If you like poking around to find interesting ideas that might offer business opportunities, this may be the time to try your hand at trend curation.
Rohit Bhargava, a Washington-based marketing consultant who began publishing a list of important trends in 2011, starts his annual search about now, systematically tracking signals that can help illuminate the currents around us.
It may seem easy when you get started, since there are lots of obvious trends. But he considers cataloguing those as lazy. He urges you to join him in finding non-obvious trends, things that aren't being noticed and can only be pieced together through creative detective work.
He points to virtual reality, which is often cited as a trend. But he insists it's actually not a trend – it exists. Instead, he built on that to focus attention on a trend he calls virtual empathy: The improved quality and lower costs for virtual reality allows creators to tell more immersive stories and see the world from another point of view. Mobility is a commonly cited trend these days, thanks to technology. "That's so obvious. And it's not particularly useful. I look at how a trend will change things tomorrow," he says in an interview. In his book Non Obvious 2017: How to Think Different, Curate Ideas and Predict the Future, he says "a great trend is a unique curated observation about the accelerating present."
He notes that collecting is a common human activity. Collecting and, more importantly, curating ideas adds meaning to the noise around us just as museum curators through their themes and insight "add meaning to isolated beautiful things."
He outlines five habits of trend curators: being curious, observant, fickle, thoughtful and elegant.
Of course, being curious, observant and thoughtful are obvious. But fickle? "That's not generally seen as positive. But the key is not to dwell on things too long. Capture ideas but be willing to move on and let the connections come with time," he advises in the interview. That requires being disciplined, keeping records of all the snippets you notice, so you can return to them. As for elegance, he traces that back to his years as an English major, studying poetry. You want to say what you mean in a simple but understandable (and catchy) way. He follows what he calls "The Haystack Method." But you are not searching for the needle in the haystack. Instead, you are gathering the hay – ideas and stories – and then using them to define a trend, the needle, which gives meaning to them collectively. You gather the hay and create the needle.
There are five steps:
Gathering: You want to save interesting ideas. This sounds effortless – haphazard browsing. But he found it requires great discipline. He is constantly putting stickies on good ideas in books, ripping out magazine pages to put in files, and printing out what he sees on the Web. As a keynote speaker, he takes notes on the interesting ideas in the other talks at the gatherings he attends.
Aggregating: You now need to curate those ideas into clusters of bigger themes after you have a substantial collection. What is the underlying human need they point to? How is this same phenomenon affecting multiple different industries? He'll usually come up with 60 to 70 topics before whittling them down to his annual 15 trends.
Elevating: This is the most difficult, but vital, step – making the broader connections that allow for non-obvious insights. His house has a room the family calls the "Thanksgiving Room," since it's primarily used by everyone on that day, but when curating he creates piles for his material on the long table and does his sorting and thinking there. His wife will find him staring at the piles for hours, pondering. "It's creativity. But it's trying to have enough discipline to combine and simplify. It's easy to combine and make things more complex. But making it simpler is tough," he says.
Naming: The poetry buff urges you to create elegant descriptions. Unexpected connections help, as in this year's "authentic fame-seekers," which jolts since we don't think of those notions going together.
Proving: Maybe you have some trends, maybe not. Validate before telling the world. He tests them on colleagues and friends. If the trends are solid, it also should be easy to find more examples as you now check around, conducting further research. If he can't find it, the notion is dropped.
Give it a try. Who knows what you will unearth? If it's non-obvious, it could be very helpful. In the meantime, we'll look at his 2017 trends next week.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter