Trend Safari – Traveling the world in search of emerging trends

Over the years, I've used my travel around the world to be an inspiration for new ideas. As I look back, there are a few tricks and processes I've developed to capture and share the results of a trend safari.

trend safari ideas inspirations from travel

Segment 1: Trend Safari – How do I discover emerging trends?


– Find trends before my competitors so that I have a distinct advantage
– Align resources to be first to market with a solution that addresses/supports the trend

Lessons Learned

– Not just watching
– Going to places where I normally don’t go
– Engage with people that I normally don’t engage with
– Target specific regions (growth, developing economy, highly creative)


– Document the safari

    • Video
    • Audio
    • Photographs
    • Journal (write everything down)

– Structure the safari

    • Create an area of focus for the safari
    • Assign an idea/trend quota
    • Create three person teams (mix genders, age, etc)
    • Hold them over multiple days
    • Hold a daily de-brief and adjust focus based on discoveries

– Output

    • Identify two to three trends
    • Share the finding broadly across the organization
    • Publish all of the material (video, audio, etc)

What if you can’t travel?

– Use the web to find unique voices in the areas of interest.
– Don’t use the same materials your competitors use
– Use trend tools such as Google Trends

Segment 2: Killer Question Of The Week

Ask “why” five times (yes .. it really works when interviewing subjects during a Trend Safari)

Segment 3: Closing Thought

The secret of business is to know something nobody else knows”  Aristotle Onassis


MP3 of the Feb 17th Podcast

[Start of Audio]

In highly competitive markets, the ability to identify emerging trends early needs to be a core competency that you have.  In this week’s podcast I’ll share with you one method I use to help discover new and emerging trends.  I’ll be right back.


This is the Killer Innovations Podcast with Phil McKinney.  Keep in mind that the information and opinions expressed in this podcast are Phil’s and Phil’s alone and they don’t necessarily reflect those of his past, current, or future employers.  Now, here’s Phil McKinney.


