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Tracking Indicators of Change

Piers Fawkes, Publisher at PSFK
Jeremy Gutsche
December 18th, 2006
In the world of trend spotting, our friend Piers Fawkes is one of the legends. Piers is the publisher of five web sites (PSFK, IF!, Marktd, The Purple List, fashion.psfk) aimed at introducing ideas and insights. As well, his organization offers services like innovation sessions, market research and new ideas.

When asked about Trend Hunter, Piers notes, “I love Trendhunter for what it's trying to do, it puts them in a form people understand (a magazine, online) and push ideas out into the ether. More people need to read it. More people need to write about the ideas found there.”

13 Questions with Piers

1. How and when did you become interested in trends?

I think I've always been obsessed with people and what drives people - especially changes in people's behaviour. I'm fascinated with the edges of culture but not exclusively. Travel accelerates all this. The more you travel, the more things you see abroad, then you come home and the things around you differently. Moving from London to New York started PSFK, but everytime I go back to London the site gets richer.

2. You are constantly starting new ventures, and seem very busy. What inspires you to still be the top contributor to PSFK?

My job is to provide inspiration. My writing on the site, off the site and my work as a consultant depends on me every morning scanning the headlines from 500 sites and mags. Every few headlines I get a 'wow' feeling about the article I read and I just want to tell the world by writing about it on PSFK. That's one great way to inspire people.

3. How do you define a trend?

Trend is such a catch-all word. I like changes. I like indicators of change. I call those things trends. The word trend is above the site because, I hope, it makes it easy for new readers to understand quickly what sort of things we write about. In fact, what we write about mostly is manifestations of trends. Often we don't even know what the trend is - we're just excited by the changes taking place, so we write about it.

Saying that, the word 'trend' gets a bit of a kicking these days but I'd say that's unfair. If we use the term economic trend, everyone respects the concept of 'trend' - when we say consumer trend, everyone thinks it's plastic. . I blame the people who actually rush to use and misuse trend information for this thinking. They've used the data poorly and then they walk away saying that the trends predicted were wrong.

While I think about it, I think cool hunters get a raw deal too. Every single company I know has difficulty understanding its market and audience and so there's a need for ideas to be fed to the organizations. Cool hunters and trend reporters are great at finding ideas but they can, often, only judge ideas based on their personal experience. If a company only hires one cool hunter, you're going to get a strong bias that reflects who the cool hunter is, where they live and what they like. If you hire several, you should get an amazing varied feed of inspiration. Many companies are still using classic market research to find ideas. How the hell can you find new ideas with a focus group or even ethnography? If a company really likes something that is fed into the pot by cool hunters and the like, then they should then go and test the idea with market research.

4. How do you define cool?

I don't know. I don't care. Yet the word reflects something so powerful when used by regular people rather than marketers. So I do care about the word but I don't want to try to understand what cool is.

5. What types of trends interest you the most?

Trends that are causing dramatic change to culture and market like WEdia (community led media) and WiLife (wireless living). I like trends that run against each other (Simplicity vs convergence in telephony) that reflect that we are all different.

6. How and where do you discover trends?

You write about what is interesting to you, your brain starts chewing it, you start noticing themes. If you are a trends person, you must be writing about what you see everyday. It's mental tearsheeting. You need to get the cognitive process of re-writing about things working as it will make you see things you'd never consider. Any trends consultant or trends agency that is not publishing every day is not thinking enough about the world. They have little to start from when clients ask them to help. Well, that's my pov anyway.

7. Why do you feel it is important to track trends?

I like this word Martin Sorrell used the other day: 'disintermediated'. That the world is going to pass you buy and leave your old profitable business model high and dry. It's not only going to affect old school industries like advertising. Look at Yahoo: through acquisition it's taken a paint by numbers approach to Web 2.0 rather than a strategic organic one and what I imagine will happen is real web 2.0 is going to rise up and gobble Yahoo up.

8. What are your favorite three articles that you've written?

I like all 8,000 of them. I hope they all get to inspire someone, somewhere.

9. You have a lot of new start-ups related to PSFK. Which start-up excites you the most and why?

They aren't separate start ups really. They're just different ways to inspire. PSFK inspires people about cultural, consumer and business change; IF! inspires marketing people with fresh ideas, Fashion.psfk gives a new way of looking at the fashion industry. Our philosophy floods into our other work - the custom publishing we do for brands (whether for an external or internal audience), the trends research, the workshops and so on. By understanding what we do, I understand what we don't do. We don't solve people's problems. We give people ideas and with this inspiration so, we hope, they get to go off and create new solutions.

10. What do you think is the best way for a company to infect the blogosphere?

Do good things. Make great products. Create branded utilities:

Stop controlling, start letting go but make sure you go along for the ride. Branded widgets are a great example of this approach - people can take your content and put it anywhere they want.

11. Professionally, what do you want to be doing in 10 years?

Writing novels. Just somewhere else, somewhere new. Either that or somehow I'll become an architect making structures that, erm, are kinda inspirational.

12. What are your biggest hobbies outside trend hunting?

Being with people (note the likemind mornings, travel, food and drink, architecture, art, music.

13. Name 3 people who have inspired you.

This month they are: Mohammad Yunus, Graham Greene, Frank Gehry