There have always been fashions. They are part of human
behavior ad that isnt, per se, a problem. Some fashions
are amusing, intriguing, maybe whimsical, but fun. Others are
boring, repetitive and depressing. They can be quite harmful
when they turn into manias or cultural diseases. But they are
there, it can be useful to understand them and of course
there is always someone around trying to exploit them.
Fashion in its strictest meaning, the
clothing industry, is a weird environment. The rag
trade, as its called in the grapevine, is full of
cloak-and-dagger conflicts, but publicly surrounded by
monotonous praise and admiration. Everything is always
wonderful, beautiful, fantastic. The most uninventive and
unwearable of the fashion shows is invariably acclaimed
as a stroke of genius.
Fashion and luxury goods are big and profitable business
(especially for exporting countries, such as mine.) But
thats not a good reason for treating everything related to
fashion as an idol that requires perennial reverence and
submission, with no room for any criticism or independent opinion.
If this happened only for clothes, accessories, hairdos
and cosmetics, I guess we could live with it as long as we
dont lose our sense of humor. But a fashion
mentality is prevailing in almost everything, including
the economy, politics, culture and information. And its
rampant in most of the hype about the net (see
of the internet.)
Its no coincidence that in a recent lecture in Milan
Richard Nelson, professor of Business and Law at Columbia
University, talked about fashion. His was
a serious academic discussion on the changing relationship
between universities and business and the problems
of patenting. It had nothing to do with what people wear or
other popular whims and trends. But he pointed to the fact
that the fashionable topics these days are
competitive patenting, startups and venture capital. While
a few years ago they were cooperative
pre-competitive research and development, long-term employee
relations, steady finance. (Professor Nelson didnt suggest
that we should simply go back to that older fashion, but he
explained why the change isnt an improvement.)
By a few years ago he meant
over twenty years. The financial speculative trend had started
even before 1980, with a frantic acceleration a the end of
the past century. Its happened (and continues) in
practically every business, but especially in biotechnology,
information technology and communication.
We are beginning to see some of the consequences of the
financial manipulation fashion and probably the worst is
still to come. But there are booby traps in several other
It can be clever, and profitable, to catch on to a new
fashion at the right time or, even better, to understand a
new trend before it becomes widely visible.
For instance... when Mary Quant invented the
miniskirt, forty years ago, she didnt only have the bright
intuition that the time had come when many women wanted to
show their legs. She also exploited a tax advantage. In the
UK childrens clothes were exempt from purchase tax (that was
before VAT) and the exemption was based on the length of the
garment, not the age (or the size) of the person wearing it.
But its dangerous to follow fashion. And anyhow
it isnteasy. Its hard to understand which fashions or
trends have relatively deep roots and can last for a while and
which are just whims that can come and go quite unpredictably.
One of the problems is the senseless amplification of
fashions in mainstream media. Quite often the media echo
reaches its peak when a trend is dying. Imitation and
fashion-following are often direct roads to failure.
Specifically on the internet, I am not even trying to
make a list of the wonder solutions, the killer
applications, the miracle recipes or the
exponential trends that a few years ago were
widely acclaimed and now are forgotten (leaving behind them a
long streak of failures and disappointments.) Or of the new
fashions (often old ones in disguise) that are in
the limelight today and will disappear tomorrow. Even a short
summary would fill a whole issue of the magazine in which
this article is published (or more text online that anyone
has time to read.) And probably there will be some new (or
revamped) magic potions announced in the press or online
before this magazine reaches the newsstands.
The remedy is quite simple. Dont follow fashions.
Dont do what everybody else is doing. Dont believe
in trade jargon, trendy acronyms, miracle tools or good for
all solutions that arent good for anyone. Take time to
look into facts and learn from realities, experiment carefully before
any ambitious objectives are set, follow simple and clear strategies,
based on specific knowhow and practical experience.
Above all, listen to people and concentrate on human
relations and dialogue. Learning is a never-ending process.
We can, and we should, improve our experience every day.
This is the best way to find the road to success. Or, if we have
already found it, to continue without slipping into an
unexpected pitfall or being detoured, at the next crossing,
by a traffic sign pointing in the wrong direction (by mistake
or deliberate deception.)