How to Spot a Trend
It’s probably fair to say that the success of many individuals and organizations rests on their ability to spot trends. Investing, design, policy, pop culture, urban development – actually, many facets of life are somehow attached to the progress and fate of possibilities. But do many individuals and organizations integrate the generalist approach necessary for fruitful trend spotting? Consider this excellent post by Cultureby’s Grant McCracken outlining two basic rules:
Take any possibility seriously. The new wouldn’t be new unless it defied expectation. All ideas, even crazy ones, must be taken seriously.
Install a good SETI system. This is about pattern recognition. Rule 1 means that we are going to have lots and lots of “trend candidates.” We need some culling system that allows us to get rid of false positives. In the case of the real SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), there are 5 steps: 1) collect data, 2) find candidate signals, 3) check data integrity, 4) remove radio interference, 5) identify final candidates.
Clearly, these two rules are related. The credulity of Step 1 exposes us the chaos of too many trend candidates, and obliges us to embrace a Step 2 that sorts out the real trends from the apparent ones. Indeed, the wider we cast the credulity net, the more formidable must be our powers of pattern recognition. Or, the formula I prefer: the better prepared we are intellectually to spot a trend, the more widely we may cast the net.
In fact, we could say that these two rules force an interesting and necessary intersection in a Venn diagram: where the circle 1 of dreamers/droolers/utterlyingenuous overlaps with the circle 2 of hardheaded/toughminded/cleareyed. This is a very good place to be, not least because in a culture in which anything is possible no longer finds much of interest in someone who sees that everything is possible. (“The world supplies that, we don’t need you.”) The real question is whether any given possibility contains any trace of plausibility, whether it might visit us, that is to say, not just in the imagination but in the world. But, I am missing the obvious (comme toujours): the intersection of circles 1 and 2 is for certain purposes precisely the characteristic intersection of culture and commerce (not to mention the place this blog sits).