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The Zeitgeist Almanac



“We now live in a world where information is potentially unlimited," futurist and inventor George Dyson said in a recent interview. “Information is cheap, but meaning is expensive.”

Hence, the Zeitguide.

To express gratitude for the support I’ve received since the inception of Grossman & Partners, each year I publish this digital cultural almanac—a guidebook to what’s been heating up, what seeds have been planted, what stars are aligning.

To set the tone, here’s my first Zeitguide Video, created in mid-October to capture the undercurrent of Occupy Wall Street for our clients. I went in as a cultural anthropologist without judgment, and although I sensed a lack of cohesion, its impact continues to spread.

So many other significant events defined 2011 that the year seemed to go by faster than a speeding neutrino. We are bombarded by information particles. We are distracted. There is too much static. Here’s to taking a moment at the close of the year to tune in the true signals amid all the noise.

— Brad Grossman

Time magazine’s Dec. 5 cover in the U.S. (left) versus the World editions.

Emotion of the Year: Anxiety  

“The presence of unpredictability, uncertainty and uncontrollability all provoke anxiety pretty automatically…. It’s a signal of either an internal or an external threat.”

Sally Winston, co-director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland, said in a Dec. 5 Time magazine cover story, “Why Anxiety is Good for You.” The article explained that 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety and tried to find a silver lining. The high numbers didn’t shock me, given all that’s going on in the country. What was interesting, however, was that while Americans saw the featured cover on the left, the rest of the world got their Time with a cover featuring the ongoing revolution in Egypt.

What does this say about the difference between the United States and the rest of the world? Gawker asked, does Time think Americans are uninterested in foreign news? Daily Kos fretted the state of American journalism.

My take? It’s the perfect microcosm. Americans have internalized all our social and political issues under the emotional banner of anxiety. The rest of the world has taken direct action in response to what they assess as being external threats. The only people in the U.S. who truly took action were the OWS protesters. Next year will tell if our collective anxiety will turn into collective action.


Digital Feudalism: How Facebook, Twitter, and Google profit from the content and data users give them for free. Facebook grants itself license to our photos. We provide the content that Twitter sells advertising against. And many of us have let Arianna Huffington borrow our brains for free. “We get to keep our little plots of digital land for free and are otherwise pretty much at the whim of the feudal masters,” wrote Patrick Moorhead in Ad AgeDavid Carr echoed the sentiment in The New York Times: “The funny thing about all these frothy millions and billions piling up? The value was created by people working for free.” That said, we do this because who wants to run their own platform and servers? These sites make social easy and second nature.

MIST: The last decade was all about BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China). The new geo-economic term to know is MIST, short for Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey. Combined ad spending in these emerging markets may surpass that of the U.S. in 2014, according to Ad Age.

HAPTICS: The study of the power of human touch, its influence on the brain, and its application in tactile responses in high-tech devices. The term originates from the Greek word for nonverbal communication, like a handshake or a kiss on the cheek. Haptics is now central to evaluating technology interfaces, like smartphones and video games, in terms of experience design and multiplatform storytelling. In the future, our whole world could be touch-driven and phygital. Corning, who manufactures Gorilla Glass, used in many such devices, sees haptics as the future of everything.

TCKs (Third Culture Kids): A better term for the bicultural, American Hispanic youth than what marketers have dubbed them, fusionistas. Hispanic TCKs make up 21% of America’s millennial generation of 18- to 34-year-olds. They see themselves as 100% Latino and 100% American, and have pride in their parents’ culture even if they themselves were born in the U.S. They consume both English and Spanish-language media. Marketers may use the word fusionistas, since TCKs incorporate all ethnicities.

THE FUNEMPLOYED: Young people from wealthy families who travel on the cheap and focus on their hobbies instead of applying for jobs. Those not so fortunate are experiencing Millennial Malaise, a condition caused by being unable to launch a career after a lifetime of hearing that the world is your oyster. Perhaps this is why the conversation is changing in the education sector. Interdisciplinary studies are increasingly relevant, and students are shifting from liberal arts to skill sets.

THE iGENERATION: Like it or not, marketers are using this term (instead of the even cornier “Gen Z”) when referring to those under-18. As those who are more plugged in than their parents and teachers, the “i” is not an Apple reference, but refers to interactive, immersed in media, international, intelligent, and self-reliant (“I”), among other traits, according to Ad Age. Yeah, right.

SHALEONAIRES: Those receiving thousands of dollars per acre for the right to drill on their property, mostly in the shale-gas rich areas of Pennsylvania and New York. A desire for more energy independence and advances in fracking (drilling through the shale with a mixture of water, sand and chemicals to open up fissures in the stone through which natural gas can escape) has created a boom. Production is up by a factor of 12 since the last decade, according to Elizabeth Kolbert of The New Yorker. Fracking fluid is nasty stuff, though, if it gets into your water supply, and the process can cause “induced seismology” (read: earthquakes). Given that, there’s no way to tell how long this “Great Shale Gas Rush” will last.

CATALYTIC PHILANTHROPY: Defined by the recent book Do More Than Give as the collaborative effort of multiple funders, service organizations, governments and corporations to solve large, societal issues. The approach is a sharp deviation from the norms of charity: donors and organizations do not simply write checks, but use all of their skills and resources to affect change. Amber J. Lawson, an active catalytic philanthropist, describes it as "opposed to just giving a village 'fish' we'd rather teach the community how to 'fish,' creating sustainable economies so that they can continue thriving with or without our financial or physical support."

MENTACIDE: When the brain attacks itself with overthinking. A term coined by Jonathan Ames, the creator of HBO’s "Bored to Death." (Friends with great taste tell me this is one of the best shows on TV.) “Mentacide is to neurosis what a case of flesh-eating bacteria is to a minor infection,” Ames writes in the December issue of Men’s Health.

