Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Benchmarking, Trending, and Inspiration

Have you ever followed Bill Cunningham in the New York Times?  You can read about him here:  New York Times - Bill Cunningham On the Street

His life story fascinates me.  Cunningham is a photographer.  He mostly takes something that might be called fashion photography, but I would call it art photography.  He moves through the city of New York looking for fashion trends.  I have to say that carefully.  He isn't given an assignment like "Take photos of red coats" and then he looks for red coats to photograph.  He studies and watches and observes until the trend emerges before his camera.  He seeks inspiration from the visual world he sees on the street.  There's a terrific documentary about his work.

Cunningham started his life's work as a photographer on the street during World War II.  He still bicycles around the city and his photos gather attention.  You can watch current video clips with him narrating what he is seeing:

So much of what we talk about in information technology centers around analytics and data trends.  There is much discussion about looking to our data to find trends, and to benchmark where we are compared to our peers.  There is certainly a value to using the past and our data in order to understand the road we travel.  We need data analytics to inform our decisions.

Bill Cunningham inspires us to look around ourselves, and to be intensely observant.  He doesn't gather data about how many red coats are purchased, and then go out to take photographs about red coats.  His is not a data-driven endeavor.  There certainly is a value for merchandisers to track data that way, but observational trends add value to that discussion, particularly if you want to be creative and forward-thinking.

We need to observe details around us.  Trends happen right in front of us, if we pay attention.  We can't lose sight of what is around us and in front of us.  What paths do our students choose to walk right now?  What classes are they taking now?  What are they telling us?  We can be inspired to find links and connections in what is happening now.  This is the creative edge and allowing ourselves the time to observe, synthesize, and connect details is inspirational and motivational, as we try to invent our technology future.