We live in a world of black swans, disruption, and turmoil.

Trends come and go. Consumers turn on a dime.

We need to see the future sooner. We need to adapt faster.

We need early warning.

Big Board can help!

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The Big Board system

concentric circles filled.idrawThe proposition

The Big Board is a system designed to identify, monitor, analyze and explain cultural phenomenon in order to track and predict changes in consumer taste and preference.

The problem

Consumer taste changes often and radically. Economic actors find themselves in an increasingly inscrutable world, preyed upon by “black swans,” (i.e., changes so dramatic they are difficult to anticipate). Managers complain that their “response time” is shorter. They are caught in a ceaseless, frustrating game of catchup. Few organizations have a system for keeping watch on cultural change. Existing practice is bedeviled by amnesia and avoidance. As change grows more rapid and more discontinuous, this approach grows more intolerable. A new system is called for.

The method

The Big Board uses an anthropological perspective and a cultural lens. This enables us to see the significance of many data streams, the significance of which is now obscure.

Thus, for instance, the Big Board allows us to see that the rise of Bitters sales in the 1980s 1280px-Angostura_aromatic_bitters_dDand 1990s is an indicator of a new approach to spirits, mixed drinks, bars, and the culture of spirits of consumption. This is the so-called Mixology trend.

Without an anthropological perspective and a cultural lens, Bitters sales was just one more data stream in a vast basin of data streams. With the Big Board, the significance of these data is clear, giving early warning to firms like Diageo and Pernod Ricard that a fundamental shift in consumer taste and privilege is underway.

4 steps

1. listen for spikes or drops (aka anomalies, aka perturbations) in the SKU sales data, eliminating the “false positives” created by retail sales, seasonal variations, etc.
2. apply anthropological lens to evaluate “true positives” & see cultural significance
3. send in an ethnographer to find a deeper qualitative understanding
4. build visualization showing many “trends,” predicting motion, speed and outcome

A few places the Big Board could have created value.

  • CPG recently witnessed the collapse in orange juice sales as consumers decided that this once standard part of the American breakfast contained too much sugar. Between 2002 and 2017, the Nielsen-measured retail U.S. orange juice market declined by 50 percent. How early could we have spotted the trend against sugar?
  • CPG players have witnessed sudden migrations taking consumer away from the big brand they once prized to brands that are little, local, and artisanal. In the case of technology, Gillette (P&G) lost US market share, falling from 70% in 2010 to 54% in 2016 (Euromonitor). The Big Board can “see” a trend like this and give early warning.

The American corporation sometimes misses the cultural and social trend.

  • The world of spirits was slow to see the mixology
  • The Democrats slow to see the rise of a disruptive Republican contender.
  • Fast food was slow to see the rise of fast casual and anti-fast food sentiment.
  • Detroit and new attitudes to automobiles amongst Millennials.
  • Home construction industry was slow to see the great room trend.

What would it be worth for:

  • the M&A and investment communities to see trends that will create or diminish  consumer demand more accurately?
  • Hollywood to predict changes in story-telling conventions and audience expectation?
  • real estate investors to predict “walk to town” trend?
  • pet food industry to predict the rise of organic pet food?

The Big Board team

Grant McCracken

download-1Grant McCracken is a cultural anthropologist. He holds a PhD from the University of Chicago. He is the founder of the Institute of Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum. Grant has taught at the Harvard, University of Cambridge, and MIT. He is the cofounder of the Artisanal Economies Project. He designed and staged The Automated Anthropologist project, covered by The New Yorker. Malcolm Gladwell has called his work “brilliant.” With Mitch Hurwitz and Wired Magazine, he helped create what AdAge calls the “Snow Fall” of native advertising for Netflix. He consults widely, including the Netflix, Google, Ford Foundation, Kanye West, Campbell Soup, Boston Book Festival, Timberland, Sony, Diageo, Siemens, NBC, IBM, Nike and the White House. Grant is the ranking national expert on how commerce and culture interact. He is on advisory boards for IBM and Sam Adams. He has given Culture Camp in New York and London and for many private clients. He is the author of 14 non-fiction books including most recently Chief Culture Officer, Culturematic, and Dark Value. One of his courses at MIT was entitled “Time Machine: Building a model for predicting culture.” Grant was one of the few social scientists to predict a Trump victory. He did so one year before the presidential election. (See his blog post here.) Grant lives in the New York area.