Image via Seeking Alpha.

Tech Cage Match  

In a volatile year in both markets and mood, media companies have found one certainty: “The digital space is incredibly important.... Over the next five years, it’ll be the number one issue we’ll have to navigate.” Whereas media once saw tech companies as a threat, News Corp COO Chase Carey told Bloomberg now “they’re an exciting new dimension to the business.” Today the question is, which digital technology platforms will be the lucky receivers of content?

In the beginning of the year, it seemed to be Netflix, which was celebrating its triumph over bankrupt Blockbuster. In fact, Fortune named CEO Reed Hastings the businessperson of the year at the end of 2010. But after changing their pricing, charging separately for streaming video and rent-by-mail DVDs, they lost close to 1 million subscribers and their stock dropped from $304 (on July 13) to below $70 by November. Can they recover? Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos stated that “negative momentum” at Netflix would turn around by December. Could he be hinting at the talked-about deal with Verizon?

It's interesting that the phone companies have entered the conversation, even as Fast Company, placed the competition among what they call The Fab Four, currently battling for hardware, media and data dominance:

  • Facebook, with more than 800 million users (500 million active daily), will compete with Google for advertising dollars as they leverage “data.” They are also developing a mobile phone code-named Buffy (as in the Slayer).
  • Google, in the past year, launched the social media site Google+ and Google Music. Now the digital giant may enter e-commerce, which Amazon leads, and the Google Chrome extension lets you bypass Facebook news apps.
  • Amazon, as it ventures into online advertising, will now vie with Facebook and Google. And while the $199 Kindle Fire so far doesn't look close to contending with iPad sales, rumors say that they will open retail stores and build more branded merchandise. And as Google’s YouTube creates deals to stream higher-quality content, Amazon Prime members get access to more than 10,000 movies and television shows online. They paid CBS $100 million to stream 2,000 episodes of the network’s shows.
  • As for Apple, despite losing their fearless leader, they sold 32 million total iPads in fiscal year 2011. And even though the iPhone has a smaller market share (28%) than Android phones (40%) in recent quarterly sales, some analysts estimate Apple makes $368 on each $199 iPhone. How? Wireless carriers pay Apple a subsidy to stock the iPhone.

“There was a time, not long ago,” wrote Fast Company, “when you could sum up each company quite neatly: Apple made consumer electronics, Google ran a search engine, Amazon was a web store, and Facebook was a social network. How quaint that assessment seems today.”

But Microsoft has an exciting year ahead, as well. Although I may be one of the few to own one, their Windows Phone 7 with Mango rocks. It’s about communicating with people, not futzing with 600,000 apps. It’s simple: find a person in your contact list and every means of communicating with them, from Facebook to Twitter, pops up immediately. Windows releases their chic Nokia phone (I used it; it’s awesome) and their newest OS Windows 8 in 2012. And their Xbox Kinect is a centripetal force in the living room, connecting interactive games, television content, movies and social networking through a Minority Report wave-of-the-hand action and voice control. Being one of the best-selling consumer products of all time (the week after Thanksgiving it sold roughly 1 million consoles alone), "Microsoft is ready to take over the living room with its new upgrades that give it more TV-like features. But it has one edge that Google TV and Apple's new mysterious TV project don't have—it's in most living rooms already," with a 49% market share of TV consoles.

If you haven’t seen Microsoft’s vision of the future, you now can right here:


Will Video Kill The Television Star?  

Talk around Hollywood this year was about how YouTube was investing $5 million in its top content creators to improve the quality and quantity of videos. It’s questionable whether this initiative (the first money is to be doled out through invitation-only grants) will turn the tide away from cat videos, but Google has certainly announced to Hollywood that there’s a new player in town.

Still, TV stars aren’t going the way of radio stars just yet. Users spend an average of 15 minutes a day on YouTube, according to CNBC, while TV viewers spend an average of five hours glued to the tube. To start closing that gap, Google unveiled a clean new design for YouTube that emphasizes its “channels,” and complements its leanback mode, which was optimized for TV-style searching/viewing. Is it working? Well, YouTube slaps ads on more than 3 billion video views each week, and expects to make $1 billion in annual revenue in 2012.

Some other interesting stats on the state of web video, according to comScore's latest report from October 2011:

  • YouTube had 161 million unique viewers and reached a record high of 20.9 billion videos viewed. More than 42 billion videos were viewed during the month, with the average viewer watching a record 21.1 hours.
  • 86.2% of the U.S. Internet audience view online video.
  • More than 48 hours of video are uploaded every minute.

Some traditional media companies are embracing this trend. Disney joined the YouTube movie rental market. For $1.99 you'll be able to stream Disney catalog favorites in HD. That's really just a dollar more than what we used to pay for the dregs at the video store.

In honor of how far our culture evolved, here’s a link to ReadWriteWeb’s, list of the 10 most popular videos of all time, leading with Justin Bieber’s “Baby” (featuring Ludacris) with more than 675 million views and counting.

The Social Angle on News  

The true purpose of social media content is not just to rack up followers or publish your thoughts or whereabouts, but to convert that into traffic for your media platform.

And the exponential growth of the “social web” makes one thing clear, says Ben Elowitz, CEO of Wetpaint Entertainment: “Those publishers that figure out how to capture and maintain a leadership position in social will win over the next decade.” has the most people coming to their site via social media with the percentage of 14.3, followed by and

In the Hollywood Reporter, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman explained the social media upside for an older media like TV. They promote new series, sure, but real-time Twitter traffic about Beyonce’s baby bump at MTV Video Music Awards attracted viewers, and improved the telecast’s ratings.

