Mining the Future
by Linda Naiman

"If you want to see the future coming, 90 percent of what you need to learn, youšll learn outside of your industry. There is nothing that you can learn from inside your industry that will help you get ready for the future. Literally nothing, because you already know it." Gary Hamel, author - Leading the Revolution

When I conduct brainstorming sessions with people in various industries, Išve noticed people often have a difficult time making connections between their work and anything that is unrelated.

Here are some tips for mining the future to extract new ideas and new business opportunities. Successful trend spotting will allow you to determine which trends are commercially viable to exploit and to apply those trends to your business equipped to handle change.

Four sectors of society tend to capture leading trend behaviour, products and personalities: music, fashion, sports and fitness. (Thomas H. Hicks) You can track these through film, TV and print media.

  • Futurist Watts Wacker advises clients to read a trade magazine from a different industry once a week. "Let's say I'm working with a bunch of computer executives. Once a week for six weeks, I'll send them a different trade magazine -- 'Progressive Grocer,' 'Automotive News,' something from the corrugated-box industry, a jewelry magazine. Their assignment is to find two things in every issue that relate to their business or provoke their thinking. Everyone comes in with at least ten. It's a remarkably broadening exercise." (Fast Company)

  • Read consumer magazines, with your customers in mind. Current magazines, that reflect emerging trends include: Wallpaper, W, Utne, The Futurist, Vibe, Fast Company, Vanity Fair, and Style.

  • Go back in time too. Read the classics for timeless wisdom to sharpen your thinking. Aristotle, Shakespeare, Adam Smith.

  • Visit museums, and attend cultural events.

  • Visit trade shows outside your industry.

  • Visit the restaurants and shops in the "glamour districts" of cosmopolitan cities.

Marcia Yudkin, in her "Marketing Minute" newsletter, has this advice for spotting trends:

  • Watch early adopters. If you have friends who always buy the latest gizmo or a teenager who leads the pack, observe what they get most excited about.

  • Track new laws. Reason your way to new tools and assistance folks will need to comply.

  • Listen and ask. What new complaints do you hear in daily conversations? What weird questions are coming in on your email or to your company receptionist?

  • Notice unexpected customers. Are you getting orders from surprising locations or demographic groups? This might indicate the need for an innovative marketing effort.

  • Note coincidences. When some particular surprise pops up twice in one week, it often indicates a trend. Stay alert and you may detect more examples of a phenomenon that you can take advantage of. Don't get blindsided by change. Develop your own crystal ball! Source:

Visit these links about futurists and the future:

Hazel Henderson

Faith Popcorn

The Futurist

HotWired: the Future of the Future

The World Watch Institute

Earthwatch Institute


The Institute of Noetic Sciences

Linda Naiman facilitates creative thinking and collaboration in organizations. She is co-author (with Arthur B. VanGundy) of Orchestrating Collaboration at Work: Using Music, Improv, Storytelling, and Other Arts to Improve Teamwork" (Jossey-Bass, March 2003). Visit for more information.

Many more articles on Creativity & Innovation in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2003 by Linda Naiman. All rights reserved.

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