5 Ways to Spot Trends That Will Make You (and Your Business) More Successful
By Matt Blumberg
Last week I published my annual “Unpredictions” for 2011. This tradition grew out of the fact that I hate doing predictions and my marketing team loves them. So we compromise by predicting what won’t happen.
But the truth is that the annual prediction ritual – while trite – is really just trend-spotting. And trend-spotting is an important skill for entrepreneurs. Fortunately it’s a skill that can be acquired, at least it can with enough deliberate practice (another skill I talk about here).
Here are five habits you should consider cultivating if being a better trend spotter is in your career roadmap.
Read voraciously. I read about 50 books every year. About half of them are business books, and I also mix in a bit of fiction, humor, American history, architecture and urban planning, and evolutionary biology. I keep up with more than 50 blogs and I read all the trade publications that cover email. I also read the Wall Street Journal and The Economist regularly. What you read is a little less important than just reading a lot, and diversely.
Use social media (wisely). Julia Child once said that the key to success in life was having great parents. My advice to you is quite a bit simpler: make friends with smart people. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others have given us a window into the world unlike any other. Status updates, tweets, and – maybe most important of all – links shared by your network of friends and colleagues gives you a sense of what people are talking about, thinking about and working on. And you can’t just lurk. You actually have to be “in” to get something “out.”
Follow the money. Pay attention to where money gets invested and spent. This includes keeping an eye on venture capital private equity and the public markets, as well as where clients (mostly IT and marketing departments) are spending their dollars and what kinds of people they are hiring. Money flows toward ideas that people think will succeed. A pattern of investments in particular areas will give you clues to what might be the big ideas over the next five to 10 years.
Get out of the office: I think it’s hugely important for anyone in business, and especially entrepreneurs, to spend time in the world to get fresh perspectives. I’m not sure who coined the phrase, but our head of product management, Mike Mills, frequently refers to the NIHITO principle – Nothing Interesting Happens in the Office. Now that’s not entirely true – running a company means needing to spend a huge amount of time with people and on people issues, but last year I traveled nearly 160,000 miles around the world meeting with prospect, clients, partners and industry luminaries. You don’t have to be a road warrior to get this one right – you can attend events in your local area, develop a local network of people you can meet with regularly – but you do have to get out there.
Take a break. While you need information to understand trends, you can quickly get overloaded with too much data. Trend spotting is, in many ways, about pattern recognition. And that is often easier to do when your mind is relaxed. Ever notice that you have moments of true epiphany in the shower or while running? Give yourself time every week to unplug and let your mind recharge. As Steven Covey says, “sharpen that saw”!
About the Author: Matt Blumberg is the CEO of deliverability and security-services firm Return Path. He writes the Online Entrepreneur column with his colleagues George Bilbrey and Jack Sinclair. Together they will cover how to approach the business of email marketing, thoughts on the future of email and other digital technologies, and more general articles on company-building in the online industry – all from the perspective of an entrepreneur.