From the February 1998 issue of Startups

Staying on top of trends is crucial for every entrepreneur. For Gerald Celente, director of the Trends Research Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, it's a way of life. The author of Trends 2000 (Warner Publishing, $23.50, 800-759-0190) predicted the popularity of homebased business, natural medicines and "voluntary simplicity" nearly a decade ago. In his quarterly newsletter, The Trends Journal, Celente forecasts the trends that will shape your business tomorrow. We asked how he does it . . . and how you can, too.

Business Start-Ups (BSU): What steps should entrepreneurs take to do their own trend-tracking?

Celente: Tracking trends is a full-time job. I read six hours a day, and I have 25 people working with me to do what I do. Trying to track trends and do something else is like trying to do open-heart surgery and play the banjo at the same time.

That said, of course there are things small-business owners can do. Keeping on top of your industry publications goes without saying. But opportunity misses those who view the world only through the eyes of their profession. So, at the very minimum, you have to read three newspapers per day. These should be USA Today, The Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times and TheNew York Times. Depending on where you live, you can substitute the Los Angeles Times, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Boston Globe, the Miami Herald or the PhiladelphiaInquirer for TheNew York Times.

Now here's the key: Read only stories that have social, economic and political content. They must have all three types of content. So as you scan the headlines and the first paragraph, if you see a story is too shallow--if it has one or two of those elements but not all three--move on.

You'll be reading stories that may not seem to directly affect your business. But as you come to understand the process, you'll learn to make connections between different fields. After we [at the Trends Research Institute] read a story, we put it in different categories. We have more than 300 categories, from AIDS to computers to banking.

BSU: Are there steps you can take to see the connections, or does it happen naturally?

Celente: It happens naturally, but you have to read every day. If you miss three days in a row, it's like walking in on the third act of a play.

Tracking trends is a way of seeing where you are, how you got here and where you're going. You have to see how the story develops, who the players are. By following trends [continuously], you're able to [foresee crises] long before they occur. So you're able to plan strategies for when the [crisis happens], which is a lot different from planning after it happens, when you're in a panic.

BSU: What's the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make in dealing with trends?

Celente: Thinking they know what a trend is when they don't. I call it "ego trends." That's when someone repeats what others are repeating and starts to think they really know about something without understanding it.

BSU: How can you know whether your prediction is on target?

Celente: There's a biblical saying: "By their deeds you shall know them." You've got to have a track record. You've got to chart what you hit and what you missed. What were you right about? And how important was it? You can be right on 95 percent of your predictions, but if they're not important . . .

BSU: So there is no way to be sure you're right?

Celente: Perfection is an illusion, and certainty in business--there's no such thing. You've got to put yourself out there. That's the way life is.