Understanding Trends

Everybody talks about trends but what, exactly, is a trend? Webster’s dictionary defines a “trend” as:

  • (verb) “To have a general tendency; said of events, conditions, opinions”
  • (noun) “The general or prevailing tendency or course of events”

So, in our work at DYG, we think of a trend as simply a way to describe the direction of a society – where it is now and where it is heading.

There are many different types of trends:

  • Demographic trends
    Examples: aging of the population; increasing ethnic/racial diversity
  • Economic trends
    Examples: erosion of the middle class/rise of a two-tiered society; shift from a manufacturing to a service-based economy
  • Technology trends
    Examples: easier and faster access to information; miniaturization leading to portability of computing and communications devices
  • Political trends
    Examples: shift from centrist to ideologically polarized electorate; rise of values voters
  • Consumer trends
    Examples: demand for customization/personalization; need for simplification
  • Lifestyle trends
    Examples: scaling back – spending less, staying closer to home; super saturation – too much choice/too little time
  • Social/cultural Trends
    These are the building blocks of many of the trends noted above – consumer, lifestyle, political. These trends are values-based, deeply held, long-term and once fully in place, they become so ingrained that they often go unnoticed or are taken for granted; social/cultural trends are at the heart of our work at DYG
    Examples: child-centeredness; distrust of major institutions

When thinking about social/cultural trends, several key factors are important:

Social/cultural trends may be long term, but they do shift; no society is ever static: trend shift happens when the prevailing tendencies of a society experience a fundamental change and new tendencies develop.

Trend sparks are the catalysts that spur social/cultural trends to shift in a new direction. A trend spark typically comes from:

  • Real world events: such as the 9/11 terrorist attack or the Great Recession. Historical examples include the Vietnam War and Watergate
  • Structural changes in society: such as a large immigration wave; redistribution of economic power, today to the top 1% – ironically, one of the most potent trend sparks 50 years ago was the rise of the middle class
  • Technological or scientific developments: today it’s the cell phone and the internet; a major historical example – the automobile
  • Demographic developments: such as delayed marriage and lower birth rates; a century ago, the de-population of rural areas and rise of urban centers
  • Social learning: when a society learns from its experiences and tries to correct its mistakes. We think of this as a highly powerful trend spark; it underlies our Lurch and Learn Framework. (See Lurch and Learn Framework)

Trend leaders can come from anywhere in a society, from any sub-group. Once this sub-group begins the shift that will lead to a new trend, it leads by example and others in society catch up. It can be months, years or even generations before the majority of the population moves “on trend.”

Example: Better educated young people leading the way on acceptance of racial/ethnic diversity.