Crash Course: Seven ways to spot the next big thing

How can you get ahead of the curve and start spotting trends before they happen?

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The world is changing fast but your firm seems constantly to react after the event. New year, new decade: an opportune moment to find ways of spotting trends before they happen and to move ahead of the curve?

1. Understand what trends are...
'A trend is a change in consumer attitudes or behaviours,' says William Higham, author of The Next Big Thing and founder of consultancy www.next-big-thing.net. 'The reason you want to predict trends is so your products, services, and the channels and attitudes you use in communication, all tie in with these changes.' Micro-trends are short-term changes; mega-trends are long-term ones.

2. ... and what they're not.
Fads are short-lived products and behaviours that are often driven by marketing; think Cabbage Patch dolls. They might give a clue to an underlying trend, though. If in doubt, are there data to measure the change?

3. What are you looking for?
'First step is to define what drivers are relevant to your business - what behaviours in the world are crucial to your business doing well,' says Magnus Lindkvist, founder of Stockholm-based Pattern Recognition (www.patternrecognition.se). 'When these have been identified, start experimenting with tracking trends you think might be affecting your business - there are often surprising connections between widely differing areas.'

4. Watch the big picture.
'Macro trends tend to dictate our environment, often in a broad, sweeping way,' says Reinier Evers of consultancy Trendwatching (www.trendwatching.com). 'Big technological, political, environmental, economic and societal changes will trump consumer trends, which in turn trump industry trends.'

5. Seek far and wide.
Don't just look inside your own industry. 'Many trends start in fashion, design and technology-based industries,' notes Higham. Look at media, competitors, research studies, government data, online chat and your own customers for the fullest possible data. Tap into a trend-spotting network. Simple, visible, cash-saving trends are more likely to last, he adds.

6. See beyond the headline.
We all have access to the same information, says Lindkvist; the key is to find messages behind the data without losing yourself in meaningless noise. 'Companies and individuals that add their own perspective and interpretation to a trend make something unique out of it.'

7. Create an innovation culture.
Your staff must welcome change. 'Start a trend group,' says Evers. Convene regular sessions to brainstorm trends and their implications in different parts of the business; focus on one trend and get everyone to come up with ideas for products, business concepts, a change of vision or just the tone of your advertising. Offer rewards for the best ideas.


Do say:
'To survive in a fast-changing world, we must be continually re-thinking our strategies and offerings. To do that, we need to identify changes as early as possible.'

Don't say: 'Nah - I can't see a lot happening in the next few years.'

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