Cultural Trends & Innovation: Part 1 – The Rise of Craftsmanship

One interesting trend happening is consumers are questioning what quality means to them. Typically lower quality products have lower expectations, lower price points, and are disposable – whereas higher quality products have higher expectations, higher price points, and are durable.

The Decline of Quality

Now this isn’t news to anyone – most consumers are familiar with price points and quality. What is different though is that quality has been decreasing. As more consumers were able to afford technological at cheaper costs, we started to shift towards a disposable goods economy. Knowing this, companies stopped making products that would last a lifetime because consumers were trading up to the next latest/greatest model when they were able to. Think of Televisions – you can still find and buy retro/vintage televisions that work and can be repaired – but if your new entry-level HDTV stops working, it is cheaper to buy a new one than it is to repair it.

As technology and manufacturing became cheaper, we slowly moved towards a throwaway economy. This comes with a big cost though – it is not sustainable, it increases waste, and the overall quality and experiences of products have decreased. What we are seeing now is a divide between two consumer groups.

The Rise of Craftsmanship: Disposable Goods v. Durable Goods

The economic downturn has caused a growth of two consumer groups:

  • Disposable Goods – Those who are price sensitive and want more for less. They are willing to sacrifice quality (to a point) in exchange for quantity and discounts. These products have limited amount of uses and are throwaways.
  • Durable Goods – Those who are less concerned with cost as long as the product had longevity. They are willing to pay more as long as the quality is high enough that the product retains its value over time. These products can be used multiple times, repaired, and possibly even outlast the consumer.

There is no better example of this divide than to look at men’s grooming. Right now we’re seeing two big trends emerging. One is the Dollar Shave Club – cheap razors for a cheap cost that are disposable. The other is the increase of double edge safety razors, high-end shaving soaps, badger hair shave brushes, and everything else that comes with this throw back style.

One of the reasons why were seeing this divergence is that the economic downturn has created a perfect storm for the rise of Craftsmanship.

–      Our eyes have been turned back to American manufacturing. Purchasing goods closer to home, supporting local businesses, and decreasing carbon footprints.

–      Layoffs and downsizing have forced workers to either seek other vocations or to produce things themselves to cut down on costs.

–      Access to information has decreased the barriers for people to learn trades on their own. They are able to connect with other craftsman, and the rise of niche ‘tribes’ gives them readily available access to consumers that care about their product.

These niche tribes are increasing and have huge potential for growth. Some companies have recognized this and have jumped on the boat early, like P&G’s purchase of The Art of Shaving. Unfortunately, there can be huge missteps since it is the higher quality that is the large draw. The Art of Shaving is an entry level brand for those who are new to the movement – but once they learn about the other smaller brands that are higher quality, will they still stay around?

This is just one example – but there are multiple groups like this. From high end chef knives, to custom dress shoes, and custom tailored jeans – more people are discovering this movement, and it will only get bigger.

What are the businesses around you (or that you know of) that are part of the Rise of Craftsmanship? Let me know if in the comments.


Cultural Trends & Innovation: Overview


For the past two years I’ve noticed certain trends that been building up steam:

  • Minimalism
  • Customization & The rise of craftsmanship
  • Sustainable & locavore shopping
  • Paleo/Primal & The ‘Art of Manliness’
  • Geek/Nerd Culture

As you can see, there is a lot to cover – but these are all tied together under the common themes of:

  • Understanding what ‘quality’ means (durable goods v disposable goods)
  • Getting in touch with our roots
  • Questioning conventional wisdom & consumerism
  • and ultimately – living a better ‘sustainable’ life.

Instead of writing one long post, I decided the best way to tackle this is by breaking this up into a series of posts. This way I can briefly talk about each topic and have some space to discuss some really interesting products/companies/groups that are currently working in these areas.

While most people think of innovation as increasing technology and adding more bells and whistles, this is innovation that is inspired by the past. The crazy thing is, these insights have either not been spotted by larger companies, or they are being disregarded because they dont fit in with their current business models.