As part of my day job, I’m tasked with identifying new and emerging trends that ultimately will lead to new products.  The question I always get both from my team members and other team members and people that I run into is how is it that you can identify new and emerging trends?  What are some of the tools and methods that you use?  So I’m going to share with you just one of the tools that I use, and hopefully you can translate that into your own skill set in being able to be better at identifying the trends.  So, the method I’m going to talk about is what I call a “trend safari.”  Now what is a trend safari?  Well, let me back up a little bit and give you a little context.  Now, if you’re a regular listener to this podcast, you know about my extensive travel.  Now, albeit for the last year, my travel has been down significantly from what it’s been in the past given my new role, but I’m still traveling a lot.  But part of the benefit for myself in identifying these trends is my travel, my ability to get out of the warm cocoon of being in the country where I was born.  Now, I have lived overseas and I have done very extensive travel and I have lived in Asia and I have lived in Europe, so I’ve had that experience, but still you kind of get comfortable in the cocoon.  So part of my, I guess “tools” that I use is a process that I use when I’m on the road traveling and looking for new and emerging trends.  Now, it’s not just watching, it’s not just going there and going to the same hotels and going to the same meetings and hanging out with people in your industry in hopes that you can find something because you’re not going to find it there.  It’s going to be places where I normally don’t go.  You know?  So if I’m going to major cities in a country, go to a remote city.  I go and I’ll stay the weekend and I’ll go out into the remote areas, I’ll get away from the main city and try to interact with the local citizens.  It’s really about getting off that beaten path.  It’s getting into places where more than likely your competitors have not gone or in some cases where they’re not willing to go.  Now in my case I look for specific regions that I’m going to target.  So I’ll look for countries and regions where there’s high growth, it’s developing meaning, it’s potentially a new market opportunity and hopefully will find that segment of that market where it’s highly creative.  Where you’re going to find that nucleus of early adopters, not so much adopters, but really more about those people who are creating solutions to problems that many will not be able to identify, or even be able to recognize.  Now the key question when I’m out there looking and interacting into these trend safaris because I’m always asking myself the question what work around are they using to solve a problem or fill a need?  What work around – it’s not a product, they may be taking four or five things and pulling them together, but what’s the work around are they using to solve a problem or fill a need?  Now one example that I think is really good from a standpoint of just giving you a context of what it is I’m looking for is let’s think about mountain bikes.  Now today mountain bikes are fairly common, you see kids riding them around all over the world, but how did they get started?  I can remember as a kid creating what we used to call clunkers which are basically taking, you know, not those racing bikes with the curly handle bars, but taking the old bikes that we had back in the ’60s and basically stripping them down and putting a different seat on them, basically bending and using whatever means we could to create our own set of handlebars, using fatter tires and basically going off into the woods and ride.  And then eventually part suppliers kept getting requests for certain kinds of parts and started creating parts so that you could go off and create your own clunkers.  So you could have the frame, but maybe you wanted a different set of pedals or a different kind of a seat or, you know, I remember the first time trying to figure out a way to actually take a shock absorber and put it onto the front fork of the bike.  So then you could go out and you could buy the parts but you still had to put the clunker together yourself.  Well, eventually some of these parts manufacturers realized that hey, there’s a market here, and if we go off and we create completed bikes maybe we could sell these.  And so what happened was is all of a sudden you saw the emergence of mountain bikes being created that were being designed specifically for the function at hand.  Now keep in mind that in the ’60s there was no such thing as mountain bikes, but today, given that you’ve gotten over that whole entire time, frame mountain bikes now take – provide about 65 percent of all bicycles sold.  Now what’s the unique thing about this trend?  The fact of the matter is that the bike suppliers who are getting the requests from those of us who are building clunkers for the parts saw the trend.  Saw the trend early and the leading providers of mountain bikes today aren’t the big bike providers that existed back then.  I mean, think about Schwinn, which was one of the largest bike suppliers when I was growing up as a kid, actually went into bankruptcy and had to be recovered out of bankruptcy.  Here was a situation where a part supplier had a unique ability to be able to pulse and be a part of a trend.  Now it was in the early days and was willing to take that step out – and leverage that trend to go out and create the new product, in this case, mountain bikes.  So, if you’re going out and you’re going to try to identify some more kinds of trends, try to find your own mountain bike, what is it you need to do?  Well, first of all, understand that you need to document the safari.  If you’re going to go out and you’re going to interact with people, make sure you fully are equipped to document the safari.  So in this case, I would recommend getting yourself a little handheld video camera and an audio recorder.  Those are my strong preferences because it’s really about body language – now in some cases, if you’re using a video recorder, I would also record the audio on a separate audio recorder because being able to clearly hear what the people are saying becomes important.  Now as a backup, you can use just a normal camera and capture images, but then you have to put in and translate, or at least convey the story that the picture is representing.  Again, my strong preference is for video and audio, backup is for using a camera.  And a must is good documentation.  Take a journal with you and document every observation you see.  Don’t assume anything is of no value, document everything.  Now if you’re going to go off and actually do a safari, how should you structure it?  Now in many cases I actually do these safaris on my own and will go out while I’m traveling around the world and I
