Being a Vietnam vet, I often compare business to military tactics. They have many similarities that work well for both entities. Successful military engagements are not based on luck. They are well planned and they rely heavily on intelligence reports. The better the intelligence; the more successful the campaign. General George S. Patton made a career out of reading the books of famous military leaders both living and dead. By getting inside their heads he was able to spot trends and tendencies that lead to many victorious battles in WWII.

Smart business owners are also proficient at spotting trends and using that information to not only stay ahead of the competition; but they also assume a leadership position in the minds of customers as well. How do these business leaders do it? Here are some inside secrets that will help you get a glimpse of the future.

Read, read, read

Here’s a rule to remember. If you spend just twenty minutes a day reading something about your industry I can almost guarantee that in one year you will know more than 75% of the people in it. Twenty minutes – either get up twenty minutes earlier or go to bed twenty minutes later. Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there. In order to spot trends you have to dig a little deeper.

Reading about your industry will only keep you informed about what is on the surface. You need to examine the things that affect your industry as well. For example, if you are making furniture you need to be aware of other industries that supply to the furniture industry. Wood, fabric, stains, and changes in styles can all have an effect on the end product. Advance knowledge of a problem in any of these areas could mean the difference between a loss or gain in your business.

Every business office usually has a stack of business magazines gathering dust in the corner that never seem to get read. Scan the table of contents for articles of interest and tear them out of the magazine and put them in a “to-be-read” file. Try to read one every day. Take it to lunch with you, or anywhere else you can get a few minutes alone to focus.

Look at the world around you

My wife is a big fan of the TV show “Law and Order.” Sometimes there is more to be learned about the world in fiction rather than the information gleaned from the 24/7 cable news channels. In nightly TV shows one can often spot trends that reveal how people are thinking about the events that touch their daily lives.

Information sources like the Wall Street Journal or the Saturday morning investment shows on radio and TV can often reveal where markets are headed. You can find online newspapers from all over the world at and


The world is literally at the tips of our fingers. With a few keystrokes one can find volumes of information on any topic imaginable. With social networks like Twitter or Face Book you can connect with people across the country and around the world. Put out a question and a hundred points of view pop up.

R.S.S. (Really Simple Syndication) Feeds allow you to access articles and tips on various topics by free subscription. When you subscribe to your favorite blogger or columnist any new articles and posts are sent to you automatically. It’s a great way to filter information from your favorite sources and improve your productivity.

Great Minds Think Alike

Contact other business owners in towns similar to yours. Try to find like minded people. Just because people are in your industry doesn’t always mean they are doing it right. Look for people who are written about in the magazine articles in your file. Together you can look for clues for what might be on the horizon. They can be a great source of knowledge and inspiration.

Economic Indicators

The US Government, the stock market, the Federal Reserve, all use economic indicators to set policies and examine what the future holds. There is no crystal ball for business but there are pockets of information, when combined, can give a somewhat hazy view of economics and trends.

Some Final Thoughts

Trends are a lot like detective work. There are clues that don’t mean a whole lot individually but when combined with other clues a crime is solved. Put on your Sherlock Holmes hat, get your magnifying glass and start looking for clues.

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