Trends bring about change. Smart entrepreneurs who can spot trends early and get in when the timing is right are able to profit from them. Fads are short lived. They are usually found in pop culture and fashion. Again, timing is critical because a fad can come and go as fast as lightning.
When I was growing up in the seaside village of Kalk Bay, Cape Town, my father hired a spare outside room from the mother of a famous cricketer at the time.
The empty room was quickly filled with equipment that my brothers and I used for our watersports: surfboards, wetsuits, diving gear and fishing rods. I spent many hours in that room fixing surfboard dents or dings.
At the beginning of the year it is customary to look at trends. In this post we briefly examine a trend that businesses need to follow or they will fall behind.
Will things get worse? How will I keep my business afloat? Where can I find opportunities to grow?
In the midst of economic uncertainty at the start of the New Year questions like these may cause anxiety but they are essential to avoid stagnation and decline. Looking at trends in your business and market is one way to orientate yourself and your business to the pathways that lead to growth and to avoid those that are heading smack into a solid wall.
Trend spotting can be valuable for any business. It goes without saying that whether you are part of a large corporation, a business proprietor or entrepreneur, a solid understanding and knowledge of economic trends is vital for adjusting and even capitalising on the expected economic conditions whether fair or foul.
Watch customer buying trends
Industry or market trends that directly affect your business are just as important. Buying trends and preferences, whether you are in business-to-business or consumer markets, are vital and need to be closely watched. To be on top of the labyrinth of your customer’s mind, you need to spend at least a few hours a week studying their needs and desires.
Trends for the smaller entrepreneurial business this year that need looking at include the continuing growth of business on the Internet, cloud computing, the ever-growing cell phone market, the need to reduce costs and find more effective ways to market products and services using traditional and on-line methods, particularly social media — all of which means creating greater customer value.
Magazines provide a case in point. As traditional media, magazines need to play catch up with using social media as part of their reader retention and acquisition strategies. The integration of social media with traditional offline media products such as magazines certainly looks set to grow. For those magazines that ignore this trend or are too slow to adapt, the consequences could be fatal. A woman’s magazine recently closed with the publisher saying that they took too long to integrate with social media and come out with a user-friendly digital edition. These digital editions or many of them are so cumbersome that it is hardly worth the effort trying the view them online. I subscribed to a newspaper digital edition and did not renew my subscription. Fortunately, it was only for three months.
But the malaise with magazines is deeper. In a highly competitive media space magazine content is just not cutting it with readers (circulation figures are drastically down) — not for all magazines but most of them. They just have not done enough reader research. They haven’t used creativity processes to find solutions to keep readers and deepen their reader experience. This is what comes from myopic thinking, looking at what the industry is doing and not examining other industries for break-out ideas.
Quickly grasp this
One trend that continues to grow and which is of great interest to us at ideaaccelerator.co.za is innovation. Riding out the economic storm, leading companies and entrepreneurial businesses have quickly grasped the importance of innovation — from new technologies, product development and marketing to consumer insights and business models.
Small businesses have innovated by reducing the costs of doing business, being more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly, finding ways to attract good employees, and effectively marketing their products and services offline and online. Sadly, given the number of business failures, it’s clear that too few small businesses are innovative. But for those that continue to grow despite the current economic malaise, continuous innovation is core to their success. Among these innovators are those business owners who are quick to use the methods and techniques for new idea generation and creative strategic approaches that we have covered in past updates on ideaaccelerator.co.za.
Keep innovation constant
It’s not just the big ideas that are important for innovation. Take, for example, the following analogy from the cricket world. If we look at the double-century cricket score of Jacques Kallis, South Africa’s greatest modern-day batsman, we see that in the match between South Africa and Sri Lanka at Newlands, he scored 224 from 325 balls. In that score only 31 balls were 4s and one was a 6 (325 balls, 31 x 4 1 x 6). It was the constant batting of smaller scores that allowed him to reach his record score.
Innovation needs to be a constant part of our business lives. A steady, constant flow of ideas is necessary if we want to be successful. Yes, sure the big idea can be earth-shattering, game-changing or make a large impact to our business or in the marketplace. But the big ideas are often few and far in between. We need to innovative every day even if it is sometimes in small ways. These have an accumulative effect.
