It may seem that there aren’t enough hours in the day to complete the tasks that absolutely have to be done, much less find the time to scan social media or gather marketplace information about emerging trends. And yet, successful executives regularly find the time and energy to exactly that. They keep up with trends and base their decisions on all of the information available, including their vision for the future, the risks they are willing to take to make that a reality, the company’s financial data, and their insights about the market and/or industry. It’s a large task to juggle this amount of data, but the best decisions are made using all of it.
Leaders who know their industry well are rarely blindsided by abrupt changes in the marketplace; rather, they have followed the trends closely enough to have anticipated the changes. They consistently track the actions of their competitors and correctly decide how to respond. They are probably regarded as the “go-to” people for information about marketplace shifts and how they are likely to affect the business.
But what if you aren’t one of these super-heroes with x-ray vision about the market and the future? What if you don’t know your industry very well or you tend to react to trends rather than proactively anticipating them? The truth is that people aren’t born with the ability to accurately assess the industry and the market; they learn these skills through trial, error, and determination to improve. As with any skill, awareness and practice will improve your abilities. Here are some suggestions that might help.
- First, identify your most similar competitors and then gather all the available information you can find about them. For example, read their annual reports and become familiar with the information on their websites. See how they are similar and different from your organization. Is there anything you can learn from them that might help you improve your products or services?
- Read business journals, industry reports, and anything else that will help you understand the overall industry of which your business is a part. Don’t just read them once. To stay informed, you will need to spend time weekly keeping up to date. The market waits for no one.
- Explore futurist publications, regularly attend industry conferences, and talk with other people in your industry about what changes they believe the future will bring. You will need to synthesize all of this material, but doing so will greatly improve your knowledge about your industry, your business, and the overall environment, while increasing your value to your organization.
- Identify the assumptions upon which your business is based and then consider what would happen if something in those assumptions changed radically and rapidly. For example, how nimble would your business be if a competitor discovered a breakthrough technology that changed everything? Conduct your own “thought experiments” about what might change in the environment and how you would respond to those changes. This will help you to think more creatively about the future and what it might bring.
It’s true that life is very busy, and it is easy to allow daily activities to overwhelm your desire to keep informed about the industry and the market. However, successful executives regularly set aside a few hours per week to stay abreast of changing conditions, and their companies benefit from their efforts.