Either way, there are huge opportunities in this area, and I see it as a game changer that can shake up industries and be the future of innovation.

Joy of drawing – Draw Something App

Draw Something Vader

For the past week I’ve been having fun playing with the Draw Something App. It’s fairly similar to pictionary in that you play against other friend who have the app by drawing one of three words that are offered each round. *Tip – if you dont like the words, quit & restart the app and you’ll have new ones.

There are no rules – you can write out the name or be as abstract as you like, but the more often you can guess each others drawings, the more coins you can win. I’m not too sure how they determined coin value because some 1 coin words are harder than 3 coin words, but the whole point of earning more coins is that you can buy extra colors or bombs (which get rid of extra letters so you can guess the word that they are drawing).

I was having some fun with it at first, but I really started to enjoy this more once I was able to buy more colors!


  • Great for creativity and abstract thinking!
  • Challenge yourself by choosing the same words again and finding new ways to draw them.
  • Fun way to pass the time and work on your drawing skills


  • Confusing pop-culture references (how many people know the members of the   Wu-Tang, or how to even draw them?)
  • App is still glitchy and can crash or not register your drawing
  • Hard to draw on a small screen! Luckily enough I have a stylus that helps, but it’s not meant for drawing with so it can be tricky to get in all the detail I like.

You’ll definitely be hearing more about this App – it seems to be the new trend that is taking off. (*Tip – check out your phone manual to see how you can take a screen shot. For the Galaxus Nexus, you need to hold down the Volume Down button + Power button).

Along with the Vader drawing, here are a few others that I drew. As you can see, they progressively became better overtime as I had more colors to work with!

Creating Devotion For Your Brand

I was reading an article about Brand Leadership on Sustainable Brands (thanks for the link via @mgobe), and it offered three thoughts for brands to achieve Brand Leadership in the 21st century.

1.  Delight Your Customers – AND Your Stakeholders

I completely agree with this point. While most companies are still struggling to obsess over creating a great customer experience (especially if it might mean a short-term loss) – even less focus on making sure they have great relationships with their suppliers.  The more you work with your suppliers, the more they’ll work with you.

Have great working relationships with everyone involved with your company.

2.  Engage in Brand Activation Activism

“Brands can’t and shouldn’t take the place of civil society. But we’re in a world where brands are what get noticed.”

I disagree with this point. What exactly are brands, if anything, but ideas? A brand is comprised of the emotions and thoughts that are developed mostly by society … not just about products – but people, places, and ideologies. The problem arises though when brands are dishonest or a company is amoral (see all the controversy with greenwashing, pinkwashing, and Susan G Komen / Planned Parenthood PR fiasco).

Activism needs to be part of a company’s value system – not a marketing ploy.

3.  Think Drive – Not Demand

“We proposed that businesses start by asking how to Define, Deliver, Demonstrate and create Demand for better sustainability outcomes, (but)…“demand” is too narrow. Rob Cameron…  proposed we add a fifth D to the 4Ds: Drive

While I think Drive is important since strong leadership can develop and ‘drive’ an inspiring vision – I think there is another D that would trump this, and that is Devotion. 

All of the recommendations in the 4D framework have been top down. This is a great for driving and controlling strategy, but it can easily miss the boat on creating a brand or experience that customers are looking for.

What is missing from most companies is the understanding of their customers.

  • What is your customer’s point of view?
  • What are their pain points?
  • What experience(s) are they missing from a product or a company?

We can see example of this all around us. Just look at the devout communities built around bikram yoga, zumba, or crossfit.  These communities are thriving not because they are superior to other forms of exercise, but because they offer something more … a sense of belonging, community, and an aspiration greater than themselves. An ideal.

Drive can help to create this, but true Devotion is built from the grass roots – not just top-down, but bottom-up.

What are some unique devout communities you can think of?