The choice is yours if you want to stand still in such an economy. To stop growing, to hesitate and wait for change to happen to your business, means that you are prepared to put everything at risk. New ideas meet change head on and spur growth. If you want to embrace change, to not stop growing, then use innovation to keep your business from stagnating or even running into terminal decline and eventual closure.
Need to produce ideas to start a new venture, come up with a product or service or promote your new business? Do you want to release your latent potential? Is there a low-cost way to quicly learn how to produce ideas almost instantly?
A simple but effective technique for producing ideas has been around for some time and it is finding new applications in business whether you run a kitchen table outfit, small business, consulting practice, work for a corporate or in manufacturing.
Before you stop reading because you erroneously believe you are not creative or that this technique is for creative people like artists and writers, consider its new applications for business. Let me explain.
Silence your internal critic
The technique is freewriting and involves writing quickly without stopping for a set time (ten minutes or longer once you’ve got used to it) without regard to spelling, punctuation or grammar. Even writing gibberish or babble is OK. In fact, you don’t need to write complete sentences — just keep your pen or keyboard moving as fast as you can but without rushing. The process of freewriting helps you to prevent your internal critic getting in your way while you are creating and generating new ideas. Your internal critic can be useful afterwards when you need to evaluate, assess and judge.
Freewriting is private but it’s up to you to share what you’ve written. Private writing frees you up to write anything you want without constraining or censoring yourself for an audience even if it is only one person.
Freewriting can be useful for any person, artist, writer, advertising specialist, scientist, business person, manufacturer or consultant.
Creativity can’t be commoditized
A recent addition to the freewriting field is Accidental Genius by Mark Levy, founder of the marketing strategy firm Levy Innovation. Levy covers using freewriting to explore ideas and concepts for writing projects (blog posts, articles and books) but also for a wide range of applications in business.
Freewriting can be used to generate ideas for marketing, promotion and sales to name just a few. What I found helpful were some of his applications like researching new products, investigating business opportunities and exploring your best ideas.
His suggestions for freewriting are helpful to generate new products and services, develop business plans, devise business models and ignite marketing programmes. Levy also shows how you can use freewriting to keep your focus on what you want to make of your life.
All this guidance aside, the real test of your freewriting progress is to come up with your own ways to use freewriting to create ideas and to solve problems or explore solutions. Your first freewriting forays may not generate breakthrough ideas but repeated attempts (at least three times a week) should yield pleasant and profitable surprises.
Open up your thinking
Levy’s methods are also useful for consultants and trainers who wish to help clients unlock their creativity and help them to solve problems or come up with new ideas. He advises to teach freewriting to a client, a colleague, a team, an audience. “Don’t, however, just teach it as an intriguing skill,” he says. “Teach it to them as a means to open up thinking about a specific problem.”
Freewriting is a valuable technique for coaxing those ephemeral thoughts and insights, teasing the unconscious to delight with epiphanies. It is one of hundreds of many creative techniques that can help you to draw valuable insights and ideas from your effervescent unconscious mind.
Knowing which technique to use in a given circumstance or to meet the particular needs and interests of an individual or team takes experience and understanding. Freewriting whether performed on your own or under the guidance of a creativity consultant or ideation expert enables both entrepreneurs and corporate employees to sharpen their ideas for starting new ventures, revitalizing their business and winning new customers.
Copyright 2011 Bell & Cray Business Research™. This material used with special permission from Bell & Cray Business Consulting™. Bell & Cray Business Consulting™ is a division of Bell & Cray™. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be duplicated or re-disseminated without permission.
Copyright 2011 Bell & Cray Business Research™. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be duplicated or re-disseminated without permission.
Put your ladder against the wrong wall and you may have a long climb.
A business consultant’s life isn’t easy. Carla (not her real name) had a problem. “What businesses should I be in?” It was the question that had haunted her for the past few months. Was it the right question?
She was asking the question from the perspective of that familiar trap: coming up with an idea for a product or business that suits the entrepreneur’s technical skills and inclinations but ignoring the reality of the marketplace.
Carla faced the most difficult question of her business life.
What was she to do?
When markets are down, consumers are not spending and business formulas that worked in the upturn are being shattered like skittles in a bowling alley, it’s difficult to have clarity. But clearness of vision is exactly what is required. How does a businessperson know where to position their ladder when so many walls are crumbling and some collapsing?