Traditional news sites obviously benefit from mastering this too. The millennials get much of their news on social media sites like Twitter (did you know 84% of journalists are on Twitter?) and Facebook. Yes, that means lots of celebrity gossip. But not all. Consider the top five articles shared on Facebook this year:

On Twitter, breaking news dominated the list of 2011’s Most Tweeted world news stories:

  • Resignation of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak
  • Raid that killed Osama bin Laden
  • Japanese earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster
  • Shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
  • Death of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi

But while social media shows us that news still has a prominent spot in the Zeitgeist, are people just reading headlines instead of going deeper? In September, I produced and moderated a panel on the Future of News during New York’s Advertising Week with 2 Degrees Ventures. You can see the highlights above, but here are the key takeaways.

  • CNN Chief Business Correspondent Ali Velshi was excited by the different platforms now available to him: TV, Twitter, podcasting, CNN’s website, radio.
  • Michael Wolff, author and at-the-time editor of MediaWeek and Adweek said, “The news business is a goddamn calamity.
  • Josh Quittner, of Flipboard (my new favorite iPad/iPhone app), hopes that the multiple streams now produced from news entities will be more valuable for advertisers than the sole mother-stream.
  • John Hillkirk, from USA Today, was very excited about gamification techniques that engage younger users into the news experience, such as the interactive “911+ME” memorial site, which customized data to the reader when logged in via Facebook. Also underway: Facebook's Super Bowl Commercial Extravaganza where viewers will be able to rate TV commercials as they air.

After the event, USA Today became the first national newspaper to make a deal with Flipboard.

Amy Winehouse, September 14, 1983 – July 23, 2011 (Image via

Spotify, makes the people come TOGETHER.

It is music that is farthest along the path to complete digitalization, and it’s been a bumpy road business-wise. Still, the industry may have finally turned a corner in 2011. It was the first year we’ve had an increase in album sales since 2004.

At Ross Martin's, Head of Viacom Media Network's Scratch, event in Detroit, MTV’s VP of Digital Music Strategy, Shannon Connolly pointed out that the digital and musical worlds are quickly becoming one and the same. Music is the third favorite media activity of millennials, after watching TV and going online. They spend two to four hours a day with music, 40% of it on mobile phones.

Spotify was a game-changer for me. The online music service allows me to listen to entire albums, and explore music from my friends that may not have reached me otherwise. Think of iTunes, but either with ad supported unlimited listening, or a $9.99 a month subscription fee that takes the ads away, and it doesn't fill up your hard drive. It's a step forward from Pandora, because you know what your friends are actually listening to.

Here’s my Best of 2011’ list on Spotify. As you’ll hear, the music I gravitated to this year was neither hard nor soft; 2011 seemed to need an interstitial soundtrack, reflecting the mood of the times.

Even in this moment of confusion, certain artists and messages have managed to strike a chord (and in turn, keep the record label model afloat). For instance: When you’ve reached the top, there’s really nowhere to go but down. This warning—which extends to every industry, mogul, or empire—came by way of the Jay-Z and Kanye West collaboration “Watch the Throne” album. It certainly resonated with Americans this year.

We’re in the midst of another British invasion, and this time the raiders are women. Music lovers on both sides of the pond mourned Amy Winehouse, but others stepped in to fill the void. Adele had the most albums sales of the year with “21.” Florence + the Machine found critical and commercial success with their second album, “Ceremonials.” I think it has less to do with the British accent, though, and more to do with nostalgia. Adele keeps old soul fresh, and Florence has bluesy, rock and folk style à la Dusty Springfield.

Movies Celebrating Movies  

Nostalgia also suffused many of the movies released—in particular a longing for emotionally powerful cinema. The Artist celebrates the silent film. J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg set Super 8 in the 70s—a period not only when great movies were made, but when kids were excited about movie making.

Martin Scorsese’s Hugo embodies all these qualities. While still succeeding as an orphan-finds-a-family story, it showed real depth in its appreciation for filmmaking pioneer George Méliès (played by Ben Kingsley), who had pushed the limits of narrative and special effects innovation. Hugo also touches on film restoration and archiving, Scorsese’s passions. It really moved me, and reminded me of the impact early cinema had on audiences—and the filmmakers themselves.

This notion of nostalgia is also reflected in the 2012 Academy Awards by having my mentor Brian Grazer produce the show with the best Oscar host of contemporary history, Billy Crystal.

Even today, 115 years after the first projected moving pictures, no other immersive medium compares to seeing movies in a dark theater. Sure, studios arguably deflate the value of their own products with video-on-demand plans, but the movie business has to be saved. As you can see from the TMC video of 100 years of the Movies (yes, video), there’s nothing like the power of cinema.

Mary Tyler Moore Again  

Women made much impact in terms of movie grosses this year: Twilight's domestic opening of $139.5 million was driven by an audience of 80% women. On the small screen, television shows reflected strong female characters. Bill Carter’s New York Times article on television trends, refers to this as the season of the vagina: “Forget the singing competitions, cop shows, fairy-tale dramas and the ‘Mad Men’-style melodramas. For network television this is the season of the vagina.” From “Two Broke Girls” to “Suburgatory,” “New Girl” to “Whitney,” female characters were unleashed to…skip the euphemisms.

But to me, it was the more reserved Emmy-winning British series "Downton Abbey" that unexpectedly reflected the American psyche. Set during the years between the sinking of the Titanic and WWI, the miniseries depicts another intensely transformative time. Electricity, the telephone and the automobile took over and divisions among class and gender eroded. The notion of “Englishness” too, seemed at risk of crumbling, much like our own sense of American exceptionalism.

