A while ago now I read a book called ‘Semiotics for Beginners’. It included as many illustrations as it did paragraphs, which as a Business graduate I was thankful for. One of the concepts discussed was the idea that any sign can only have meaning relative to its opposite. A red traffic light only means ‘stop’ because it is the opposite of green which means ‘go’ and vice versa.
This provides a useful way to predict fashion trends. ‘Contemporary’ fashion is defined by what it’s not - from the past - and so it seeks visual cues that are the ‘opposite’ of those from the past. Similarly you could expect fashion in the near future to use cues that differentiates it from what we wear today.
The wardrobe choices in Spike Jonzes’ new film ‘Her’ illustrate this, with protagonist Theodore conspicuously wearing very high waisted pants which, today, are considered unfashionable - borne out by the amount of online discussion about said pants when the film was released. But people living in 2025, would probably want wanted to dress like it was 2025, and signify that they are of that time and not stuck in the past. In this context, pants worn lower on the hips would become unfashionable.
Often these shifts are driven by teenagers who seek to differentiate themselves from the generation behind them through use of signs that signify ‘opposite’. Long shaggy haircuts against the previous generations short styles. Skinny jeans versus previous generations baggy pants. Skateboard decks shapes - with small plastic models from the 70’s fashionable again longer, wider wood decks. Full, thick beards versus clean shaven. Children’s names like Charlie, Jack and Sam have been back in vogue after a long period of being seen as old-fashioned. All were adopted by a younger generation to signify their unique aesthetic against older generations - your uncool is my cool.
The lengths of cycle vary - men’s fashion has longer cycles than women’s, but you can make pretty good guesses at future fashion trends if you look around and ask - what would the opposite of that look like? Or what is the least fashionable choice I could make right now on any aesthetic decision (like naming your son Theodore!) - because in 5, 10 or 20 years it might be the height of fashion.
Couple of interesting developments that point to the future disruption of different markets.
On January 6 WeChat - the Chinese mobile messaging app - made it possible to book and pay for a taxi through the platform. Since then, 21 million and taxi rides have been booked this way and the daily run rate is 700,000 bookings via WeChat.
Related - 'What's not being said about BitCoin'.
Mobile messaging app growth, their appetite for entering payments and bookings and the underlying (growing) strength of BitCoin as an open payment platform set the scene for many industries needing to adjust to a new world in coming years.
Uber’s competitor set just got more interesting.
IBM are putting Watson to use as a marketing tool and it might point to changes in the skills of future marketers.
IBM built Watson with the goal of it beating human competitors in the game show Jeopardy. To do that, Watson needed to have the ability to process language in the same way that we do. It needed to be able to negotiate ambiguity, complexity and nuance to be able to understand what it was being asked and then find the correct answer.
This ability to understand natural language means that if given social media content (the more the better), Watson is able to sort through it, ‘comprehend’ it and even build a digital fingerprint of an individual based on the content of their posts not their usernames. It doesn’t matter if you use your real name on Facebook, a pseudonym on Twitter and something different again on Tumblr - it can link all these together and build a rich picture of who you are and what your likely corresponding consumer needs will be.
It can then of course contact you with a highly relevant offer.
It’s effectiveness is skewed towards heavy contributors to social media (if you only browse and read, it will know less about you), but it nevertheless marks a significant shift in how large organisations will connect with their customers in future, and the sorts of skills marketers will need to succeed.
In response to a question on Quora of how significant transportation startup Uber is, Michael Wolfe offers an answer that isn’t so much about Uber in particular as it is a way of looking at businesses from the perspective of the owners/investors.
If you think of Uber as a town car company…
Great reminder that disruption can come from unlikely players. Uber as a disruptor to Fedex? Maybe.
Today I’m belatedly celebrating the life of Doug Engelbart. In the 1950’s Doug decided to devote his career to making the world a better place. He further reasoned that to do this required organised effort by many people and that if you could do that the most effectively many of the world’s problems could be solved. He saw computers as the best way to do this. In 1950 - at the same time that many computer scientists estimated that the world didn’t need more than a handful of computers. Within this framework of making computing availabel to everyone, Doug went on to invent the concept of hypertext; the mouse; bitmapped screens; precursors to the graphical user interface and network computing. You can see his demo of all this technology here http://sloan.stanford.edu/mousesite/1968Demo.html.
Doug was living in 2013 in 1950, and so most people just didn’t comprehend his ideas. I wonder who is living in 2070 today and who we ignore because we just don’t get it.
The typical Japanese consumer - at least in the Telco space - has always been far ahead of their western counterparts. Tokyo-ites were hunched over their phones thumb typing frantically on public transport in 2000. So perhaps we can still look there for a glimpse of our own future.
And if you’re involved in product development, it’s worrying.
The NY Times today reported that Japanese Telco NTT DoCoMo will cease selling the highly successful Sony Xperia Z smartphone 5 months after it launched - hungry for a new, different model.
But it’s not just phones - the article refers to pop group AKB48 who have a rotating cast of 67 and released 16 versions of new and repackaged work on new years day.
Apple has resisted this trend though, releasing new models only (roughly) every year - so they perhaps also offer a glimpse of how to succeed in this type of frantic market.
Facit Homes provide an example of interdisciplinary and market disruption - industrial designers who use a product design approach and computer controlled cutting equipment to design and build houses without architects or builders.
The pace of business model disruption is building - yesterday it was the music industry and today its architects and carpenters.