Trend Spotting: How to identify what’s coming next

A workshop session I designed and facilitated in Summer 2018 (annotated and abbreviated version, with some classroom exercises and notes included)

Yes, it’s that time again – I’m back with another of my annotated slide deck adventures.

This time we’re diving into Trends.

I created this short session as part of the growth & change management module of the AMP NYC accelerator program which ran here in New York City over the summer of 2018. Including the exercises it was about 45 mins in duration, and can easily run to 2-3 hours if you want to dive deeper into certain parts of the content.

At the time I ran this session there were a few blank faces in the room upon seeing this first slide up on the screen, and not just because it was another of my bad puns.

I realised this movie is now 24 years old; pretty close to the age of the younger attendees in our cohort.

It’s also, despite its international success, still very Scottish and even as a native British English speaker I still can’t decipher all the local Glaswegian parlance.

So that’s the last we’ll be seeing of Begbie, Renton and Sick Boy (for this session at least) – time to get into some Trend Spotting.

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How to create your own personal investment thesis

The term ‘investment thesis’ is a now a fairly common sight on the internet, particularly in the world of venture capital.

These investment theses tend to update every few years, often at a similar cadence to companies undertaking a rebrand (after all, a new investment thesis is itself a rebrand of sorts). [1]

Previously, a firm’s investment thesis tended to be held more privately.

But as the internet continues to open up all kinds of industries, and differentiation for all sorts of companies (including investors) is both harder and more important than ever, the open source investment thesis is far more common.

Besides, as many investors themselves will tell you: ideas are worth nothing; execution is everything.

VCs deploy financial capital  into their investment (and increasingly human capital too – this article on a16z is a good example), and the investments are largely in keeping with the thesis they’ve set out.

That’s the point of a thesis; it’s a premise to be proved [2].

What’s less common though is a personal investment thesis – a summary of where an individual is looking to investment their time, energy and resources over a period of time (perhaps 2-3 years)

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The rise of Edutainment

Education as business development (and beyond), teachers becoming more than just the new DJs, and the foundations of a big shift that’s here to stay.

 

At the start of 2018 I drafted an article entitled ‘Education is the new business development’.

It sat in my draft posts folder for way too long (this post explains why).

Here’s a taster of what I put together:

 

Media publishers can no longer rely on display ads, and a brand are less interested in just the media buy.

As a B2B sales software startup you can spend months trying to explain the benefits of your offering succinctly, let alone closing a deal.

If you’re tasked with heading up innovative ideas in a large company, a significant part of your workload is putting together information for internal teams to understand just what you’re up to and why they should care.

It’s tiring.

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How to facilitate your first class, workshop or training session

My most recent collaboration project launched last week at New York Climate Week.

Sustainable Foundations is a workshop series and email course helping to unpack and demystify sustainability for modern business.

During its creation I took some time to think about things I’ve learnt putting together similar education experiences [1], and also go back to a Beginner’s Mind approach.

I returned to the feeling of my first few sessions as a facilitator. It wasn’t pleasant but it was important to go there again, especially as someone who long detested any kind of public speaking and the exposure that went with it.

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Why teachers are the new DJs

Three years ago I made a fairly unorthodox career transition; moving from booking bands and DJs to building learning and education programs (amongst a couple of other things).

Those who know me are probably aware I like to look at seemingly disparate disciplines and explore the connections between them. I like it so much I run a podcast series on it.

But other than the obvious and slightly contrived lines of DJs ‘telling a story’ and ‘taking a crowd on a journey’, I hadn’t really seen any parallels between these two paths – until now.

A couple of weeks ago I had breakfast with the founders of a company running professional development courses with a number of prominent brands and corporations.

As it was our first time meeting they asked me to tell them my story. When I mentioned my background in music, and specifically electronic music, one of them lit up with interest.

He’d lived in Germany for a while and had arrived there with a deep loathing of electronic music. A year or so later and he found himself a huge house and techno fan.

I asked what caused the change.

As he explained we looked at each other and realised we were thinking the same thing. (And no, not drugs).

One of the main things we loved about electronic music was what we loved about facilitating and teaching.

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Advisor, Mentor, Coach, Counsel: what’s in a name?

If you’ve spent any time around the startup space in the last few years you’ve probably come across a raft of advisors and mentors.