‘m going to be in a certain location for a period of time and I’ll go off and spend a day or two in a specific region trying to identify and understand the local needs, the local unmet needs that the problems that they’re having where a product potentially could be useful for them. But in the case of where I’m going to take a team out and do these trend safaris, key thing here is, first off, identify an area of focus.  You can’t have it just be wily-nily.  Are you focusing on a new product, are you focusing on a new service, are you focusing on the truly new, looking to leverage an adjacency?  Are you looking at consumers, are you looking at enterprise to identify your focus?  Next, assign an idea or observation quota.  Now if you are a regular listener to the podcast you know that I’m a big believer in idea quotas when you run your benchmarking or your brainstorming sessions.  So when you’re brainstorming, set a quota.  Otherwise we’re just lazy people; people are just naturally lazy and will quit at the first opportunity from the standpoint of satisfying the objective.  So by setting their quota, you’re forcing the people to push themselves, so assign an idea or an observation quota so it isn’t just simply walking around and saying oh, I didn’t see anything today – give yourself a quota and hit that quota.  Next is break into teams.  If you’ve got a fairly large group you’re taking into a region, I recommend breaking them into three-person teams.  One person can do the camera, one person can manage the audio and do the interviewing and the third person can write in the journal.  Now these three-person teams mix the gender, mix the age.  Mix the geography that they’re originally from.  Mix languages – or fist languages.  Because what you’ll find is is that if you’re all from the same region and all of the same gender you tend to think alike.  And what you miss out is that ability to observe things that are subtle.  It’s really about the subtleties, you’re not going to have someone walking around with a big sign around their neck saying here’s a trend, it’s the subtleties that you’ve got to be able to identify when you’re doing a trend safari, okay?  So three-person teams – also you have to make it multiple days.  You know, going into a region and thinking that you’re going to go in for one day and you’re going to walk out with this killer trend that’s going to lead to a breakthrough product, you might get it – odds are you’re not going to get it.  And so in that case, you need to be able to commit multiple days.  If it’s part of the multiple days, do daily debriefs.  Bring all the teams back together, maybe it’s over dinner, maybe it’s late in the evening if you’re doing dinner out in the — with maybe consumers in their homes, understand their lifestyles and living conditions – but do a daily debrief.  Partially, you know, obviously if you have multiple teams and adjust your focus if the teams are coming back with observations that’s starting to lead you towards wanting to dig deeper.  So go in with your objectives clearly set, but be willing to adjust those objectives as you go in and you’re able to find and identify potentially new trends.  The output from the trend safari is the ability to identify two to three trends.  What are some of those new emerging trends?  Some of them may not work out eventually, but take your best shots taking the input that you’ve got from your teams and identify two or three trends.  Publish the information across your organization – don’t hoard it, don’t keep it to yourselves, don’t keep it within the team, publish it widely.  And share all of your documentation, your audio, your video, your journals, because you need to be careful about summarizing, because summarizing means that there’s an interpretation applied and what you may find out is your ability to go out and capture those observations, but you may have somebody in another part of the organization that you had never thought of pick up on a subtlety from the video or from the audio, so when you come back from a trend safari, publish everything.  Put it up on a share point, put it up on a blog site, and let the other people within your organization watch those videos, hear the customers, potential customers, talk in their own voice describe what their needs and issues are.  So what if you can’t travel?  You know I’ve been describing this trend safari approach that I use when I’m traveling but what is it, what can you do if you don’t travel? Well, first off use the Web.  The Web basically has made the world flat.  The scope and your ability to reach around the world is significantly easier now than it is when I first started in my career, but the key here is just don’t focus on your industry news.  Whatever industry you are in, we tend to read the same blog, we read the same news sites, and guess what?  All of your competitors are reading the same blog sites.  So you’re not going to gain a unique insight that’s going to give you a competitive advantage because you’re reading the same material as your competitors.  You need to find – in my case I like to find blogs that have a unique voice from a different region.  