I am very fortunate to work with some really smart people. This has many benefits, not the least of which is the opportunity to learn something everyday from my colleagues. In a recent planning meeting, we were discussing factors impacting our business and someone asked the question: “Is that a trend or an issue?”

Although the answer might be both, the distinction between a trend and an issue had escaped my attention. When we are loose with our language it often results in sloppy thinking. In that moment, I was guilty. I was also confused… Issue? Trend? What’s the difference and why does it matter?

Here’s the way it was explained to me:

Trends create opportunities – you seize opportunities.

Issues create problems – you solve problems.

I’ll admit this was a new thought for me. However, upon reflection, the differences were more than semantics. The mindset and the approach is different when seizing vs. solving. Here are a few of the implications…

Are you responding to a trend or an issue? Once you decide, it may affect who you ask to work on the project. As Bobb Biehl teaches, some people are goal setters (those inclined to seize) and some are problem solvers. Both add huge value, but each has their own approach. You may know from your own experience that to assign a goal setter a problem to solve is not the best approach. The same can be said when we ask a problem solver to get excited about a big goal.

Another difference might be how you resource the two types of projects. If there is an opportunity to seize, you might assume others are aware of the same trend. Therefore, a race of sorts could have already begun. If you believe in the first mover advantage, you may want to overinvest early to stake out your competitive advantage. If it is an issue, you must weigh the significance. Our organizations face virtually limitless issues. Some of them can be funded and staffed in the future.

A trend and an issue also have different consequences, at least in the short run. If problems go unaddressed, the implications are usually more near term. If you don’t seize a new market or launch a new product or service, the consequences may be in the distant future. Organizations who struggle with brand relevance are often those who have not responded appropriately to changing trends. Their judgment day is in the future.

A final thought on the differences between trends and issues: managers can surface issues with ease. To spot a trend, or muster the courage to act on it, often falls to the leaders. We are the ones who must see the future; we must connect the dots and ferret out trends that matter. We are also charged with making the strategic bets for our organizations. Do you see what others may have overlooked?

If you’ve never drawn the distinction between trends and issues, perhaps now would be a good time to do so. If you haven’t started planning for 2016 and beyond, today would be a fine time to commission someone to begin an environmental scan. The best planning is always grounded in reality.[GLS_Shield]

What trends and issues are facing your organization?




Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.