Many of them are highly capable and experienced people who can help founders and their businesses enormously.

There are also some who, whilst very much in it for the right reasons, misunderstand the value they bring and what the person at the other end of the dialogue really needs.

In fact, there are so many people now out there with Advisor or Mentor on their resume that these descriptors are in danger of becoming the new Growth Hacker or Consultant, where their original meaning becomes bastardised and the practice itself risks becoming somewhat devalued, tainted and commoditised.

Meanwhile, as the Counsellor and Consigliere, like the original advisors and mentors from ancient Greece, have been around for centuries, other roles have emerged in recent years.

For example, executive and life coaching has experienced considerable de-stigmatisation and a rapid growth in popularity. Whilst there are a number of accredited programs to becoming qualified there’s nothing really stopping anyone calling themselves a coach. Aside from the debate on how important accreditations are in this area, a risk is present that where many rush in the understanding of what these practices really mean becomes lost.

When you’re looking for professional guidance this opens up the questions of knowing what you need and why you need it.

These 4 roles of Advisor, Mentor, Coach and Counsel are more than just semantics or trendy titles to buff up a LinkedIn profile – there are clear distinctions.

Here’s a brief overview of my understanding of each one to help you think about making the choice that suits you best.

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The freezer or the morgue: a quick primer on innovation

As part of on-boarding for a new project I was asked to put together a quick 10 minute introductory talk on a business-related topic of my choice.

I chose innovation. It’s no doubt a buzzword right now but do we really understand what innovation means and how, when, and why we should apply it? Like a lot of concepts it can be over-complicated and mystified, often by people who want to look smarter than everyone else (and get you to pay them accordingly to explain).

After I took the group through what I’d prepared (slides included below), there was a brief Q&A. Questions ranged from how corporates could innovate when the pervading culture goes the opposite way, to how ideas can be tested quickly and easily.


The one question that jumped out was around knowing when to kill ideas.

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Are you an artist or a frame maker?

Why it’s worth knowing which role you’re best suited for, and how valuable it can be when looking to join a new community.

Last week I received an email from someone in London asking how life in NYC was going for me, and what I thought of The Met museum.

They knew I’d had to wait a while for my work permit and so naturally assumed I’d spent a fair bit of my enforced sabbatical visiting museums. Guiltily I replied I had not. I’d barely gone north of 75th Street, let alone explored Museum Mile.

Amends were made and yesterday I spent a couple of hours exploring the huge Metropolitan Museum of Art space next to Central Park.

I decided to travel roughly in chronological order, starting with Ancient China, via Dutch 16th portraits and 19th Century American furniture, and ending up in 1920s cubism.

In the final room of my visit something caught my eye – a painting by the Japanese artist Bumpei Usui.

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The secret of success? Forget about it…

A former colleague of mine visited NYC recently. I consider him a friend and we’ve shared some good times together over the years we’ve known each other.

This year he’s had a very good year – some great successes at work and good things happening in his personal life too. He’s really happy right now – I’m pleased for him.

A few of the work successes have been very public – accolades and awards. His social media timelines are firing.

It would be easy for him to bask in the glory, especially around this time of year as things wind down and we take stock of what’s happened over the past 12 months. And why not? He’s worked hard for all of this.

Given how much has happened, I asked him what he’s learnt this year.

His instant response:

‘forget it even happened’

He knew that the moment he got caught up in the success was the moment he let his guard down, got complacent, added just a little too much arrogance to his confidence.

Once that night’s sold out venue has turned the lights on, once everyone’s read the article about your funding round, once your boss has congratulated you on a job well done – it’s onto the next one.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t celebrate success. In fact, celebrating successes, however small, are a key part of positive habit change, building self-esteem and all sorts of other good stuff.

However, the moment we get caught up in a success and think we’ve got it all figured out is when we probably…haven’t. And that’s when you get caught napping.

‘Too big to fail?’ Forget about it.
‘Got it licked?’ Forget about it.
‘Crushed it?’ Forget about it.

The truth is we never truly master it.

Even the masters haven’t mastered it – the world is changing too quickly now for that.

 

The secret to my friend’s success? Forget about it.

