Understanding the Larger Picture and Path-dependencies: Megatrends, Trends and Change Drivers
Megatrends, trends and change drivers are the staple of any foresight work. Analysing them is the key to understanding future developments.
January 5, 2021, Max Stucki
Much of what we can know about the future at the present moment is based on the directions and interactions of megatrends, trends and change drivers. They form the foundation for and are the primary material of futures intelligence. Being quantifiable, they represent the most objective types of futures knowledge.
This is the second part of our Futures Intelligence blog series, which aims to help you create and utilise future-related information in your strategy, planning or innovation activities. You can read the first article here.
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MEGATRENDS, TRENDS AND DRIVERS: AN OVERVIEW
Megatrends, trends and drivers are types of futures knowledge characterised by high objectivity, and they lend themselves to be quantified. In all of them, the weight of historical knowledge is essential as it forms the basis on identifying and assessing them and their impact.
Megatrends, trends and change drivers all relate to the forecasting type of studying of the future. By examining the three, you can understand the current change processes that will affect the future environment. That is the basis of the first category of futures intelligence – understanding the larger picture and path-dependencies.
Each of the three can affect the future on its own, but more often than not, the real effects reveal themselves when trends, megatrends or drivers collide and impact each other. Such trend collisions can produce opportunities or challenges that have not existed before.
Anticipating and forecasting the changes in, and changes created by, trends, megatrends, or change drivers helps to prepare for what is to come. Crucially, it lets you plan your response now, or even shape the future to suit your organisational goals.
We will take a closer look at each of the three below.
MEGATRENDS – THE BIG CHANGES
Megatrends are global, long-term change developments that impact business, economy, and cultures on both individual and societal levels. They are combinations of multiple trends, phenomena and issues that are intertwined with each other.
Megatrends for the future of business - Source: Sydney Business Insights YouTube
Synergies are created in the connection points of megatrends. They have a substantial impact on companies and organisations' operational environments, and they shape societies as well. Megatrends push companies to innovate to sustain their market position, and they likewise demand states to anticipate and adapt to the changes they bring.
The changes brought by megatrends generate not only opportunities but also challenges. While many of the opportunities and challenges are not surprising, megatrends' collisions with other trends and megatrends may lead to unforeseen consequences.
Directions of megatrends remain constant for a long time, and they can span over multiple decades. Thus, extrapolating a megatrend's path into the future can be done with reasonable accuracy.
Megatrends have wide-reaching impacts that can be felt even on a continental level. However, how the megatrend's effects manifest in particular geographical areas or industries may vary
Given that megatrends are the foundation of any foresight analysis, relevant megatrends need always be considered when making plans in any organisational setting. For example, if the population, in general, is ageing, this needs to be taken into account when planning the launch of a new product line or digitalising public services.
Futures Platform’s Futures Intelligence database has a significant collection of megatrends that can be easily accessed by subscribing to the platform. Examples of megatrends that are identified by Futures Platform include urbanisation, climate change and ageing of the population. In addition, each megatrend also includes a list of the most significant sub-trends that are driving the megatrend.
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TRENDS – THEY ARE EVERYWHERE
A trend has a recognisable development path that is supported by multiple credible sources. It is a flow of transformations that is not redirected easily. In general, trends can be verified by collecting enough data to form statistics that prove their existence.
Trends usually are identified either by using time-series analyses or by experts who are well aware of the latest changes within their fields. For instance, a fashion trend may be hard to identify from statistics, but it can still be seen on the streets. Trends and their behaviour become more challenging to predict over a more extended period.
There are a vast number of trends currently underway. Some of the more prominent examples are the development of the Internet of Things, rising populism in Western countries, and sustainable consumption.
Analysing trends has a significant role in foresight. Some of the well-known ways to analyse trends are the Trend Impact Analysis, trend extrapolation, and S-curve analysis. You can read here more about how Futures Platform uses S-curve analysis to map out the future, and how you could benefit from that work. Also, you may want to check out this article on the Trend Impact Analysis and how it could serve your needs.
Trend Impact Analysis focuses on identifying the sub-trends of a larger trend and analyses the impact of each of these separately or combined with the primary trend.
Trend extrapolation, at its core, is pure forecasting. It is based on the idea of directly extrapolating the development shown in a past or present time-series into the future. In other words, it answers the question of "What if this development continues to the future without any changes?”. It is based quite often on the Ceteris Paribus principle, meaning that only one trend and its impacts are at the focus, and all other impacting factors and trends are left out of the calculation.
S-curve analysis is based on understanding the nature of trends and their development over time. Trends are usually S-curves: they start with a modest pace, and after a while, they rapidly accelerate until the full potential of the trend is reached, followed by a slower pace of growth or stagnation.
Trend analysis can yield important insights into the future of various markets, social transformations, technological developments or political changes. Understanding how a trend might develop in the future lets you also think about the possible collisions the trend could have with other trends.
Trend collisions are points which usually disrupt the existing status quo in markets or societies and create the best potential for new products and services.
Trends can be found on Futures Platform's Futures Intelligence database as well. There are over 700 trend descriptions that provide you with the intelligence you need to future-proof your plans, innovate a new product, or create your strategy.
CHANGE DRIVERS – PUSHING THE DEVELOPMENT
Drivers, or change drivers, are internal or external forces that push the change forward and shape organisations, societies and markets. The main areas from which drivers emerge are new technological developments, government regulations and competition. For example, a government decision to support or tax some economic activity is a powerful driver that can shape an entire industry within a country.
In foresight, understanding the main driving forces affecting the flow of events is central. Any actor engaged in foresight needs to consider the main driving forces impacting the research question they are studying. Also, it is highly necessary to consider the potential influence the drivers may have on each other.
Futures Platform has made it easier to recognise the critical drivers for your foresight efforts. By accessing the database, you can search for the most important driving forces that you need to consider in your work. Subscribe now to find out what’s relevant for your future.
TREND ANALYSIS IN PRACTICE – KICKING OFF YOUR FORESIGHT WORK
Megatrends, trends and drivers are all components that need to be considered when engaged in foresight work. By subscribing to Futures Platform's free foresight tool trial, you can easily identify the most important trends and drivers, incorporate them on to your futures radar and stay updated on their latest developments,
By identifying the key trends and visualising them on the radar, you can quickly analyse the interlinkages they have. This enables you to make calculated assessments of the impacts the trends may have on your organisation in the coming years. Furthermore, the radar helps you to communicate your foresight message to your colleagues powerfully and engagingly.
The blog series on Futures Intelligence continues soon! Remember also to read the coming articles to not miss out on relevant information. The series has five parts:
- 1. Futures Intelligence: Types of Futures Knowledge
- 2. Megatrends, Trends and Change Drivers: Understanding the Larger Picture and Path-Dependencies
- 3. Scenarios: Looking for Alternatives
- 4. Horizon Scanning and Vigilance Concerning Changes: Discontinuities, Emerging Issues and Weak signals
- 5. Wild Cards and Science Fiction: Free Imagination
Don’t miss out on the next article and subscribe to Futures Platform’s free future newsletter.
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Scenarios assist in identifying and exploring alternative futures. During scenario building, information about different versions of the future, the present and its change drivers are produced, analysed and built into foresight insights.
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