Everyone a trend watcher: a call for some more individual alertness

We all know Charles Darwin’s observation: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Yet I see a lot of inactivity around me; except in you would consider complaining, whining, finger-pointing, blaming others, … also activities.

In this short reflection, I want to make a case for a “sense and respond” attitude. With a little more pro-activity and in many cases a sequence of small steps one can realize bigger changes than one would expect.

Too often people react to change from a defensive point of view: before we were protected by …, shielded of …. , we had automatically the right to … Put another way; they consider themselves a victim of change caused by the organization, society or economics, or whatever. They fell asleep in a comfort zone not able to leave it before it’s (almost) too late.  There is the illustrative anecdote of the boiled frog. Placing a frog in boiling water, it will jump out immediately. If you place him in cold water, he perceives the environment as enjoyable and when you than slowly heat the water, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

In our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world, things do not get necessarily easier but when the “going gets tough, the tough gets going” as Billy Ocean once sang. Within the boundaries of a range of limitations or difficulties, the creatives get even more creative.

In our uncertain, complex and continuous changing environment, we need to be alert and aware of the changes around us. One needs to be open and alert to detect changes before one can become aware of the changes and to understand their potential impact. Only then one can act. It’s a process of ceaselessly sensing and responding. However, there is a reactive and a proactive way of responding. In the reactive variant, one experiences the change and then react accordingly. In the pro-active approach, one is trying to detect the changes ahead and pro-actively act on them. This is what trend watching is all about, capturing in our environment faint signals and patterns and act upon before they become strong. These can be applied for any political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental signals or changes.

Some consider trend watching sexy, other consider it a waste of time chasing some new hypes, hypes which will be soon be replaced by other ones. Still other thinks is a meaningless attempt of foretelling, which it is clearly not.  Consider trend watching a basic skill everyone needs to have or to develop. In our VUCA world it is an essential part of our survival kit: sensing our environment in order to respond/react/anticipate/whatever/… in time to changes in our environment, be it changes in our relationship, our work place, our business, our society, or the world. For the time being, we can leave out the universe ;-).

In music you see many musicians complaining how the music business industry changed for worse (e.g. Spotify, illegal downloading of music, etc.) while others see and use the new possibilities to their full potential to get their thing done. Top of my mind is for instance Janek Gwizdala (janekgwizdala.com), an English jazz bassist living in Los Angeles producing Internet online bass courses, vlogging, and organizing himself a solo world tour. Or Bob Reynolds (bobreynoldsmusic.com), a Grammy Award-winning jazz tenor saxophonist currently touring with Snarky Puppy but also vlogging and organizing online music teaching. Two examples of entrepreneurship, brilliant online marketing and creating communities of like-minded people to support them.

In HR we see for instance managers raising their eyebrows when the topic of the new expectations of generation Y/Z is put on the table. Other try to understand their expectations and act on it.

Everyone is talking about the need for agile organizations and business processes. However, in many cases it’s no more than just a lip-service. Let’s take the responsibility to start with ourselves and be in the first place alert and agile on an individual level.

When the going gets tough
The tough get going, tough, tough, huh, huh, huh
When the going gets tough, the tough get ready

From a song by Billy Ocean