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How to leverage future trends: a practical guide to survival

How to leverage future trends: a practical guide to survival

By fitting trends in the context of a product or brand, new trend-related opportunities can be identified

I’m flying my first solo flight on a glider – the sky is blue, plenty of clouds and thermals. I float effortlessly gaining height and drifting silently over a southbound stream, it’s a marvelous sensation. Now it’s time to start the descent: the air is more and more unstable as I approach my landing site, just over it I find a strong turbulence that almost makes me crash, I try another approach, but no way. So I glide as much as I can and finally manage a hard landing over a barley field. As I escape from the cockpit and fall over the crop, I see a farmer shouting and waving a fork at me…Suddenly, I wake up sweating in my bed and the room walls are rocking around – what a nightmare a sweet dream has become!

This is what could happen when a product manager tries to leverage future trends to build up new business opportunities. You start by hearing a futurist foretelling intriguing scenarios that capture your imagination, you feel a new energy flowing inside and you would shout out loud: “Yes, I can make it, I’ll be the next one!”. Then, you come back to the office (or wherever you work), you try to apply that mantra, maybe to convince your peers, and walls start tumbling down over you. At the end, you’re left alone to decide if you risk your reputation (and career) for a visionary faith or keep quiet and safe. Guess what’s the popular choice?

Nevertheless, it’s still true that only the brave prosper in the middle of a crisis. A few lucky (or smart?) competitors may have gotten the right kick-start and are now looking up at you from the cover of the magazine on your desk. So, sooner or later you’ll have to cut the cord and look into the future to find the road to the golden pot waiting for you. Here is a very simple advice that may be of help: don’t enter the forest, don’t take the very first steps, unless you know at least which is the direction to the end of the rainbow. Yes, because if you start off in the wrong direction you’ll soon be way off course – maybe even for ever.

The guiding light you need can only come from filtering, selecting, interpreting trends in view of your business or product context:

  • Market footprint
  • Sector experience
  • Company mindset
  • Quality of resources
  • Trade partners
  • Customer targets
  • Ability to act

That’s a tough challenge as some facts are hard to assess properly. When going from trends to successful business opportunities, some of the following guidelines may be of help:

  • Be open minded to consider a lot of trends, but smart in selecting those relevant
  • Make trends fit in the context of your brand or product and be practical in distilling sound business ideas
  • Have trend opportunities inspire the disbelievers in your organization, without judging their lack of vision
  • Commit to stay with the chosen opportunity
  • Temper the need to celebrate victory to early and be honest in learning from defeats

Leveraging future trends is a risky business, there’s a lot to gain or to loose, so fly safe!