A Cultural Almanac for 2013


Illustration by JT Waldman


The zeitgeist is the nonstop conversation a society has with itself. If it were a dinner party, it would be a boisterous affair packed with cultural leaders, where every tête-à-tête reveals fascinating twists, turns and insights. Alas, most of us mere mortals can only tune into one discussion at a time.

Enter the Zeitguide. Our cultural almanac freeze-frames the most vital conversations so that you can dive into and relish each one. It’s a chance to catch up with the world, absorb, reflect, and connect dots. To gather context beyond hashtags.

At Grossman & Partners, our job is to immerse ourselves in all aspects of the zeitgeist conversation to help clients—from Fortune 100 business executives to visionary entrepreneurs to award-winning filmmakers—stay informed, in touch and inspired. To follow is a selection of the eye-opening ideas we’ve encountered alongside these clients this year and developments that we believe will shape the year to come.

This page of the Zeitguide is just an appetizer, so if you like what you read below, we hope you will consider ordering the full multi-course feast. It includes chapters on education, music, fashion and design, film and TV, Internet content, science and medicine, marketing, retail and more.

It also comes printed. On actual paper. With a binding. Our collectible 2013 Zeitguide can sit on your desk as your reference tool all year, and serve as a cultural touchstone for years to come. Order the book and you’ll get immediate access to the entire digital version.

If you have already purchased access to the Zeitguide 2013, click here to go to the password page.

Our best wishes for a year of new discoveries.


Brad Grossman
Creator, Zeitguide
Founder, Grossman & Partners
@Zeitguide, #Zeitguide2013

  Finance & Business  
Images by Martin Murphy unless otherwise indicated.

ADD VUCA —volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity—to SNAFU and FUBAR as the latest military acronym to work its way into the civilian vocabulary. It’s in vogue particularly among business leaders, and given the fiscal cliff, the euro crisis, shrinking Chinese GDP growth, flash stock crashes, and DOA IPOs, it’s easy to see why.

Problem is, there’s no VUCA operating template. The only consistent corporate behavior we’ve seen: hunkering down, reflected in a hesitation to invest, hire, or buy into anything. But hemming and hawing doesn’t help the bottom line, either. As Winston Churchill noted: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”

Here are some other opportunities we’re optimistic about.


After decades of offshoring, some manufacturing is finally coming back to the U.S. All the cool kids are doing it: Apple, Google, Starbucks, even the nation’s largest industrial company, GE.

So is it just a patriotic gesture or a sign of a legitimate trend? Although “Made in the USA Again” is a great headline—and there certainly has been political pressure on companies—the motivators for on-shoring manufacturing appear to be solidly financial. Oil prices are three times what they were in 2000, making transocean shipping much pricier. Meantime, a natural gas boom is pushing down U.S. energy prices. Chinese labor costs are up fivefold, still cheap but rising, whereas American wages have, as we all know, stagnated. Unions have made deep concessions about new hires in particular. And building products in the U.S. means you can get them onto store shelves much, much faster.

Collaboration and innovation improve, too. When GE evaluated how to make GeoSpring water heaters in Kentucky instead of China, it wound up with a much better design. As reported in The Atlantic, the new water heater had 20 fewer parts, material costs went down 25 percent, and it took two hours to assemble instead of 10. It was more energy efficient and now retails for $300 less.

Although no one expects manufacturing to spring back up to 1990 levels, Boston Consulting Group predicted that 2 million or more jobs could return to U.S. shores. Supply chain expert and MIT professor David Simchi-Levi surveyed 108 multinationals over the summer and found 14 percent planned to bring some manufacturing back to the U.S. If there’s been any hiccup, it’s softening demand because of fiscal cliff pessimists.


This year, we learned about impact investing from Zeitguide’s friend Josh Kennedy and Beyond Capital Fund’s Eva Yazhari. This type of investing steers dollars to generate both financial returns and social change. For foundations and educational institutions especially, it’s a way to invest endowment funds to further missions.

