There will always be certainties about the future that we simply cannot change. Some are rather obvious, such as the reality that spring will always follow winter, summer follows spring, and fall follows summer.
There are other future certainties that have nothing to do with the seasons, and that we all can agree we look forward to. One example that affects us all is the certainty that this COVID-19 pandemic the world faces will eventually end, and a “new normal” will set in.
But contrary to the Hard Trend that a global pandemic will come to a close, a future certainty that is not so set in stone is the aforementioned “new normal” and both how we will react to it and what it will entail. This future “maybe” that can change falls under what I refer to as a Soft Trend.
Although Soft Trends and the concept around future uncertainties is unnerving to some, they are a critical principle of my Anticipatory Organization® Model.
One of the greatest appeals of Soft Trends is that they can be changed and altered, and, depending on what you know about them and how you use them, they are open to influence, leverage and, ultimately, enormous opportunity.
Likewise, there are positive Soft Trends as well as negative Soft Trends. Positive Soft Trends are those that you want to maintain and build on, while negative Soft Trends are those that you may wish to reverse. The similarity between the two is that they both can be altered, which is great, as it puts you in the driver’s seat. If a Soft Trend doesn’t benefit you, change it!
For instance, one Soft Trend brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic is the growing number of students both young and old who are now attending school online. That’s certainly a good thing and a Soft Trend that you may want to nurture and possibly leverage. On the contrary, perhaps a traditional college or university will now see a downturn in their enrollment due to this Soft Trend as we adjust to a “new normal,” which may be an instance where students seek online education alternatives. However, now is the time they should combat any negative impacts of this by way of offering hybrid courses, or even fully online courses if never before offered.
Another component to Soft Trends is the assumption that underlies them. On one hand, there are Hard Assumptions—defined, empirical data and information. Soft Trends supported by Hard Assumptions are more likely to happen.
For instance, prior to COVID-19, the rising cost of higher education in the United States was still a Soft Trend, but one supported by Hard Assumptions—decades of data detailing steady increases in costs, which correlates to steady increases in the amount of student loan debt in our country. That made it more likely to continue in the future.
On the other hand, Soft Trends underscored by Soft Assumptions are less likely to occur. Moreover, treating them as though they offer greater certainty than they do can be a dangerous misstep.
For example, we are aware that some form of a “new normal” will soon set in as we move into the post-pandemic world, which is a Soft Trend we can influence; however, assuming that masks will be part of that “new normal” and solely focusing your entrepreneurial efforts on making masks alone is a Soft Trend underscored by a Soft Assumption. As soon as a vaccine is created and able to be produced, the concept of wearing masks will be in the rearview, whether you believe them to currently be effective or not.
Paying attention to Soft Trends can unlock enormous opportunities for you and your organization.
But before anything else, you must recognize the difference between Soft Trends and Hard Trends, which are future certainties that will happen. The simplest explanation is that if you have to think about it, it’s a Soft Trend, as Hard Trends are generally obvious at first glance, such as what the post-pandemic “new normal” really means to businesses and individuals.
Moreover, it’s critical to separate Soft Trends that are driven by Soft Assumptions from those underscored by Hard Assumptions. Even though Soft Trends are never a future fact, they carry a far greater level of confidence when they are associated with Hard Assumptions. A Soft Trend with a Soft Assumption, on the other hand, could be and likely is much less of a sure thing.
You can see that Soft Trends offer enormous opportunities if you know how to identify them and with what level of confidence you can use them to your advantage. So, with that in mind, what Soft Trends can you pinpoint that will impact you, your organization or your entire industry?
Daniel Burrus is considered one of the world’s leading futurists on global trends and innovation. The New York Times has referred to him as one of the top three business gurus in the highest demand as a speaker. He is a strategic advisor to executives from Fortune 500 companies, helping them to accelerate innovation and results by develop game-changing strategies based on his proven methodologies for capitalizing on technology innovations and their future impact. His client list includes companies such as Microsoft, GE, American Express, Google, Deloitte, Procter & Gamble, Honda, and IBM. He is the author of seven books, including The New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller Flash Foresight, and his latest book The Anticipatory Organization. He is a featured writer with millions of monthly readers on the topics of innovation, change and the future and has appeared in Harvard Business Review, Wired, CNBC, and Huffington Post to name a few. He has been the featured subject of several PBS television specials and has appeared on programs such as CNN, Fox Business, and Bloomberg, and is quoted in a variety of publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Fortune, and Forbes. He has founded six businesses, four of which were national leaders in the United States in the first year. He is the CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients profit from technological, social and business forces that are converging to create enormous, untapped opportunities. In 1983 he became the first and only futurist to accurately identify the twenty technologies that would become the driving force of business and economic change for decades to come. He also linked exponential computing advances to economic value creation. His specialties are technology-driven trends, strategic innovation, strategic advising and planning, business keynote presentations.