In conversation with

Jill Hawkins

Trend Forecaster & Founder of The Future Thief

jill hawkins

Introduction

Introduction

‘Trend’ might feel like a dirty word to some. Something fickle and fleeting that opposes longevity. But as trend forecaster Jill Hawkins tells us, “everyone needs to pay attention to them if they want to be relevant in the future. In my opinion, good trend forecasting is about spotting problems and helping to solve them”.

To future-proof your brand is to go beyond what you’d like to do in the future. It’s to think five, 10 or even 20 years ahead, and work out what the world might look like. And how your brand can stay relevant, impactful and valuable.

We’ve been working with Jill (under her alias The Future Thief), on understanding what a trend is and how to engage with future ones. From why disruption is a key part of future-thinking to brainstorming a possible reality (AI copywriting comes up a lot for us!).

We spoke to Jill about how she defines future thinking, why people are reluctant to engage with it and why we need to pay more attention to it (one word: COVID).

Question and Answer

What drew you to trend forecasting? How did you get into it?

I studied Fashion Marketing and Design at University, and I always loved the research part where I dug around and found out curious things, and being able to share those with people and inspire them to see things differently. So, I followed my nose / gut down a path of consumer insight, brand strategy, teaching and trend research.

What has kept me here is the ability to indulge my curiosity and investigate really interesting topics, to continuously learn about people, the world and different subjects, to talk to such a diverse spectrum of people and be invited to understand their lives, to experience the world, open my senses, travel for research, and probably most importantly, to help others improve their ability to anticipate the future and create their own to make it a strong, positive one for people and the planet.

How do you define future thinking?

A combination of activities and skills that ladder up to the ability to understand the past and the present, then using creativity in harmony with science and human intuition to imagine what possible futures we could face, and communicate it effectively – through stories, film, written word, presentations, experiences… That’s the sexy part. The less sexy but arguably more important aspect is then working out what to actually do about it.

Obviously it’s important to futureproof your business – but why do you think we need to learn how to do that?

For me, this takes place on two levels – for individuals and businesses. We need to take responsibility and ownership for our own future, and the more people who are able to do that, the more likely we are to create a positive future for everyone. If we can do that for ourselves, we can apply it to our businesses too.

Nobody will do it for you – of course a consultant can guide you and give you the benefit of their perspective, knowledge and experience, which is invaluable (of course!), but as a business, it really needs to be everyone’s responsibility if any effective change is to take place.

“It’s a very scary thing to think about the future, as it’s not really possible to predict, so it can feel completely outside of our control. All we can do is use information and experience to anticipate what could possibly happen next.”

Why do you think people often ignore what the future holds for their business – or choose to bury their head in the sand? Can you give us an example of when this has happened with a brand?

It’s a very scary thing to think about the future, as it’s not really possible to predict, so it can feel completely outside of our control. All we can do is use information and experience to anticipate what could possibly happen next, but as human beings, we aren’t great at imagining anything beyond what’s comfortable and what we already know. So, on top of being unpredictable, it’s mentally and physically pretty hard to actually contemplate a situation that’s different from the one we are familiar with.

What do you think is the biggest challenge strategists, brands and marketers face when planning for the future?

Making the time to do it, and being able to maintain the mindset needed whilst also dealing with the increasing demands of an audience that demands hyper personalisation.

Trend can be a dirty word for some businesses. Does everyone need to pay attention to trends and why?

You’re absolutely right, to some people ‘trends’ = ‘trendy’, which apparently is not worth a minute of anyone’s time.

I believe that everyone needs to pay attention to them if they want to be relevant in the future. To be aware of them does not mean you have to follow them. It just means you will have a better idea of how the needs of your audience and the world they live in are changing, which will help your understanding of your place in it and what you can offer to make their lives better. In my opinion, good trend forecasting is about spotting problems and helping to solve them.

Can you give us an example of a brand that goes above and beyond to think about their future? We know that IKEA has invested a lot of money in innovation around future living.

Yes exactly – there are some smart businesses who are investing resources into understanding the future of their category and everything that relates to it. But of course not many of them anticipated what happened globally last year.

I think that COVID has highlighted the ones who have done the best job of this. Those who have been able to pivot easily and change direction whilst staying true to their brand essence and purpose are the stand out stars. Both small and big time players who knew what they were good at, what they could turn their hand to and had some plans or ideas up their sleeve for what to do if the sh*t hit the fan. It doesn’t just apply to businesses – individuals who have been able to do exactly the same thing: pivot. It’s a buzzword for a reason!

Something we’ve spoken a lot about in our sessions is ‘disruption’ – to the things you read, consume, even the way you walk around your neighbourhood. Why is this so important for trend forecasting (and future proofing your business?).

It’s vital to continuously challenge your senses, perceptions and beliefs – both physically and mentally – in order to keep your perspectives fresh and alert. It will make it easier to slip into different mindsets and viewpoints, which is an important part of future thinking.

Creativity is a large part of trend forecasting, and without a wide variety of stimulus and experiences to draw upon, it’s difficult for our brains to make new connections, and that in turn limits our capacity to solve problems. So, we need to keep disrupting our routines and habits if we want to be good at this.

What will be some lasting trends that arise from COVID?

Many trend forecasters talk about a total shift to nostalgic activities and mindful living… but I don’t fully agree with this. Human nature is individualistic and we will return to anything that offers us a chance to indulge ourselves and our identities. We might be more mindful about how we do it, but we won’t be staying at home wearing athleisure and baking sourdough with our families for the rest of our lives. That’s not reality.

  • Openness around flexible working – it can work, and people will expect to be able to do it when they want to.
  • Revival of the experience economy – once we are allowed, it will be back in full force. Galleries, museums, interactive experiences.
  • The possibilities and benefits of being a part of a supportive community – especially important for the housing market, moving forwards, I think.
  • Environmental priorities – the visible effects of global lockdowns on our planet, resources and other living creatures has been an eye opener, and one that I hope we will make us all more responsible in the future.
  • Mindfulness and consciousness in all our actions – we have been made to change our individual behaviour over the last year on so many levels, all with the intention of doing things to protect other people, and it seems reasonable that this kind of consideration will continue in some way going forward.
  • More focus on collaboration – even working with competitors to solve problems faster, better and more helpfully (think about the process behind the UK vaccine development).
  • Total change for retail – COVID provided a much needed ‘reset’ for the retail industries, and has accelerated the beginning of a revolution in how we shop and what we are looking for from a physical space. It was already happening, but we will be looking for a lot more from a ‘store’ once the world ‘opens up’ and we have choices as to where and how we spend our time.

 

Jill's Storylist

Books

  1. Trend Sociology by Kongsholm
  2. The 100 Year Life by Gratton/Scott
  3. Creative Confidence by Tom & David Kelley

Magazines

  1. Forbes
  2. Wired
  3. Dezeen

Newsletters

  1. New World, Same Humans
  2. Do Something

Podcasts

  1. TED Radio Hour
  2. Hidden Brain
  3. Seriously

Digital Platforms

  1. Business Of Fashion
  2. Jing Daily
  3. The Atlantic
  4. New York Times
  5. The Times
  6. The Sun
  7. The Financial Times
  8. The Verge
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