Trend spotting, distinct from forecasting, an unreliable and inaccurate “science” at best, is a tool to clear away the clutter and focus on more certain bets.
“But I’m just interested in getting my business to grow,” Carla said in frustration. “Don’t talk to me about trends. I’ve seen so many just come and go.”
What Carla was describing was fads, which are very different. We’ve all seen fads appear like night flies and disappear as quickly. Can anyone still remember low-carb diets, Doc Martins, digital pets and tongue piercing?
As business people, we need to find trends that are big enough and sustainable for a long time. We need to be like surfers looking for a giant wave or even a tsunami that we can ride on and on for a long time. We can’t catch shore dumpers that roll in, break and are gone in an instant. We need something more substantial.
The biggest and most obvious trend is economic growth. “But look where that is now,” Carla said. Even economic upswings sometimes only last up to three to five years. Nobody talks anymore about the “long boom”.
The problem is that economic growth is too big a target. If we are to become more effective in trend spotting, we need to narrow our focus. We also can’t merely look at different consumer or industrial markets and place bets on them. Just consider general consumer spending and see how it expands and shrinks.
We need to pinpoint exactly where we want to place our bets. Because much depends on it, our lives, our reputations our income for our families. Hindsight might be looked at cynically as a perfect science but it does give us insights. If you were to pick the most robust trends over the past 20 years, what would they be?
Carla took out her Moleskin notebook and listed her top five:
1 Home entertainment.
2 Health foods
4 Convenience foods
Videos and computer games have had a long run. Just imagine the owners of video stores– those who took a bet on the home entertainment trend. They are now in their second decade and are smiling, driving smart cars and wearing open-necked brand-name T-shirts.
“The question,” I said to Carla, “is what are the next trends?”
She frowned, looked at me with disbelief and said, “How am I to know?”
“I would read newspapers, magazines, reports, sift through the data, badger insiders until I see a pattern emerging.”
Carla came back to our next meeting with a list of what she believed would be the top five megatrends over the next few years. She showed me her list:
2 Green products and power
3 The senior market
4 Health and wellness
There were some that I would have liked to put on her list but I resisted the temptation. Personal computing had been a 30-year wave with many facets to it and had morphed into various forms up until today where we virtually have computers in our pockets. The Internet had spawned a new breed of businesses that seemed unimaginable only 20 years ago.
“These trends that you’ve identified are like rich veins of gold that will most likely be around for a long time,” I said. “Though we don’t have a crystal ball we can be reasonably certain that your list represents profitable areas for further exploration.”
Just remember that for some movements there will be a countertrend and further opportunities. For example, while people might like fast food and convenience today there’s also a slow-food movement gaining momentum. You won’t find the slow-food markets in the high-end retail spaces but look around in your city and you’ll find them in rehabilitated old buildings. A growing number of people, dissatisfied with the mass-produced food they find at their local supermarkets, are traipsing into these markets on weekends and stocking up on produce for the week.
Carla was excited. She was going to explore the area of pets and see if she could come up with an idea to make life easier for pet owners. “Just imagine the size of the market,” she said. “It’s growing and it covers millions of people. If I could just get something in there. What do I do next?”
Trend spotting and analysis is one of the ways to look beyond the obvious and find opportunities for the future that are sustainable and where you can focus for a number of years. A growing trend gives you much more substance that you can bet your future against.
The next step in any entrepreneurial business person’s evolution is to brainstorm and research a particular trend and see where your skills, inclinations, passion, passion and experience can be applied to either coming up with new products and services, educational materials, coaching, teaching, consulting, to serve the needs of the market. It’s also a good idea to look at some of the problems of consumers in these markets and see how you could better serve their needs. Take the cost of pet ownership. It’s not only about food but also veterinary services that are ever escalating. Pet insurance was one of the innovative products a few years ago to better serve pet owners by guarding against exhorbitant medical bills.
But what’s next? Whatever it is, markets are awaiting for new ideas to make consumers lives easier, lower the costs of ownership and to increase their convenience and enjoyment.
Trend spotting is a fundamental building block in the process of producing ideas for profit.
Copyright 2010 Bell & Cray Business Research™. This excerpt has been used by special permission from Bell & Cray Business Consulting™. Bell & Cray Business Consulting™ and Bell & Cray Research are both divisions of Bell & Cray™. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be duplicated or re-disseminated without permission.
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