Identifying emerging social, cultural and business trends has been my passion for more than three decades. There’s no magic to being a trendspotter. It’s mostly about being alert to prevailing winds and being quick – and a little brave – to call out what you see. Sixteen years ago, I helped popularize the term “metrosexual” (which may well be memorialized on my tombstone). I didn’t invent the word, but I tweaked its meaning and was the first to champion its potential for brands. That’s been a key part of my success: translating savvy hunches into measurable insights and opportunities that can help propel an organization forward.
Success requires calculated risks. At times you don’t know if swimming against the tide means a breakthrough – or a Sisyphean journey to nowhere. Over the years, by trying to understand what’s driving culture, I’ve done a few wise things: working on the launch of #GivingTuesday because it felt right; moving overseas with TBWA Worldwide in 1995 to exploit what we called the “information superhighway”; and being the first to run focus groups in “cyberspace” in the early 1990s, when the online world was considered a place for geeks. Staying open-minded is key. That’s what led me to join PMI. A “never smoker,” I had been vehemently opposed to cigarettes my entire life, so naturally I didn’t have much interest when the company approached me. But as I looked at their website and learned more about PMI’s vision of a smoke-free future, I saw an opportunity to accelerate progress toward a world without cigarettes. Count me in.
We all make mistakes. And that’s a good thing. It’s how we learn and evolve. The secret is to process them quickly and move on. I’ve always learned more from my failures than successes throughout my career – and I suspect others have, too.
When you decide to jump, don’t second-guess yourself in mid-air. You’ll never stick the landing. When I flung myself into my new role at PMI, I did so fearlessly – and loudly. And that’s how I encouraged the company to be, too: proudly front and center as part of civil society. No more handwringing over things that are in the past. We are united in our purpose to unsmoke the world, and we have every right to be proud of that.
My career has always incorporated social consciousness, whether it be #GivingTuesday, my work on behalf of wounded veterans, or something else. Setting your sights on a bigger cause is the best way I know to stay energized and motivated. Right now, I’m all in on #unsmokeyourworld, PMI’s push for a future free of cigarettes. Our message is simple: “If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you smoke, quit. If you don’t quit, change.” By transforming our business and our purpose, we are seeking to transform the world – together we can help support more than a billion adult smokers quit altogether, or if they don’t, to choose better alternatives to continued smoking.
Lots of people build careers by playing it safe and following along well-trod pathways. I encourage younger people to take a different route – one filled with challenges and unexpected turns. Don’t follow a career path. Create one unique to you.