One of my favorite business quotes is from Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” But lately, I’ve been wondering if that’s always the case.
As a part of a team that has been leading beauty trends for over a past decade, LPK has a robust trends culture — full of jargon, hacks, and intuition to help us accomplish tasks quickly and effectively. Years of rigorous attitudes about what is and isn’t good work, followed by how to successfully communicate trends, have built up a group of talented people who can effortlessly inspire their colleagues at the drop of a hat. If you work in any trend-driven sector — like fashion, food, beauty, or tech — you know that keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s happening gives you razor-sharp instincts and trains your gut to feel confident in its choices.
But there is such a thing as too much culture. Strong cultures make a lot of decisions based on instincts and intuition. Although seasoned pros believe in their experience and aptitude, humans are wrong about half the time. There is plenty of popular psych on cognitive bias to prove it. That’s probably one of the reasons why innovation still fails at an unfortunately high rate and many organizations are struggling to grow.
Staying ahead of the trends in your industry is crucial, but there’s a difference between trend gathering and hunting for trends that represent the biggest market opportunity. Just imagine our caveman ancestors searching for food rather than dollars. Gathering requires keen instincts on where to look, but hunting requires a clear vision along with evidence showing when and where to throw your spear.
Trend gatherers know where to look and have a keen intuition. They scan the horizon and see things from a macro view. They can “sense” disruption but they rarely know precisely when it will come or how to act. Everett Rogers’ diffusion-of-innovation model is the perfect tool for gathering trends. Its soft edges allow people to maintain a broad view of what’s happening, but unfortunately it’s often an over-generalization. Trends, consumer behavior, and market shifts never happen in a beautiful bell curve or gentle S-curve. It’s a good theory but it doesn’t have the accuracy needed when hunting for real opportunities.
Hunters need to know when and where to throw their spear. Of course they must have a sense of the trends, but more importantly they must know when the time is right to act. For marketers on the hook for growth, a theory of trends is not enough. As they seek to capitalize on market shifts, there are data sources and analytics that can move past theoretical bell curves and provide more precise insight into the opportunity.
Incorporating trend data into your process can help trends move from inspirational territory to specific market opportunity. To demonstrate this, we can look at trend data from the self-love and self-care wellness movement. At a macro level, one can clearly see the rise in interest with this idea. As ideas for new self-care products and services start to bubble up, the questions become: When? How? In what way?
Data can answer the questions that intuition can’t. A closer look at the trend data reveals a series of clear step changes (not a steady S-curve). Unexpectedly and disruptively, the conversation about self-love doubles overnight. About a year later it nearly doubles again, and then again it jumps up. Understanding these step changes allows leaders to anticipate market shifts with greater accuracy, knowing that their initiatives will launch at the right time, reach the right audience, and make the most of their investment. What’s even better, leaders can deploy technology that anticipates these moments in the future to build stronger innovation pipelines and strategic plans.
Most leaders already use trends to gather observations and inspiration that inform their intuition. To take trends to the next level, consider these three shifts in thinking:
- First, instead of visualizing trends as bells or S-curves, remember that these phenomena are rarely as simple as they seem. There are likely deeper insights within a trend space if you look for the disruptive shifts or step changes.
- Second, it’s not enough to simply know the trends and feel inspired by them — organizations need to activate on trends too. Challenge teams to integrate data into their stories and get specific on strategies.
- Finally, seek out the specific moments where you can act on trends to make a big impact. Identify tools that can help you identify those moments and build them into your project plans and timelines.
What role do trends play in your organization? Are they a formal practice or an informal expectation? Do you use them to gather inspiration or to identify specific opportunities?