Trends in Foresight

In the world of business and strategic planning, trends are significant developments shaping a possible future.

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Quantumrun purple hexagon 2

Why are trends so crucial to a business’ survival?

Kodak. Blockbuster. Myspace. Toys R Us. What do these companies have in common? 

They failed to anticipate emerging trends in their respective industries. And when these disruptions inevitably came, they failed to pivot and adapt.

In the world of business and strategic planning, trends are significant developments that are heading in a particular direction, leading to changes in technology, business, government, society, and other aspects of our lives. They are the essential ingredient for strategic foresight – the anticipation and planning for the future. Trends don’t appear out of thin air; they often emerge from a series of seemingly unrelated events or unconnectable dots at the edge that later materialize as a trend in the mainstream. Our basic human needs often drive the emergence and evolution of trends, often catalyzed by technology.

Why are trends important?

Trends are significant because they help us anticipate and prepare for the future. They allow us to understand the direction in which the world is moving and make informed decisions about navigating it. For instance, companies that identified changes in consumer behavior early on, causing a significant shift in demand from cow’s milk to plant-based milks, might have been better equipped for the future than those who didn’t. Spotting and understanding trends can provide a competitive advantage, enabling organizations to capitalize on future opportunities and become more resilient to change.

Trends can result in full-scale disruptions that may push industries to the brink, but this is also an opportunity for growth. According to a 2022 report by McKinsey, organizations that focus on innovation during challenging times often outperform competitors who pull back. These leading innovators, driven by ambitious goals, make bold decisions and patiently build success, enabling them to quickly adapt to new business models in response to changing dynamics.

They understand that innovation must be implemented at scale, with 70% reporting large-scale rollouts of new products, services, or business models in the past five years. In contrast, less committed innovators primarily concentrate on discovery, indicating a perception of innovation as mainly an issue of idea generation.

What are the different types of trends?


Megatrends are large-scale, long-term shifts that affect governments, societies, and economies worldwide. They typically last several decades and can have profound impacts. Examples include urbanization, climate change, and the rise of digital technology.


Macrotrends are significant shifts slightly less broad than megatrends but still have a wide-ranging impact. They typically last between 5 to 10 years. An example might be the shift toward remote work.


Microtrends are smaller, more niche trends that may affect a particular industry or demographic. They typically last for a shorter duration, often 1-5 years. An example could be the rise of the zero-waste lifestyle among ethically minded consumers.

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Fads are short-term trends that spike in popularity but fade away relatively quickly. They typically last a few months to a couple of years. Examples include fashion trends or viral internet challenges.

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Counter-trends go against the mainstream or a dominant trend. For instance, a counter-trend could be the rise of digital detox retreats in response to digital overload.

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Seasonal trends

Seasonal trends are predictable changes that occur cyclically, such as holiday shopping spikes or seasonal fashion changes.

Industry trends

Industry trends are shifts or changes that are specific to a particular industry. For example, the rise of Industry 4.0 paving the way for the digitization of the manufacturing sector.

The limitations of trends

While anticipating and analyzing trends can identify areas for innovation and growth, inform strategic planning, and guide decision-making, they also have limitations. Trends are not always easy to spot, and they can be influenced by various factors, making them complex and sometimes unpredictable.

Furthermore, trends from the past only take us so far. While predictions can sometimes miss the mark, forecasting can assist in anticipating how straightforward trends and changes might evolve. However, it’s less effective when it comes to detailing the intricate, interconnected, and emerging results of disruptive events.

Methodologies Used in Identifying and Analyzing Trends

There are several approaches to identifying and analyzing trends. One involves continually scanning for signals of possible changes and using methods like interviews to dig deeper into current developments as pointers toward future transformations. Based on trend research experience, patterns are identified to anticipate relevant developments specific to your context. Each trend has explanations, associated signals, and near-future probabilities to look out for on your radar.

