I was introduced to Trend Studies in late 2008. I was then living and working in Central Asia, based in Kazakhstan, when someone referred my name to Carl Rohde, who kindly invited me to be his “cool spotter” in that region. I was flattered by the invitation but, being a confirmed fuddy-duddy, wrote to him to explain that as regards anything “cool” or “trendy” I was the worst possible choice imaginable – and to make my point 100% clear, attached a picture of me in a dark grey pinstripe suit, regular-fit blue shirt with double cuffs, bow tie and black lace-up, round-toe shoes standing next to my son, in Oxford.
That, in my view, would convince Carl that untold and irredeemable damage to his reputation would ensue should he be foolish enough to engage my services in that field. I was wrong in thinking so.
Carl wrote back thanking me for my honesty, clarifying that the assignment had nothing to do with fashion and giving a concise and clear description of what Trends Studies are, what they should be used for, the role of Coolhunting within it and how a Cool Example should be sought, articulated, supported and presented. Given my Marketing and Advertising background, I thought I would be interesting to give it a go and, after a few days, submitted my first Cool Example – “Fast food is bad for me. But give me good food, fast”, depicting how Western or “westernized” fast-food outlets tended to be shunned in Central Asia in favour of food stalls on the streets or “rotisseries” in supermarkets. I pointed out that, more than the rotisseries and food stalls themselves, it exemplified an underlying mentality of always having tasty, properly cooked and healthy food whatever the circumstances that could show the West a thing or two as regards fast food. I waited for his comments with trepidation, but when praise and encouragement rather than scorn arrived I was over the moon. I felt that there was something in there I could become a part of – and maybe contribute to. I was right in thinking so.
Then, in May 2009, I was invited to become a partner and Strategy VP in a new company based in Lisbon that, in association with Science of the Time, would specialize in articulating business and innovation insights out of Trends and Coolhunts. It was bold. It had never been tried before. Accustomed as I was to the orderly and regulated world of the large multinational company where I had been working for 27 years, it would be quite a shock to my system and a possible blow to my professional reputation. It was scary. I accepted it.
Portugal can be heaven on earth in most aspects, but can also be a living hell for disciplined people wanting do in-depth work. Trends Studies then were all the rage, with articles in the Press defining it from “the art of telling what will happen next season” to “peeping into the future”, and Coolhunters described (I have proof of that) as “starry-eyed youngsters who, with a mobile phone in one hand and a Moleskin notebook in the other, scour the streets and shops to tell us what’s ‘in’”. It was horrifying.
Therefore, the first thing we had to do was to establish definitions, procedures, methodologies and parametres to ensure that we would go deeper than anyone else into Trends Studies and the insights derived therefrom. We had to be stricter with ourselves than the “Soup Nazi” from ”Seinfeld” was with his customers, if only to avoid being subsumed into a world of shallowness that would destroy our purpose and equate our work with irrelevant puffery which others could do – still do, for that matter – much better.
We instituted briefs for every job, however small, so that business and technical objectives could be defined beforehand and results measured afterwards against them. We tracked the competitive offer and established a clear differentiation between what was a Trend as opposed to a fad or fashion and what constituted a real Cool Example as opposed to a mere “cool thing” – and even went as far as to impose writing Trends and Cool with capital letters to further emphasise their depth and importance, and convinced Science of the Time to do it also. We developed methodologies for articulating a Trends Matrix and Insight Generation for projects. We lived, breathed and dreamed Trends Studies. It was exhausting – and exhilarating.
And, step by step, the first results began to appear: from a small project to create a concept for a new hotel in central Lisbon, we went on to rethink and reposition the whole offer of a prestigious hotel group. Science of the Time invited us to give a presentation to the faculty at Fontys University on what we were doing. We were beginning to talk not just like the big boys, but actually with them – and they were listening. So we ventured further and began to produce Trends Research Notes, looking into the evolution of established Trends and mentalities and the appearance of emerging ones in a given industry or country, and not only were they well-received but expanded our knowledge base and technical skills.
And then, in 2013, Science of the Time parted company with us, posing the problem of how we would source Trends. But, fortunately, João Peres had had the foresight of setting up an international association of Trends Studies companies and centres of learning and Nelson Pinheiro had joined us, bringing not just a massive repository of knowledge but also the discipline and depth of thinking of a true scholar coupled with the burning desire to be a leader in this field – something which he did a few years later by taking one of the first Doctoral Degrees (Suma Cum Laude) on the topic of Trends Studies, at Lisbon University.
Thus – and helped by people like Ana Francisco, Ivo, Salomé, Rosa, Alexandre, Miguel, Inês and others of the same calibre – we set to work on our first Worldwide Trends Report, where the depth of thought and the clarity of insights were already palpable and which incorporated a Trends positioning plotter so that we could track their evolution in time. Our 2014 report was analytical, presenting a whole chapter on Zeitgeist – which Nelson was already making central to Trends Studies –, a clear definition between Paradigms, Macro and a Micro Trends and how Trends were clustering, interacting and evolving. Its quality and usefulness were recognised by international brands such as Mapfre and Itaú Bank and turned Lisbon into an internationally reputed Trends Studies centre.
Three years on, one just has to take a look at the Trends Observer, the quality of people who make it happen and the work it publishes to see that Lisbon has become more than an internationally reputed Trends Studies centre – it has become a magnet for people from many countries who come here to learn about Trends, spot them and use them properly. Trend Studies are far too important and way too far-reaching to become trendy, and the way the Trends Observer approaches them has proven so. It is marvellous.