How To Uncover Emerging Trends And Weak Signals

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emerging trends

During a recent press interview, I was asked by a reporter for my view on what the next “hot” thing will be.  A question that is becoming more common with each press interview given the current market conditions.  I shared a few trends of personal interest that I’ve been tracking.

So, what is the process I use to uncover emerging trends and weak signals?

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.  For me, one key source are a set of observers from all over the world.  They feed me their observations, thoughts, insights which I then synthesize into a long list of trends.  I focus on uncovering the non-obvious.  If its in the press, in an analyst report or on TV, I’m too late.

The process I go through is:

  1. Brainstorm a list of trends/changes.  These could include: GDP change and the impact on the economy, aging of the population, shifts in technology, society view on education, government regulation, etc.
  2. Take each trend and compare it to every other trend. For example: aging of the population and shift in technology.  Identify possible future trends at this intersection. In the example of aging of the population and shift in technology you could see: Growth in medical devices such as diabetic meters that will send data to the doctor or the ability to do kidney dialysis from home rather then having the patient go to the hospital.
  3. Search for trends at each intersection of trends from your original list.
  4. For each emerging trend you’ve uncovered at the intersections of mega trends from your original list, list the drivers (actions that support the trend and can help it expand) and barriers (roadblocks that will prevent the trend from coming to reality).  For example:
    • Driver: escalating cost of healthcare and desire of the population to live at home rather than a hospital or nursing home
    • Barriers: Government regulation on launching of new technologies in the healthcare field
  5. Be exhaustive
  6. Create a grid to identify the ones to focus on.
    • The horizontal axis is barriers (going from “really tough barriers” on the left to “no problem” on the right) while the vertical axis is drivers (going from “no drivers” at the bottom and “major drivers” at the top).
    • Size each trend based on impact (size of market, revenue, margin, growth rate, etc)
    • Color each trend based on when the trend will go mainstream
  7. Focus on the items in the upper portion of the quadrant with particular interest on the ones in the upper right.

Maintain the grid … Update and add to the grid on a regular basis.

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