How does a trend expert work? What is a trend really, and how do they even spot and analyze trends? We have asked Alf Rehn, who is a finnish Trend forecaster and business thinker.

This is a small excerpt from the book ‘Trendsociology v. 2.0’, published by pej gruppen. Buy the book here.

Why and how did you become a trend expert?
I think trend forecasting chose me, actually. I have done quite a lot of public speaking on creativity and innovation, and in doing so often used examples of how new trends are often ignored or misunderstood in the beginning. As someone with a great interest in technological development and gadgets, I often, almost by accident, presented things that people had not heard of before, and over time people started asking me to comment directly on trends and future opportunities. I never thought anyone would see me as a trend forecaster, but sometimes life surprises you!

Why is it important to forecast trends?
I think the most important thing trend analysis can bring us is not the trends themselves, but the way in which thinking about trends can make us more flexible and more intellectually ambidextrous. By considering both the possibilities and problems of trends, both their boons and the biases involved in trying to spot them, we become better at realising how easy it is to be tricked by what we think we know and we think we see – and this is inherently important. So, I see trend forecasting as part of a greater whole, something one might call ‘strategic imagination’.

How do you define the concept of a trend?
I try not to over-define things, and I am a staunch believer in the possibility that something can be both a trend and not-a-trend at the same time. For me, a trend is a potential, the possible emerging of something, but at the same time, this potentiality may be something that disappears just as quickly. Trends can be quite ephemeral and should
perhaps best be understood as vectors rather than as material things. So, for me, a trend is a vector in the world, imagined or real, that has the potential to affect us.

Which types of trends interest you the most?
My favourite trends are actually anti-trends, counter-trends and taboo trends. Where many tend to focus on the kinds of trends everyone else is seeing as well, I have always been more interested in how we can find and think about the kinds of things that do not fit our current image of trends. So, I like ugly things, scary things and unsuitable, disgusting things. I like the forbidden and the things left by the wayside, the things that look insignificant or far too silly to be taken seriously. The kind of things that many trend spotters avoid, but which may say more about the future than just repeating the same truths about the currently ‘trendy trends’.

How and where do you discover your trends?
I read, incessantly. I read books, magazines (great piles that I tear pages out of), newspapers, Twitter-feeds, you name it. I follow over 500 RSS feeds daily. It takes time, but it has become part of my routine. In addition, as a speaker and a strategic advisor, I travel quite extensively and get to see many companies and other organisations. Often, the future can be found in corporate labs. Or, for that matter, with the playing children and the huddled groups of the elderly in the alleyways of whatever city I am in.

Are you interested in getting your hands on the entire book, (it’s 400 pages), it is possible to buy here.

The book consists of three parts:
1. Theory and practical description of what a trend is, how it is spread and what effect it may have.
2. Interview with 17 of the world’s top trend researchers
3. Practical process description (5 phased process) with concrete methods and tools for working with trends.