First Sketchnote – IDEO’s Tim Brown ‘A Call for Design Thinking’ via TEDTalks

Over the last few months I had two work projects to complete that involved Visual Thinking. While I love the concept of Visual Thinking – the creation of a succinct picture or road map out of something complex – the actual process was still foreign to me. I actually think visually, and work best when I’m hands on, but I’ve never actually combined the two together. This ties back in with my last post on ‘Re-Discovering Creativity‘ with how our education systems mold us to think and interpret information in a specific way.

The only way to get better at something is by doing – so I decided to jump in head first and take a shot at sketchnoting. I decided to go with Tim Brown ‘A Call for Design Thinking’ TEDTalk since Design Thinking is a topic I’m passionate about and have been researching for the past year. I figured the familiarization with the topic would make it easier to sketch out concepts or thoughts as they came to me.

Follow the Sketchnote along with the video.

Thought Process

The process I used was fairly straight forward. I put the title in top/middle of the page before I started the video, and then started my sketching in the top left corner. I wanted to try to keep it as visual as I could, but I realized that keywords would jump out at me, so I jotted those down as they came along. I also wanted to keep the right side open for any other topic that might spin off – which worked out well since Tim went into discussing Roger Martin’s Integrative Thinking process (side note: I really like Martin’s ‘Knowledge Funnel‘ process – simple to understand and it does a great job of explaining why we love simplicity).

Here is the finalized version of the note. I used Pilot G-2 07 pen’s in green, black, red and blue, on copy paper. I’ve noticed that some sketchnotes have too many pictures that you have no idea what is going on – while others just have a bunch of fancy fonts crammed in on a page. I wanted to meld the two a bit, while keeping a good amount of white space so it wasn’t too cluttered. I would have liked to have had some better visuals, but nothing was really jumping out at me. Hopefully I can work on that more over time.

If you’re interested in learning more about Tim Brown – check out his company IDEO, where he is CEO and president.

Re-Discovering Creativity: A Journey In Visual Thinking & Sketchnoting

I’ve always found myself going up to dry erase boards and hashing out ideas. This usually meant boxes, arrows and simple digrams trying to tie together concepts or brain storms. Recently I had a project to complete that needed to express a lot of idea’s visually, but I felt I was running into a creative block. That’s when I came across this great TED talk by Ken Robinson on ‘schools kill creativity’.

The two big take aways I had from the presentation were:

  1. To be creative, you need to be prepared to be wrong. Unfortunately we become frightened out of being wrong through education – where making a mistake is the worst thing that you can do.
  2. We think in abstract terms and best learn things through interaction.

We are very visual learners, even more so when we can interact with a diagram to create a deeper understanding of a concept. Ken Robinson defines creativity as “the process of having original ideas that have value — more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.”  According to Dan Roam, around  3/4 of the neurons in our brain are used to visually process information. If we are able to take concepts to the next level, we can sum up complicated idea’s and information with a few pictures that are more easy to understand.

I picked up Dan Roam’s ‘Back of the Napkin‘ book in the summer and it’s a great primer on Visual Thinking and back of the napkin sketches (hence the title). However, if you’re interested in learning how to problem solve visually, I suggest his second book ‘Unfolding the Napkin‘ since it contains sample problems to try out.

As I researched Visual Thinking more, I came upon the concept of Visual Notetaking and Sketchnoting. Nifty at notebookstories had a great definition of what they are: “In the long list of tools one could use for visual thinking, sketchnotes are one of the most exciting. Simply put, sketchnotes are visual notes that are drawn in real time. Through the use of images, text, and diagrams, these notes take advantage of the “visual thinker” mind’s penchant for make sense of—and understanding—information with pictures.”

Sketchnotes of Mike Rohde's Sketchnoting presentation

My next posts will contain some sketchnotes and visual thinking processes that I’ve worked on in the past few months. I’ve been hand drawing them so far since I cant seem to find a good android application – but that’s another story! Feel free to chime in if you have any suggestions on what you use for your notes.

Here are a few blogs/sites I recommend you check out for more info: