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Something to think about... / blog
Trends are about People, not Things

Written by on July 7, 2011

One of the more curious aspects of trend forecasting is how good we are at predicting the future in exactly the wrong way.

One good example is the internet enabled refrigerators. Remember how we used to hear about them all the time? The concept was that we would be able to browse the internet on a screen directly embedded into the refrigerator door.

It was a brilliant idea back when the only other way to go online was to sit down behind our desktop computer. If we could just bring that into our kitchen then we could look up recipes directly online, we could watch TV, and we might even be able to talk with people while we were cooking.

It was a fantastic future.

Of course, we now have that future. You can do all those things in your kitchen today. Just use your iPad or iPhone.

The trend was spot on. It was about making people mobile and expanding our digital and connected lifestyle into the kitchen. The things - in this case the refrigerator - wasn't.

Here is another view of the future kitchen from the 1950s:

The flying car

Another great example is the flying car. For decades, sci-fi authors and futurists have speculated about it. Some adventures entrepreneurs have even tried building one. The trend is all about making it really easy for people to go from A to B - and the flying car sounds perfect for that.

But, we now have a much easier way to get from A to B. It is called Google+ Hangouts, Facebook+Skype, or GoTo Meeting. You can shop online, order groceries from the comfort of your couch, and you can play with your friends LIVE via XBOX kinnect.

Being forced to get up at 4:45 AM, and drive for 3 hours, only to have a 50 minute meeting is a thing of the past (or limited to managers who doesn't know how to work outside a meeting room).

Of course, we still need to meet people - but the need is more on a casual basis. It is not longer necessary to always have to go somewhere else.

The trend was, again, spot on. We needed a way to quickly get from A to B, but the car wasn't the best tool for the job. It was much easier to simply eliminate the distance altogether.

This is the thing about trends. We are very good at predicting the future, but we are often looking at the wrong place for the solution. We look at trends as a natural progression of what we do right now, but most solutions come from somewhere else.

In the 1950, people's only form of long distance personal transport was the car. The natural progression of that was to imagine the flying car.

The trick to predicting the future, and also to solve problems, is not to look at the thing, but look at the people. People wanted the internet in their kitchen - which meant they wanted to be mobile and not be fixed to a destination. They didn't want refrigerators.

People wanted to eliminate the hazzle of going form A to B, they didn't want a car with a jet propelled engine strapped on the back. Well... OK, we do want that, but you get the idea :)

We have a tendency to fixate our ideas to things. Something physical that we can use as a manifestation for the solution. And in doing so we blind ourselves from the real solution.

The trend is what you want, not what you use. And the real solution is almost always coming from a different path than the one you are on. The trick is to get those paths to intersect. It is not about moving on. It is about changing where you are coming from.

It is about getting rid of the things that stand in our way, so that people can focus on being people.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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