Trendspotter … What Walt Disney Taught about Successful Trend Spotting

Walt Disney certainly never worried about getting the old thoughts out of his mind, did he? He was always three steps ahead of just about all his competitors and would-be competitors. Very good at being a successful trendspotter. And once spotted, he certainly knew what action was required to take advantage of those trends.

The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get the old ones out.

Dee Hock  


Are you into spotting trends? For business or hobby? Or maybe both? It is a very important skill. An important way to start the process of managing business change and adaptation.

Check out our thoughts on customer focus.

Most businesses do not manage change. Change takes them by surprise. Not a good thing. What these businesses do best is manage the conflict wrought by change.

Reacting does not equate to anticipating … you must improve your trend watching and anticipating skills so you can change before you have to. A good thing.

How do some people seem to know about the next big thing way ahead of everyone else?

Because they know how to recognize early signs of change.

Entrepreneurs started many successful businesses with an ability to see a trend before everyone else. They were able to take their insight and capitalize on it in a new and creative way. Businesses from Uber and Lyft to Airbnb and HomeAway are just some of the most recent examples of entrepreneurs benefiting from emerging trends. But just because it’s been done before doesn’t mean it is easy to see trends first and find ways to capitalize on them.

Let’s get back to Walt Disney and his abilities in trend spotting and rifts. Rift … what is a rift you may ask? A rift is a big tear in the rules we live by. Not a small tear, a fundamental change in the game type of tear. One that creates a small number of BIG, new winners, and bunches of losers who were sticking steadfastly to the old rules.

Walt was a three-time rifter. Can’t think of any others in that category. He was one of the few people who has successfully managed to find a rift in the continuum of business life, to bet everything he had on it, and to then make a great profit in doing it. And, amazingly, he did it three times. Let’s examine these rifts as a way to learn about spotting trends and acting on them.

differentiate a trend from a fad
Differentiate a trend from a fad.

Trendspotter … rift 1, motion Pictures

The first rift, or trend that Walt discovered was the motion picture. He noticed early on that movies would drastically change the world of entertainment. Anticipating that there would be a huge demand for family-oriented entertainment, he pioneered the development of the animated movie. His first film perfecting the form was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. And the fantastic growth of the rift was launched.

But he was not one to rest on his success … not at all. He kept looking for another change in the rules that would create further opportunity for his business enterprises.

I frequently remind clients that the only constant is change. Believe it. Assume that change is coming and look for it. Change can be either social — as in the rise of socially responsible business — or technological, as exemplified by the growth of mobile commerce. Sometimes change can be both. Social media is a great example of that.

Don’t forget the cyclical, up-and-down, back-and-forth nature of business while you are looking. Change doesn’t have to be permanent to provide a viable opportunity for business creation and growth. When the real estate crisis hit in 2008, construction activity shrank, and many people were forced to make do with what they had. But trend-spotting entrepreneurs were able to adjust their plans depending on the market. For example, savvy interior designers marketed their services to those who wanted something new but couldn’t find or afford a new home.


Trendspotter bar chart … rift 2, the automobile

The second rift was in the form of the automobile. Walt speculated that the car was going to change the way that families would get to entertainment. His vision was a strategically located, extravagantly designed theme park could add a new leg to family entertainment and vacations. And take advantage of the new way of family travel rift. So, beginning with California’s Disneyland in 1955, he added a new business around this rift and it has dominated the theme park industry to this day.

The basic tools of the trend tracker are seeing, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. In other words, every sense that can be used to get information about the world should be employed in looking for upcoming changes. Start by reading and watching everything you can. That should include general interest news outlets, trade publications, blogs, government reports and casual conversations overheard in elevators. Be especially alert for problems people are talking about.

Consider using trend-tracking tools like Google Trends, Topsy, and Trendhunter to help you zero-in on trends that are worth investigating further. You won’t be the only entrepreneur looking for business ideas on these platforms, but you can use them to dig deeper to validate hunches.


Rift 3 … Television

He was now a giant in the entertainment business, but he was able to spot a third rift and opportunity: television. Many people regarded television simply as in-home movies. Walt, however, saw it as an entirely different medium. So with properties like the Mickey Mouse Club, he established the third business to produce a never-ending stream of content for this new market.

Walt Disney was a three-time winner, someone who had great vision to not only spot important trends but also to see the opportunities that these trends created.

Like Disney, you need to strive to identify big changes that create lasting problems that lots of customers will be happy to pay to solve. The idea is to wind up with a business model in which revenues are much larger than costs for a long period, not one that limps by on slender profit margins before competitors take even that away.

To filter out fads, talk to the potential buyers of the solution to the problem. The more frustrated they are, the more likely they are to pay for a solution. In extreme cases, potential customers may be willing to fund the development of solutions. Also, talk to experts. While they may not be able to write checks, they can provide insights and point to possible solutions that customers could not even imagine.

So what recommendations can we draw from Walt’s experiences? Here are three that we offer:

spot trends meaning
Spot trends meaning.

Successful trend spotting … culture of revolution

An organization’s culture underlies its ability to adapt and times of dramatic change magnify culture’s importance. Work to create the culture of change of revolution. From this culture, you can spark a new paradigm for creative change from which your strategies will be derived.


Spotting trends and rifts

Innovation and competitive advantage hinge on your effectiveness in anticipating trends and identifying the next big thing. Invest energy and continuously work to improve your abilities to anticipate the important imminent changes. Filter through all the noise and chaos, cull out the trends and identify the opportunities that will be created. Focus your team’s creativity on the most important of these opportunities.


Adaptive Innovation

Our government and the business world have invested billions of dollars and significant time and energy to perfect human creativity. Apply the best of these practices to jump start your teams’ abilities in your field focusing on the end state of new customer priorities.




Is your business devoting enough energy in each of these areas?


Do you have a story about trend watching and business adaptation you can share with this community? Have any questions or comments to add in the section below?


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Check out these additional articles on customer service insights from our library:
10 Next Generation Customer Service Practices
Handling Customer Complaints … 8 Mistakes to Avoid
Customer Service Tips … How to Take Charge with Basics
7 Ways to Create a Customer Service Evangelist Business
Mike Schoultz is a digital marketing and customer service expert. With 48 years of business experience, he consults on and writes about topics to help improve the performance of small business. Find him on G+FacebookTwitter, Digital Spark Marketing, and LinkedIn.


Trendspotter … What Walt Disney Taught about Successful Trend Spotting