“Your big inspiration is closer than you think,” says Jeremy Gutsche, founder of Trendhunter.com and a general session speaker at The PPAI Expo 2015. “Your breakthrough is probably staring you in the face. It’s about looking through all the chaos to distill the patterns and make better decisions.”
In a high energy, high speed presentation, “Better & Faster – The Proven Path To Unstoppable Ideas,” Gutsche led his audience toward blockbuster innovations. But he began his session with an admission. He was an inveterate promotional products buyer. Key chains. Bottle openers. Key chains that were bottle openers. He’d used them all and admitted that he would likely be in touch with some of the companies at The PPAI Expo about buying more.
For many, the challenge can be that their success can get in their way and they become complacent. Gutsche listed a few high profile examples—Blockbuster, Blackberry, Smith Corona, Encyclopedia Britannica—of companies, blinded by their success, that missed opportunities. In each of these cases, he said, they were run by smart people who found something they were good at when new opportunities came along, they retreated back.
Roy Raymond wanted to make it easier for men to buy lingerie for their wives and significant others. He opened a store, found some success, and opened a number of other locations, repeating the model. When business started to decline, he sold the company for $4 million. The new owners refocused the chain, Victoria’s Secret, to cater to the women who actually wore lingerie and today it’s worth north of $6 billion.
Gutsche used Raymond’s experience to illustrate the three traps of the “farmer.” The farmer is complacent, as once they’ve become successful they don’t push as hard. The farmer is repetitive. And the farmer is protective of their insight, which becomes a problem as the world changes around them.
He used the story of Amancio Ortega, founder of Zara, to describe the three instincts of the “hunter.” Zara’s ability to quickly bring products to the stores and its responsiveness to customers’ wants has led to it being lauded as “the most innovative and devastating retailer in the world.” Ortega leads the company with the maxim, “The daily task is marked by self improvement and the search for new opportunity.”
Hunters like Ortega, Gutsche says, are insatiable. They are never done finding new ideas. They are curious, exposing themselves to different industries and new ideas. And they are willing to destroy. Even products and processes that worked in the past can be abandoned.
In looking at how businesses and individuals push themselves harder and where fresh ideas come from, Gutsche says that he has identified six patterns of opportunity that will lead to unstoppable ideas.
The first is acceleration. Supercharge one idea. The founders of the Tough Mudder race noted that marathon runners valued completion as much as actually winning the race. They created a competition that wasn’t about who came first but rather about the experience. They took the idea from zero to $70 million in two years.
Convergence is all about combining, co-branding or adding new value to an idea. Dave Dahl was a criminal with a penchant for fast cars and meth. After the law caught up to him, he returned to his family’s bakery and built a business modeled on organic, local ingredients, solar power and rehabilitating ex-cons. Today, Dave’s Killer Bread is a $50 million-a-year enterprise.
The third pattern is Reduction, which means simplifying and finding interesting combinations. I Do Now I Don’t is an online jewelry store that caters to the unlucky in love and is perfect example, Gutsche says, of the power of being irresistible to a specific group of people.
Gutsche’s fourth pattern is Redirection. Don’t fight an unstoppable force, but redirect it in a constructive direction. The city of Amsterdam found that during its Queen’s Day celebration, it measured 18,000 liters of urine entering its canals over a five-hour period as revelers gave up on finding a bathroom. The city set up a series of competitive urination stations, with Amsterdam’s best getting their water bill paid.
Circularity, the fifth pattern, is the appeal of retro and generational ideas and initiatives. Grutsche spoke quickly about circularity in order to focus more attention on his sixth pattern: Divergence. He defined divergence as anything that breaks a product or experience away from the mainstream. David Horvath included doodles of misshapen creatures in his and his girlfriend’s long-distance correspondence. One day, she replied with a stuffed toy she made based on his designs. That toy has grown into the $150 million Ugly Dolls line. Also notable about their story, Grutsche says, is they built the business without going through normal marketing channels. “When you create something truly different and pursue the path less traveled, people will advertise it for you.”
At the close of the session, Gutsche encouraged his departing audience to “Fight your gut instinct, be curious, be willing to destroy, be insatiable and you will be better and faster.”