We live in a world filled with data: sales numbers, conversion rates, social media Likes, Tweets, etc. This is the world of big data where information is readily available with a mouse click or tap on the smartphone. More and more books are being printed that help business owners capture and record this increasing amount of data.
But can business owners, especially small business owners, take this data collecting thing further?
Can business owners use the data they have now to help them spot the “next big thing” in the future?
“Non-Obvious: How to Think Different, Curate Ideas, and Predict the Future ” by Rohit Bhargava is a book which promises to help readers improve their ability to spot and act on trends. Long thought to be the exclusive domain of so-called experts, trend spotting is something that everyone can do with the right mindset and perspective.
Spotting Human Trends May Be Easier Than You Thought
Spotting trends is helpful to any endeavor, but it has particular implications for people in business. While the rise of big data has been celebrated (and in some cases, criticized) for its ability to help marketers get a better look inside their customers’ heads, accurately predicting the future can still be a challenge. In other words, business owners know what customers have bought in the past, but they can’t tell what they will buy in the future. Since every business owner has limited resources (time, money, energy), allocating those resources for the future is a challenge.
We often assume that spotting trends is a magical process. If we have the data, the thinking goes, all we need to do is find a genius who can look at it and uncover the future based on his or her superior wisdom. “Trendspotting,” as presented in “Non-Obvious”, disagrees with this view. “Non-Obvious” claims that identifying trends is a simple process of collecting and remixing data gained from careful observation, intuition, and experience. This process can, in some cases, help business owners better predict the future than before.
Defining the Non-Obvious Trend and Using it in Business
In the first part of “Non-Obvious,” (arguably the most helpful part), Bhargava addresses the myth behind spotting trends. He then addresses the commonly accepted view of “trends” as shared in the media world. All of this is to lead the reader to Bhargava’s key concept, “non-obvious trends.” “Non-obvious trends,” as defined by Bhargava, are discovered through unique observations based on the anticipated future direction of a subject or event.
Unlike trends that are picked after studying the data once, “non-obvious trends” are developed while continuing to study changes in that data. In simpler terms, it’s like driving instructions on a GPS. The path to a destination is figured out, but this path is constantly updated by conditions in the present.
The application of this emerges in the second and third portions of the book. In the second portion, the author provides several trends with an explanation of how those trends were identified. There are also a few general recommendations for how readers can take actions based on these trends if they wish.
An example of this is the chapter entitled “Everyday Stardom”, in which the book explains the desire of consumers to turn mundane things like getting a haircut into larger and larger experiences. For example, Bhargava details Disney’s MagicBand, which allows the company to create a customized personal visitor experience based on data collected from a wristband that serves as ticket, room key, and more. Disney gets the data and creates the experience for the willing customer who provides this personal information.
The last portion of “Non-Obvious” focuses on a more general and broad look at how businesses can integrate trend spotting into their overall planning. Instead of providing specific details on how to use specific planning tools, however, the book describes how to plan a workshop around those tools. There are a few specific resources listed, but they aren’t described in a lot of detail. The focus seems to be on starting the process and then using resources as you find them.
Are Non-Obvious Trends for You and Your Business?
The answer depends on what kind of business and resources you have.
Any business owner can certainly appreciate the insights gained from a careful collection of data to make better future decisions. The issue is whether this book provides enough resources and insights to help business owners use non-obvious trends in planning for the future.
With that said, “Non-Obvious” doesn’t provide readers a complete step-by-step procedure for profiting from future trends from start to finish. This lack of specific procedure may stem from the process itself. Bhargava is arguing for a less straightforward approach to observing a constantly changing world. His recommendations about using various sources of information doesn’t easily lend itself to a handy chart. His observations may help some business owners adopt a more innovative mindset, but they may also overwhelm others.
About the Author
Rohit Bhargava is a founder of the Influential Marketing Group as well as being an author and speaker. More information about him can be found at his website  or on Twitter (@rohitbhargava ). His book “Non-Obvious” is available on Amazon. This article was based on a electronic version of the book made available for reviewing purposes.