The future takes time to build, and each day is an opportunity to reflect on and plan for the next day
From the Playbook for Strategic Foresight and Innovation by Carleton et al. 2013
The global pandemic outbreak in spring 2020 is continuing to disrupt markets, organizations and even our behaviours. As changes, new needs, expectations and innovations are emerging, it is important to proactively make sense of this new context.
The era of disruption tends to provide a valuable moment to experiment with new business ideas and even launch businesses. In fact, as Trend Hunter highlights, a large number of companies has been established during a recession, including Adobe, Apple, CNN, Disney, Hyatt, IBM, Instagram, Microsoft, Pinterest and WhatsApp.
As an innovation designer and change facilitator, I have helped both small and large businesses to build an understanding on the importance of trend spotting and scanning. In this article, I will cover the current context and challenges for innovation, the benefits of trend spotting and scanning, 3 insightful sources for trends and one practical framework to get started.
Many brands are highly valuing the innovations. If we take Peter Drucker’s definition for the term innovation (in Harvard Business Review 2002), i.e. “the effort to create purposeful, focused change in an enterprise’s economic or social potential”, it should indeed be high on every brand’s agendas.
Interestingly, according to Salesforce research released in May 2020, marketers’ current top priority is innovating, while simultaneously it is also one of their top challenges. This example demonstrates the dilemma people tend to have for activities related to innovations.
Based on various research conducted, a majority of people state they simply don’t have time to work on ideas, although many acknowledge its importance. As Jeremy Gutsche, CEO of Trend Hunter, emphasized in his keynote speech “How to Make Innovation & Change Happen”, there are a plenty of other distractors we all have, which are preventing us to focus on innovating. These can be categorized under six themes, as shown here.
Having said that, sometimes there’s no other choice than removing distractors. The research by Small Business Roundtable and Facebook, published in May 2020, confirmed how small and medium-sized businesses are facing immediate cash flow issues, lack of demand and an uncertain future.
Yet, despite of this rather gloomy context, entrepreneurial spirit and optimism are also present among businesses. Since small and medium-sized businesses are vital e.g. for local communities, finding new and creative ways to reach and serve customers is thus highly encouraged.
Benefits of Trend Analysis
Asemphasized by J. Peter Scoblic in the article “Learning from the Future”, published on Harvard Business Review in July-August 2020, the practice of strategic foresight provides capabilities to sense, shape, and adapt to change as it happens. As such, there are multiple frameworks and tools to anticipate possible futures.
One practical way going forward is to spot systematically evolving trends and new innovations and, consequently, analyze what these could mean for your brand, customers and the industry as a whole. Before moving on, it is meaningful to clarify how the term “trend” can be understood. A trend is a new manifestation among people, related to behaviour, attitude or expectation, of a fundamental human need, want or desire (Mason et al. 2015, 46). Trend analysis, on the other hand, is about considering the potential influence of patterns of change that are already visible (J. Peter Scoblic 2020, 44).
All trends, in the end, can offer valuable innovation opportunities. The key is to unlock these prospects by adapting them for your context. The focus should be how a trend is relevant, rather than whether it is relevant (Mason et al. 2015, 145).
This fact alone highlights the advantage of the trend analysis. Moreover, it can bring in multiple other benefits along the journey from fueling your creativity to meeting, or even exceeding, your customer expectations, as I have summarized in the illustration inspired by the Double Diamond model of the British Design Council.
3 Insightful and Inspiring Sources for Trends
How to spot trends easily? There are numerous organizations that are focusing on collecting, synthesizing and publishing insightful trend reports on a regular basis. These reports can be considered as valuable starting points to gain an overview on what’s trending. Especially acknowledging the issue with time most of us seem to have, it is easier to take advantage of curated and regularly updated trend reports by the trend agencies and the foresight specialists. My 3 favorite sources right now are the following.
Trendhunter.com is said to be the world’s largest trend community with 20 million monthly views and a database of over 400,000 ideas and innovations. The insightful content also includes inspiring trend reports, articles, newsletters, talks, tools and books.
Think with Google
Think with Google provides regular reports on signals, trends and insights based on Google data, research and analysis conducted by Google teams. Their newsletter is packed with interesting point of views and special collection pages on emerging trends with multiple data points, illustrated in graphs and other visual formats, are to the point.
TrendWatching, a company specialized in consumer trend and innovations scanning, has both free and premium content available, but to start with, you can find a number of articles, reports, keynote talks and more. In 2020, TrendWatching has launched two new initiatives. Firstly, COVID Innovations site has a curated collection of over 1000 inspiring and recent innovations captured around the world, and secondly, Business of Purpose site proposes a community to exchange insights and share opportunities, and a plenty of curated resources, including statistics and insights. Moreover, TrendWatching delivers to its subscribers the “Innovation of the Day” content by email on a daily basis.