8 workspace trends for 2018

Think about co-working in 2017 and one of the first names on your mind is likely to be WeWork. The company is valued at $20bn and is about to become London’s biggest private office tenant. Bear in mind WeWork only launched 7 years ago – that’s phenomenal growth by anyone’s standards.

In the last few months they’ve acquired an education company and a community marketplace, launched in Asia, started a gym chain and got into the apartment business. Questions remain over their valuation and ability to weather a downturn in the real estate market, but right now they’re showing little sign of slowing down.

With WeWork seemingly making all the headlines, what else is going on in the business of workspaces?

Here are 8 of the key trends I see continuing to take flight in 2018.

 

1. Snacking & Space Hopping

For freelancers and soloists in particular there are usually 3 components to a typical week; doing the work, talking about the work, and finding the work.

The latter often means traveling to meet people. Face-to-face tends to be most effective, but shuttling back and forth between meetings is definitely not most efficient.

For those hopping between locations or just wanting to utilise a workspace for a few hours of focused time as and when they want it, new services have arrived to serve this need.

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One example is Croissant. For just over $100 they’ll give you 50 hours per month to be used at spaces across a number of US and European cities.

Whilst their supply of workspaces is still a little sparse at present, and the nature of their pricing model appears to be weighted more favourably towards the user than the workspace provider, the increasingly competitive co-work industry means a growing number of spaces will be likely looking at alternative ways to generate interest and revenue.

Perhaps snacking will become a key part of our (work) diets.

 

2. Keep it in the family

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London headquartered Second Home are shortly opening a new space in the ultra-trendy* Hackney borough of East London.

The area already has a number of co-working spaces available (including a sizeable WeWork offering), so how are Second Home going to stand out?

Easy. They’re installing a fully operational creche service so members can have ‘bring your kids to work’ day, every day.

With terms of parental leave high on the agenda of employers and HR departments, and an ongoing shift towards a more flexible work/life balance, will the in-office creche become a fixture of companies’ perks lists?

It’ll be interesting to see whether the trend of more young families moving away from cities (as has happened in London) will affect demand too.

* I was a long-term resident, which perhaps negates this.

 

3. Values-based workspaces

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NYC startup The Wing have raised both eyebrows and capital (from WeWork amongst others) with their female-only workspace and members’ club offering.

I’ve had a couple of interesting discussions with people recently around balancing the need for safe spaces vs. providing bridges and access for others to better understand the the challenges that caused these safe spaces to be created in the first place.

Personally I hope they’ll find a way to allow admittance to men from time to time as there’s plenty for us to learn. Maybe that’s for another article…

In either case, we’ll see more spaces appear built on values, interests and passions.I referenced this in a previous post here >

The challenge for these operations will be balancing niche focus vs commercial viability as it’s unlikely most workers will hold memberships to several spaces at once.

Expect The Wing to be one that keeps flying.

 

4. The excess capacity opportunity

Airbnb is the most notable example of a business built around leveraging the excess capacity of an asset class.

Spacious are taking this approach to co-working, operating around the hospitality sector. The NYC-based startup work with bars and restaurants to fill their often sparsely-populated weekday downtime with laptop-wielding workers. Just like Airbnb, it’s one of those concepts that at first glance feels like it shouldn’t work, but Spacious are growing at a fair old clip with a presence in NYC and San Francisco so far.

2.-Appear-Here-Pop-Up-Retail

The recent New York launch of London retail pop-up startup Appear Here plus a glut of ecommerce fashion and lifestyle brands scaling up in the city makes me feel we’ll see Spacious’ model appear more in 2018; less agile bricks and mortar businesses will be looking for new revenue streams as they feel the strain of rising rents, lower occupancy and a continuing shift to ecommerce.

Where else could there be excess capacity to utilise?

If anyone fancies working out of screen 1 at the Union Square cinema next week, I’ll bring the popcorn.

 

5. The branded hangout

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Working out of the local coffee shop? Forget it. Next year will see the rise of the branded hangout space.

On opening in June this year, Ian Schrager’s new ‘Public’ hotel instantly became a destination work and meeting spot for the knowingly cool set around NYC’s Lower East Side.

