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Plotting the landscape

George Crichlow

When the mind gets stuck it’s important to do something different. I received a timely email from Seth Godin reminding me that the enemy of creativity is fear. He says that acting in a creative way generates action, and action persuades the fear to lighten up.

This week I sought to get inspiration from everywhere. I spoke with Delia Dumitrescu the lead innovation architect at trendwatching about her process. I read excerpts from David Burkus’s book The Truth about Creativity and took advantage of NBA All Star weekend and attended a shoot-around practice. Finally I met-up with some of my oldest friends, both NYC natives who reminded me that the work I’m doing is dope and can be applied to their industries as well.

At the end of it all, I realized I don’t have a clear picture of the toolkits that people in the trends and innovation industry use. There are hundreds of terminologies that are used but many can be grouped. So I began by mapping out a framework for the different stages of developing insights, ideas and inspiration. Below is a diagram of my take of how the industry applies these tools.

It works on two plains. The horizontal axis looks at the relationship between watching and interpreting. The vertical axis explores the difference between thinking and making. In the early stages of trendhunting there is a process of observation. This is where people who specialize in coolhunting live. They observe, catalog and call attention to interesting things as occur. 

The second quadrant looks at thinking and interpreting. This is where trend consulting becomes important. Its about deciphering the business applications for a trend. Trends don’t exist in isolation. They have to be placed in contexts so they can really be useful. It is about pulling out insights from the inspiration. 

The third quadrant of interpreting and making is where business strategy is developed. This is where strategic brand and communications firms help clients develop innovative ideas. Tools like moodboards are used to transfer knowledge from a trend to a concept. Briefs are also effective tools to set expectation of the types of concepts that will be developed. At the end of the day the unifying output for agencies in this bucket are the developments of strategic concepts that can be tested in the field. 

Finally the last quadrant of making and watching is about transferring concepts into executions. Many industrial design firms sit in this space. Companies like fuseproject and Frog Design have strategic capabilities but are able to product concepts and working prototypes. A general framework they use is to discover, design and deliver. What distingushies this groups from the others is that they actually create the product. This is the big strength of an innovation company like frog that offers the possibility to collaborate at very early stages with the people who generate insights and create ideas.