’t want to change it. But during times of chaos or dramatic change in the environment, then all the rules of the game are different, and those structures that you have actually stop you from seeing all the new ideas bubbling up around. The idea then is how do you tear that apart, create a culture of revolution, and then start to find ways that you can reinvent and not blind yourself to all opportunities that structures stop you from seeing.

Q: Your targeted demographic is business managers, but I thought your strategies could be used by almost anyone. Intentional, or happenstance? As a writer, ideas like embracing the fringe, seeking authenticity and tearing apart structure appeal to me.
A: It was written very specifically to be as applicable to someone working in a school board or an IT guy working in a back room, or an entrepreneur. And part of that comes from – many of my speaking dates are in hospitals, school boards, manufacturing associations, and so on, places you just don’t see as cutting-edge consumer product companies. But the reality is that in almost any job people are working in an organization and they have ideas and often the structures that surround them stop the ideas from growing. In some of these bureaucracies it can actually be more important to apply some of the principles in the book. So based on that, when I was writing the book I was careful to try and not always use words like "customer" or "profit," and talk about ideas and growing and change.

Q: You celebrate that nothing is precious. I’ve always liked this idea since it allowed for dissension and flexibility. Once an idea was worn it seemed easy to discard. Not everyone agreed of course. But talk about why this is so important today.
A: I think it works on a couple of different levels. One, getting back at this idea that structures inhibit change and what hold organizations back during times of change is the structure that they’ve created: the more you hold on to something the more difficult it is to see your next big opportunity. And so in order to reinvent you often have to destroy. That’s one level. The other is just simply – if you think about brainstorming, it’s so easy to get caught up on that first idea you had that you then become blind to other ideas suggested by people in the room. I think it’s really interesting when you see a group creating a structure where ideas can be thrown away. And when I studied at the Stanford [Institute] of Design, where this idea was cultivated, what was interesting was that you’d see someone present an idea and then part way through it, it’s not really a great idea, and then someone will say, "Nothing is precious." And the person will just laugh and rip up their idea and kind of move on or build on it or find some other way to answer the problem that they’re trying to solve. And that’s such a rare thing to see in most industries, but that’s really what you need if you’re trying to get in the mindset of adapting to a completely new world.

One little quick thing: There’s a chef in New York, and I saw him speak. I can’t remember his name. At any rate he’s one of the only Michelin-starred chefs in the U.S. (and in fact he’s the longest running in New York), and when someone comes in and orders a so-called signature dish that’s perhaps starting to get a little media publicity, he’ll say to someone ordering it, "Sorry, it’s not on the menu anymore." And then he’ll remove it from the menu and then push himself to create something new.

Q: Trend Hunter is synonymous with “cool”; do you fear losing that distinction now that you’re going mainstream? Or is it still a question of staying ahead of the herd?
A: I guess the things that we’re always trying to look for are examples of things that are on the edge and for us it’s really about our content. So long as we keep our content fresh then that keeps everything that Trend Hunter is about alive. And it’s so interesting that as we get more traffic we get more people who are able to submit ideas before they’re anywhere else online. If anything, size helps us to keep our content even fresher.

Q: I stayed at the Opus Hotel in Montreal recently, perhaps the ultimate boutique hotel, where aesthetics prevailed. I truly enjoyed my stay there immensely. Talk a bit about designing your own hip hotel – what this example represents in the book.
A: This section of the book was meant to try and illustrate what happens when you incorporate trend-spotting to your design process, and also meant to be an example to show how to create clusters. Clusters are different from actual trends but are meaningful groups of insights that are relevant for what you are trying to do. And why I wanted to spend a couple of pages giving people these case studies – it’s a concept that can seem obvious, but if you use a case study like hip hotels you can quickly show people the dangers of brainstorming without using an open mindset.

Q: You’re an optimist, and a futurist of sorts. If you gaze into your crystal ball right now what do you see?
A: I think what’s interesting is that people are starting to realize that the world doesn’t go back to normal, and then based on that people are starting to adapt the mindset that "OK, now is the time that we adapt a new business model." So some of the panic is over and is translating into an impetus for change. And I think that what you’re going to see over the next five to 10 years is a science or methodology around creativity. As humans have spent billions of dollars researching in fields like pharmaceuticals and finance, and in those place we’ve learned the benefit of the scientific method, of having an approach. But then when you get to the entrepreneurial levels or to the strategic levels of an organization, innovation starts to be ad hoc, and we can learn a lot from having a methodical approach – the more people need to reinvent a completely new space the more we’ll start to see the benefit of scientific method. So the next big thing I think you’ll see is the science of creativity.

Review of Exploiting Chaos
More info: www.trendhunter.com

Salvatore Difalco is senior writer at TORO.

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