Pasha Bakhtiar, who co-founded Willow Impact Investors, sees firms like his filling a gap between microfinance and developing market private equity investing. “Philanthropy has proven it can only do so much,” he told INSEAD Knowledge. “What we’re trying to do is empower a different segment of the population which hasn’t had access to something we regard as a basic tool to growth—and that’s capital.”

At the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting, we got a look at what impact investing could do on the ground. Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria’s minister of agriculture and rural development, said private sector investment in agriculture could not only feed more people but also lift millions out of poverty. It “requires that we change our mindset about agriculture,” he said. “We must take agriculture out of that development realm … and put it into an investment realm to be able to unlock the power of agriculture to create jobs and wealth.” The rapid spread of smartphones (which now comprise about 20 percent of mobile phones worldwide) is making this possible, even in rural Nigeria. Farmers there used phones to register with the department of agriculture, receive subsidies, and make payments to private sector suppliers of seeds or fertilizer. Private markets, personal technology, and transparent systems also cut corruption.


Wall Street might be understandably wary of social media after the Facebook stock roller coaster ride. But let’s decouple the concept of “social” from Facebook and Twitter for a moment and concentrate on how the same mechanisms—liking and friending, tweeting and pinning—are remaking businesses.

Social enterprise networks, like their recreational counterparts, let employees and customers connect, collaborate, and create in real time. McKinsey’s white paper “The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies” suggested that productivity of “interaction workers” could jump 20 to 25 percent. Some corporations are creating their own social systems, and many more are adopting or adapting existing third-party platforms such as Salesforce, Yammer (which Microsoft bought for $1.2 billion), Jive, IBM Connections, and Oracle Social Network.

Social enterprise solutions are also hot in VC circles, partly because of the renewed interest in business technology as consumer-focused startups stumbled. “Tech companies with names like Splunk Inc. and ServiceNow Inc. that make harder-to-understand products for businesses are snagging attention with stellar IPOs and strong growth,” reported The Wall Street Journal. “Venture capitalists are now inundating these business-tech types with offers. Conference planners are deluging them with invitations to talk about topics such as ‘How Enterprise Got Sexy Again.’”


A big-brain statistician we know laughed when he heard that the Harvard Business Review had called his job—data scientist—“the sexiest job of the 21st century.” But if by “sexy” HBR meant “highly desirable,” there’s little room to disagree.

By 2018, “the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills,” according to McKinsey & Co. That gives us just enough time to get enrolled at Columbia University’s Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering. Students are also being accepted to the “beta” version of Cornell NYC Tech, which has plans to grow into a world class applied sciences and engineering school on Roosevelt Island.

Yes, math will be required. But don’t worry: There’s still an important role for those of us with creative bones.

One of Forbes’ most powerful data scientists, DJ Patil, said when he was posting the first-ever “data scientists” job openings for LinkedIn, he didn’t just want mad coding skills; he wanted people with tremendous curiosity. “A great data scientist picks up everyone around them and invigorates them through data,” Patil told the Zeitguide this year at Beth Comstock’s GE CMO Summit. “What is most important are raw curiosity, passion, and storytelling. The best data scientist in the world knows how to create narrative and make data come alive.”

Speaking of cool job descriptions, Fast Company recently wrote about how instilling job titles with a sense of purpose is a good way to attract and retain young, tech-savvy millennials. Without changing the work, making the “customer service representative” a “customer relations specialist” or “customer happiness consultant” can do the trick.

Still, even customer happiness consultants better be computer savvy. Of the 20 jobs with the biggest projected growth, only a handful (child day care, truck driver, and construction, for example) might escape a complete overhaul by a new wave of technology in the coming years. But health care? Management? Education? Prepare for the technology career sea change. According to the Brookings Institution, already the most openings advertised are for jobs in computers.

