Talk trends or lead trends

The new decade starts with economic recovery after the biggest economic downturn in our global economy since the internet bubble busted. Soon there will be enough money, confidence, interest and blind trust to start new trends and hypes, which many will follow, spend money on and some will make rich. Trend watchers, thought leaders and bloggers are coming up with the hottest and newest trends. Now talking about trends is easy, but who is going to lead the trends?

A couple of years before the start of the last decade, my career started at IBM, which was headed by the youngest McKinsey partner of his time, Lou Gerstner. In that period, it was the trend that major global companies where divesting and decentralizing to focus on core business. Mr Gerstner went against this trend at IBM and saw worldwide combined selling of hardware, software and integrated services as major strategic advantage. The IBM Global Services offer became the success it still is today and many competitors followed with a global service offer.

Shortly after that, during the internet boom, but before the crash, Mr Gerstner responded on questions why IBM shares didn’t follow the internet start ups pattern; ‘we’re an old fashioned company, we’re trying to make profit’. Here was a leader with a vision, which didn’t mind going against the trends or the mindset of his time to wait for the right moment. In the background IBM was embracing the internet business model, making partnerships to develop integrated marketplaces on the internet, created the well known e-logo symbol and created On Demand software and services.

Now you might think; ‘Two lucky shots ten years ago’. Well, not if you agree that innovation and leadership are important aspects of leading trends. In 2009 IBM earned most patents in U.S. for the 17th consecutive time. In total 4914 patents, 1300 more then 2nd Samsung and a staggering 2000 more then Microsoft.

Furthermore IBM became number one in the Global Top Companies for Leaders survey in wich more then 500 companies participate. This is a respected survey initiated by Hewitt Associates. The survey learnes that ‘top companies leadership and talent efforts are not abandoned in favour of short term pressure’. Mc Kinsey, the former employer of Mr Gerstner became 3rd.

So, maybe after reading and listening to all the talk and advice on trends, the smartest thing to do is to look at the companies and leaders who will actually lead the trends. And maybe a lesson is that sometimes it can pay of to go against the trend.

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