Jeremy Gutsche is the Toronto-based founder of Trend Hunter, a website dedicated to spotting trends. Gutsche has just come out with a book on curating ideas called Better & Faster: The Proven Path to Unstoppable Ideas. I took the opportunity of his book launch to quiz Gutsche on how entrepreneurs can profit from emerging trends. Here's our exchange:
Q. When I talk to would-be entrepreneurs, the biggest reason they give for not making the leap into entrepreneurship is that they haven't yet come up with "an idea" for a business. How can they use the concept of converge to step off the sidelines and start a company?
That question connects with me a lot! Since I was 8, all I ever wanted to do was be an entrepreneur. I obsessed about it. The hunt for something perfect ruled my life. In my teens, I tried half a dozen businesses, but none of them seemed "big enough." Then I became a management consultant to find a better idea, and then I started working for a bank on its idea pipeline. A decade into my career, my team had grown the bank a billion-dollar portfolio, and I had officially become an expert at helping other people find an idea...without finding my own!
I reacted by starting Trend Hunter as a giant idea lab where people from around the world could share ideas; I thought that someone, somewhere, would submit an idea to inspire me. In the end, we published 250,000 ideas and watched how 100 million people reacted to them. We found that there are six patterns of opportunity: six shortcuts, if you will, to finding your business idea. The inspiring part is that instead of looking at what's out there already, or trying to emulate a competitor, the patterns train you to think about the gaps in the opportunities that are out there. With convergence, for example, you would learn how to add a product or service or even a subscription to something that is already in the market. Instead of inventing an entirely new product or service, you would look at how you could more easily complement or enhance an idea that is already taking off. Adding a layer of service, combining, co-branding, mixing, or augmenting an existing idea are all examples of convergence.
In the book, I teach the lesson of convergence using an ex-criminal who turned a sleepy little family business into a $50 million empire, with a gangster gardener and with a cancer survivor who combined prison tattoos and art history to create a business that is transforming the lives of cancer survivors.
Q. The other sentiment I hear a lot from people who aspire to be entrepreneurs is that they had an idea but "someone was already doing it." How would you coach people whose dream has been snuffed out by the discovery of a competitor already offering what they dreamed up?
In some form or another, almost every idea is already out there, but how you implement your idea, position your new concept, and execute can be the defining factor of success. When you understand the trends and forces impacting your customer's future, you can adapt your particular idea to be the winner. Countless billion-dollar companies are based on ideas that were just tweaks of what was there before. There are two key factors at play: 1) How well do you understand the pattern of opportunity to ensure you make an idea that is better, and 2) how do you prepare yourself and your team to be faster at adapting to consumer forces?
Q. I've noticed a lot of successful entrepreneurs follow a similar pattern. They start with a passion, a sense of curiosity, and a willingness to take risks. If they're successful, they often shift to being risk averse, focused on preserving their success and toning down their sense of curiosity. Sounds a bit like the hunter vs. the farmer concept you share in the book. How can successful entrepreneurs bust out of the natural inclination to switch into conservation mode?
Most people don't internalize it, but we're experiencing history's highest rate of change, and yet our brain is the product of 10,000 years of evolution as a farmer. The result is a series of traps. Specifically, once you find your field of opportunity--which may be your winning product, your go-to management style, or whatever puts food on your table--you are pre-wired to repeat whatever led to last year's harvest. In other words, as you become more successful, you have an inclination to become too risk adverse. For 10,000 years that pre-wiring was actually very helpful. It made sure that you never lost your farm. But today, it's time to learn the skills of adaptation. In my work, I've identified the three traps of the farmer as: 1) protectiveness, 2) repetitiveness, and 3) complacency. To break free, you need to unlock your hunter instincts, both in yourself and in how you structure your team. The three hunter instincts directly combat your traps, and include being more: 1) insatiable (versus protective), 2) curious (versus repetitive), and 3) willing to destroy whatever worked in the past in order to try something new (versus being complacent).
Gutsche's new book Better & Faster: The Proven Path to Unstoppable Ideas is now available.