Showtime’s “Homeland,” featuring Claire Danes, also tapped into something powerful. There are movies and there are cinematic television shows with stories that need to be told in more than two hours. I hope video doesn't disrupt this.

Nevada Smiths. Photo by Brad Grossman.

Play ball... or something else  

Female television and sports intersected this year, especially in women's soccer. I found myself at the most famous soccer sports bar, Nevada Smiths, supporting the United States team on its near-championship. The crowd was rowdy, but not as bad as in Argentina, where "a rise in street crime is reflected in the increasing aggression among groups of soccer hooligans, which often act as mini-mafias," as written by Alexei Barrionuevo and Charles Newbery in the New York Times.

The NBA lockout finally came to an end, but at an extreme cost. The Orlando Sentinel noted that with the extended time off the court and an abbreviated season, the athletes will not be the same. Funny enough, the NFL lockout at least led to a crazy, one-of-a-kind Fantasy Football season.

If you want to know more about what happened beyond labor and money battles, The Atlantic actually told me everything I needed to know about sports this year, with its biggest sports stories of 2011 article.

I might have seen more sports video games than actual sports broadcasts this year. Games are everywhere, especially social games. Social gaming isn’t only growing, it is the fastest-growing section of the gaming market. Sims Social, the Facebook connected version of the make-your-own-world game, launched in September and already has 65 million daily users.

Zygna, the game developer responsible for the Farmville and Cityville contagion that took place on Facebook, turned stand-alone this year. And now, they are pre-IPO, with an expected range of $8.50 to $10 per share. According to BTIG's Richard Greenfield, "While it may be viewed as the next big Internet IPO with comparisons being made to other social-networking driven companies, such as LinkedIn or Groupon, Zynga is really a media company focused on taking a greater share of your time and money spent on entertainment."

The expansion of social gaming makes sense as gaming integrates with mobile and we’re less tethered to gaming systems. But traditional retail games aren’t going away. Mashable had an interesting take on it: “Despite all the hype surrounding the growth of mobile, social, online, digital, massively multiplayer and free-to-play games, blockbuster disc-based retail releases continue to enjoy a massive fan following.” Perhaps that could explain the $1 billion in sales of Activision's Modern Warfare III in 16 days. At $60, those fans are also looking for higher production values, more depth of play, and multiplayer components.

My Bookshelf

A Humanist Bookshelf  

My favorite books this year were all about human nature and behavior.

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker, demonstrates how we are becoming less violent, and may live in humanity’s most peaceful times. In the New York Times, Pinker was described as “human nature’s pathologist.”

Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson, argues the West invented six “killer applications” that the Rest [of the world] lacked: competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic, which led to its surpassing both Asia and South America in societal development.

The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You by Eli Pariser traces our ability to get trapped without realizing by the restrictive path of search engine algorithms. Do you click past the three or four top results? As reported by Clive Thompson at Wired, young students were tricked in a test study, where the search algorithm was altered to yield wrong answers. All of the students took the wrong search engine results as fact.

The Social Animal by David Brooks expands upon his New Yorker article and explores emotion, character, what makes human beings tick, make decisions, connect and fall in love. Here’s a fun video he made that illustrates the concept.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson came out right after the Apple founder’s death. It offered a window into his obsessively artistic nature and methods of survival. I was going to read the book, but my instinct was to read the much shorter Malcolm Gladwell New Yorker article, “The Tweaker” instead. Just kidding.

Blue Nights by Joan Didion is her second memoir illustrating grief and sorrow, as she elegizes the death of her daughter. It is a study in mourning, and a journey through memories.

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie is a treatise on drive, gender and determination, as she secured power... including using men as instruments for pleasure.

  Art is everywhere  
Savage Beauty. Photo via

I went to museums to see things from the street:  

Alexander McQueen clothing at the Met’s “Savage Beauty” exhibition, The New Museum’s carnival-like Carsten Höller showcase, and MOCA’s “Art in the Streets.” Meanwhile, outside, I saw art that seemed to have escaped the museums, like at The Creator’s Project, a two day festival on the convergence of art and technology sponsored by Vice Magazine and Intel, as well as Bring to Light: Nuit Blanche, the festival of light art installations in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Art went everywhere this year, and so did art experiences.

The cultural hits of 2011 were extensions of this idea: immersive and interactive. A MOCA gala staged by performance artist Maria Abramovic had dinner guests built right into the table. Off-Broadway, Sleep No More allowed guests to play an active role in their three-hour Macbeth by way of Hitchcock, in which touching and tasting were encouraged. The Carsten Höller exhibition offers participants goggles that turn the world upside down: a three-story tubular slide and a sensory deprivation tank.

In an age of immediate and frequent stimulation, it makes perfect sense to see a movement in art that requires active engagement.

In terms of art collection, the market is staying strong. This fall saw a $1 billion auction season at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. While stocks have spasmed the last few months, as the Wall Street Journal notes, the art market has remained steady. With Lichtenstein fetching $43.2 million and Gerard Richter pulling in $20.8 million, it was the contemporary pieces dominating. At Christie's this year, Andreas Gursky's Rhein 2 sold for $4.3 million, setting the recording for the highest photograph ever sold at auction.

There were other happenings in the art world this year, and although innovative, I’m not sure if I understand their value:

Immaterial art. Showcased at Art Basel in Switzerland earlier this year, Immaterial Art bent the laws ownership. In other words, it wasn’t an object you could really take home. Newsweek noted that American artist Lawrence Weiner’s sculpture comprised the words “2 Metal Balls + 2 Metal Rings (Set Down in the Groove)” painted on the ground—but for $160,000 it’s buyer wouldn’t get the lettering itself, nor the 3-D work it implies. You get instead a certificate that is essentially a license to the idea.