Kevin Clark

0Kevin Clark is an award-winning brand experience strategist, author, and transformational catalyst. He is the President and Founder of Content Evolution LLC, and CEO and Founding Partner of EduPresence. Kevin works with a diverse portfolio of business leaders, educators and professionals to discover the wants and needs of customers, and links to emerging social and technology trends. He is a sought-after strategic advisor about innovation and business models, managing and directing change, brand strategy, adult learning, customer and market segmentation, relationship management, and stakeholder experience design.

Kevin retired from IBM as Program Director emeritus, Brand and Values Experience, IBM Corporate Marketing and Communications in 2009 with 30 years of service. He was responsible for creating new ways for people to experience and interact with IBM, the most valuable business-to-business brand in the world valued in 2009 at $62 billion according to Interbrand and Business Week, and the #2 brand overall. Today IBM’s brand is valued at $70 billion. He was Brand Steward of the IBM Think family of personal computer offerings, including IBM ThinkPad notebook computers, and was Program Director, Market Intelligence and Business Strategy for IBM Personal Systems Group. He has served on the advisory board of the World Brand Congress and received the Brand Leadership Award from this organization in 2009. He received recognition from the NASA Astronaut’s office in 2005, and an award from IBM as an influential executive advocate for NASA and United Space Alliance in 2006.

Kevin is the author of Brandscendence: Three Essential Elements of Enduring Brands published by Kaplan/Dearborn (2004), and is a contributing author to several other books. He is the author of the chapter ‘Relationship Transformation: Shifting Media Boundaries’ in The Handbook of Strategic Public Relations and Integrated Marketing Communications (2012); and co-author of the chapter ‘Unleashing the Power of Design Thinking’ in the book Design Thinking published by Alworth Press (2010). He is co-author of ‘Experience Design that Drives Consideration’, written for Design Management Review (2006); and ‘How IBM Innovates’, a cover story for PDMA Visions, journal of the Product Development Management Association (2006).

Sam Ford

downloadSam Ford is Director of Cultural Intelligence at Simon and Schuster and a media executive and consultant, as well as a research affiliate with MIT’s Program in Comparative Media Studies/Writing and a fellow with Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. He is working on various initiatives about the Future of Work in Kentucky with the MIT Open Documentary, the University of Southern California Civic Paths team, and others. In 2015, Sam launched and ran the Center for Innovation & Engagement at Univision’s Fusion Media Group (as FMG’s VP, Innovation & Engagement), which he ran through the end of 2016. He is co-author, with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green, of the 2013 NYU Press book Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, and co-editor, with Abigail De Kosnik and C. Lee Harrington, of the 2011 book The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era. Sam lives in New York City, with wife Amanda and daughters Emma and Harper.

The competition

One way to grasp the Big Board is to see what it is not. aleister_crowley_in_hat

Typically, trend watching and future forecasters exhibit the following characteristics:

  1. The trend work is almost always about the latest thing, aka “fast culture.” The deeper forces at work (“slow culture”) in America are ignored.
  2. Trends are almost always looked at in isolation. These days it is interactions that matter as much as the trends themselves.
  3. There are either too few trends under study (the “latest thing” problem above). Or too many. One Big Board competitor is monitoring over 200,000 trends.
  4. Cultural forecasting rarely uses quantitative data…or uses these data well.
  5. The trend worker rarely makes a prediction (and can never be proven wrong).
  6. When the trend worker does make a prediction, he or she almost always forgets about it. (Just as well.) It is impossible to identify a “track record.”
  7. Trend watching and future forecasting is a deeply unsystematic process.


The image above was created by Chris Harrison. It is entitled “European City-to-City Connections.” The copyright for this image is © Chris Harrison. See more of Chris’s work here.