This is exactly how it happened. I’m lucky enough to have a desk by a window in the Whiteoaks office looking out onto Farnham’s West Street; a genteel road of Georgian buildings where nothing much passes to tear us away from our work.
But recently, I looked out and caught something my brain couldn’t quite process. “Hey, I’ve just seen a man with a colander on his head,” I told the others. Was I seeing things?
Or was the colander, in fact, a medical contraption to keep the man’s head intact? Was he wearing it because it had just started to rain, in which case the chosen utensil had an obvious design fault? Or was he, as someone suggested, ‘just feeling the strain’?
I did the obvious and Googled it, only to find an article entitled ‘I’ve just seen a man with a colander on his head’ (hurray for Google!) reporting sightings in a neighbouring town.
At which point one of my colleagues suddenly enlightened us. “Ah yes, I remember now, it’s the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and he must be a Pastafarian”. No, it wasn’t April 1st, but I did check. Then another colleague recalled seeing a colander wearer in his home town and when I recalled the story later, a friend revealed he’d had a similar experience.
I only remembered the incident because today there’s an article in the Guardian on the Pastafarians. Their strange ways have a serious point, but leaving aside all the religious or non-religious arguments, it did set me thinking about how we spot emerging trends and links. I might have ignored the Guardian article had I not already had this experience. It’s the old story of buying a certain make of car and then seeing similar cars everywhere.
Being ‘ahead of the curve’ when it comes to trends and patterns is, of course, the holy grail of all marketers and PR types. In our case, writing good opinion or thought leadership articles means being able to make the right connections and links and sense the groundswell on certain topics, curating the relevant facts, statistics and anecdotal evidence to bring home the point. It’s no good trying to interest an editor in a straight down the line story on cloud technology, for example, when everyone is already implementing it. They are looking for the next big thing – or a new angle that will chime with experiences as yet unarticulated.
My colleague and friend only remembered seeing a colander-wearer themselves when the patterns began to make sense. It provided a point of recognition of a shared experience. And so the momentum grows.
If only every trend was as easy to spot as Pastafarianism. Data analysts use complex algorithms to detect patterns, but as writers we have to read as much as we can and talk to the experts (in our case usually our clients). We then have to make sense of the knowledge gathered and put forward a case for discussion.
While, of course, making sure that unlike the colander, our argument doesn’t have too many holes.