Art Genome. is an invitation-only site, aiming to connect art buyers with work they'll love based on a predictive genome model. (In the music world, this is what gave us Pandora.) According to Wired, the 550 genes "range from the simply factual (the medium, the color palette) to the undeniably subjective (the 'movement' a work falls into, or its 'subject matter')."

Sundance syndrome. That’s what has infected Art Basel Miami Beach. Gallerist NY had an impassioned take: “Art fairs in their first few years were the gallery world’s great equalizing playing fields, where dealers from all over the world could show up and catch your eye with something powerful, something exotic or something undervalued” but now “the galleries aggressively pre-sell everything they can before the fair opens.” So what’s Basel for? Partying. “Every year more and more people flock to Art Basel Miami Beach, people who have no interest in art. They show up to go to parties, drink free cocktails—the whole boondoggle of free fun.”

  Fashion & Design  
al-Hamra, Kuwait City. Image via

The New Fashion Fusion  

When clothing and accessory retailer H&M partnered with high-end Parisian designer Lanvin in 2010, the result was so popular it crashed websites and left brick-and-mortar stores out of stock. This trend of affordable high style continued in 2011. The Missoni for Target launch in September caused an even greater stir. This year, Versace for H&M and other partnerships at Uniqlo and Opening Ceremony, question the fundamentals of luxury and economy. Luxury has always been equated to exclusivity, but a limited run with a major retailer grants access to the masses. Clearly Target and H&M would like to position themselves as the chicest of the affordable retailers. Question is, will it hurt the appeal of high-end fashion?

Another innovative collaboration was Rachel Shechtman's start-up store, featuring the creations of several of New York's most creative start-ups. The store reinvents itself with design, concepts and products every couple of months.

Warby Parker evolved eyewear through mindful retail idea appropriation. With Apple-ish design meets function, Zappos’ web-only mind-set, and Patagonia’s do-gooder ethic, it became one of the most successful fashion brands of the year.

Are you familiar with the High Heel Economic indicator? No, it's got nothing to do with Lady Gaga. According to Ad Age, “Historically in economic downturns heels have tended to go up and stay up.” Trevor Davis, a consumer-products expert with IBM Global Business Services explains that “consumers look to compensate for dismal times with more flamboyant fashions.”

Record breaking Black Friday and Cyber Monday have proven the opposite, but according to the Wall Street Journal, "cheery shoppers are masking long term risks." Is it that or is there a new contigent of net-savvy consumers? "27% of Americans plan to do most or all their shopping online," but "16% [of those shoppers] use online coupon services such as Groupon or Living Social."

The Arab Spring made its way to the runways of Paris, courtesy of designer Haiden Ackermann’s spring collection that embraced Middle Eastern style and the energy behind it. Meanwhile, online fashion retailers are popping up in the Middle East to serve a young, brand-conscious population. Ahmed Alkhatib, founder of MarkaVIP e-commerce sites, struck gold with his bargain designer sites. “We offer brands that are too expensive for people to buy at brick-and-mortar stores. And we offer the same quality at much better prices,” he told the WSJ. ”Saudi Arabia, where shopping isn’t convenient for women, comprises 40% of our market.”

Middle Eastern style and functionality of design also swathed architecture. The Sculpted Skyscraper, al-Hamra in Kuwait City, was named one of Time’s 50 best inventions of 2011. “The aesthetic 90-degree curve traces the sun’s path (a distinct salute to the unrelenting Middle East sun) across the sky and is punctuated by glass wings at the top.” Construction should be complete next year.

Created for the Zeitguide by Martin Murphy

Consumer Power  

There was a time when advertising was a necessary component of the consumer market. It was a tool to persuade consumers that they wanted your product.

Now, in the digital age, consumers are telling companies what they want. It’s the responsibility of marketers to mine the Big Data of consumer desires and then deliver. The overwhelming amount of data is the top concern of chief marketing officers, according to a global study by IBM.

How valuable is mastery of data to marketing? Data is the new oil, according to Patrick Moorhead of Ad Age, who writes, “Like crude deposits buried deep under the surface of the earth, the growing sea of personal data represents a vein glory of new opportunities for businesses to reap massive financial gains.” I think that makes Facebook, Google and even credit card companies flooded with natural resources.

We’re also seeing the rise of a new career: Data scientist. LinkedIn’s Daniel Tunkelang explains that this is “someone who can obtain, scrub, explore, model and interpret data, blending hacking, statistics and machine learning. Data scientists not only are adept at working with data, but appreciate data itself as a first-class product.”

Once that problem is solved, brands still have to figure out how to engage the consumer so that they can easily transact the deal. This will require less effort (and money) spent on “selling” and more on “bonding” with the consumer, as David C. Edelman suggested in his Harvard Business Review article “Branding in the Digital Age.

U.S. and global advertising spending did grow 3.5% this year, however. Next year should be even better, according to ZenithOptimedia, up 4.7% because of big-buy “quadrennial events,” including the U.S. presidential election, the Summer Olympics, and the European soccer championships. The figures, however, are lowered from earlier projections (an increase of 5.3% in 2012), most probably due to the European economy. Online’s share of global ad expenditures should rise from 15.9% to 21.2% in 2014.

On 6th Avenue, Sex Tries to Sell, Photo by Brad Grossman

Sex still sells, too. In case you were wondering. All over traditional media, we saw some very sexy ads. Zappos used nude models to tell people it sells more than shoes. PETA introduced a website of pornographic photos to promote veganism. And in their controversial fall “Unhate” campaign, Benetton depicted lip-locked world leaders, e.g. President Obama kissing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. An image of the Pope kissing an Egyptian Imam got pulled after the Vatican protested and threatened legal action, but with all the media coverage, it clearly did its job.

