business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

If curiosity killed the cat, one has to wonder what incuriosity killed. I’m guessing it was a lot bigger than a cat.

Living as we do in a complex and multi-faceted world, it’s almost exhausting to be relentlessly curious. There is simply too much to keep track of, too many trends to run down and too much information about simply everything. And then again, we have to be curious because the questions of this complex world could always hold interesting ideas for all of us.

For instance, what is it that makes NASCAR fans so enthusiastic about watching cars relentlessly chase each other while turning left? Clearly, the experience has been taken to a level that creates a bond between the fan and the driver’s team that borders on fanatical.

Likewise, what drives the fanatical devotion to Starbucks coffee? Even if the water and coffee beans are somehow magical enough to justify those prices (which I know they aren’t) explain to me what is it about a coffee shop that has somehow made it the place to find out about new music? What’s going on with the experience there that creates a bond that might also be described as fanatical.

Yet, some of these areas of fanatical devotion actually make some sense to me. For instance, I never quite got the near religious zealotry of Apple computer users until I started visiting the store in a nearby mall. The passionate belief and knowledge in their products hasn’t converted me to fanaticism, but my newest computer is an Apple. And I’m amazingly happy with it.

Likewise, I think I understand Webkinz, though lacking a really small child in my house I probably don’t. I didn’t think much about Webkinz until a recent Wall Street Journal article on virtual communities explained how a site geared to interactive toys for tots is completely clobbering such well-funded competitors as Second Life.

Worse yet, to get my information about Webkinz I found myself visiting Wikipedia yet again. Yes, I know Wikipedia isn’t perfect, but if there is an easier and quicker source for information on everything anywhere, I don’t know what it is. How did that happen?

What does all of this have to do with retail: In short, nothing and everything. Nothing because everyone is busy and who has time to investigate all these new trends hot topics. Then again, it matters to everyone because these new trends and ideas are exactly what shoppers are seeing each and every day. These trends and ideas are changing the way they think, the way they live and certainly the way they shop and that might matter a lot down the road.

It’s easy to be curious about Tesco or Wal-Mart or Amazon or any other organization that is or might become a direct competitor.

It’s a lot harder to try to think of something to be learned about Tila Tequila, a young woman who somehow is famous enough to have nearly two million friends on, articles in the New York Times and Time, and a hit show on MTV. (I honestly think I felt my IQ slip a few points when I watched three minutes of that show recently.) Does her use of self-promotion through emerging media have any lesson for us at all, especially as we try to reach Generation Y, where Tila is apparently doing quite well?

I don’t really know, but I’m curious.
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