Netscape-founder-turned-venture-capitalist Marc Andreessen takes this further, suggesting a social schism is in the works: “The spread of computers and the Internet will put jobs in two categories,” he told USA Today. “People who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do.”


“I’m off to my third Thanksgiving,” Zeitguide friend Pieter Estersohn said. We suspected at first this was because it’s so common to have multiple “families” created by biology, romantic attachment, or abiding friendships. But in fact we think it’s because a holiday that centers on food might just be his favorite.

Who could blame him? We’ve become even more obsessed with food—its origins, intricacies, cultural import. “Have you eaten at Bäco Mercat?” has become the new “Have you seen that edgy documentary?”


“Food really is the new rock,” L.A.-based food blogger Krista Simmons told “CBS Sunday Morning.” It’s something to have opinions about, and a visceral experience you still have to seek out (it’s not on the Internet) and pay for (there will be no downloading appetizers). Even though we have fewer restaurants overall and millennials are eating out less often (thank joblessness and stagnant wages) than they used to, for taste leaders, where and what they eat is a vital component of defining who they are. They’ll tweet or blog about meals as easily as movies or concerts.

Food is now part of identity—indeed, our value system—because it’s become more interesting. There are culinary adventures to be had at food trucks, strip malls, pop-ups, and white tablecloth establishments. Bon Appétit introduced its 2012 favorite restaurants this way: “Well, to start, they’re usually scrappy and personal, guided by chefs with a passion to create independently owned places they would want to eat at on their day off.” The L.A. Times scrapped its four-star reviewing system, saying it was inadequate for the variety of eating experiences in the city.

Restaurants are also going to be more about the memorable entertainment experience, predicted “Iron Chef” Cat Cora, because technology will make home cooking near effortless over the next 30 years. "You'll be able to walk in, talk to the appliance, and it will do whatever you ask it to do," she told USA Today. Already, destination dining is taking foodies to extreme locations, like Fäviken restaurant in Sweden, which seats fewer than 20 and serves lactic-acid-fermented turnips.


At the same time, urbanites are trying to go back to the land. Hayseed’s Big City Farm Supply opened a pop-up in Brooklyn to offer tips and gear for rooftop gardening, beekeeping, and backyard livestock. Got a brown thumb? Yeah, there’s a gadget or app for that. Foraging is another option. This year, we also noshed a bit along the Delaware River, gathering edible weeds with Tama Matsuoka Wong of Meadows+More, which supplies the wild plants that keep the flavors fresh at Daniel restaurant in Manhattan.

Microdistillers are also adding local flavor to restaurants’ cocktail menus, now that there’s no stigma against vodka from Brooklyn, not Moscow, or whiskey from Colorado, not Kentucky. Winemaking too could be moving closer to the East Coast, we heard from Michael Albin of Hudson Wine Merchants. Global warming has wineries fighting over vineyard land that will be in the right climate zones in the future.


In fact, the climate may change a lot about food production in the coming years, a fact hammered home by this summer’s devastating drought. Those who focus on hunger and poverty issues already know that mankind will need to harvest more crops (or plant calorie-rich ones like cassava or bananas instead of corn), more efficiently. We currently lose a third of food to waste and spoilage from farm to fork. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization projects we’ll need 70 percent more food by 2050 to feed a growing global population.

This is the crux of a complex debate around agriculture, science, health, and hunger that reached fever pitch this year when Stanford University published a study that found little evidence of health benefits from organic foods. The pro-organics crowd countered that organic isn’t about boosting vitamins, but reducing chemicals—and it’s better for the planet. The argument spiraled out into what is “organic” or “sustainable,” and whether genetically modified seeds are Frankencrops or our salvation. And so the debate goes.

It’s going to take food pioneers, like those Mark Bittman found in the Central Valley of California, to create harvests that are hearty, healthy, polycultural—and not harmful to the planet. Well, we already make celebrities out of chefs, ’wichcraft co-founder and CEO Jeffrey Zurofsky told the Zeitguide. Maybe now it’s the farmer’s turn.




