As you open your tablet one morning, you notice your e-mail contains multiple messages related to economic and lifestyle trends. Because you are searching for a new career challenge – or just intending to stay up-to-date in your current position, you check out these messages. In one newsletter, you notice a trend identified as a “potential leadership brain drain” to fast developing countries. On another blog, you see a post about the “growing use of video interviewing.” With just a few minutes devoted to scanning a variety of sources each morning, you easily spot 8-10 trends that attract your attention. Suddenly, you’re struck by the realization that over the last few months, you’ve spotted dozens of “trends.” But is that all you’ve done, spotted them?
If you’re searching for a new position, there are trends emerging regularly about interviewing techniques, new resume formats, and the latest trends in networking. If you’re currently satisfied in your career, there are trends and innovations emerging that can impact that satisfaction. Is automation or artificial intelligence about to show up in your industry? What about the latest trends in stress management or leadership? It’s important to know which trends to follow and how to assess the potential impact. It starts with awareness and is followed by careful monitoring and evaluation.
Awareness And Focus
Awareness is the required first step for spotting trends but “focus” is closely connected and ultimately more important. It is easy to be overwhelmed with trends. Two minutes on Google, newsletters from a variety of sources, alerts, and curated content from “experts” could easily yield hundreds of trends on economics, politics, lifestyle, careers, and the environment.
The need to focus has been highlighted by several authorities who monitor this explosion of information. Daniel Coleman, in his book “Focus” (2013), nailed a key point:
Directing attention toward where it needs to go is a primal task of leadership. The talent here lies in the ability to shift attention to the right place at the right time. Sensing trends and emerging realities and seizing opportunities.
One good way of maintaining focus is to develop a personal “radar” system. This includes thoughtful identification what you should be monitoring and thoughtful elimination of what you should not be monitoring. A “radar” system has several key elements:
There’s a limit to the number of items allowed into the radar’s “range.” Content on the radar is categorized just like different size airplanes are classified for an airport’s radar. The radar recognizes that some items are very close – and need immediate attention – while other items are “miles (or months) away.” The radar recognizes that items move at different speeds. Some may first appear and become critically important within days while others may have appeared years ago and are only slowly becoming important to you.
Critical Questions – Interrogating Trends
There is a common problem among both individuals and organizations in relation to trends. It’s a belief that simply recognizing the existence of a trend is enough, a belief that the trend will approach – by itself – and then what? The trend will somehow impact; it will automatically create action? More likely it will pass by, and the opportunity will be missed – or it will crash!
There are two clear applications for careful questioning – or serious interrogation. The first is when a trend first appears. After an initial screening, does this trend belong on your radar, does it fit the categories you’ve created, you should answer some important questions:
What is the source of the information on this trend? Do you trust the data? Is this trend accelerating or decelerating? Is it moving fast or slow? What does this trend mean to me? How does it affect me personally? Professionally?
I’ve introduced the term “interrogation” for a very important reason. It signifies, by definition, “an intense questioning session.” It is important to go beyond just acknowledging a trend. The focus must be on how this trend is going to impact your career, your profession, including your career search.
If the trend is approaching fast, or if after careful monitoring, it’s approaching closer to its impact/importance for you, there are additional questions to consider:
Who wins if this trend accelerates? What can be done, if anything, to speed it up? Who wins if this trend decelerates? What can be done, if anything, to slow it down? What do you need to do next? More information? Act?
There is added value to involving others in all stages of the process, particularly for an organization but also for individuals. For an organization, there is significant value in having a team monitoring trends. Each member of the team is able to monitor just a subset of sources for a particular topic or issue. Insights gathered by a team when discussing the interrogation questions will almost always yield fresh insights. For individuals, there are similar values by gathering input from colleagues and friends.
A Final Thought
It’s relatively easy to spot the sea of trends that come rushing at you from a variety of sources. It is harder, and requires new skills, to navigate through the rush of information. Then you can ride the waves of constant change to success in your career.