In order to deliver strategic foresight that leads social and climate justice, we must focus on long term strategic thinking and macro trend forecasting.
Today future forecasting like a futurist is about much more than identifying game changing innovation strategies.
Within the complexities of Future Trend Foresight, a blend of methodology and personal mission is needed. There are ways to ‘tame’ the complex processes of forecasting future trends. And there is a deep need to harness future forecasting at a time when we must take action for what we want the world to be.
Therefore there is an intersection of priorities. It’s a dance that requires multi-layered thinking geared towards change implementation and thought leadership:
- Structured forecasting research & analysis
- Purpose driven forecasting & Creative approaches
- Regenerative thinking
1- Start with understanding the fundamentals of Future Forecasting
What makes a trend? What is trend forecasting? And why is it crucial for individuals, companies & society? The answer is complex.
Trends are a temporal phenomenon, therefore understanding trend timelines and why they are key to frame a future forecast is an essential starting point. Our sense of time is changing, with the speed of innovation accelerating, but we still run against the principles of whether we are forecasting future trends for the year ahead, 3 years ahead and so on.
This determines where we need to research. There are the different types of research, from primary, secondary to qualitative and quantitative. Those are the 4 most known techniques. Data driven research and forecasting is an increasingly important generator of trend insights and works hand in hand with intuition. There are different types of intuitions which can be used for forecasting.
There is also the fundamental task of cross-cultural analysis to dig insights from multiple industries and cultures in order to find a pattern of trend signals and understand the intersectional emergence OR impact of a trend.
In the Trend Atelier we use our own system to work out the different trend areas needed to research to create a comprehensive forecast which we call the Trend Eco Systems and the Trend Molecules. This allows us to define the various timelines we might work around, and the various areas of research we must explore. Once this is followed, any type of research can be used against these 2 models.
Finally, there are the increasingly important methods to knowing how to think like a futurist, from science fiction writing, speculative design as part of the scenario planning work futurists must carry out.
2- Seek ethical and different perspectives
We must have a sustainable approach to future trends. This means reckoning with our obsession with the new and questioning the role trends play in overconsumption. And from this assess what we can do about it to change this toxic cycle. It’s important to have a transparent dialog about the Future of Trend Forecasting itself. Much like other areas of society and industry, it is going through a change, due to technology as well as the climate crisis.
It will always be important, no matter what the current societal challenges and contexts are, to seek different perspectives and approaches, new and established. Therefore, we must emphasise on an ethical and culturally sensitive approach to future trend research and foresight. One that is not behaving in an extractive manner and respects the sources, different experiences, and cultures.
We also feel an ethical approach to forecasting future trends is one that steps away from secrecy and competitiveness and embraces community principles as part of building a deep network. A network not just with the function of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’, but one that is running on the principles of kinship and empathy.
Future trend forecasting has often been about hype, in the age of social media, but an ethical approach requires humility and staying away from the over commodification of trends. We must have an honest approach and not just forecast trends we know clients and people want to hear.
3- Be realistic about the challenges of future forecasting and build in productivity and mindfulness tools
One of the most untold facts about working as a futurist and trend forecaster is that it can be very draining to sink yourself into the research for days on end. It is a necessary task but one that can cause overwhelm as there is a colossal amount of information out there. It is important to always think about efficiencies and how we can save time in our projects, because this is how we can then create more time in our lives for inspiration, learning and time with our loved ones.
Managing our time to perform research work successfully is about creating breathing space for the mind and body. And breathing room needed for intuition and creative thinking. This creative thinking is the other side of the coin, the one that enables us to come up with ideas, great writing, great visuals, and original views in understanding of the future.
We need to take the time to think through our research, extract key messages to deliver meaningful and impactful insights to our audiences and to our clients. Therefore, we have a duty of care to ourselves to build in the time for reflection and creativity to empathise with the future and the bigger picture we are setting forth.
4- Build a powerful future trend research method empowering knowledge and creativity
Research has phases and can go from open-ended to focused. This is what we call the HUNT phase in the Trend Atelier. The HUNT is the research phase when many areas are covered, to accurately cross triangulate trend signals using a mixture of intuition, data, and various research techniques.
To perform this successfully it is key to have identified your research problem & project brief. You can then you can research wide and deep, dive into rabbit holes of research, attend events, interview experts, do field research. Approach the research from multiple angles, methods, and points of view.
Research is also human centered so one must bring in the experts, contact people, mingle, and create a deep network of insights from different voices. Visual research and iconography will also become your best friend as you create a picture of the trends you are researching. And your writing should start, even if it is in a draft stage.
At the end of the HUNT phase, you can start making sense of the research and see key trend directions emerge. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned forecaster, the research starts to speak to you and there comes a point where you have enough material to see the picture and start reviewing what you have.
Then there is what we call in the Trend Atelier, the IDENTIFY stage. Which is the next phase in your research. It is the intermediate zone between accumulating a rich and diverse set of data and inspiration from your large research phase (HUNT) and finalising your forecast. This stage is about making sense of the trend signals you have found and extracting the key messages and drivers. The IDENTIFY stage is the final part of your research, although depending on your time frame, you could choose to repeat it.
Navigating the transitional stages of research when you are creating a forecast is key. It allows you to define your ideas and refine them, reiterate, organize them. This is when you structure your ideas ahead of the finalizing stage. You can clearly see the emergence of new concepts, behaviours and cultural shifts that will make a difference.
5- Extract the key messages and present future trends
This is what we call the GATHER stage: when you reach the final steps of telling the story of the future. You go through the final review of your forecast’s messages. It doesn’t come without any challenges because you need to learn how to edit and this is a common challenge, even for seasoned experts. You must take a leap, and remain confident about your findings, and the methodical and creative research you have put in to get to this stage.
This is when you stop developing ideas and structure your report ahead of presenting it. Focusing on the final stages of the writing of your report is key, a very common challenge for forecasters.
You need to create a logical structure to the different parts of your trend forecast and how they differ from each other, echo each other and the order they should follow.
There are different ways of structuring a report that are common in the foresight world, but we also encourage disrupting them. In today’s world, there are also different ways you can communicate your future trend concept. A forecast today could exist on TikTok, in virtual worlds or as a Keynote presentation. One of our favourite topics is the idea of prototyping your future vision via digital and virtual arts.
6- Prioritise on creativity and purpose in your work as a futurist
Allowing your ideas to grow and your imagination to wander is a key part of working as a forecaster and futurist. It works alongside being methodical.
Collectively, we must reclaim the culture and creativity of our industries, and this includes trend forecasting. The system of fashion forecasting, as an example, has become very commodified.
We suggest taking a systems view and not a trends view to your work. This may sound counter intuitive to creativity and super pragmatic. But what it means is embedding a purpose blue print into your work, which incorporates creativity as a key regenerative element. It means working on the inside as well as the outside of yourself as a futurist.
You have to stay informed, inspired & keep track of trends. That is fundamental. But our advice is to focus on what you want your mission to be if you want to build longevity to your work.
We suggest exploring creative alternatives to forecasting:
- Speculative design
- Science fiction writing
- Mind Mapping
We are so busy with researching and creating our deliverables, that we often forget to give ourselves permission to step away, to allow new ideas to emerge and let your creativity shine.