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Six Tests for Testing Trends

by Randall Craig on March 3, 2017

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Planning, Strategy

Tagged as: ,

How often have you read a prediction, statement, or about a trend, and began to wonder if it were true?  Sadly, with so many instant experts, pundits, and self-serving gurus, it is sometimes difficult to tell fact from fiction. Here are six tests that can help you improve your signal-to-noise ratio:

A trend is defined to be a projection from a known state in the past, through a current known state in the present, to a likely state in the future.

  • Test 1:  Is there data to support the past and the present?  Is the data reliable, or is it either uncorroborated, or based on junk science? If a line of best fit is based on these types of faulty data, then it won’t be a line of best fit, and the future state might be elsewhere.
  • Test 2:  Are the factors in the past that led to the present, the same as the factors in the present that might lead to the future?  If there have been any paradigm shifts or market disruptions, then the prediction will be off. (Think of the disruption in the music industry: Record players to CD players to iPods to streaming music.)

Examine the experience of the person making the predictions.  Journalists are smart, but they are not practitioners.  Academics are smart, but they don’t usually live in industry.  Consultants are smart, but they may have a very narrow knowledge base.

  • Test 3:  Where does the knowledge that underlies the statement come from?  Their background should include research, real-world experience, and broad industry knowledge.

Examine the motivations of the person making the predictions.  A fashion company, for example, might be motivated to share “trends” that are suspiciously in sync with what they are producing for the next season.

  • Test 4:  What does the predictor stand to gain if their trend prediction turns out to be true?  Are they biased?  (Counterpoint:  Just because there may be bias, doesn’t necessarily mean that their prediction is wrong: they may be precisely in the best position to make the statement.)

For better or worse, the benefit of Google and social media is that a person’s (and organization’s) entire history is available for review.  There is no way to hide history.

  • Test 5:  Notwithstanding the previous four tests, how good is their track record?  If they have accurately called the trends many times in the past, their current predictions may also be right.

Some trends really don’t matter – or at least don’t matter to you.

  • Test 6:  This is the so what test.  Determine what the implications are for you and your organization, both if the prediction were true, and if it were incorrect.  How would you change your plans and your actions?  If you needn’t make a change either way, then the trend is irrelevant.

This week’s action plan:  Like trend analysis, scenario planning is a powerful strategic planning concept.  Here’s how it works: first envision several alternative futures for your organization, and then create a straw-dog plan to take advantage of each.  How to discover the different scenarios? Look for trends, predictions, and future-oriented statements, then filter them using the six tests.

Marketing insight:  The so what test is clearly the most important, and should be applied first.

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Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
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Randall has been advising on Digital Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of eight books, including Digital Transformation for Associations, the Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business, and Social Media for Business. He speaks and advises on Digital Transformation, Digital Trust, and Social Media. More at

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