An alternative method employs data, insights, frameworks, and expertise from both within and outside the organization to craft unique and significant trends. This approach also involves scanning the environment for elements that could drive change, identifying emerging future possibilities, and constructing and engaging with potential future scenarios and narratives. This approach helps anticipate and shape positive human-centric futures in an uncertain world.

There are also different methods depending on whether you’re looking for curated descriptions of trends or spotting ingredients for trends. For someone just getting started with foresight, plenty of tools are available for trend identification and analysis, such as AI-based trendspotting services or trend curation platforms. These platforms contain thousands of trends – from mega to micro trends – and their description.

Here are some of the commonly used methodologies in analyzing trends:


Trends research

Trends research involves identifying and analyzing patterns in data to predict future events. It’s a critical tool for understanding consumer behavior, business performance, and the potential trajectory of various industries.

There are two key methodological approaches to trend research:

  • Primary research: This involves direct interaction with various groups such as customers, lead users, experts from scientific and industrial fields, regular users, employees, and suppliers. Techniques, such as expert and stakeholder workshops or a Delphi study, can be employed effectively in this approach.
  • Secondary research: This approach leverages existing information. Numerous trend reports exist for various industries, which can serve as valuable resources and foundations for trend identification.


Trend analysis

Trend analysis identifies prevalent patterns within a specific user group and understands how these patterns have evolved or may evolve over time. This process is crucial in uncovering new opportunities and generating ideas for potential concepts or products, making it a valuable strategy to employ during the initial stages of the design phase.

As a research methodology in design, trend analysis involves gathering data related to and from users. This data is then scrutinized to identify a trend, which is subsequently analyzed to understand its progression over time.

There are instances, however, when a researcher needs to examine an existing trend within a user group. In such scenarios, specific data is collected from the user groups by meticulously observing the trend to pinpoint its cause. Identifying the cause of a trend is often more challenging than identifying the trend itself. It’s important to note that various factors, such as time of day, season, and geographic location, could influence the trend, and these factors should be documented during the trend monitoring process.


Trend extrapolation

Trend extrapolation involves identifying patterns in data over a certain period and using that information to predict future trends. This technique is often done by extending a linear or exponential curve for short-term forecasts, but other factors, such as limits to growth, will be considered for longer-term predictions. These limits can include how much a technology or cultural practice can spread, and different trend curves may be used to fit the data, such as the logistic curve. However, it is recommended to use extrapolation with other forecasting methods, such as expert judgment and scenario analysis.

Trend extrapolation may be used to predict future trends in various areas, such as sales, finance, marketing, operations, risk management, human resources, and more. By identifying patterns in historical data, organizations can use trend extrapolation to anticipate future events and make informed decisions to optimize their operations and achieve their goals.

Various methods are employed to predict future trends using historical data, which are known to be robust forecasting techniques; however, they may not always consider unexpected events.

Trends can be visualized using line graphs, where the dependent variable is plotted on the y-axis and the period on the x-axis. Trends can be grouped into several categories:

  • Constant – there is no overall growth or decline. There could still be regular fluctuations, such as during different seasons.
  • Linear – characterized by a steady and consistent increase or decrease in the data. A straight line represents these trends, and the slope can be either steep or gradual, depending on how fast the data changes.
  • Exponential – the growth or decline in the data occurs at an accelerating rate. Instead of a steady progression, this type of trend is represented by a curve, where the x-value (plotted horizontally) is used as an exponent in the trendline formula to calculate the y-value.
  • Damped – approaches a horizontal asymptote or a horizontal line that the graph of the function gets increasingly close to but never touches.

How should businesses approach trends?

As companies navigate the ever-evolving landscape of our industries, it’s crucial to ask:

  • Are they merely reacting to trends, or are they actively participating in their creation?
  • How are they leveraging their understanding of these patterns to drive innovation and growth within their organizations?
  • And most importantly, are they prepared to adapt their strategies and operations to capitalize on these trends, or will they be left behind?

The journey toward these answers will require courage, creativity, and an unwavering commitment to innovation. It’s a journey that promises not only challenges but also immense opportunities for those ready to seize them.

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