And our favorite was Michael Kors’ underwear ad. I wonder if this campaign contributed to their doubling in profits this year and that after their IPO, shares increased by 21%. Many of you have seen those ads on New York bus stops and on Sunset Boulevard billboards, but many may have missed this video (which YouTube requires you to be over 18 to view):

If you find that video titillating, be warned that soon advertisers might know that. According to the BBC: A report by the Centre for Future Studies, (commissioned by 3MGTG) predicts digital advertisements that adapt to our moods. The technology for out-of-home ads, dubbed ‘Gladverts’ by the report’s authors, would use emotion recognition software to discern if we are happy or sad and then serve up an advertisement that suits our mood.

Apatosaurus Bone in Montana

Know Thyself to an extreme  

Who wouldn't want a pet dinosaur? Paleontologist Jack Horner, who was also Steven Spielberg's advisor on Jurassic Park, says it’s possible by reverse engineering a chicken into a chickensaurus. This summer I went on a dinosaur dig (no, I didn’t find that bone) with him and teens from Adventures of the Mind, a program where we both mentor high schoolers to follow their passions and achieve genuine success. “Activate enough ancestral characteristics in a single chicken,” he told this year’s TED Conference “and you’ll end up with something close.” See the TED video below. Wired also covered this in the article “How to Hatch a Dinosaur.”

Speaking of genetic engineering, let’s talk about zinc fingers, synthetic proteins that act like scissors, snipping a targeted bit of genetic code. I first read about this in one of this year’s best articles, New York Magazine’s “The Man Who Had HIV and Now Does Not” by Tina Rosenberg. The article tells the story of the “Berlin patient,” Timothy Brown, who was cured of HIV after a stem cell transplant to treat leukemia; the (deliberately chosen) donor had a genetic mutation that disables CCR5, a protein receptor that HIV exploits as a path into immune system cells.

I had the pleasure of meeting geneticist Paula Cannon from USC, who had used zinc finger nucleases to insert the CCR5 mutation into lab mice with human immune systems. They didn’t get sick when injected with HIV, but her control group of untreated mice did. It’s been 30 years and at least 30 million deaths since the first AIDS diagnosis, but these scientific advances have renewed hope that a cure is possible.

Technology is allowing people to take self-improvement to whole new levels. Quantified self is the term used to describe those who monitor themselves–not just diet and exercise, but sleep, mood, spending and DNA. Wired magazine’s Gary Wolf is its leading proponent, but Tim Ferriss, author of best-selling The Four-Hour Body is probably its most extreme adherent. According to Forbes Magazine, Ferriss tracks his brain waves while sleeping; he has inserted a blood sugar monitor into his torso and biopsied his thigh to analyze his muscle fibers and endurance enzymes. Martin Blinder, founder and CEO of TicTrac envisions a day where these personal analytics could lead to designed lifestyles. “We are entering an era of personal analytics where we can take control of our own data to inform better life decisions,” he told Wired UK.

The same self-improvement impulse lead Fast Company to declare that brain gyms may be the next big business. Luminosity has attracted $32 million in investment into its site creating games that sharpen cognitive skills, such as remembering names, solving problems, or concentrating. And if you’re struggling with mentacide, try these 10 Emotional Fitness Tools from Psychology Today. Can’t sleep? Try literally “cooling” down your brain. Low temperature slow down metabolism in the frontal cortex, allowing insomniacs to sleep just like healthy test subjects, according to the Associated Profession Sleep Societies.

My Tomato Sculpture: Featuring Heirlooms from Upstate.

Reaping and Sewing  

I spent the summer in the Hudson Valley doing my best to live by the foodie credo: local, biodynamic, artisanal and seasonal. I lived "seed to soil," getting produce from the sustainable Montgomery Place farm stand and biodynamic Hawthorne Valley Farms, and after my delicious meals, I composted. It was a summer of simple luxury: wonderful, nutritious food at reasonable prices, with enough left over to make tomato sculptures.

The rest of the world didn’t fare so well: food prices inflated 3.5% to 4.5% this year. Part of the blame is falling on American biofuel production, specifically corn ethanol, which boosted corn prices and took over farmland that once was used for edible food. “The high prices for corn–while driving hunger in Africa–have encouraged other farmers to turn over land from wheat, soybeans, or even pasture to corn production,” writes the Guardian.

The U.S. still hasn’t turned the corner on the obesity epidemic, either. Twelve states now have obesity rates above 30 percent. Five years ago, only two states were above 30 percent. What’s to be done? New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to convince the USDA to let him ban the use of food stamps to buy soda and other sugary drinks in the city, but failed. Denmark, on the other hand, introduced a fat tax in October on butter, milk, cheese, pizza, meat, oil and processed food if the item contains more than 2.3% saturated fat. Denmark, by the way, has an obesity rate of about 10%. In Russia, meanwhile, there has been a major increase in the openings of Burger Kings, Cinnabon, Subway and other American fast food franchises.  Fake McDonalds and KFCs, called shanzhai are filling up Shanghai.

While food is either scarce or completely unhealthy, perhaps this could explain a current trend to alternative foods, like bugs and garbage. San Francisco is pioneering entomophagy, or insect cuisine. At Monica Martinez’s “pre-Hispanic snackeria” food truck, reports the SF Weekly, “Martínez drops a handful of pallid worms, similar to those a child might feed a pet gecko, into a frying pan, where they sizzle and take on a caramel-colored sheen.” The Freegan movement is gaining momentum as an eco-friendly approach to dumpster diving, as noted on LearnVest’s Living Frugally channel. Anne Elder, who runs the Community Farm of Ann Arbor, Mich., embraces the cauliflower leaves and broccoli stems that even Freegans would pass over: cook them. From husk to rind to stem and seed, nothing goes to waste.

