Trend curation: the needle in the haystack
With the advent of technological innovations, the internet and social media, the position of trends radically changed in our society. Where trends used to spread slowly like oil slicks, the pace and quantity of information dissemination has increased to such an extent that in some cases we can speak of a noise full of (possible) trends. How can you get a grip on all that information in order to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff and recognize trends?
Why should you curate trends?
Trend curation is a process by which an overwhelming supply of information can be gradually reduced and ranked, with the ultimate goal of retaining potential trends. By applying trend curation, you bring focus to that almost endless bin of information and you can filter out disturbing, irrelevant information. As a result, you retain the information that is relevant and valuable to you, on the basis of which you can make decisions or gain insights. After all, you don't want to base your business strategy or culture on a short-lived fad or some random information, but on trends that actually represent value in your market.
At first it sounds a bit contradictory to some entrepreneurs to apply trend curation, because in practice it means that a lot of information or possibilities are put in the bulky waste. Why is it so good to eventually dump large piles of information?
A famous example is the entrepreneur who wants to sell his new jam. In one outlet he offers six flavors, in the other 24. Many entrepreneurs will assume that more options mean that you can reach a larger target group and therefore sell more. In practice, such an overwhelming supply leads to much lower sales, because there is a choice overload. Result: with only six flavours, the entrepreneur sells four times as much jam. See also it research report from 2000 in which this paradox is confirmed experimentally. The American psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote the now famous book in 2004: The Paradox of Choice about this phenomenon; offering less information enables people to draw faster and better conclusions.
Curating all sounds good, but what exactly does trend curation mean and how does it work?
Curing is cured
Curation – from the English 'to cure' – is based on the assumption that an initial set of information is by definition defective. Take all the information on Twitter – where an insane amount of people come together and share opinions (and therefore possible trends) – as an example. About 99% of all the tweets you see will not be relevant to you. But somewhere on Twitter, conversations are most likely taking place from which you could distill trends that would be of value to you.
Trend curation is a term that was first used around the year 2010. One of the founders of trend curation, Rohit Bhargava, is a marketing consultant from Washington. In 2011, he started by setting out a comprehensive list of trends from the past year, which he had built up through trend curation. He proceeded according to the so-called Haystack method.
How do you curate trends? The five steps of the Haystack method
The Haystack method (haystack method) is a process in which you first focus on collecting as much potentially relevant information as possible (the haystack) and then use that information to define one or more trends (the needle in the haystack). This is done in five steps.
Step 1: Collect
This is about finding and storing as much relevant information as possible. It is important to realize that these are not evenings on Twitter, but that this process is completely intermingled with your daily life. You save any interesting piece of information by bookmarking it or keeping a copy of it on any device, as long as you can find it later. Look at as many sources as possible: magazines, social media, newspapers, television programs, books, conversations with customers or colleagues, and so on.
Step 2: Unite
In this phase you cluster all this information together into different main themes. Which topics are affected? What general themes can you point to? This step will only succeed if you have collected enough information in the first phase. Think of at least a few hundred concrete sources or pieces of information. In the association phase, you ideally get a few dozen themes from this.
Step 3: Elevate
This is the most abstract, but at the same time the most crucial step. In this phase you elevate your found themes to broader, overarching concepts. It's about finding connections between your themes and gaining insights about the topics you've uncovered. This is a creative process that takes time. Rohit Bhargava seeks a quiet place for it and shuts himself off from his surroundings for a while. By this stage, you should have elevated your dozens of themes into some broader concepts.
Step 4: Naming
A concept that you have in your head is not immediately put on paper in an understandable way. In this phase you give the concepts you have found from the third phase a sharp, poetically justified and at the same time understandable name or description. Sometimes such a name can also be a contraction of the themes that you linked together to arrive at this concept in the first place.
Step 5: Validate
You think you have found trends now. Before you shout it from the rooftops, awaken the scientist in you and test your findings. Talk about it with colleagues or friends. Check whether what you think you have identified is recognized by others. Do they understand what you are talking about or do they look at you as if you are talking gibberish? If your trends are right, you should also be able to find small, concrete examples of your big, overarching trend all around you. You will be able to identify microtrends, to speak in technical jargon, that support the existence of the maxitrends you have found. Can you pinpoint those microtrends? Try this for each of your finds. The hardest part here is staying objective about your own finds – be honest and delete them if they can't be validated.
So you think you've found the needle in the haystack and your validation shows you might be right. What now? What do you do with the found trends that are important to you? We will come back to that in a future blog.