3 Tips For Dealing With Future Trend Data For Innovation.

Two hands holding a crystal ball symbolising looking into the future

With a New Year ahead of us, research companies and forecasters of trends in various fields are loudly proclaiming their wares, namely the new trend forecasts they have produced. It’s a reminder of the importance of us drawing on trend information to inform our innovation initiatives.

So, how can we use this data effectively? Here's 3 ways you may want to experiment with.

Two of the main ways to analyse trend data are deductively or inductively. These two approaches are quite different, both methods can help us get value from the data and both unfortunately, can lead to ‘false results’ – if initial assumptions are wrong.

1.       Analysing Trend Data by Deduction.

Analysing data deductively means moving from the general to the specifics e.g. ‘from x we can deduce Y’.  An example that might emerge from analysing trend information in this way could be that fuel prices are set to rise steeply. From this we can deduce that motoring costs will rise.

The deductive approach can appear logical and straightforward.

After deductive analysis you can end up with a list of unconnected findings.

2.       Analysing Trend Data by Induction.

Analysing data by induction by contrast means moving moves from the specific to the general. It is a more creative process since there is a need to make a connection and find a unifying theme between different elements.

An example that might emerge from trend data is looking at several different trends and how they might combine together and what will this produce. For instance our trend data might point towards rising living standards in Asia, irregular weather patterns bringing extremes of drought and flood in different parts of the world and increased fuels prices due to the approach of Peak Oil and also increasing fuel duties. If these factors combine together what will they produce – what is the link between them?

One answer might be food shortages and food inflation.

Of course, food shortages and food inflation might also have been the result from deductive analysis of certain trends.

However, it is because the output of inductive analysis is supported by several different trends that often makes it more robust when planning for innovation.

Scenario Planning.

Specifically inductive analysis is key to scenario planning.

In a fast changing world we cannot predict the future. We also know that trends do not act on our markets and consumers in isolation. Rather, they combine to create future worlds or scenarios. This is where a scenario planning process can help businesses.

The opportunity in scenario planning is to create a diverse range of internally consistent scenarios. The key thing to remember it is not that any one of these scenarios is likely to be ‘right’, it is more important to recognise that the process of planning the scenarios leads to the team being more aware of alternate futures and therefore open and responsive to future changes in their environment.

Scenario planning is a popular tool in strategy development and in planning for innovation.

3.       Story Writing.

However, with the future trend data that is available today from so many experts, one of the additional opportunities is to use the trend data as stimulus for further creative thinking.

Sometimes in scenario planning there is a real focus on the physical manifestation of the future world and getting the scenarios ‘internally consistent’. We get to picture what technology might be available, how people will travel – how the people’s finances will be affected. Sometimes the scenario planning process, although requiring creativity can end up with quite ‘clinical’ scenarios.

That is where story writing comes in. This involves using future trends data to write stories about the way the world will be in future. In fact it reframes the scenario planning task with a focus on emotions. How will people feel about living in those future scenarios? How will they feel about increased use of security cameras?  How will they feel if their children are very overweight?

The opportunity here is to give permission to the team to really use their imaginations and involve themselves in the scenarios – and try to understand how it would feel.

You don’t make an investment decision on the back of such creative thinking alone – but if you don’t think creatively enough to ‘colour in ‘ your scenarios with emotion, then they will be missing some of their depth, and some innovation opportunities may not emerge.

Trend Data for Environmental Scanning.

When undertaking business planning as we know it is wise to draw on a wide range of data sources. This is with a view to understanding the current position and to forecast the future as best as possible.

Sometimes we can tend to focus more effort on the sources from which we will gather data rather than the processes we might use to evaluate the data.  

In fact, both aspects are important and can help us with our planning for innovation.

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