How to Become a Trend Predictor (And Why It's Awesome)

4173954956_239c6c7bdc_o Every time I think I have come up with some new insight, I discover someone else talking or writing about it. I haven’t decided if I am genius who is catching early glimpses of the zeitgeist or lagging one step behind. Let me give you an example. Last week, I read an article about Lady Gaga in the September issue of Vogue. In the article, it described the reaction of Coty executives to one of Lady Gaga’s ideas, “My God! That’s impossible! How can we do that?” But Gaga insisted. She would not sign a contract unless the company could figure it out. It eventually succeeded. “She was really behind the most important innovation in the fragrance industry in the last 20 years…She is really pushing boundaries.” Those who work with her describe her as always knowing exactly what she wants – and forcing her decision on them. Yet, in the end, they said, it was indeed the perfect choice. I immediately saw the linkage between that kind of behavior and the stories about Steve Jobs who also made the final decisions and did them well – okay, mostly perfectly.

When I read the article with those two names linked, I decided to write a blog about learning through totally unexpected sources. This is a great topic in my mind as sometimes when we reject a source as totally irrelevant, we discover an unexpected insight. My idea of writing a blog on the genius of Lady Gaga in comparison with Jobs could open up ideas of how managers can manage innovation. Great idea, yes?

So, a few days later, I open up FastCompany’s Co.design (one of my favorite reads each day), and there it is. Lady Gaga is linked with Steve’s name as two very creative people. So, am I right at the edge or lagging one step behind? Am I reading the zeitgeist or just behind the curve?

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I am crazy about learning so that my curiosity can be simultaneously satisfied and stimulated. I’m crazy about finding new things in unexpected places as it opens new horizons for me. I’m crazy about having conversations with just about anyone in order to catch some new insight. I’m crazy about reading books in topics that have nothing to do with my work just to tease my brain into seeing something I have tripped over or swam through and just ignored. To me learning is part of what makes me alive. As a result, I often see a trend before it becomes one.

You’re probably saying about now that you don’t have time to read outside your area, searching in uncertain places, talking with people who have nothing to do with you, reading untested sources. In fact, in my book, I talk about creating a container for your knowledge – setting boundaries within which you will explore. Yet, here I’m talking about doing things all over the map. Actually, the two aren’t in conflict as much as they seem. Let me tell you why.

Having a sense of your areas of concern lends focus to all your thinking. Yes, it is important to limit the number of sources you regularly peruse. It is also important to test your sources to assure you are getting good information. And it is important to use those odd moments when all you want to do is entertain yourself and still gain insights from it. That’s where having focus pays remarkable dividends. Vogue is one of my entertainments, yet I use that time to relate what I am encountering to my focused areas of interest. Perhaps it’s in those moments that I glimpse the zeitgeist. (Perhaps Jennifer Miller, the author of the article, also reads Vogue for the same reason.)And just because someone else out there is as insightful as I am just means that we both have seen the trend together. Now, that’s a comforting thought. It reinforces my own sagacity. It just means that we are both ahead of the curve, out in front, on the edge.

Photo by Alfred Hermida