The basis of our work at Competitive Futures is trend analysis, the study of data that shows how the world is changing over time. This sounds very general as a profession, yet with the way most executives are educated, very few leaders of business and government are fluent in the language of trends and what they mean.
In our two decades of work in strategy and foresight, we find that the majority of executives are unable to name three strategic level trends changing their industry – even senior executives. This is why our company specializes in trend analysis and teaches executives how to integrate this vital skill into their daily management.
What are the keys elements of trend analysis?
Since trend analysis is the basis of strategic leadership, you may wonder what it takes to incorporate these techniques at a professional level. Let’s start with the elements required to start.
- Topics of study identified
- Data sets from reliable sources
- Human analysts to perform pattern recognition
- Frameworks for analysis – rules on what to conclude from patterns recognized.
- Delivery mechanisms – a way to output findings in the form of advice
This is a very basic deconstruction, but one that is frequently lacking in a holistic form in many managerial environments. First you need to know what you are seeking to understand. Are you looking at sales data from within your own company, stock price analysis from around the industry, the price of petroleum, or all of the above?
Next is the identification of data sources. This is most of the battle in trend analysis – finding a source of information about what’s changing, understanding how the data was collected, and having faith that the information could be used as the basis of a billion-dollar decision.
Trend analysis does not happened by accident. Every organization must have dedicated professionals tasked with seeking, collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data. Rarely is this achieved with an inchoate committee of people “sort of” looking for “what’s happening.” There needs to be a real live analyst with some level of professional skill and recognized client who needs trend data interpreted for an upcoming decision.
The next requirement is somewhat subjective – there must be a framework agreed up between the analysts and the decision makers they serve. In the case of secondary bond market yields, it is general agreed upon that higher yield mean that a company is being deemed at risk of default by traders. If this is not an assumption shared by both the analyst and the executive, then the work ceases to have meaning. Unless these preconceived notions are made explicit, strategy remains in the domain of prejudices and assumptions and politics.
Finally, proper trend analysis must have some sort of delivery mechanism. It will not do simply to dump random data and ideas on an executive’s desk. There must be a final, cohesive product that ties together what was learned by the activity. Will the product simply be a compendium of trends identified? Will there be implications given based on the trends? For the whole industry, the company, or specific departments within it? Will this analysis include scenarios, or will one single, most likely set of implications be the major analysis.
What else can you learn about trend analysis?
At Competitive Futures, trend analysis is our business. If you would like to include even more sophisticated techniques into your strategic decisions, we can offer the following resources.
Download the foresight book bundle
We recommend two books by Competitive Futures’ Managing Director Eric Garland, Future, Inc.: How Businesses Can Anticipate and Profit from What’s NEXT, and How to Predict the Future…and WIN! Both are available for immediate download and provide in-depth explanations of how to get started with trend analysis.
Attend our master class on foresight
We produce master classes on foresight techniques in major cities around the world, classes that have been enjoyed and implemented by hundreds of executives at major corporations and government agencies around the world. Our program Future Intelligence: How to Integrate Foresight into Real-World Management is available in four-hour, eight-hour, and two-day packages. The course is designed to get professionals up to speed on the techniques of professional future studies, and has helped executives provide value to their employers and advance their careers.
Order a Three Trends Report
Competitive Futures offers both syndicated and custom-made reports that explore the top three trends facing your industry. Check the shop for existing titles, or order one tailor-made for your company.
Check the Datalab
Looking for important trends to jump start your strategic thinking? Check out the Datalab, our curated blog of the trend data we are actively analyzing for our own clients.
Ask us anything!
Curious about trend analysis or any other part of strategic intelligence? Ask away!
This is what we love most.
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