And these may not be the big hit blogs, it may be somebody that you don’t even know about or some – or a blog site that you don’t even – aren’t even aware of.  Now, I’ll give you a little hint.  If you want to know what I’m reading, from the standpoint of what I watch (and keep in mind that my focus is on creativity and innovation) you can go out to the Killer Innovations site, click on the ReBlog tab, and then down on the right-hand side you’ll see a list of blogs, and actually you’ll see the name of the blog and next to it you’ll see a number, and that’s the number of times I’ve selected an article from that blog to be posted onto the site for your benefit.  But that just kind of gives you the entire list of blog sites that I read on a regular basis.  And some of them are fairly obscure, some of them are ones that you would know, but the key here is that you need to go out and find some of those blogs that have a very unique voice and a very unique voice from the region or countries that you’re targeting whether that be by growth, by similarities of cultures, whatever your objective is, you need to go out and find those bloggers who have that unique voice and by listening to that unique voice you can hear them speak on behalf of the people in that region.  The other thing that I’ve learned when I regularly listen to, or regularly read bloggers or podcasts is reach out to them, tell them what you’re working on.  Now you – I don’t know if you particularly have done this, and you may or may not, but you may have contacted me and I’m very open to having those kinds of conversations with you about what it is you’re working on, what it is I’m working on, ideas that I can bring to the table to help you with what your objectives are.  People who are in this community from the standpoint of publishing blogs, doing podcasts are doing this out of passion.  Let’s face it; nobody is making money at this.  It’s all about passion.  And with that passion comes a willingness to share, a willingness to help.  So in this case if you can’t travel and you’ve got a blog or a podcast or a video podcast or somebody that you’ve just read whether it’s their book that has an interesting voice and you think there might be something – a trend or you just want to learn more – you can then for all intents and purposes go out there and have those conversations with them.  Now the key here is give them credit.  If somebody is giving you sources of information and they’re giving you basically their heart and soul and they’re sharing you with them their lessons learned and their experiences, give them credit.  Now the other thing I do b
eyond just using the Web, and this actually does tie back to the Web, is look for trends that are emerging from the use of unique terms.  Now, in many cases you may be reading your blogs and you may be coming across a term that you start seeing maybe once or twice and then all of a sudden starts to pick up steam.  One site that I use that is giving me a unique insight into something that’s really catching steam, is to use the Google trends site, so it’s  You can put in any two terms, or actually multiple terms, separated by commas – and it will go back in history and tell you how many hits those terms are getting.  So you can actually start seeing if it’s picking up steam, if it’s becoming more popular.  Or if it’s still what I would classify as emerging.  And, again, terms can be translated into trends.  You know?  If you recall a year ago I published a podcast with regards to the whole corporate corruption of innovation and the overuse in the – of the term.  And that was basically from the standpoint when you looked out at Google trends and you looked at the term innovation compared to other teams, you could see where it was starting to really take off and is being overused and it was being misused and corporations were out there trying to claim that they were being innovators but in reality it was basically just face time.  If you want to read more on this I just posted, in fact, an entry on today’s – on my personal blog at talking about whether or not management gets it from the standpoint of innovation.  So again if you can’t travel, use the Web and use the Web to your advantage.  Don’t just focus on industry news, find blogs with a unique voice and invite them, invite them not only to just interact but here’s an idea for you, invite them to act as an advisor to you.  Invite them to act as your eyes and ears on the ground in the region where you can pose them questions and they can give you that feedback.  And then use things like Google trends to see if things are coming up and starting to heat up and potentially is something that’s just staring to gain traction.  What’s the ultimate objective of a trend safari?  Well, the real objective of a trend safari is for you to discover emerging trends by either direct or indirect observation and to find them first.  Find them before your competitors.  Don’t set back and wait to read an analyst’s report.  And in fact I tell my team that if they produce and analyst’s report on an idea they’re working on, it’s too late.  They need to be working on trends and ideas that you can’t find a market research report on, you cannot find an article on.  You need to be out there basically creating the news space.  And so therefore the objective for me for the trend safari is to discover these trends, either by direct or indirect, and define them first.  And then use that trend to find the white space innovation.  Now if you’re not familiar with the term “white space innovation,” there was a podcast a couple of podcasts ago that talked about white space innovation and how to create a white innovation map.  So use the trend, create a white innovation map, and then create the next killer innovation.  Use your observation, use the trend, use white space to really identify where you can create unique value for your customers and therefore a real breakthrough for your company.

