Why knowing and following trends is essential to running your business

By Debra Oakes, WMEP Director of Marketing

The recent Wisconsin Economic Future Study cites innovation as an area of critical importance for Wisconsin manufacturers, since innovation translates into strong, sustainable and rapid growth. Nationally, the manufacturing sector is the leader in introducing product and process innovation, according to the National Science Foundation. In the most recent NSF study, over a two-year period, twenty-two percent of manufacturers introduced new products or process innovations vs. nine percent for businesses overall.

But the real question for manufacturers is whether innovation is driving business growth at a rate high enough to sustain their businesses long-term. Today’s global business environment is quite literally forcing businesses to innovate or die.

innovationworkshop2captionRecently, a group of Wisconsin manufacturers met with Adam Hartung, a leading innovation expert, to step back from their day-to-day concerns and really delve into what could drive real, sustainable growth in their companies. To really get ahead of the competition, companies looked at 10 current trends that could affect their businesses and then took a deep dive into the three trends that affect their businesses the most.

An analysis of the top three trends for each business led to in-depth discussion among the business leaders that gave them a birds-eye view of the competitive landscape as well as an understanding of the forces that are altering and will continue to affect their specific markets.

An example of how this works is to look at a recent trend in the hearing aid market. It’s the emergence of smart phone applications that can enhance hearing, provide captions and other conveniences for those who have moderate hearing loss.  These applications began appearing before 2010.  Now, a new business has formed that combines Bluetooth with a $300 device to provide a hearing-aid alternative to those who can’t afford $4,000 hearing aids.

Any hearing aid manufacturer that was monitoring smart phone applications probably had no idea that within three years of their appearance, the entire hearing aid market would be threatened.  This demonstrates the concept of punctuated equilibrium, highlighted by Hartung in his workshop.  Essentially, this concept, borrowed from evolutionary theory, states that change/adoption does not occur as a steady ramp, but rather as exponential “jumps.”

chart1_1This graph illustrates punctuated equilibrium when comparing the growth of the use of smart phones, a market created by Research in Motion (RIM) with the Blackberry.  View what happened in 2007 – the iPhone was showing up in trends, and it’s likely this trend was monitored by RIM – but it’s unlikely that the executives at RIM predicted what would happen in the third quarter of 2008.

These two examples point out how critical it is to monitor trends that may affect your business.  Sea changes are coming to your markets, and it’s essential to take the time to seek, monitor and analyze any global trend that may affect your markets.

Monitoring trends is just part of the picture.  Take the time a look at “game-changers” that are making the news today – game changers include the iPhone and the “CS-10”, the $300 hearing aid.  Analyze the game changers in your markets, review the trends, and think about what you can do to create a “game-changer” in your market.

If you’re a top executive ready to take the time to get ahead of the trends and drive 20-30 percent annual growth for your company, spend a day on focused on innovation with the WMEP. The executives at our recent workshop led by author Adam Hartung praised this “unique approach to growth and future business planning” that “forces you to think in a way that is counter-intuitive.”

The WMEP’s Rapid Innovation process provides a pathway to analyze, understand, create and develop a plan to help manufacturing leaders develop the game-changing products and services that will make them leaders in their markets.  The WMEP can help. Just call Marie Mansheim to find out how Rapid Innovation can help your company drive growth and profits.