A trend report provides a hypothesis of a change around a topic in the future (“a combination of factors like virtual reality, token-based technologies, and many more might lead to a new paradigm of digital infrastructure, currently labeled Metaverse”). The hypothesis is based on patterns emerging from signals in the present (“many start-ups around this topic are getting funding, virtual worlds are used for much more than gaming, etc.”). And it’s presented with different trajectories where it might go (“It will replace the internet as we know it. It will mostly be a relabeling of virtual reality and go the way of Second Life. It’s a brute-force attempt by Silicon Valley, which will lead to an even more Cyberpunk world.”).
Most so-called “trend reports” out there already fail at this basic premise. The reports present their trend hypothesis as a prediction (“this is the future!”). They cherry-pick the cases (signals) to prove their predictions without questioning them. And they don’t offer any alternative trajectories to make the trend seem inevitable.
These trend reports are often a collection of press releases about example cases that don’t provide any actionable insight. They are there to position the agency or consultancy, which put them out, as a guide for the future. But you have to wonder: how helpful is a guide that is just repeating the talking points of the tech companies?
These trend reports are not briefings on THE future but invocations of ONE particular future. Their role is to make this certain future more likely. As Jens Beckert has shown, they are part of a sophisticated way for the economy to deal with an open future. The more actors adopt a specific image of the future, and the more they base their decisions on it, the greater their influence on the development in the direction of this future. They rely on the performativity of a collective expectation of the future, which ensures that they can make decisions today from which the anticipated future will emerge tomorrow. The collective image of the future becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or, to put it bluntly: If everyone expects the same future, the future is less open.
But when everybody is doing the same, innovative spaces are opening up off the beaten track where true breakthroughs are possible that can change the whole direction.
A good trend report investigates a trend by looking at counter-signals and -trends, digging into the underlying drivers, contextualizing its history, and revealing the power structures profiting from the “inevitability” of the trend. This approach will help the report’s audience understand the depths of a trend and gain agency to chart their ways.
This text is a seedling, which means it is an unpolished thought or idea that will grow and mature over time. For this purpose, it has been planted in the garden. Let me know your questions and thoughts via email.