Innovation: It has advanced entire societies, improved our standard of living and given us 50 different ways to watch Seinfeld. It has also changed the way we do business. But in a world where customers expect new products and services to change as quickly as the seasons, how can we, as entrepreneurs, anticipate current trends?
Here are a few ways to stay ahead of the pack:
Allow time for creativity.
First and foremost: think. One of the forefathers of business philosophy, Napoleon Hill, wrote, “It is in the quiet that our best ideas occur to us. Don’t make the mistake of believing that by a frantic kind of dashing around you are being your most effective and efficient self. Don’t assume that you are wasting time when you take time out for thought. Thought is the foundation upon which all else is built by man.”
It is this respect for creativity that inspired Steve Jobs to create a corporate atrium, much like the one Pixar uses for its employees.
Writer Steve Searer described it this way in the article "How Steve Jobs Encouraged Creativity and Collaboration": “As a part of the Pixar campus, Jobs envisioned the atrium bringing the different departments together. Animators could talk to story boarders. Sound technicians could talk to computer scientists. And everyone would be pushing each other on toward their goal– but doing so in an environment where employees see fresh faces and have interactions that spark new creative ideas.”
It’s that innovation -- taking the same old thing and mixing it up a bit -- that leads us to our best trend-setting ideas.
Become a dedicated trend watcher.
You have to know your market before you change it. Keeping tabs on industry best practices and your competitors’ activities can help you strategize and improvise. Read industry newspapers, magazines and blog posts. Watch webinars and attend conferences. Track trends with Google Trends, Feedly or Mashable. Talk with your clients, friends, customers, competitors and co-workers.
Trend spotters understand that trends have a mood, a unique behavior and a lifespan. Being able to recognize those traits can help you forecast, anticipate changes in trends and maximizes your profit potential.
Think like a customer.
We are all consumers. We all know what we need, like and think is cool. One way to be a trendsetter is to think like a consumer. What products or services would you love to see?
“Creating a customer-focused culture of this nature is a business opportunity that should not be overlooked,” wrote digital marketing executive, Brian Honigman in his article "10 Ways to Make Customers Fall In Love with your Business." “Most businesses are failing when it comes to the customer experience, which is your opportunity to swoop in and enchant those same customers into falling for your company.”
Some of the best innovation originates from responding proactively to customers’ needs. Never underestimate the relationship you share with your loyal customer base. Their feedback is a reliable (and highly affordable) platform for exploring innovative ideas.
It was Walt Disney who said, “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.”
In this fast-paced world, being the first to introduce a new product, service or technology can be a “make or break” scenario, especially for a startup company. But if you rely on creativity, invest resources and time in identifying trends, and invite a fresh perspective on what your company provides its customers, you won’t be chasing the current trends; you will be defining them.