“The most reliable way to forecast the future is to try to understand the present.” – John Naisbitt, futurist and author
As business leaders start their day, they routinely review many sources of information. Both broadcast and print media provide useful data that have been garnered from the previous day, such as stock values, company sales, analytic projections and employment data.
However, there is a more substantial source of useful analysis from another milieu. That is the study of trends and countertrends.
This information, when proficiently learned, will provide a more long-term intelligence because it provides a longer and more reliable pattern of activity over an expanded period of time. This makes available a more measurable stream of operational data to better assess future activity.
The dynamics of market change are such that knowledge of trend lines is absolutely essential. Anything less is inherently problematic for the much-needed strategic intelligence required in today’s marketplace.
ASSESSING THE TRENDS
The solution is to be out ahead of the results, and this is best accomplished by trend assessment.
A primary component of any well-organized management team is the observance and tracking of emerging market trends to ensure operations are aligned with strategic objectives.
Trends indicate whether market conditions are providing preferable market indicators. This is accomplished by charting trend gyrations and assessing their future impact.
Equally important, and often overlooked, are countertrends, or discoveries contrary to expectations.
The most valuable aspect of countertrends is that, when discovered early and leveraged, they provide a significant advantage.
An example of a countertrend is the rapidly growing emergence of highly talented “knowledge workers” who are less interested in traditional corporate arrangements and more interested in practicing and developing their distinct breakthrough professional skill-sets.
This emergence has created an entire new category of workforce and will significantly affect recruiting, retention, alignment and long-term planning.
GRAYING OF THE WORKFORCE
Another unexpected trend occurs in health care. With baby boomers who are in good health happily working longer than ever before, the workforce will be increasingly graying.
Therefore, keeping these most productive employees will result in significant benefits in terms of training, experience and expertise.
The use of countertrends such as these offers a significant competitive advantage.
REACT ON TIME
How do you get in front of this conundrum regarding planning and forecasting marketing trends, and how to begin?
In his book “Ahead of the Curve,” Joseph Ellis makes the following straightforward recommendation: “Predict economic upturns and downturns and react before it’s too late.”
In essence, his message is to examine the cause and effect of market indicators, then study market assertions.
Study and dig through the evidence. Don’t exclusively depend on expert conclusions; do the work and form your own conclusions.
However, neophytes should not try this initially but should begin with a coach.
Make sure to check the background, training and historical accuracy of the prognosticator you will be relying on to coach you.
STAYING ON POINT
Your forecast must be directly related to your business’ segment and applicable to your market regions. You and your team must have the basic knowledge to understand and interpret these findings.
Always test assumptions as best you can and get help when needed. Take into account this is an imperfect science and an educated speculation which requires routine validation.
Practice is your best friend. Imperfect experience develops a level of mastery. Remember, your committed dedication will be the difference between success and failure.
GAINING AN EDGE
There are many advantages to becoming competent at trend and countertrend forecasting. We live in a time of rapid shifts and changes. By all indications, technology will continue to progress at spectacular speeds and with growing accuracy.
There is no foolproof methodology for predicting. However, with the help of advancing technology and skillful trend-studying, reliable indicators can be identified, allowing for less guesswork and greater certainty.
Developing the insights and mastering the skills involved in the study of trends will give you an advantage against the inevitable forces of change to achieve a competitive edge.
Jon Craighead, president of Craighead Associates LLC (www.craigheadassociates.com) of Pocono Pines, has more than 20 years of experience as a consultant, working with senior executives in Fortune 100 corporations to sole proprietorships. Serving the Poconos and northeastern Pennsylvania, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.