Interview: Jeremy Gutsche, innovation expert and founder of TrendHunter.com


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Jeremy Gutsche is an innovation expert, host of Trend Hunter TV, and the founder of TrendHunter.com, the world’s largest network for trend spotting and innovation. He has been described as “a new breed of trend spotter” by The Guardian, “an eagle eye” by Global TV, and “on the forefront of cool” by MTV. In 2009, he published a book, Exploiting Chaos: Spark Innovation During Times of Change, about taking advantage of trends and change to benefit your business.

Tell us a bit about your work, your book, and your mission?

I was always an entrepreneur at heart, but I never knew what my business idea would be, so I spent about a decade studying innovation, working as a management consultant and head of innovation for a major bank. In 2006, I started TrendHunter.com as a place for people to share ideas, hoping that along the way, I would get my inspiration.

I'd work my innovation job by day, and by night, I would code Trend Hunter till 4am.  Eventually, the site started to take off and grew to about 40,000,000 monthly views. Today, we remain focused on the goal of helping to inspire people who are looking for new ideas.  More specifically we've developed a system for crowd-sourcing ideas from 50,000+ contributors, and methodologies for filtering through all the noise to find the best stuff.

In 2009, I wrote Exploiting Chaos - 150 Ways to Spark Innovation During Times of Change. The book is about how create a culture of innovation, identify opportunities, and create messages that break through all the noise. The concept stems from the fact that periods of change create the most opportunity. For example, Disney, CNN, Hyatt, Apple, Microsoft, and many other iconic companies were all founded during periods of change  The reason is that in these time periods, consumers still buy things, but what they buy changes. If you're able to identify changing trends, you can unlock opportunities.

What aspects of the open source way--principles like transparency, rapid prototyping, collaboration--do you use most often, and how?

Trend Hunter leverages open source in a number of different ways... First of all, we've built much of our code based on open sourced platforms.  Second, our website content is crowd sourced from 50,000 members around the world.  In many ways, Trend Hunter is a collaborative project that brings together creative people from all walks of life.  Accordingly, the concepts and principles of open source design are a big part of what we believe in!

What are the most important features of the open source way for leaders outside of technology to embrace--both for their own success and for the next generation of leadership?

Organizations fail when they lack a methodical approach to innovation and a method for constantly challenging their own success. The drivers of success in any given industry need to be challenged because industries change and evolve over time.... but, we have a tendency to preserve the status quo.  This makes our success quite dangerous.

Basically, success makes us complacent, we resist change, and then new competitors come and replace our business models.  However, when innovation is collaborative, as it is in an open source environment, there is a better chance that we'll see the new trends and opportunities.

Could you describe the importance of authenticity to any
organization, whether it's a small project team or a Fortune 500
company?

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.  It doesn't matter how good your powerpoint slides are, or your overall strategy. At the end of the day, what will make your company succeed or fail is the culture you've created. This means both the culture within your organization's teams AND the cultural connection you've made with your customers. Within your team, you will always be more successful if your team feels connected to your cause, empowered to try new things, and able to test and fail. With your customers, you will always be more successful if you can create a cultural connection that makes people feel like your product is made just for them. Too often companies speak "to" their customer, but companies that create an authentic cultural connection make the customer feel like they are part of the same team... They talk "with" their customer.

Much of your description of "adaptive innovation" is analogous to what we refer to as "release early, release often," or sometimes, "fail early, fail often." Could you talk about why that's important to a project for long-term success?

Failure is part of the experimentation process.  In order to win, you need to constantly be gauging customer needs, tracking evolving trends and testing new ideas.

What one big opportunity, outside of technology, do you think has the best chance of being solved the open source way?

Education!  Wikipedia has certainly demonstrated the power of an open sourced approach to knowledge... imagine the potential of having an open sourced approach to education for children around the globe--especially in less developed nations.

You'll be keynoting at the Red Hat Summit on May 3. (Opensource.com will also be there.) Can you tell us a bit about your talk?

On May 3, we'll be talking about "EXPLOITING CHAOS - How to Spark Innovation During Times of Change."  More specifically, we'll dive into: 1) How to create a culture of REVOLUTION; 2) How to spot opportunity; and 3) How to INFECTIOUSLY message your ideas. These are three of the most critical areas to focus during a time period of rapid change.

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