Trendcasting and Innovation

By MICHAEL GRABER & JOCELYN ATKINSON

Did you wake up this morning to realize that the world has changed and your business has not changed with it? If you are a regular reader of this column you know we discuss growth strategy and innovation and all of the challenges that accompany those pursuits. We see many companies of all sizes that are dying a slow death in a saturated market with outdated business models. They fail to get out ahead of what’s next.

Business leaders commonly attribute growth issues to a stagnant market or corporate dependency on an inferior product. These are excuses – the heart of the issue is a short-term and reactive corporate mindset. The antidote is to install a culture of proactive forethought to replace the more typical reactive market strategies.

We encourage our clients to take up trendcasting – the practice of tracking and forecasting global trends that will affect your business. This relatively new term has been used mostly for tracking and predicting consumer behavior, but we believe that it is also useful for studying industries and a productive innovation tool for those seeking growth and transformation.

To do this, you should task a group of employees with professionally diverse backgrounds to become a band of trend-spotters and form a think tank of sorts within the company. The team’s objective is to uncover emerging trends that are three to five years out. To start, they have to take a snapshot of where things are today so that they have defined a baseline for future trends. Done right, this is not just a research effort to read analyst reports and round up their assessment of existing trends. The idea is to see what others do not and to predict the next wave of trends. Have the team investigate the macroeconomic factors at work in both the global economy and the industry. They should also study the regulations underway and those that might come down the pike. Once they have a handle on current established trends, they can begin to evaluate all of the possible impacts that might set off new trends.

At this point, it may be helpful to bring in a third party to facilitate the discussion and prompt the team to stretch their thinking. Industry experience and basic human cognitive bias will cloud their ability to see beyond what happened in the past and project into a new and unexpected future.

Be on the lookout for fads, a pet rock-like flash in the pan. It is important to define a set of indicators and parameters to evaluate the size, impact and likelihood of the trend materializing. This will give the team a framework to assess risk and determine if the prospective trend is just an element to be factored in to the strategy or whether it is significant enough to warrant an innovation effort.

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula that validates trends with 100 percent certainty. However, quantitative models that assess probability and risk are useful tools when considering investment. Pinpointing emerging trends is critical to defining the boundaries for a successful innovation effort. If you want to grow through innovation, you must first understand existing trends and then trendcast to discover what might be next.

Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.