Editor’s Note: Recently I had the chance to speak by telephone with noted futurist Watts Wacker. Last year at this time Watts spoke with us, giving his trends predictions. So I was pleased to have him update his trends forecast. Here are the trends that Watts Wacker says to watch for and take advantage of during 2006 and beyond:
- Cell phones – 500 million people in the world will have their first experience this year with cell phones (or mobile phones as they are known outside the United States). The Internet may not have been the Big Thing. Cell phones may be it, because more people have access to cell phones than to computers. And cell phones are taking on more functions and becoming smarter and more powerful. All cell phone circuitry can now be placed on a silicon chip.
The question for small businesses is: “How do you take advantage of the widespread use of cell phones?” Services to help consumers and businesses leverage the technology will be prime areas of opportunity. Business opportunities can come from services such as helping users program cell phones better, transferring phone data from old phones to new ones, downloadable programs to increase the functionality of cell phones, etc.
- “Small environmental footprint” – America has always been about “bigger is better,” but the small footprint is about making your business, your home and your lifestyle more energy efficient. Eco-business will become a larger proportion of the economy: hybrid cars, for instance, and similar efficiency tools will grow. Auto service franchises (similar to Midas Muffler shops) to keep cars efficient could be an opportunity.
- Digital life – All things relating to the “digital life” are big and will get bigger. This is a powerful consumer trend with a significant business impact. Kodak, for instance, is now making more money from digital than from chemical (film). The Geek Squad is an example of a business that started out small that helps ordinary individuals deal with the digital life. Watts see plenty of room for business opportunities, and suggests entrepreneurs use holiday get togethers as opportunities to pick the brains of nieces, nephews, sons, daughters, for all things digital. Watch to see the digital devices they use (iPods and satellite radio, for instance) and what excites them.
- Global culture - The global culture will ramp up. But the global culture is not the same as the American culture exported overseas. Recognize that America is only one player in the development of the global culture. The global culture is a megatrend. It will be at its apex in 2008 when China hosts the Olympics. Business needs to be prepared for this blended culture that crosses country boundaries.
- Avocation to vocation - People increasingly are looking to turn their avocations — their interests and hobbies — into vocations, i.e., revenue-producing businesses and income streams. Side businesses and are more prevalent. People are seeing that it is possible to earn a living doing what they love most.
Finally, Watts spent some time explaining how to make use of trends. Trends, he says, “begin on the fringes” and move toward the mainstream as the Next Big Thing. Trends percolate like a pot on a burner, until they start getting hotter and start boiling. You need to be aware of trends early on, but you may not want act on them until they get close to being the next big thing.
Getting the timing right on a trend is critical. He recommends evaluating where in the cycle a trend is. “If a trend is at the end of the queue, it may be close to becoming the next big thing and ripe for action. However, if a trend is at the beginning of the queue, it may be something important to be aware and keep track of, but not necessarily to jump on right away. For instance, the hottest thing in the hospitality industry, on the fringe, is the pillow menu, where you can choose 50 different pillows. Marriott pays attention to this kind of very early trend, but doesn’t necessarily want to jump on it right away.”