THE BLOG
12/09/2014 03:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Trendspotting Still Matters: The Power of Looking Forward

It's year-end trend report time among professional trendspotters, a time to prognosticate about what's coming next. In the process of compiling the annual trends report for Havas, the company where I work, I got started thinking about the future of trendspotting itself.

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[Photo: creativecommons.org/Nomadic Lass]

One could see it as archaic. Maybe we no longer need trendspotters, when everything is changing all the time, and when everything else -- branding, marketing, behavior and lifestyle -- can adapt in real time. Trendspotting can be frustrating. It's hard enough just to keep up with what's happening right now and to try to make sense of whatever it was that just happened; attempting to conceptualize the future can be exhausting.

But as adherents of the paleo trend say about their meat-heavy diet, trendspotting is something humans are hardwired to do -- and something that is much healthier for us than modern "conveniences" and distractions that take us away from our animal roots.

Marketer Seth Godin likens trends to epidemics, or "idea viruses," because they flourish only when large numbers of people are in close contact and things are changing fast. Trends should have relevance for 10, 20, even 30 years (the "future headlines," as I call them). One recent example would be the "ations": individualization, globalization, hyperlocalization, digitalization, miniaturization, etc.

Packaging the predictions is probably where most great trendspotters make their mark (#namethattrend). Trends are what fuel the story of the future; they are our hunch about where we believe or hope we're headed.

With all that said, Havas' trend report for 2015 is, admittedly, more dynamic and exciting than reassuring or comforting. It is heavy on terms like violence, bugs, nonstop, redefined, storm, enemy and confusion. It's all a reminder of humans' ability to adapt and grow. People might be dismayed at the self-absorption and self-obsession of the Selfie Generation (the Me Decade jacked up on technological Adderall), but it's also a sign that people are finding new ways to manage a world that has grown to be massive, hyperfast and sometimes overwhelming. People are taking functions such as educating and preserving civil order into their own hands.

Likewise, people might decry the rise of graphic images online, but the truth is that the Internet is just bringing what were once the dark shadows of human existence into the spotlight. The pervasive misogyny that many women face (online and off), as one example of those shadows, is finally being called into question, whether by women to fix the hostile climate of social media or through images such as Hollaback's admittedly problematic video of street harassment in New York City.

Speaking of which, one of the few (almost) unambiguously bright spots in our report is the "Women Prevail" trend. German Chancellor Angela Merkel easily won a third term in 2013, Popular U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May has become the longest-standing holder of the job in 50 years, and Hillary Clinton has a viable shot at becoming the first female president of the United States. Women head up IBM (Virginia Rometty), Xerox (Ursula Burns), HP (Meg Whitman), YouTube (Susan Wojcicki) and Yahoo! (Marissa Mayer). This crop of top tech women is in line with the "mancession" that followed the Great Recession, with men losing jobs and women proving quicker to adapt to demands of the new market. And, of course, we can't forget the most influential woman in the early 21st century: Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenage advocate for educating girls who won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Among the confusing and the complicated, there are new glimmers of hope. Keep your ear to the ground and your eyes on the horizon -- looking forward is a powerful tool.