“It’s always about timing. If it’s too soon, no one understands. If it’s too late, everyone’s forgotten.” 

An acerbic truth delivered by the always-on-trend editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine, Anna Wintour.   

So, how do you understand and make the most of existing trends? And, how do you spot and take advantage of emerging trends? To be ‘On-Trend’ you need to: get into the habit of exploring trends; master the skill of exploiting trends; and, develop a nose for emerging trends.

Let’s take a look.

EXPLORING TRENDS (create the habit…)  

Researching and staying on top of trends takes time and effort. It can’t just be done once and then considered done for all time. It is a dynamic and ongoing process needing regular review. Everyone in senior management should have an eye and ear open to trends. It must become a habit.

Here are five suggested ways to embed trend-spotting as part of your business.

  1. Dedicate resources: While you should certainly not rely on one individual alone to be responsible for future-proofing the company, it can be helpful to incorporate ‘horizon-scanning’ into the job descriptions of one or more team or board members and then setting aside times (once a month, twice a year) to open and broaden the minds of the whole group, challenge assumptions and consider whether the company is well-positioned to deal with, or benefit from, emerging trends.
  2. Read widely; Listen intently: Books, reports, podcasts and TED talks are just some of the great ways to inform yourself about what the current or developing trends are (e.g. Economist – World in 2020 – https://theworldin.economist.com/ or BBC – Rethink – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08gtfp1).
  3. Document the trends: Create a ‘white paper’ or ‘future visioning’ report on trends likely to directly and indirectly impact business. Be prepared to update it regularly.
  4. Invite external experts to stimulate lively debate and review and challenge your thinking. Sometimes you and your colleagues will struggle to see the full picture or a different perspective, so it can be helpful to invite experts in particular fields or industry consultants to review the plan and get a 360-degrees helicopter view.
  5. Develop a ‘shared vision’ for the future direction of the company. This is too important to be done by one person working in isolation, but rather should be the result of collective, thoughtful reflection that ensures that everyone, from the executive committee down, understands, is energized by, and is able to deliver on, the agreed way forward. We recommend using external facilitators to achieve this. And, since the world does not stand still, be prepared to review this at regular (though not too frequent) intervals.

 —-> What will you do this week to begin paving your way to the future? 

EXPLOITING TRENDS (master the skills…)

It’s one thing to spot a trend. It’s quite another to recognize how it will impact your business and then to jump aboard, dodge out of the way, or even prepare for impact. Environmental changes may seem quite distant (ice melt in Antarctica) but a change in sea levels might have implications for factory locations, and reduced air quality in cities (such as Sydney, Los Angeles and Delhi) might cause many employees to have to stay at home, so it is important to master the necessary skills to keep an open mind and try to imagine the many ways in which trends may impact your business. And, of course, respond appropriately.

The following are four perspectives/viewpoints from which you can start to work out how to exploit trends: business segments, competitors, clients, employees —yes, in that order:  

  1. Which business segments are impacted? In what way? To what degree? Which trends are helping the business and which are hurting it? What can be done to mitigate or benefit from these trends? Can challenges be turned into advantages? What impact do trends have on planned strategic initiatives? Are they still appropriate or need adjusting? Does the company’s vision and mission statement need to be reviewed to ensure it is fit for purpose?
  2. What would an agile competitor do to benefit from these trends? Look, learn and be inspired from direct and indirect competitors. What works for them? What does not? Attend industry conferences to learn from, and be challenged by, others. Also consider attending seminars and conferences of tangentially (not directly) related industries to see if there are points of common interest that you could work on together.
  3. What do clients want/expect? How are clients likely to be impacted by trends? What more will they expect from your business? In terms of products, services, delivery, interfacing, understanding and connecting with the brand, payment systems etc. How will their changing needs, altered financial circumstances, and new spending habits affect their purchasing decisions?
  4. How are employees affected? What will they want/need in order to feel connected to their employer and improve employee retention rates? How should human resources evolve to take changed environment and/or expectations into account? How can the whole workforce be clear and aligned on the way forward?

 —-> What might be a range of potential responses from doing nothing to being very proactive?

EMERGING TRENDS (develop a nose for…)

Often the best trend-spotters and creative thinkers are startup entrepreneurs. They see the current world order through a different lens, one that is tinted by future possibilities. Where the rest of us see unscaleable mountains, they see footpaths criss-crossing their way through the terrain. The light bulb was not invented by the candles industry, for example, nor did traditional car makers jump to develop electric cars until an outsider (Tesla) had proven that it was possible.

If only we could all take off our blinkers of conventional thinking and see trends through the eyes of fearless entrepreneurs! In lieu of that, we encourage you to develop a nose for emerging trends:

  1. Watch startups closely. What type of companies are being formed on the edges of your industry? Are there some that are directly challenging your product, service or business model? What are they offering that is different/appealing and who are they targeting as customers?
  2. Foster an entrepreneurial spirit within your company. Encourage creative thinking and independent problem-solving. Consider becoming involved with a startup incubator. Perhaps you might co-develop ideas or spin-off some to be developed separately and then brought back in house if they show promise?
  3. Dare to conduct experiments. Adopt an agile way of working i.e. test quickly, fail fast, adapt and try again. Don’t be afraid of failure.

—-> How will you closely follow or become the trendsetter in your industry?

To know more about why trends matter, click here.

To discover our top 36 Global Trends, click here

To download a .pdf infographic of our 36 Global Trends, click here.

To take our quiz to find out whether you are ‘On-Trend’, click here

To find out about our transformational Openness, Visioning and Effectiveness (OV&E) seminars, click here.

Photos by Andrew Neel ,Nikita Kachanovsky , Raden Prasetya and Andrés Dallimonti on Unsplash