The Hummer and the Mini: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: June 21st, 2011 by bobmorris

The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape
Robyn Waters
Portfolio/Penguin Group (2006)

In this sequel to The Trendmaster’s Guide, Waters explains the “what” of Trend. Throughout much of the book’s narrative, she cites examples of how paradox “illustrates what’s going on out there in the world while at the same time cautioning that things are always as they appear at first glance. When examined with an open mind, paradoxes will help you read between the lines and reframe your perspective.” In this instance, I am reminded of the writings of the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who suggests that the nature of reality is best understood as a multiple of paradoxes. For example: “Expect the unexpected or you won’t find it” and “You can’t step into the same river twice.”

This is precisely what Waters has in mind when asserting that there is no single “next best” whatever. Rather, there are many. She quotes Charles Handy: “The more turbulent the times, the more complex the world, the more paradoxes there are.” Therefore, she suggests that today, “success belongs to those who learn to embrace complexity by reconciling the contradictions.” In terms of providing superior service, “There are many different ways to satisfy the same customer.” Waters believes (and I agree) that many of the best new ideas are really just old ideas reinterpreted, that customers will continue to demand a more personalized shopping environment and the ability to customize products to suit their individual needs, that more and more people will “trade-up” (as Michael Silverstein and Neil Fiske assert) to “luxurious commodities,” that consumers will (in Leonard Koren’s words) be attracted to products that “pare down to the essence” but which do not “remove the poetry,” that a new nomenclature is needed to describe the newest trends (e.g. “luxurious commodities,” “counterfeit authenticity,” and “extreme relaxation”), and that consumer demand for goods that are ethically produced will continue to increase.

Throughout her book, Waters identifies and discusses hundreds of examples of products which illustrate how various companies have not only learned to live with but have responded effectively to “the push and pull of opposites, to balance the contradictions and inconsistencies, and [embraced] the paradoxes – the trends and countertrends – that exist at a macro level in our world.” These products include the Hummer and Mini Cooper, of course, but also Ralph Lauren apparel, Tupperware, the iPod, M&Ms, Build-A-Bear, Whirlpool Duet, In-N-Out Burgers, 3 Vodka, “Virtual Venice” and “Fiberglass France” casinos in Law Vegas, Rainforest Café’s, Dream Dinners, and Metronaps.

Waters makes an important distinction between a trend guru or futurist and a Trendmaster. Her unique “trend from the inside out” perspective is this: “Trends are signposts pointing to what’s going on in the hearts and minds of consumers. These days, if you want to be `on trend,’ it’s more important to figure out what’s important, not just what’s next.” Futurists look outside to the marketplace, and at statistics and numbers to suggest what’s next whereas a Trendmaster looks inside the hearts and minds of the consumer, to figure out what really matters. She believes that paradox is a reliable tool to get at the “heart of things ” precisely because every human being is, at heart, a paradox. We all want to belong, and we all want to be unique. As Margaret Mead observed, “We are all unique, just like everyone else.”

 

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