How to Stay on Top of Emerging Trends

How to Stay on Top of Emerging Trends

By Jorge Barba

Why do successful companies fail? They miss the future. But, companies don’t fail because they choose the wrong course, they fail because they can’t imagine a better one. Here’s how you can stay on top of emerging trends and make sure you don’t get caught off guard, at least a little bit.

Innovators either create trends, or take advantage of them. Detecting trends is a similar exercise to how you look for tension points, instead of pain points, to uncover opportunities for innovation; you attentively look for what at some point could become a huge problem.

What is the process I use to uncover emerging trends and weak signals? Previously, I’ve written about how to create an insights bank using Evernote. Here I’ll expand on that initial idea with a focus on trends.

First, what is a trend?

A trend is a change that will eventually have a significant macro impact on society and business while a fad is a change that will be a fleeting (brief) impact on society and business. Uncovering trends is about observation … watching, reading, listening, scanning a wide range of sources.

Though it is easier to read up on the dominant trends everyone is talking about, more interesting is for you to develop a sensing capability, do your own homework and come to your own conclusions. For me, one key source I use to keep an eye out are a set of observers from all over the world. You can find them on Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, and other mediums. They feed me their observations, thoughts, insights which I then synthesize into a long list of trends. I focus on uncovering the non-obvious.

To detect emerging trends, what you are looking for is weak signals that may become strong signals. And then rigorously try to understand why and how it may affect your industry, category and business.

From weak signals to what to watch out for.

A week signal is a shred of evidence that something is influencing how businesses are operating, this can be in the form of a company outright acting differently from what you would expect.

How do you find these weak signals?

By keeping up with the world around you. You have to read widely. This can include a healthy dose of GDP change and the impact on the economy, aging of the population, shifts in technology, society’s view on education, government regulation, etc., as well as newspapers, blogs, forums, specific Twitter lists, Instagram feeds; anything where there is activity.

I then use a ToWatchOutFor notebook to gather the items that catch my interest. This notebook is a repository of all the shreds of evidence that when assembled begin to yield a better picture. These files can be paper, or electronic.

Evernote is my go-to tool because I can create notebooks, notes, clip both articles, excerpts, images documents and audio. I can also use my Evernote synced smartphone to take pictures of things that I find, and send them to my account.

After I find an interesting concept, I ask myself a series of “why” and “how” questions such as the following:

  1. What is driving this?
  2. Why does this matter?
  3. If they are not already doing so, how will people behave differently?
  4. How might it change the economics of the industry/category?
  5. How might a company create competitive advantage?

If something really catches my interest, I will then go on to talk to people. Join groups on LinkedIn and Twitter, start discussions to try to engage in a conversation around what I’m noticing.

Focus your efforts

To focus my efforts, I separate my observations into distinct areas of business: business model, customer experience, branding, marketing, networking, etc.

To do so, I use Evernote’s tag feature. So if in the future I want to search, aggregate observations, I can filter specifically for those areas of business.

Why do this?

Because I separate my observations and how they may affect or are affecting different areas of business, not just the big picture.

For example, at the moment I have a trend I call the Frictionless Society. I take that lens, look for areas of business where I see that happening or potentially happening, tag them and add it to the ToWatchOutFor notebook.

Review your findings

At the end of the week, go back to your notebook and review your findings. To take this step further, I use Mindjet to create a mindmap of the key themes that emerge from the evidence. This is important because you can take that mindmap and share it with your team, get feedback and keep going.

Brief summary

In summary this is how it works:

  • Create a repository where you can collect evidence of your observation;
  • Apply tags to your observations;
  • Review to synthesize.

So, if you can invest in a tool like Evernote, please do so. You will avoid a lot of headaches!

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