This piece is adapted from Dorie Clark’s book Stand Out.
It can be tempting—and intellectually easy—to opine about the trends right in front of us. We all know the Internet is becoming more important every day, mobile computing will decimate desktops, and India’s and China’s economies are expanding dramatically. But what does that actually mean for us, and for the future?
We’ve all heard the warnings about climate change and increasingly erratic weather patterns. But is the answer to sell our coastal homes and relocate inland? Or should we stay where we are, but invest in retrofits and reinforcements? Or ignore the warnings and hope for the best?
Similarly, we’re entering a “flat,” geographically agnostic world. How do we best take advantage of that opportunity? By hiring a foreign virtual assistant and outsourcing our work? Relocating to another country and enjoying the lifestyle benefits of so-called “geoarbitrage”? Buying stock in internationally diversified companies?
Speculation and fear-mongering is rampant; what’s less common is context and fact. If you, or your company, can provide others with thoughtfully grounded solutions, you’ll distinguish yourself fast.
One secret to developing your perspective is staying close to the ground, where research and innovations take place. You can only learn so much by reading newspapers and getting secondhand information. Instead, it’s your time in the trenches—talking with those on the front lines and seeing things for yourself—that will help you understand.
Robert Scoble, a technology opinion leader, emphasizes the importance of getting firsthand information. “Figure out how to get as close to the research labs as possible,” he says. He’s become a recognized authority on subjects as diverse as blogging, Google Glass, and Bluetooth low energy radio not because he invented any of them—he didn’t—but because he knew their creators, avidly followed the technologies’ progress, used them, and wrote and spoke about them. “I’m always looking to meet people who are doing deep research,” he says.
Of course, many industries don’t have research labs, per se, but they all have equivalents—places where new insights are most likely to arise. You may want to track certain think tanks or universities. Maybe the end users or frontline staff in your industry can shed light on emerging trends. Track where the most important advances have come from in the past few years, and you’ll understand who you need to be watching to see what’s coming. You’ll have a particular advantage if, like Robert Scoble, you can find out about emerging developments in the early stages before they become mainstream. Perhaps you could make a point of attending conferences where new innovations are talked about, reading industry journals, or simply keeping in close touch with colleagues who are “in the know.” However you do it, one of the best ways to develop a reputation as an authority in your field – and ensuring your business is viewed as cutting-edge – is by staying on top of trends, informing others about them, and sharing your reasoned take on what they mean and how we should adapt.
It’s worth asking yourself questions like:
(For more questions to prompt your thinking, you can download my free 42-page Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook).
Too many companies fail to prioritize innovation. It’s easier to stick to the surface, rather than asking difficult questions and seeking out unlikely information from firsthand sources. But making the effort can be crucial to your company’s long-term success; it can mean the difference between thriving and obsolescence.