I’ve had a long fascination with observing trends people follow. Fads and trends intrigue me. Not sure why, probably has some sociological reasoning behind it. However there is something inherently valuable about being able to spot a trend before it becomes a fad. This insight is something not too many people understand.

One of my favorite professors at “The University” was an economics professor by the name of Kenneth Elzinga. He once said “anything you read in print has already had its influence on the stock markets.”  The same can be said of trends. Anything you see written about a trend usually means its already too late.  So what does this have to do with anything?  Well the point I am trying to make is that it pays to follow changes and observe them early on. Those who see the changes early enough can react to them and extract the most amount of revenue from them before the competition gets there.

Look at any early stage web business, if you see the risk takers who gambled on changes early on, when they were smart about it, they tend to have capitalized big time off these bets.  A venture capitalist is effectively betting on these changes hoping to bet on the right team that will sow the seeds of change in their respective industries.

So how do you keep a finger on the pulse of change? Sign up for trendwatching services (though if you believe the first argument, you are already too late, but you would be ahead of the mainstream press) such as trendwatching.com, trendhunter, springwise, and i’m sure there are tons of smaller ones throughout the web.  You can also monitor the media to see when something you thought was hot, was already on the cooling cycle (when you hear a 75 year old say he plurked you, then plurk has effectively jumped the shark ).

I like to keep my eye on lots of different sites as I see crossovers in trends that lots may be missing. Jason Fried of 37signals once told me years ago that he looked at architectural trends for inspiration in web design. So if you are looking for what the next big thing is, you better start scouring everywhere, even unlikely places, because I’m sure your competitor or future competitor is doing the same thing.