Alex Bentley and the Mapping of Random Trends


By way of PSFK, a great, fascinating interview over at Influx with Dr. Alex Bentley from Durham University about the his concept of “random copying,” which is, essentially, the study of the speed at which trends develop, flourish and then fizzle out. It’s a very mathematical, scientific approach, something we’re not always keen to (because we’re both writers and therefore, very slow), but this was just really cool. If you read Levitt and Dubner‘s “Freakonomics” or Chris Anderson‘s “The Long Tail”, which is referenced in the interview, you’ll dig this kind of stuff (though don’t read it if you’re the type who doesn’t like to learn that you aren’t very special after all, no matter what your mother tells you). Here’s a bit about the role of innovators:

Innovators introduce something new, and that’s it. The explanatory insight in our model lies in its simplicity – just a population of copiers with occasional innovation. The innovations are represented by random numbers, i.e., with no inherent “superiority” or desirability over what is already circulating in the population. Nevertheless, every new innovation has a small, but still finite chance of becoming the next big hit, just through the process of random copying. In the model it is absolutely inevitable that what is currently popular now will eventually be replaced by something that began as an obscure innovation.