Predicting trends is a mission-critical business exercise

As a global creative business school, we provide the market with tomorrow’s most wanted talent. Thus, we know that in order to understand what is needed we have to look ahead and anticipate change. What trends within behaviour, technology, talent and business are emerging that will affect talent demand? It’s a complex task, but essential to us. And we have documented these findings in our latest industry forum report, titled “Changes of Tomorrow”.

That said, we are not the only ones that need to anticipate change. Every business needs to implement this discipline, as we strongly believe that it’s a key practice for success. No one has complete foresight into what the future may bring, especially when it comes to the invention of new and disruptive technologies which could radically change business models, and hence we have to constantly be on the alert as to what the next big thing could be, in order to leverage these trends.

For example, consider a development like 3D printing. It may seem only relevant to manufacturing or precision moulding businesses today. But what happens to the market when a toy company (say, Lego) starts allowing their toys to be downloaded and printed at home? It’s the trajectory of a technology like 3D printing that matters, more than where it is today. In the same vein, the sharing economy is today creating business opportunities for individuals to thrive whilst at the same time putting older companies out of business. Just take a look at all the taxi protests springing up over the Uberization of their cities or towns. And how many hotel chains are already losing potential revenues to AirBnB?

At Hyper Island, we have developed a methodology for staying up-to-date. It leverages the fact that being online and connected and networked provides us with a tremendous advantage. Here’s how it can work for you:

Frame the question

This first step sets the ground for the whole process. What you can do is to assemble a group of thinkers from your company spanning a range of disciplines--from human resources to R&D to marketing to business development--and pose them this question: “Over the next 3 years, what will be the most influential trends in the areas of marketing, business culture, technology, human behavior, and talent demand?” The idea here is to be able to glean multiple perspectives from a diverse range of skillsets and to be able to pick out less-than-obvious trends which other people may have missed.

Creating a clear focus is central to good collaboration and a meaningful outcome. With a clear, structured question it becomes possible to have even a hundred people to work together at once. Then, instead of 100 individual perspectives, you get the result of 100 perspectives multiplied by hundreds of interactions between those individuals as they discuss, debate and generate ideas together.

Explore and ideate

In the second step, you can place these participants in smaller groups, with the task of generating as many ideas as possible, without filtering. Use tried and tested brainstorm techniques so that you can facilitate the flow of ideas, and mix up the groups to circulate the knowledge and energy between the various individuals. We strongly believe that ideas and insights emerge when people are given an open, inviting and interactive space in which to explore. This step intentionally creates that space and provides a model for reproducing it in the future.

Cluster and codify

Once many ideas have been generated, participants can then cluster them to combine common ideas and filter some out. In this step, focus on the trends that will have a high impact and will manifest within the next three years. The very low impact trends (perhaps, “new flavors of chewing gum”) and the very-far-off trends (say, “time travel”) can be filtered out, leaving the most relevant, most imminent trends organized and summarized.

As trends emerge, participants can write them down as trend statements––brief sentences that describe the trend and hint at its implications. Trend statements are necessary tools for giving life to the trend mapping process and help in rapidly communicating complex ideas from person to person. Summarizing trends makes them easier to understand and talk about, which in turn, makes it easier for an organization to put them on the agenda and begin building them into their marketing strategies.

Prioritize and predict

Finally, participants can place the trend statements on a large matrix, to begin the process of triage.

We usually measure trends based on their impact ("How much impact will this trend have?") and timescale ("When will this trend fully hit the industry and society?"). For businesses, it’s critical to examine the range of developments and forces that are most relevant to their particular context. Trends are most useful when the insight gleaned from them is tailored to an organization’s specific business objectives. 

In summary, remember that no trends exist in isolation. Patterns in behaviour are linked to developments in technology; trends in talent-demand are connected to how businesses are evolving, and so on. Trends are always highly interconnected and dependent on each other, and hence a structured process for trend-mapping can help people collaboratively produce vital predictions. No process can fully predict the future, but such exercises are absolutely vital for understanding context and what lies ahead.

For the results of trend mapping to have an impact, there also needs to be a culture that supports curiosity, forward-thinking and risk-taking. Businesses need processes for innovation and change, but perhaps more importantly, they need cultures where those things are happening informally and continuously. That way, any structured process becomes part of a culture: one that is ready for change and sees a future full of potential and opportunity.