In his book, Futuring: The Exploration of the Future, author Edward Cornish spends a lot of time talking about trends. In fact, it’s at the heart of his thoughts on futuring. Here’s some of his thoughts on trends as well as a few of my thoughts mixed in.
But looking at trends does more than give us insight into the future. It provides wisdom from the past. Our past.
Understanding the future requires knowledge of what’s happening today, and how we have arrived at today. An effective evaluation tool to achieve this is trend analysis.
By looking into the past, trends offer the observer the chance to analyze hindsight. If hindsight is 20/20, then analyzing that hindsight opens the door to see the trends found in life, business, culture, etc, how they affected our life and decision-making, and what changes we might make for the future.
For the future, trends offer the observer trajectories, what could happen if nothing were to derail their path. But for the past, trends provide us with another self-awareness tool.
So trends offer a way to see what happened to bring us to a point in time, along with providing insight into the future barring massive changes.
This is a special value of trends. They give us a bridge from the past to the future. By using trends we can convert knowledge of what has happened in the past into knowledge about what might happen in the future. Since our knowledge of the future is, very weak and spotty kind of knowledge, trends provide a way to create some crude maps of what may lie ahead.
Why worry about Trends?
Businesses need to constantly analyze data. This shows you a macro picture of what is going on in your business and what is going on in the world.
For instance, I once handled operations and information systems for an automotive dealership. In some research on internet searches for the manufacturer of vehicles that I worked for, I noticed a 52-week decline of searches for the manufacturer in our metro region. It was a steep decline. I compared it against searches for Ford. What I noticed was that online searches for Ford were growing over that period of time while searches for my own manufacturer was declining.
I pointed this out to district managers who, along with their marketing people, dismissed my observations. Not long afterwards, I was able to secure the search data from a major automotive website. I was able to compare searches of any make to another make within any of over 150 markets. The results were staggering. That same trend was happening in our region using their data. Again, I pointed this out and was again dismissed.
A few months after that, our regional manager came by to provide insight into how our dealership and brand was doing against others in our market. Sure enough, Ford had grown considerably, while our manufacturer had declined in market share. Again I pointed this out, but received no response.
Sometimes analysis brings paralysis. But ignoring it completely will make you like that crazy uncle who never leaves the house and still relishes watching his 3 channels on the room-size black and white television. Or it will just kill you or your business.
The hard work of analysis allows us to spot trends. But it can also be used to help expose the ignorance in our own thinking. In a fast-changing world, knowledge quickly goes out of date, so very quickly that each day we become ignorant of things we once were familiar with. As a result, we all live psychologically in the world of the past. The actual world is quite different from what we think.
If we want to live psychologically in the real world of today, we must learn to think in terms of trends, so that we can anticipate how the world must have changed while we weren’t looking, and how it will continue to change in the years ahead.
Considering and observing trends, therefore, is part of our practice of self-awareness, trying to see the future so that it reveals the present, enabling us to correct their out-of-date beliefs and practices.