The Ace Hotel chain have been in this position for a few years of course. Rather than booting out the posse of people taking up the hotel’s lobby space all day for an average per-head spend of 1 cup of coffee, they’ve happily turned a blind eye. Presumably keeping the place vibrant post-check out and pre-check in gives them a nice bump of extra social proof, street cred and the potential for serendipitous collaborations that their brand will be inextricably linked to.

Quickly building their own work/hangout spaces are retailers like Lululemon and Dr Smood. Usually quietly stylised offerings in the basement of their retail operations, there’s definitely still an element of discomfort and confusion around utilising these places to spend a working day. However, they tend to be completely free of charge and in desirable locations – very appealing to the early-stage freelancer or startup founder. Also, anything with a stigma which is starting to disappear is well worth paying attention to, and I’d class these spaces in that category.

What’ll be interesting to see is which other brands jump in and how happy people will be to nail their colours to those office-shaped masts. Not everyone is going to be keen to be hanging out at American Apparel’s co-work, even if the coffee is good.

And yes, this is again connected with filling Excess Capacity…

 

6. Airport lounges

Like a lot of people I find the air travel experience trying at the best of times.

After flying a lot for business, I slimmed down my travel a little and found my loyalty cards getting demoted extremely quickly, along with my air miles being of little value for any of the routes I really cared about. No bueno.

Airports are generally pretty miserable places to spend time, and with the airline business being a notoriously difficult one to operate in, there appears to be some scope for innovation.

Monocle magazine have long been suggesting the growth in kiosk-style cafes, and they’ve made inroads in a few cities with this idea.

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It appears there’s huge scope to serve airport visitors with an alternative to the business lounge, especially as rewards points tier are being jacked up and airport usage is on the up.

Don’t be surprised to see WeWork at JFK or Heathrow in the very near future.

 

 

7. The work club

Football club, member’s club, night club, jazz club. If it’s a club, expect to see it start offering business services to members old and new.

Soccer (football) clubs in the UK are putting community-focused workspaces high on the wish-list for their architects, with English Premier League clubs Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace both with new stadiums in the works.

There’s a ceiling on match day ticketing revenue (especially with serious fan backlashes against recent price hikes – we’re looking at you, Arsenal…), so clubs are exploring everything from VR to branded offices to keep their fanbase engaged and coffers full.

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Again connected with fulfilling excess capacity, nightclubs are also getting in on the act. Ministry of Sound in London sold their label business to Sony Music and just two weeks ago committed to a joint venture for their events brand which sees that team move out of the MoS office space adjacent to the legendary night club.

MoS are now actively positioning themselves as a shared workspace provider, and have already been using the cavernous ‘Box’ room of the club for a number of alternative live events. Perhaps there’s another joint venture on the horizon…

 

8. Return of the cubicle

The office cubicle. It’s almost a poster child for what today’s workers abhor; grey, closed, isolated, made of non-breathable fabrics. Surely its death should be cause for celebration?

Maybe not. A number of recent studies have shown that open plan offices have significant drawbacks, one being the difficulty for people to focus. In the days before Slack, WhatsApp and fluctuating Bitcoin prices this may not have been such an issue. Nowadays there’s a very strong desire from a lot of people to mute the noise and do focused work.

This study from furniture brand Haworth digs deeper. Broadly speaking, they recommend a mix of private and open spaces, encouraging recharging, and giving people control on where they spend their time.

We may not see the resurgence of the original office cubicle, but there’s plenty for architects and designers to set their minds to. All they need is a private space to do it…

 

And for your life outside of work…

Just as Marriott hotels are building apartments to compete with Airbnb, luxury residential real estate developers are moving towards the models of WeWork and Soho House – offering full workspaces, libraries, basketball courts, coffee shops and various other perks as part of your ‘living experience’. All at a price, of course.

One of the notable examples here in New York is The Eugene, next to the burgeoning Hudson Yards development.

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In many cases these extra amenities are used as a clever hook to bring in tenants, but in reality get relatively low utilisation. Whilst the financials probably hold up, no one wants to see a bunch of empty common areas in a building, and some of the new build towers already have a ‘investor safety deposit box’ feel as it is.

Will this mean another case of excess capacity ready to be exploited?

It’s meta, but watch out for the workspace provider taking over the running of the workspace.

 


 

Got an opinion? Want to continue the conversation?

Let me know in the comments or drop me a line here.