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Content Guy’s Note: A couple of months ago, we ran a business book review that generated a lot of positive email. (Apparently, the folks who read MorningNewsBeat like it when we occasionally feature a piece about a book not written by Robert B. Parker, Elmore Leonard, Michael Connelly, or Robert Crais. Go figure.)

So, we thought we’d try it again…and since above we’ve been addressing some of the paradoxes that we’ve been seeing in China during the last 24 hours, the book seems like a timely choice “The Hummer and The Mini,” by “trendmaster” Robyn Waters, who used to run design for Target.

And, because her last piece was so well received, we thought we’d once again turn to an outside reviewer: Kate McMahon Upson, a former staff reporter at Money and reporter/editor at the New York Daily News, who brings a fresh voice and perspective to MorningNewsBeat.

Trend-watchers and marketers in search of the Next Big Thing need to embrace a new notion: paradox. By exploring trends and counter-trends, the concepts that seem contradictory, innovative companies can do more than just think “outside the box.” They can ditch the box altogether and forge a meaningful connection with the consumer.

Such is the gospel of self-described trendmaster Robyn Waters in her new book The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape (Portfolio, $24.95). Yes, the buying public of today shows highly conflicting needs and wants, and smart companies that cater to those paradoxical desires are succeeding. Just think the humongous Hummer and cute and perky Mini Cooper, or organic Cheetos and soy-based 3 Vodka, and you’ll get her point. Need further proof? Ever since Sharon Stone sauntered down the Academy Awards red carpet in a Gap turtleneck, Armani jacket and a Valentino skirt, fashionistas everywhere are pairing Old Navy with the new Gucci or distressed denim and Chanel.

Waters, a consultant, lecturer and author of the 2005 book The Trendmaster’s Guide, is a former vice president of Trend, Design and Product Development at Target. She frequently cites the chain, home of the brand promise “Expect More. Pay Less” and its transition from a small regional low-cost store to a national and fashionable “upscale discounter,” an oxymoron in itself. By combining trend smarts, a commitment to design and a focus on customers as “guests,” Target morphed into “Tarzhay.”

In enthusiastic prose, Waters challenges companies to “embrace change and live with the paradoxes.” She reinforces her thesis with success stories such as Starbucks (of course), Nike, Teavana, Ralph Lauren, Jones soda, M&Ms, Whole Foods, Costco, Juicy Couture, Dream Dinners, and more. Noting that the average number of SKUs in the typical grocery store has more than doubled in the last decade, to upward of 30,000 choices, she writes: “Confusing? Yes. Challenging? You bet!”

Some of the author’s pronouncements tilt toward the predictable: Everything Old is New Again (Burberry, Twinkies), and Less is More (mini-everything, from Oreos to pizza, and giant Harrods testing a smaller convenience concept called Harrods 102, featuring take-out foods, convenience items and hours from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.).

Waters is at her best when she keys in on current phenoms such as “Mass Customization,” where the finicky consumer gets to balance two basic human desires: to “fit in and belong” and to “be unique.” Striking that balance are Starbucks (19,000 ways to order a coffee), the Apple iPod (Me, Myself and iPod), Cold Stone Creamery custom ice cream, Build-a-Bear Workshops, and personalized book recommendations from And back to the Mini Cooper: close to 95% of all Minis sold today are “customized” on the production line and awaiting owners can chart their car’s progress on the online “Where’s My Baby” program.

Other chapters are devoted to Luxurious Commodities: In-n-Out Burger, Annie’s Mac and Cheese, Phillipe Starck-designed sippy cups; Counterfeit Authenticities: upmarket frozen foods, simulated sports, and much of Las Vegas, and Healthy Indulgences: sports performance Jelly Beans and the stunning success of Whole Foods, the fastest growing supermarket chain in the country. The all-natural organic supermarket racks in about $800 per square foot in sales, which is double the industry average.

Waters wraps up with chapters on Extreme Relaxation (more concept than reality) and then Social Capitalism, in which she lauds CEOs who are pioneers of the “do good, make money philosophy,” including Starbucks’ Howard Schultz, “The Naked Chef” Jamie Oliver, Brad Anderson of Best Buy, James Sinegal of Costco, Paul Dolan of Fetzer Vineyards and Amazon Vodka’s Thomas Cleaver.

To Waters’ credit, she delivers on her promise to present paradox not as a peril, but as full of possibilities. A thought-provoking premise.
KC's View:
If we can add our two cents…we are privileged to travel a fair amount, and we’re always amazed at the things that we see that appear to be contradictory, that seem not to make sense, and yet do…and that consumers embrace.

If nothing else, The Hummer and the Mini will get you thinking about things differently and maybe get you seeing things with a fresh set of eyes.