There’s a lot less waste in in vitro meat too, where one cow stem cell soaked in a nutrient rich solution, and zapped with electrical impulses, could grow into a hamburger patty. It certainly saves water, grain, and environmental damage caused by factory farming. But will animal-rights vegetarians find this ethical?

Wine Taxonomy

What wine goes with petri-dish beef? I didn’t figure that out, but I did learn a lot about wine this summer, thanks to my friend Jay Strell and Michael Albin, owner of Hudson Wine Merchants. My favorites have always been French Burgundy and Italian Barolo. I knew they were silky (and expensive). But I was such a dilettante. Michael suggested I read Reflections of a Wine Merchant, the memoir of wine importer Neal I. Rosenthal. He is a great proponent of the importance of terroir, meaning the origin (soil), the maintenance (climate) and the gene (grape species). I also learned a great deal by reading up on what I was drinking on

What a great year to indulge in Italian and French wines, too. According to Daniel Posner of Grapes The Wine Company, “The eurozone fears make great Old World wine affordable again. … We are not talking Australian-type wine issues, but we are talking an overabundance of great juice going unsold. That leaves savvy producers and importers alike the opportunity to swoop in and ‘steal’ great stuff.”

My favorite European wines, most from Michael’s shop:


  • Lucien Crochet, La Croix du Roy. 2009. Sancerre, Loire Valley, France. Distributed by Neal Rosenthal. A crisp white made from Sauvignon Blanc variety.
  • Doumain Roulot. 2009. Bourgogne Aligoté, Burgundy, France. Distributed by Daniel Johnnes. Aligoté variety.
  • Domaine de la Pepiere. 2009. Loire Valley, France. Distributed by Louis/Dressler. Muscadet variety.
  • Château de Lascaux. 2009. Coteaux du Languedoc, France. Distributed by Kermit Lynch. White Rhone grape Blend.


  • Olga Raffault’s Chinon Rosé. 2010. Chinon, Loire Valley, France. Distributed by Louis/Dressner. Cabernet Franc variety.
  • Domaine Tempier Rosé. Bandol, Provence, France. Distributed by Kermit Lynch. Mourvedre Blend.
  • Château la Rame Rosé. Bordeaux, France. Distributed by Rosenthal. Rosé blend.


  • Domaine de Guy Castagnier. 2002. Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy, France. Distributed by Jeff Welburn. Pinot Noir variety.
  • Olga Raffault. 2005. Chinon, Loire, France. Distributed by Louis/Dressner. Cabernet Franc variety.
  • Domaine Monpertuis, Vignoble de la Ramiere. 2009. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône, France. Distributed by Neal Rosenthal. Red Rhone grape blend.
  • Marcel Lapierre’s Raisins Gaulois. 2010. Beaujolais, France. Gamay variety. Simple, cheap and great to have on hand for parties.

Since becoming an Old World wine snob, I’d given up on California reds. But I broke that habit with Mount Eden Vineyards Cabernet, and now I always buy a Cab when I wine shop since I've learned to appreciate the roundedness of California Cabernets.

I also drank craft beer this summer, especially since I spent some time in Missoula, Mont., where you buy your local brew by the growler (a half-gallon bottle). Seems like everyone’s into zymurgy there – the science of fermentation – judging by the rubber tubing hanging out of windows.

Cider is the new craft beer. American sales have jumped 21% this year, according to Ad Age. A drink that was once thought of as sweet and for women, has picked up male drinkers. And sour beers, are getting attention as well. The New York Times' Eric Asimov outlined that strange brews are just as complex as Old World wines. Not easily defined, these beers have high acidity, and are often made with wild yeasts and whiskey barrels, creating a "vivid, vibrant and refreshing taste."

Ed Stein.

Balance Sheets  

Even as the fallout from bad mortgages, personal debt and overextended bank balance sheets continues, it was public debt that has grabbed the headlines this year.

The U.S. national debt is above $14 trillion, about $4 trillion of which is foreign owned. China owns about $1.14 in U.S. treasury bonds. The good news then? Despite the repo jokes, China actually holds less than 10% of our national debt. The bad news?  Our own “super committee” of politicians failed at even trimming even $1.2 trillion from our budget—over the next decade.

Howard Marks, Chairman of major investment fund, Oaktree Capital, at the end of his lengthy annual memo to clients sums up our situation: “As for the future, there are only three possibilities: the promises will have to be scaled back, the tax burden will have to grow, and/or the deficits will have to be permitted to increase… This fundamental truth will constitute a major proportion of the public debate in the coming years.”

Mary Meeker, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, a highly-respected VC fund that originally backed tech heavyweights such as Google and Amazon, is not optimistic about the future of the U.S. unless we make difficult decisions. In her 266 page report, USA Inc., she looks at the federal government as if it were a business, with the simple conclusion that we are in “deep financial trouble” given we are spending beyond our means and cannot seem to stop.

Europe is in a much worse state than we are, say economist Nouriel Roubini and political scientist Ian Bremmer. The multiple players of the EU don’t agree on the causes (profligate PIGS? Stingy export-heavy Germany?) of their problems, let alone fixes. Writing last month in the Wall Street Journal, they said: “Europe will be the first to drop out of the game of kick the can. Expect a disorderly debt default in Greece, more trouble for European banks and a sharp recession across the continent.” And despite America’s dysfunctional politics, the writers think the U.S. is more likely to get its financial house in order—and will benefit from having the lead in innovative technologies and a growing population that will replace any retiring workforce.

