The Harvard Business Review article Where to Find Insight provides a good primer on how to spot trends and create business insight that can drive innovation.
The article defines insight as:
... an imaginative understanding of an internal or external opportunity that can be tapped to improve efficiency, generate revenue, or boost engagement.
Insights can be about stakeholder needs, market dynamics, or even how your company works.
It describes 7 sources of insight:
1. Anomalies, or data that deviates from business as usual.
2. Confluence, when economic, demographic, and technological trends come together.
3. Frustrations or pain points, which lead to innovative work-arounds.
4. Orthodoxies, which can spark a search for alternatives.
5. Extremities, such as fringe members of stakeholder groups who push for solutions.
6. Voyages, whereby innovators leave their offices to visit colleagues or customers.
7. Analogies, useful ideas or systems in other teams, business units, companies, or industries.
We describe our work as finding aha's about small business and the future of work. Merriam-Webster defines aha as an interjection used when something is suddenly seen, found, or understood.
When we find something that has our clients saying "aha", we've done our job.
We use all 7 of the insight sources listed above to do this. But we consider two to be of the greatest importance to us in our trend spotting and analysis work.
The study of emerging fringe groups or edge activities, called extremities by the authors, is one of our key research methods. For example, we started researching the coworing movement when it first started back in 2007.
Based on this research, we quickly realized coworking provided a window on the much broader topic of the future of work as well as the future of the independent workforce.
The identification of converging trends, confluence in the language of the article, is another insight method we spend a lot of time on.
We've long found converging and reinforcing trends drive major change. A good example is mobile computing, cloud computing and big data. Each is a powerful trend in their own right. But what's making them major drivers of change is they are converging and reinforcing one another.