What is the process I use to keep up and /or uncover emerging trends and what tools do I use? Previously, I’ve written about how to create an insights bank using Evernote. Here I’ll expand on that initial idea, with a quick guide on how you can stay on top of emerging trends, as well as building your own sense making capability, to make sure you don’t get caught off guard.
Why do successful companies fail? Because 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.
How does trend spotting fit into an organization’s future?
Innovators either create trends that change the world, or take advantage of emerging ones. Trend spotting is a very important innovation skill, and one that the vast majority of companies outsource to trend hunting firm; sometimes with no benefit.
This is a valid strategy, but a I’d recommend you don’t bet on it because most organizations have access to the same information those trend hunting firms are selling. More strategic for you is to develop your own capability for detecting and taking action on trends.
Detecting trends is a similar exercise to how you look for tension points to uncover opportunities for innovation; you attentively look for what at some point could become a huge problem.
Insights are the product of synthesis
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 develop your own conclusions. And while I keep my senses sharp for anything out of the ordinary, 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 human 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 for doing this because I can create notebooks, notes, clip 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:
- What is driving this?
- Why does this matter?
- If they are not already doing so, how will people behave differently?
- How might it change the economics of the industry/category?
- 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 and/or aggregate observations, I can filter specifically for those areas of business.
Why do this?
Because I want to 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.
To stay on top of emerging trends or do your own trend hunting with Evernote, here is a brief summary of how to do it:
- Create a repository where you can collect evidence of your observations;
- 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!
If you have any questions and/or need help building a sense making capability, please let me know!
Originally published in spanish at Permiso Para Fallar: Cómo usar Evernote para estar al tanto de las nuevas tendencias.