China’s state-run capitalism and one-child policy are going to hurt it in the long run. “The financial crisis made clear that China’s growth remains dangerously dependent on exports to Europe, America and Japan.... China has the cash and foreign reserves to postpone a crisis. But growth is slowing, [and] financial stresses are rising.”

Instead of transferring control of wealth to private citizens or enterprises, China is engaged in what some call “checkbook diplomacy,” buying up assets around the world. The conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation created a database to look at what China is buying besides U.S. Treasury Bonds.

It's a complex economy, but Harvard Business Review says that leaders have to embrace complexity, which is not to be confused with the merely complicated. Complicated systems have many parts, but move in predictable patterns. Complex businesses contain multiple, diverse, but interdependent parts whose interactions are continually changing.

To accept this, perhaps, multi-national corporations are investing in business leadership education.  According to Fortune’s study on the “25 Best Companies for Leaders,” IBM (no. 1) sends “leadership SWAT teams” around the world, Hindustan Unilever (no. 6) sends young executives to Indian villages so, “they can understand the needs of impoverished rural customers.” Other companies like Deere (no. 14) coach their rising managers with United States military experts and other inspirational luminaries.

Dr. Hawa Abdi, center, with daughters Deqa and Amina. Image via

This Was The Year of the Woman  

The power of women permeated popular culture this year as artists and audiences. But that was just the beginning.

My “Year of Women” started a few days after the 100th International Women’s Day, when, despite my gender, I attended Tina Brown’s Women in the World summit. From Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg and Dr. Hawa Abdi, who transformed her hospital and land into a home for 90,000 war refugees in Somalia, the attendees and their accomplishments were remarkable. I was amazed by their power to effect change.

Consider my consciousness raised. Thereafter, I tuned into more and more media coverage on the status of women globally.

It’s been 40 years since Ms. Magazine, led by Gloria Steinem, sold out its first issue in eight days. Plenty of people—President Nixon, and New York Times editors among them—dismissed it. But it was an undeniable success, forging activist momentum into a publication that changed history.

How far have women come since? Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, indisputably emerged as the strongest leader in the crisis-ridden euro zone.  According to Forbes, she’s the most powerful woman in the world. And Christine Lagarde stepped in as Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund as in the middle of a global economic crisis after Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s sex-assault scandal.

Women better handle the purse strings at all levels, it seems. They control 73% of U.S. household spending.  In the developing worlds, women invest 90% of their own income back in to their families and communities,  compared to 30% by men. Sir Fazle Abed, founder of microfinance organization BRAC, told Big Think, “If we want to change our society, we need to focus our attention on our women.”

Businesses are finally coming to some of the same conclusions. Forbes reported on multiple studies this year, much of it building on McKinsey’s high-profile “Women Matter” report that found that “strong stock market growth among European companies is most likely to occur where there is a higher proportion of women in senior management.” Firms with more female directors also outperform rivals, getting higher returns on sales, invested capital and equity. Other research has found that “if a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.” Even male-dominated Silicon Valley got two high-profile women CEOs this year: HP brought Meg Whitman in to save the day, and Virginia Rometty ascended to the CEO’s job at IBM. (On a user level, women have long ruled the Internet. Summarizing findings from a comScore white paper, TechCrunch reported that “women are the majority of users of social networking sites and spend 30% more.”)

What else? Oh yeah. World peace. This year three women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” The three, and excerpts from their Nobel lecture:

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who as President of Liberia became the first female freely elected head of state in Africa.

“If I might thus speak to girls and women everywhere, I would issue them this simple invitation: My sisters, my daughters, my friends, find your voices! Each of us has her own voice, and the differences among us are to be celebrated. But our goals are in harmony. They are the pursuit of peace, the pursuit of justice. They are the defense of rights to which all people are entitled.”

Leymah Gbowee, a trauma counselor in Liberia, who mobilized women from all ethnic and religious groups to end the nation’s civil war.

“We spoke truth to power when everyone else was being diplomatic. We stood under the rain and the sun with our children to tell the world the stories of the other side of the conflict. Our educational backgrounds, travel experiences, faiths, and social classes did not matter. We had a common agenda: Peace for Liberia Now. … [W]hen confronting warlords we did so because we felt it was our moral duty to stand as mothers and gird our waist, to fight the demons of war in order to protect the lives of our children, their land, and their future.”

Tawakul Karman, a journalist and activist for peaceful revolution in Yemen.

“[T]he survival of the human race is the clearest expression of mankind’s yearning for reconstruction, not for destruction, for progress, not for regression and death. This tendency is strengthened day after day with all available means of communications, thanks to the rapid and astonishing development of information technology and the communications revolution. Walls between human societies have fallen down and the lives and destinies of societies have converged, marking the emergence of a new phase, a phase where peoples and nations of the world are not only residents of a small village, as they say, but members of one family, despite differences in nationality and race or in culture and language.”

I, for one, was inspired and awed by women again and again this year. We’ve got a global economy to save, revolutions to finish, companies to jump-start. We might do well to start by getting in touch with our feminine side.


Even with all that happened, 2011 feels somehow a bit unfinished. Like Act II of a play. Perhaps that’s because of the sense that make-or-break moments are upon us. Will we get an iPhone5? What about a Republican presidential nominee? What will happen with the world economy? Unemployment? The Arab Spring? Our presidential election?

In 2011, a lot happened. But at least with elections coming up, all of us will be empowered as opposed to just waiting around in anxiety.

Next year, 2012, will be the Year of Decision.

Year of the Decision by The 3 Degrees, 1974.

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