(Editor’s note: John Vanston is the author of Minitrends. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)
There are many opportunities for those who are alert enough to recognize emerging trends, perceptive enough to realize their importance, and clever enough to take advantage of them. These minitrends are emerging trends that will become significantly important within 2-5 years, but are not yet generally recognized.
Unlike megatrends, Minitrends are of a scope and importance to offer attractive opportunities to individual entrepreneurs, decision-makers in small and mid-size businesses, innovative thinkers in large companies, and adventuresome investors. In my book, MINITRENDS: How Innovators & Entrepreneurs & Discover & Profit From Business & Technology Trends, I categorize the nine Minitrends below to those most applicable to different-sized groups. (In the book, I also discuss the background, current trends, and business opportunities of each of these Minitrends in more depth.)
That said, here are the minitrends well worth examining:
Minitrends particularly applicable to individuals or small groups of individuals
Expanding involvement in virtual: Virtual worlds are computer-based platforms that allow participants to engage in a wide range of real-world type activities (e.g., buying and building virtual world property, furnishing virtual world homes and offices and producing and selling virtual world goods). Increasingly, these worlds are being used for educational purposes, product advertisements, new product modeling and testing, identification of new markets, and uncovering unexpected problems with new marketing programs.
Support for people working at home: Although an increasing number of people are now conducting all or part of their work at home, these people often find they miss interacting with others and miss the convenience of facilities, equipment, and administrative support. A number of solutions are emerging to better meet the needs and desires of people working at home, including small offices or meeting rooms that can be rented by the day or the hour; chat rooms where people can meet informally to discuss ideas; semiformal groups that meet regularly to establish person-to-person interactions; and temporary support staffs organized to provide administrative assistance as needed.
Expanding capabilities of advanced websites: Although the World Wide Web had proven to be extremely popular, many believed a more interactive platform that took advantage of the Web’s power to communicate would be desirable (Web 2.0). Programmers are now expanding the capabilities of the Web to substitute computer activities for human activities, particularly activities that are repetitive, burdensome, and uninteresting (Web 3.0). Many believe Web 3.0 will eventually lead to effective artificial intelligence that can interact with humans in natural language.
Minitrends particularly applicable to small and medium-sized companies:
Increasing interest in privacy: Recent advances in technology, together with an increasing willingness of many to make personal information more easily available are threatening traditional concepts of privacy in terms of messaging, personal profiles, and identity. Techniques for countering these invasions of privacy, such as personal caution, technology aids, and group action are now being developed.
New approaches to giving and receiving advice: Individuals and organizations commonly seek expert advice when making important decisions. In providing such advice, large consulting firms with large, multidisciplinary staffs, well-structured processes and procedures, huge computer capabilities, and long-standing reputations have traditionally had a major advantage. However, the ever-increasing power and ubiquity of information gathering, processing, and communicating technologies, small and medium-size consulting groups are often able to give more focused, timely, and user-friendly advice than the larger firms.
Evolution of meaningful maturity: The twin trends of increasing life spans and decreasing retirement ages have caused a steady increase in retirement years. Because of social, personal interest, and/or financial reasons, many older individuals are either staying in their jobs longer or returning to the workforce. Their ability to utilize their experience, skills, and dedication effectively will depend on their current capabilities, their desires, and open opportunities to those willing to assist them.
Minitrends particularly applicable to large companies:
Advances in digital manufacturing: Advanced digital manufacturing (ADM) processes build complex, custom-made parts by the addition of successive layers of material rather than traditional machining processes that cut, bend, and machine a part from stock material. The processes allow quicker production of prototypes and small production runs at a much lower cost. Recent ADM advances, including improved yield rates, reduced time-to-market, increasing variety of materials, and advances in 3D modeling software, have made ADM processes increasingly attractive to many manufacturers.
Increasing electricity use in manufacturing: The characteristics of electric power, such as no heat transfer medium requirements, controlled energy distribution and reduced material waste provide a number of benefits to manufacturing processes. Its use, however, has been limited by its relatively high cost. A number of factors, including advances in control technologies, changing customer needs, global competition, and increasing concern about the environment, are driving an increasing growth in the use of electricity in industrial processes.
New applications of nanotechnology: When many substances are reduced to nano-size (100 nanometers or less) they often exhibit very different physical, electrical, chemical, and optical properties from the same substance at macro-size. These new properties often provide very unique and useful characteristics to nano-materials that can be used in a wide range of practical applications, such as cancer treatment, very high strength materials, special electronic systems, and water purification. Improved production techniques, decreased costs, and growing experience and understanding are increasing the practical applications of nanotechnologies.