How can you keep pace with industry changes when trends usually aren’t clear and bad decisions are costly?
Having the Technical Acumen to track Industry-Wide Trends is a required professional competency if you are to innovate and keep your organization competitive.
Online training is just one example of an industry-wide trend that businesses face as technology continues to transform all industries. In this time of continual change, the one thing you can count on is that you must know how to innovate.
No matter the issue, the fundamental question is not so much how difficult or costly a change might be. The real question is how can you turn an industry-wide change – which is inevitable -- from being a problem to an innovation that will keep your organization competitive?
What is industry-wide technical acumen and why you need it
The fact is, we all must pay attention to the massive changes happening in our world or eventually be left behind. People want to identify the top trends – what headlines are really trends and not a flash that bottoms out – and people want to know how to make the necessary shifts in operations as cost effectively as possible. Everyone needs to do this, and it’s an absolute necessity for decision makers.
Technology in this sense refers to the knowledge and skills necessary to stay competitive. It’s not about being a tech geek. It’s being conversant with facts and issues about how things work in your industry as you explore what you need to do to stay current.
Industry refers to a wider view than just your job or profession. It’s the overarching perspective of the world surrounding your organization, for example, the manufacturing, healthcare, education, or financial services industry.
Staying current with trends requires keeping your attention on what’s happening, which means paying attention to all your resources: professional journals, colleagues in the know, and what and how organizations leading the changes do. To get started, think of yourself as an information-gathering machine.
Innovation is different from problem solving and continuous improvement
Once you’ve captured a trend you want to act on, you’ll be up against all kinds of questions. You’ll need to define what you want to achieve, exactly what to do, how you will do it, when you will do it, and your measure of success (so you know if you did what you set out to do). Finally, you’ll need to implement the new thing in your organization.
Innovation is different from problem-solving and continuous improvement in that these activities are built into your current business systems and processes. With innovation, you’ll be doing something new, something you may not be set up to do. So, the smart way to handle innovation is to organize so that you are set up to handle whatever. You do this be setting up front-end and back-end systems and processes.
The front-end innovation processes are for organizing, vetting, and prioritizing opportunities. For example, you may have three ideas for innovating new things into your business and assuming you can’t do all three at one time, you’ll need a process for deciding which one to do when. If you already have such a system for prioritizing in-house projects, your innovation opportunities can fit into this system.
The back-end innovation processes are for the detailed planning, developing, and implementing the innovations. For example, once you decide to take on an innovation, you’ll need project teams and people with the necessary skills, and you’ll need to plan how to bring the innovation into your organization. Maybe you already use project teams, so this won’t be an entirely new thing. But you may need people with skills not currently in your organization, or you might need to train additional operations staff to use the new innovations.
I’ll give you an example next, which is the story of how we at Centrestar became invested in online training.
Innovation requires that you follow trends, and when a trend gains traction, be prepared to act
My company, Centrestar, provides online courses, so we must stay current with the education industry’s trends in course content, instructional design, and training delivery methods. The most obvious example of industry innovations that has changed our world in recent years is the explosion of online learning.
Yearly, forward-thinking venture capitalists identify the innovations most likely to emerge in the near future. In 2011, Centrestar paid attention when Forbes contributor Robert Hof reported that open online learning was one of the top five technology trends.
Search online education and you’ll find that since 2011 that trend has only continued to accelerate. We’re at the point now where we’re living in a technological revolution!
Clearly, the trend to online learning impacts every job and industry. The catch is that such training involves decisions about software, hardware, networks, clouds, and security, which most of us don’t know a lot about. We at Centrestar didn’t, but we learned. We re-thought our training goals, allocated resources to support the goals, bought new software, and hired and trained staff with the skills to deliver effective online learning. We continue to do some in-person learning, but the pandemic led to a big shift in that area as well.
We continue to pay careful attention to what our customers want – such as the change from listening to lectures to hands-on learning – and we study how the education industry continues to change. Then we work to bring innovation to our organization and provide the kind of courses and delivery methods people want.
The good news is that whether you’re in a large organization or a one-person office, making industry-related technology decisions may not be as difficult as you think. The key is to build innovation into all aspects of your work routine.
Build Your Competency: Emphasize the value of innovation and weave it into your culture
- Be aware of technological advances in your industry that could impact you and your organization. Plan how you will do this: Subscribe to all relevant journals and research what other organizations are doing, particularly those in your industry that are leaders and the most innovative.
- Network with other professionals in your industry and identify relevant resources.
- Find others in your organization who are strong about best practices and trends and get input from them.
Pro Tip: You may work in the manufacturing industry, for example, and as such you would want to stay current with trends in that industry.
But think one step further. Depending on your organization’s products and services, watch trends in other industries as well. For example, if you train people on how to use products, you will benefit from tracking changes in the education industry.
Dr. Wesley Donahue
I’m Wes Donahue, President of Centrestar, Inc. and I also lead the online graduate program in Organization Development and Change at Penn State University.
Centrestar is a training organization that helps people identify and use the 35 competencies needed to succeed in any industry or profession. Learn more about us at www.centrestar.com
For more information about the 35 competencies, see my book Building Leadership Competence: A Competency-Based Approach to Building Leadership Ability.
Contact me at