Volume 77 | Issue 3
May 2009

2009 Annual Conference: Jeremy Gutsche keynote

Jeremy Gutsche knows cool. The founder of, he is able to find tomorrow’s trends today. And it may not happen like you think.

“Popular is not cool,” he said. “Cool is unique. Cool is cutting-edge. Cool is viral.”

But what happens when you hunt for cool? This is what Gutsche intended to explain.
“It is not difficult to bring something cutting-edge to campus,” he said. “You have to think of your customers. For you, that could be yourGutsche2009 students or maybe administrators. You must also think of your competitors—what are other universities, unions doing. Put all that together and inspiration has become distraction; you feel overwhelmed.
“So how do you make sense of the noise?” Gutsche questioned.

Culture of innovation

Before you can go trend hunting, a culture of innovation must be created.

“Culture is more important than strategy,” said Gutsche. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast. It doesn’t matter how cool your PowerPoint slides are if your audience isn’t excited about the message.

According to Gutsche, four dimensions go into creating this culture of innovation: perspective, forced failure, incentive, and creativity.


Gutsche said organizations must start by knowing what they want to accomplish. To help make his point, Gutsche presented the example of Smith Corona, “the best typewriter company in the world.”

Smith Corona was a leading typewriter company when computers started emerging. While the company was innovative (created a version of a laptop 10 years ahead of its time), it decided not to pursue the computer business and ended up going bankrupt in 1995.

“The point of this story?” Gutsche said. “Situational framing dictates your outcome. You must have perspective on not only where your company is, but also where it may be able to go.”

One perspective that Gutsche suggested is that crisis can equal opportunity. He listed numerous companies—including Disney, GE, CNN, HP, Apple, and Microsoft—that were founded during economic downturns.

“There are a lot of ways you can stand out in these times,” Gutsche said. “People are still buying things; they are just being more particular about what they buy. You have to identify those trends. You can break through, just like these companies did.”

Forced failure

“A decent proportion of your creations must fail,” Gutsche said. “If you don’t fail, then you will just become ‘the best typewriter company in the world.’”

Success leads to complacency, which will be the architecture of your downfall, Gutsche explained.


Often, companies will reward success, offering a bonus to the person who makes the most sales or similar achievement. But if only success is rewarded, then there is no incentive to fail, which will only lead to complacency and a lack of innovation, according to Gutsche. Instead, an organization should encourage failure by rewarding decisions instead of outcomes.

“Rewarding decisions can also enable a more innovation-friendly environment,” Gutsche said. “You should win like you are used to it and fail like you enjoy it.”


Gutsche wrapped up his discussion about creating a culture of innovation by discussing creativity.

“You have to offer a creative environment,” he said. “There has to be freedom, fun, and broad involvement across your organization. You know all of this, but it is time to implement it.”


Trend hunting

Now that this innovative culture exists in an organization, the process of trending hunting and identification can begin.

“Innovation and strategic advantage hinge on the ability to anticipate and indentify the next big thing,” Gutsche said.

There are five steps in trend hunting:

1. Reset your expectations:
“There is no point innovating if you think you already know the answer,” Gutsche said. Everyone in an organization must avoid bias; both leaders and new hires can make innovation happen.

2. Observe your customers:
Innovation starts with observing customers. In fact, Gutsche suggests being obsessed with customers. “This used to mean focus groups, surveys, and interviews,” he said.“And while these may still be appropriate in some situations, today observation means interacting with customers, observing product use, and watching a purchase happen.”

3. Hunt for cool:
When hunting for cool, you must let yourself be inspired, said Gutsche. An organization must consider not only what is cool in its own industry, but also in adjacent markets.

“Also, consider popular marketing trends and don’t forget what your competition is doing,” he said.

4. Cluster insights into trends:
Now, it is time to take those insights gained while observing customers and cluster them with the cool ideas found. When clustering, certain trends in the overall picture become clear. But you must be cautious when recognizing these trends.

“The human mind has an amazing ability to recognize patterns by creating shortcuts,” Gutsche said. “This is bad.”

So, re-cluster the trends—more than once if needed.
“That’s how you unlock insight,” he said. “It will be very difficult, but new trends will emerge.

5. Develop a point of view:
“You must identify how to act upon your new trend,” Gutsche said.


Adaptive innovation


With a new trend identified, your organization is now able to create a staged innovation process.

“When you make specific steps for innovation, you become more scientific; and this increases your likelihood of winning,” Gutsche said. “Don’t forget to always circle back throughout the process and consider what you are trying to do.”


Infectious marketing


Gutsche asserted that all messages should be viral.

“With a viral creation, you are proving that the product you are selling is so awesome,” he said. “You have to create something that connects, and your message will travel faster than ever before.”

And to make something viral, you must “relentlessly obsess about your story,” which should be:

1. Simple: “Supercharged word of mouth.” Gutsche suggested being able to tell your story in seven words or less.

2. Direct: “I understand everything from the title.”

3. Innovative: “Do the ‘I have to tell someone’ test.”

Gutsche was able to illustrate his point about a message being viral rather easily.

“Would you rather have the ‘world’s most expensive hamburger’ or a ‘$5,000 hamburger’,” he said.




Gutsche showed that any organization can “unlock cool” by identifying a trend and exploiting it through effective marketing. To sum up, he said “Viral trends and methodical innovation can generate ideas, stimulate creativity, and ultimately unlock cool.”