For a 39-year-old, Jeremy Gutsche is almost unreasonably accomplished. He is a New York Times bestselling author, an award-winning innovation expert, one of the most sought-after keynote speakers on the planet as well as the founder and CEO of Trend Hunter — the world’s #1 trend firm, driven by 200,000 idea hunters and three billion views by 150,000,000 visitors. Known as an intellectual can of Red Bull, Gutsche combines his remarkable insights with a sharp sense of humour and unparalleled energy in his utterly absorbing presentations and talks.
His focus on the role of innovation in entrepreneurship was the perfect fit for the forums that were part of the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2018 in Monaco, where some of the world’s most successful businesspeople convened for the annual event. Gutsche’s one-hour talk was a hit as he addressed many topics that are of concern to entrepreneurs the world over — how do you stay creative to adapt to a changing world, and how do you keep your company hungry for innovation?
For the record, there is no one answer to these perennial questions — in case anyone was hoping for one! — because each company is different with diverse challenges and considerations. It takes a lot of effort to stay ahead of the curve. As head of Trend Hunter, Canadian-born Gutsche’s full-time job is to be relevant, innovative and on top of trends. Interestingly, this is his business and the focus of his entrepreneurial journey.
“I founded Trend Hunter because deep down, all I ever wanted to be was an entrepreneur but I could never find my own business idea. Ironically, I built a corporate innovation career helping other people find their business ideas without finding my own. In my final year, I created an innovation pipeline that led my team at a bank to grow a US$1 billion portfolio. That sounds great but it was a striking reminder to me that I still hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do,” he reminisces.
“So, in the wee hours of the morning, I started building Trend Hunter like a giant innovation focus group, an idea pipeline where I hoped people would share business ideas. I also figured somewhere, someone would help inspire me to find my calling. A couple of billion page views later, it’s clear that serving the Trend Hunter community is my calling.
“In the early days, I’d design and code Trend Hunter until 4am while working during the day as a business director at a bank. Today, I design and code Trend Hunter until 4am because I like it.”
Trend Hunter has become a hugely popular resource for just about anyone looking to identify what the next big thing is, and Gutsche heads a team of innovators who are constantly on the lookout for what these are. While much of this discovery is reliant on well-honed instinct, how else does Gutsche uncover content for Trend Hunter?
“I like to hunt for what I call clusters of inspiration,” he says. “Quite simply, the word ‘trends’ is too broad. It can refer to next fall’s fashionable colour or macro-trends like the green movement, female buyers, consolidation, outsourcing, Web 2.0 and ageing boomers. These trends are somewhat useful but too generic to enable breakthrough thinking. Clustering is the art of identifying insights that are meaningful to your customer. To create clusters, you’ll need to collect your observations from trend hunting and filter through the noise.”
Apart from his work with Trend Hunter, Gutsche is also a bestselling author with two books to his credit and a third scheduled for release in August. With six years between his two published tomes, the books are not only a great indication of the way Gutsche himself has evolved as an entrepreneur but also how the corporate world has needed to adapt to change.
Clustering is the art of identifying insights that are meaningful to your customer. To create clusters, you’ll need to collect your observations from trend hunting and filter through the noise
“When I wrote the first book, Exploiting Chaos, it was the sum of the word I had known in the corporate world. So, my stories were about things I read about in books and pretty much a lot of case studies,” he explains. “I became a bestseller in 2007 as the ‘chaos guy’ and I was invited to speak by Fortune 500 CEOs. One invitation gets you another and eventually, I’d helped a whole bunch of them. A decade later, I had learnt so much more from having worked with almost 500 CEOs and brands as they were going through some really difficult times.
“When I came out with the next book, Better and Faster, in 2015, it was more refined and based on in-depth knowledge of one problem: how do I make you better at adapting to change and faster at finding new ideas? Now, as I look at my next work, it’s playing around with more concepts that work with various clients. My work in creativity is getting more audacious but it’s also more experimental as I work out what works for different people.”
Better and Faster: The Proven Path to Unstoppable Ideas is definitely the more personal of the two books as it also details Gutsche’s personal journey of entrepreneurship with Trend Hunter and his childhood experiences that always encouraged his inclinations. When the book hit The New York Times Bestseller list, there were about four million views of the keynote video.
“My dad was a serial entrepreneur and my mum was a social worker. While she taught us about the importance of people, he taught me about how opportunities can be found in places others don’t look. I had actually interviewed my father for the book because he used to get me to read hundreds of magazines a month, searching for business ideas and brainstorming what projects we could prototype during the weekend,” Gutsche recounts. “That was obviously a seed for Trend Hunter’s inspiration. A week after I interviewed him, he had a heart attack and passed away. So the story, the book and all the emotion wrapped around that meant that I was particularly proud to see people take interest in the launch.”
In a one-on-one setting, Gutsche is more reserved than he is on stage. He looks a little nervous, actually, despite there being a substantially smaller audience. He laughs heartily when I point this out. “I’m most in the zone when performing speeches on stage,” he admits, smoothing his ginger beard. “I fear that many innovation speakers are authors, skilled academics or managers who lack the entertainment fuel needed to spark a revolution. So this is what I aspire to deliver. I like to think of my performances as a mixture of stand-up comedy, audience interaction, big ideas and talking in a really loud voice. I love multimedia keynote presentations and I draw my own animated stick men. Always.”
A bit of a thrill seeker — he has been swimming with sharks, racing baja rally cars, jumping from planes, skiing off cliffs, bobsledding and motorcycle racing — Gutsche loves being with people and brainstorming new ideas, which he can then channel into his company, which remains his No 1 passion. “I love everything about Trend Hunter,” he smiles. “I’m most proud of the way that we have helped to connect a community of inspirational people.”
This article first appeared in July 2, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.