Do you follow trends? I bet you do! Everyone likes talking about the future, imagining what it might hold and then taking pride in seeing that they were “right”, that what they had “predicted” has come true. If this is how you work with trends, then you must read this post – urgently!
There are many trend providers today, from futurologists, to trend agencies, to gurus, all claiming to have “the truth”. An ex-colleague of mine made an interesting comment to me last weekend, as we hiked up to the top of La Dole, one of the small hills in the Lac Leman area of Switzerland where I live.
We were discussing trend following and she was comparing the providers with which her company had worked in the last five or ten years. Which of them “had got it right” and which ones hadn’t. I said that I wasn’t too keen on businesses working with trends alone, as there was no competitive advantage in doing so. She then made a wonderful comment: “You’re right of course. In fact when you go to these meetings to hear about the latest trends each year, you are sitting with a group of 20, 50, 100 or often even more people, all hearing the same presentations and “predictions”. If you all go back and start working on actions to respond to the future that was just presented, you’re all doing the same things and are in a way actually making the predictions come true”.
As I said, I have never really liked working with trends other than for developing plausible future scenarios, but she had put one of my concerns into words; you don’t gain competitive advantage from following trends. Whilst they may at best provide indications of some tactical actions you might take in the short-term, trends cannot help you develop your vision and strategy.
So if you want to achieve the real advantage of following trends and to get a head-start over your competition, then it’s time you started developing your own future scenarios. How? Well, here’s a 10-step approach that I have found has worked with many of my clients, which assumes that you are already following trends of some description:
- Identify the most relevant trends for your category from all those that you are currently following. This evaluation is often best handled by your market research and insight group, who have access to a lot of information, both internal and external, and not just on trends. If this is a new area for you all, you may decide to seek some external support to help you make these first difficult choices.
- Invite a group of about 10-15 people from various departments within the organisation and who have ideas about what will happen in their different areas of the business, to join your “Futures” team. I have found that when invited, few refuse and in fact more ask to join the group when they hear about it, than you really need, so you’ll get the wonderful privilege of choosing the best and most complementary members.
- As a team, discuss each of the selected trends in turn and how it is likely to develop in the future, say in the next 10-20 years. Really push everyone’s thinking out of the “probable” and into the “possible”. Depending upon the number of trends, this may take several meetings to pass them all under review.
- The market research and insight group, who will ideally be leading the whole process, should then summarise the future of each trend and the forces that will be acting upon it. Agree on the two or three main trend drivers, that are common to the developments, and which when crossed will result in four to eight future worlds.
- Review these worlds in another “Futures” team meeting and decide if they are all relevant for your business, or whether their impact will in fact be similar; you are looking to eventually reduce the number of worlds to a more manageable size.
- Describe each future world and build a story around them; a day in the life tends to work well.
- Identify the challenges and opportunities for the business in each of the created new worlds.
- Share the conclusions with the “Futures” team and refine your selection of actions for best business preparedness.
- Illustrate each of the worlds that you have selected as being of most relevance. To make them inspirational for everyone with whom you share them, why not try something different? We work with storytelling, visualisation and videos to get the findings across in the most exciting way.
- Present to top management and enjoy sharing with them your identified opportunities and challenges, which from my own experience they will never have imagined before.
You will notice that the last step of the process is the presentation to management. Of course in reality it is only the beginning, as you will then need to support each business in defining solutions to answer the challenges and opportunities identified.
Additional steps for Regional / Global players
Also, if you work in a regional or global role, you will need to follow up with regional and global presentations, to ensure that everyone appreciates the necessity of working together on the trends, their progress and their impact on business. They also need to understand that it will be important to alert markets behind them on certain trends and what may happen to them, as well as to observe those ahead of them to prepare their own market for changes.
Scenario planning is a company project, not a departmental one, which is why trend following cannot be left to each market or business unit to do on its own. Have fun with your own scenario developments and enjoy the unique chance of inspiring the whole business with the opportunities and challenges you have identified. It is much more rewarding than presenting trends, which have merely grown or declined from one year to the next.
Have you had experience in developing scenarios yourself? If so, please share what worked or didn’t for you, and let me know if you would add any important steps from your own process, to the ones I have mentioned above.
For more information on scenario planning, vision and strategy development, please check out our website:
If you would like our help in developing an inspiring story about what your business’s future worlds could be, and what challenges and opportunities may await you in 10, 15 or even 20 years from now, then why not contact us for an informal discussion? NO Obligation, just INSPIRATION!
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