Trend Insights in Action: 1 Practical and Tested Framework
But what to do with all this future-oriented content? In the end, it is equally important to utilize these insights in ways that will be beneficial for you and your brand, while being able to grasp opportunities in a timely manner.
Innovation requires knowledge, ingenuity, and, above all else, focus.
– Peter F. Drucker, Harvard Business Review, 2002
To give focus and methodology, let me introduce one concrete framework, which I have found specifically useful to conduct trend analysis.
Trend Driven Innovation Methodology
TrendWatching has developed a framework called Trend Driven Innovation Methodology, which was thoroughly introduced in the book “Trend-Driven Innovation: Beat Accelerating Customer Expectations”.
According to this methodology, to be able to address the sweet spot, brands should track three key trend elements:
1. basic human needs,
2. drivers of change and
Let’s explore these elements.
We humans all have basic needs, wants and desires, which remain the same, despite the changes happening around us. All trends are, after all, rooted in these basic needs. Authenticity, honesty, freedom and transparency can be considered as our fundamental needs.
What comes to changes, we know the change is constant, accelerated and happening everywhere. To understand the drivers of change, brands should look at shifts, i.e. the long-term macro changes and triggers.
The examples of shifts are climate change, urbanization and aging population. Triggers, on the other hand, are more immediate changes, such as political events, environmental incidents, and new technologies. What is trending in social networks or new products can give hints on social change. Frameworks such as PESTLE and STEEPLED provide support to analyze further these changes.
Thirdly, innovations are important since they inform on how the market is changing, what are the new entrants, new services, or experiences. Thus, spotting business innovations can help to assess what consumers will want next. In the end, innovations will create new expectations, which is why the terms such as “Expectation Economy”, “Experience Economy” and “Liquid Expectations” have been discussed in the recent years.
However, main emphasis should not be on these individual elements, but rather on the sweet spot, or tension, between basic needs, drivers of changes and innovations. This tension can be further evaluated by building an understanding on customer expectations and gaps between what is currently being offered (Mason et al. 2015, 48).
Transforming Current Trends to Innovative Ideas
The trend spotting encourages to act on the opportunities and identifying points of tension. How can you transform current trends to innovative ideas, which will be beneficial for your brand and your customers? Here’s a quick guide of main steps to take using the Trend Driven Innovation Methodology.
In practice, you can kick off your analysis by taking any of these starting points:
1. a new innovation and build an understanding what drivers of change and basic needs this innovation is addressing or
2. a new driver of change and spot innovations that are tackling this change or
3. a basic need by asking do I want to address it with my business, how I might satisfy this need, and consequently, what drivers of change are relevant for me that I can leverage.
Once you have decided your starting point, you can use the Consumer Trend Canvas to help you to structure and break down your analysis and ideation.
If you are short in time, you may try to get this filled in within a few hours. This approach, however, requires ideally some pre-work such as gathering trend inspiration in advance and securing a participation of multi-disciplinary team of at least 4 people, and a facilitator, for more creative results. On the contrary, you can also take your time and do some proper research for both parts of the canvas. If you are working alone, it would be beneficial to get some peer review and iterate the outputs accordingly.
Once your ‘analyze’ part ready, you can jump into the ‘apply’ part. It will be fruitful to ideate how you can potentially apply this trend and emerging expectations in your particular case and who would actually benefit from it.
Spend some time to ideate possible innovations and what would be the innovation potential. To get more ideas, I would recommend additionally to use a structured brainstorming method such as Creative Matrix. When ideating, remember to go for quantity over quality and focus on opportunities on where the attention and expectations are. Out of this ideation method, you can bring the most interesting ideas back to the Consumer Trend Canvas.
At this stage, you may wonder what shall you do once you have your first canvas filled in.
Ideally, you are ready to take a step forward, and go deeper how would this innovation actually work. For that purpose, you can use, for instance, the Business Model Canvas by Strategyzer and further ideate how to experiment the innovation using the Experiment Canvas, created by Ash Maurya.
If you can imagine an improved future state, you can likely make it happen
From the Playbook for Strategic Foresight and Innovation by Carleton et al. 2013
To conclude, current challenging time calls for deeper reflections, creative ideas and experimentations.
Different types of organizations from the well-established brands to new solo entrepreneurs can benefit from systematic trend spotting and scanning activities. Trend analysis provides opportunities to rethink the strategies, ways of operating and the overall offerings. In the end, regardless of your motivation and interests, you can take a proactive role in sensemaking and ideating an inspiring future.
Nina Kostamo Deschamps, SID 2016
Innovation Designer & Change Facilitator at Accenture Interactive
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