RELATED:   Ideas + Innovation Culture = Innovation Success


When attempting to discover ideas or trends by observation, you need to ask the right questions.  Asking the right question can really unlock the hidden want for the person that you’re interviewing, whether that be an enterprise customer, a consumer customer, small business, or whoever your customer is when you’re doing the observations you’re trying to identify in your trend safari.  The key here is is asking the right questions.  Now you have to be careful; you need to be careful how you structure the questions.  Don’t be asking leading questions.  Don’t think you’ve got the answer in your head and then structure the question to get them to give you the answer you want.  Now it’s a lot harder than it sounds.  It’s not that anybody consciously is going out and trying to lead their customer to a specific answer.  But it’s human nature – you think you understand what the problem is and you think you understand what the answer is in your head and the point here is that you’ve got to – you’ve just got to be able to be, to separate yourself from that and be able to ask questions so that you can potentially discover something that you did not know.  So what is the right set of questions?  It’s real simple; askwhy.  Now don’t ask why just once.  But the general rule that I use is you ask why five times in a row.  Why do you do this?  Because it gets beyond the superficial, it gets down to the real issue.  So things like why do you use that tool?  To dig the hole.  Well, why are you digging the hole?  Well, to get to the water.  Well, why do you need to dig the hole to get the water?  Well, we don’t have water nearby.  Why isn’t the water nearby?  Well, the lake is three miles away, up in the mountains – you get down to the point of it isn’t about the tool, it’s about getting the water maybe down into the field and maybe there’s a way to create an aqueduct to get the water there.  So the key here is is asking why.  And now the key here also is don’t be annoying.  Don’t sit there like a robot and go why?  Why?  Why?  Don’t be annoying.  Engage, ask those questions, but why is a very powerful question in order to really try to uncover where there might be some unique opportunities in an emerging trend in order to really create that next killer innovation.

RELATED:   Innovation Execution – Translating Ideas Into Real Products


Reinforcing the theme for this week’s podcast about trend safari, the objective for the trend safari again is about really discovering trends early enough to get ahead of your competitor and so that you can align your resources to be first to market.  You want to identify those trends before anybody else has, and get to market.  It’s all about delivering a product or service that your competitors haven’t thought of.  Now, given the competitive nature of business today and how rapidly your competitors can respond, nothing is ever permanent.  So it isn’t like you’ll find one trend and you’re done.  You have to go do this over and over again.  But the key here is that you want to be able to deliver a product or service that your competitors haven’t thought of.  The result is that your customers will give you a margin premium.  They will give you credit for being the first one out there to solving a unique problem they have before anybody else has figured out how to solve it.  Now in this week’s closing thoughts I think Aristotle Onassis said it best, “The secret of business is to know something nobody else knows.”


Thanks for listening to this week’s podcast.  Send your feedback to  Also feel free to LinkedIn – send me an invite through LinkedIn to and please note that you are a listener of the podcast as I get lots of LinkedIn invitations and unless I know that you’re a listener I typically don’t accept.  Also, don’t forget to vote for your favorite podcast, both Killer Innovations and the other podcasts that you listen to.  You can vote over at Digg, PodcastAlley, Podcast Pickle or
any of the other sites that you visit to find the great content that the podcasters are putting out there for you.  And voting is the easiest way for you to say thanks to the producers of your favorite content.  Also, all I ask is that you pay it forward.  If you’re a regular listener of the podcast you know that really my drive for doing this podcast and having done it for almost, well we’re coming up on two years here in March, of producing the podcast – the real objective for me to do this podcast is to satisfy a promise that I made to an early mentor.  An early mentor who invested a lot of time in my career early out of college and who really put me on the right path to ultimately achieve what I’ve achieved today.  And my promise to that mentor, and the requirement from that mentor, was that when I got later in my career, and I got to a position of having some career success, I would pay it forward, I would mentor others.  And through this podcast hopefully I am able to mentor you in preparing for being more creative and more innovative in your business; so all I ask is that you pay it forward by telling others of the benefit that you’re getting from the podcast.  And, again, thanks; please send your feedback, I look forward to the feedback and e-mails, and your feedback does not have to be constrained to the podcast, if there’s other questions that I might be able to help you with, feel free to send those along, too.  And we’ll talk to you real soon.  Bye-bye.


[End of Audio]

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