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Wednesday, October 25, 2020

Why You Should Quit Following Trends

Sometimes I find interesting snippets in unexpected places. Take this article by David Weinberger. It appeared in in KMWorld: a trade magazine dealing with Content, Document and Knowledge Management in July of this year, entitled: The philosophy of business knowledge. Here's what he has to say about trends:
The problem is that much of what business knows about the world calls non-existent things into existence. For instance, take a trend. Trends are interesting because they predict the future: If you see a trend developing, you better jump on it before your competitors do! But, suppose what looked like a trend turns out to have been an aberration? The future it foretold fails to materialize. Turns out it wasn't a trend at all. So, we can only know that something is a trend in the past tense, but they're only interesting because of the future tense they promise. It's easy to believe in trends, but trends actually are just a symptom of belief itself: A trend is not a thing but is the belief in a thing.
I love the insight that much of what business "knows" about the world calls non-existent things into existence. Every plan, budget, marketing campaign, and sales campaign aims to do just that: to call into existence situations that do not currently exist.

What a wonderful paradox! A trend is nothing more than lots of people believing it exists and acting on that belief.
That's what makes following trends so seductive. As Mr. Weinerger's article explains, you can only be certain of a trend after the event, but it is useful only as a way of predicting the future. What a wonderful paradox! A trend is nothing more than lots of people believing it exists and acting on that belief. If enough share that belief, it will, indeed, prove to be an important trend—and you had better get aboard or risk being left behind. If the critical mass of belief is not met, it will fizzle out, making everyone who did leap aboard look foolish and very possibly leaving them with significant financial losses too.

Getting on a trend early is purely a matter of luck. Sure, once you've done it, people will hail you as a visionary, and you can bask in their praise if that is what turns you on. But you and I know you had absolutely, definitely no way of knowing at the start that the trend you decided to back would reach critical mass.
So how can you tell the difference between a real trend and one that will turn out to be an illusion? You cannot, at least not in advance (which is when it matters). At that point, both types will appear identical—because they are identical. They are beliefs looking for a critical mass of people to bring them into existence as real phenomena. If they achieve that critical mass, they become not just "real" but obvious (in hindsight). If they fail, they become nothing more than one of the many fads and failed ideas that litter human history and are forgotten in short order.

What this points to is obvious, but usually ignored for all that. Getting on a trend early is purely a matter of luck. Sure, once you've done it, people will hail you as a visionary, and you can bask in their praise if that is what turns you on. But you and I know you had absolutely, definitely no way of knowing at the start that the trend you decided to back would reach critical mass. That's why successful entrepreneurs are willing to back many, many trends and lose out on most of them. The one that wins will usually cover all their losses and make the a fortune as well.

If you want to make money, you must create a trend yourself. How do you do this? By being yourself and backing your own ideas, regardless of the support for them at the start.
Following trends is a mug's game. If they are already out there, too many people will be on board to make your share of the winnings worth while. If you wait until the trend is proven (which is what most of toady's chronically risk-averse corporations do), you have already missed the boat. Your participation is now purely defensive: you are on board because you cannot afford not to be, though there are probably no significant profits left in the idea.

If you want to make money, you must create a trend yourself. How do you do this? By being yourself and backing your own ideas, regardless of the support for them at the start. Most will fail, so you need to be ready for that. But if even one wins through, you will stand a chance to create more wealth than you can imagine, and no one will be able to beat you to it.

Don't follow trends. Follow your heart and create your own. And keep your fingers crossed. You will need all the luck you can get!

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