The simplest business formula is new ideas = money. But innovation isn’t the province of a “creative class.” A friend, branding consultant Jasmine Takanikos, recommended John Hunt’s book, “The Art of the Idea,” and it quickly became a favorite. To spark and capture ideas, Hunt wrote, organizations shouldn’t charge certain people with being creative, but should establish an environment that promotes original thinking by everyone.


What fueled success in the past won’t propel you through the future. Alexander Grashow, who designs executive leadership training programs, told the Zeitguide that “rather than getting stuck re-enacting the past, the ability to adapt, to grow out of our old ways of working and living, is critical.” That means more than rolling with the punches, but leaning into change. Fast Company magazine captured this trait in the article “This Is Generation Flux”: What defines GenFlux is a mindset that embraces instability, that tolerates—and even enjoys—recalibrating careers, business models, and assumptions.


IPhones and Androids beep and buzz to alert us to something, and our brains crave that neural stimulation like a drug. But slowing down, even to the point of doing nothing, is vital. Deep thought is slow thought, as Pico Iyer noted in a New York Times op-ed titled “The Joy of Quiet.” Iyer also recounted this knowing observation by Henry David Thoreau: “The man whose horse trots a mile in a minute does not carry the most important messages.”


It was Eli Pariser, one of the founding brains involved with MoveOn.org, who brought our attention to how Google tailors search results to what it thinks we want based on past clicks and searches. This 'Filter Bubble' dangerously isolates users from contrary viewpoints, the information-media equivalent of being surrounded by yes men. Clay Johnson, author of “The Information Diet,” argues that we all need to be more selective—or at least more conscious—about what we feed our brains. But that is particularly true for business leaders who need an extensive base of balanced knowledge.


Diversity in the 21st century is not just about gender or ethnicity, but also generations, point of view, background, and experience. Great business leaders harness diverse perspectives to arrive at superior decisions. As McKinsey Quarterly reported: Companies with diverse boards have higher earnings and returns on equity.


Individual achievement isn’t the same as progress. Today’s leaders must leverage any success to transform it into systemic change. “We live in a world of possibilities governed by archaic systems such as inefficient financial markets, top-down development assistance, and linear educational models,” Blair Miller, vice president of MDG Health Alliance, told us. “This paradigm is paralyzing our global growth. We need leaders with analytical thinking combined with imagination and unrelenting courage to redefine these systems.” She suggests reading, “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System," by the late environmental activist, Donella Meadows.


Those who don’t learn to say no find themselves spread thin, stuck toiling on things they don’t believe in, and not doing their best work. As marketing guru Seth Godin pointed out, “Saying no to loud people gives you the resources to say yes to important opportunities.” The logical extension of that is knowing when to say “no more.” Those who will succeed know when to pull the plug on major projects, and even admit to themselves when their own productivity drops off each day.

  More Zeitguidance  

If you like what you've ingested so far, you can read the whole thing by purchasing the 2013 Zeitguide for only $35. This fee includes permanent digital access and the bound collectors edition.

Other sections cover film, TV, internet content, education, music, fashion, marketing, advertising, medicine, wellbeing, the environment, and fine art. And don’t skip the appendix—a fun list of tips on everything from wine to apps, healthy living to politicians to watch—from cultural leaders given exclusively to the Zeitguide.

If you have already purchased access to the Zeitguide 2013, click here to go to the password page.


Zeitguide™ is a Grossman & Partners platform that guides our audience through culture. We create a yearly cultural almanac like this one, but also provide customized versions and deeper dives for our clients. If interested, please contact us at info@grossmanandpartners.com.

Grossman & Partners is a think-tank do-tank that explores cutting-edge ideas among seemingly disparate cultural fields. We uncover trends and insights and produce tailored content designed to stimulate curiosity and innovation in any industry or enterprise. Our job is to keep our clients inspired, connected and prolific in the face of rapid change.