How do you change the world?It's easy to feel trapped in grad school - learning more and more about less and less. A recent TED talk by Seth Godin, one of my numerous sources of inspiration, got me thinking about the big picture. He has spent years thinking deeply about how the nature of marketing has changed over the past hundred years. This doesn't apply just to selling toothpaste or pain-relievers: it applies to ideas. I often contemplate how to apply this to the spread of scientific information, but the culinary world provides more readily-accessible case studies.
To summarize his argument, at the turn of the last century, the economy was driven by mass-production: faster machines, more efficient labor, etc. By the middle of the century, this model was supplanted by the mass-advertising age: swamp the market with advertisements for your product to capture the market. This went on for decades leading to a saturation of people's attention. Now the key is to capture the attention of a small group of people who are especially receptive to your message and to create a tribe that spreads outwards through word-of-mouth (or the modern, electronic equivalent).
Seth Godin asked three questions to people who want to start a movement. I thought it was interesting to apply these to local trends that I've seen or heard about:
"The first one is, who exactly are you upsetting? Because if you're not upsetting anyone, you're not changing the status quo. "The fastest way to the answer is to look at Yelp. Amateur reviewers complain that Drink has no cocktail menu. Vegetarians in San Francisco complain about the lack of options in sushi restaurants. Bargain-hunters in Harvard Square complain about the cost of Sweet cupcakes.
"The second question is, who are you connecting? Because for a lot of people, that's what they're in it for. The connections that are being made, one to the other."Going back the the previous three examples: Drink unites people who are passionate about cocktails, high-end sushi joints attract people who care about fresh, seasonal seafood, and Sweet attracts people looking for a particular social setting.
"And the third one is, who are you leading? Because focusing on that part of it, not the mechanics of what you're building, but the who, and the leading part is where change comes."Barbara Lynch was a driving force behind Drink. Michael Black and Danny Dunham at Sebo led a movement to bring authentic Japanese sushi to a region that knew little more than salmon and California rolls. Courtney Forrester brought Sweet cupcakes to Boston (and now Harvard Square). In their own ways, each of these people is part of a growing movement.
I highly recommend watching the original presentation, since I admire Godin's unique delivery style and great use of visuals.