A fully aware business strategy must consider the trend behind the trend. Finding meta trends can accelerate and sharpen your thinking.
Great business strategy is–to put it simply–aware. It is aware of the market, it is aware of capabilities, it is aware of trends: both micro and mega trends. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that while most deliberately built business strategies are aware of micro-trends–trends that drive choices on customers, products, etc.–and plenty of those strategies are aware of mega-trends–trends that drive choices based on overarching facts are driving overall opportunity, risk, and performance–far too many strategic plans are ignorant of meta trends.
Meta trends are the higher order effects of known trends. They are the trends behind the trend, if you will. These are the things that ensure enduring success or crushing failure.
Meta trends are the trends that managers wave away when thinking about strategy because they don’t fit the framework. Higher order impacts of known trends need to be considered for a strategy to be truly aware. Things like increasing frustration with change programs, disengagement due to poor decision making approaches, or customer angst that is just below the surface and that can’t be surveyed are perhaps acknowledged, but they often don’t get built into the plan as worthy trends.
So, you have to ask yourself: what is meta in your organization? An example of a meta trend at the micro level might be a lack of confidence in a specific manager, team, or organization to carry out a mission that is critical to the business strategy. Plenty of highly skilled managers have dropped the ball enough for those around them to lose confidence. You may know that you need to shore up delivery in that person or organization as a part of your strategy, but what if the “meta” reality is the organization just doesn’t have any confidence?
Another example might be a higher order impact of a known demographic change. Your workforce is going from young to middle-aged. Does the shift in quantitative age portend a shift in willingness to sacrifice for the organization? Some regard a workforce that is entering maturity as a clear strength, but a meta trend might be that the workforce won’t work like it used to. That’s important to know. You might think differently if you know your workforce’s values are changing even as the names on the roster are not.
A final example, and a significant meta trend for your organization, might be secondary impacts from known changes in the way people are working. We love the capabilities that come with digital transformations, but do we realize the meta trend of analysis paralysis that can come from the ubiquity of data? Are we fighting it? Similarly, connectivity is a plus, but what are the productivity implications of a workforce that is constantly fighting distractions? These are real “meta” issues that come from commonly understood “mega” trends.
The bottom line to this thought is that we often invest time to understand first order trends. These trends are worthy of consideration. But, to build a fully aware strategy we have to get better at looking at the higher order effects of known trends.
Try it out. Be “meta” for a while and see what happens.
I would love to have your thoughts on this one, including any examples of missed meta trends.