“Africa doesn’t have the infrastructure or the funding which means you have to think differently, you have to make a plan, and just find a different way of doing things. That’s what funds the leapfrogging. You suddenly find a different way of doing things.”
Acclaimed trend analyst Dion Chang is about to give Namibia a glimpse into trends as business strategy. Dion Chang is an innovator, creative thinker and walking ideas bank. He is one of South Africa’s most respected trend analysts and takes the unique view of trends as business strategy. While his feet remain firmly planted on African soil, he uses a global perspective to gauge the zeitgeist, source ahead-of-the-curve concepts and identify shifting business templates. In a world struggling to adapt to a new world order, his trends analysis company, Flux Trends, specializes in understanding consumer mindset and identifying unexpected business opportunities within shifting trends, ensuring that global trends have relevance when translated for African businesses.
99FM’s MYD Smart asked :
Nobody when they were six years old said they wanted to become a trend forecaster. What journey led you to become the internationally known trend analyst you are today?
“I’m just really nosy. But seriously, I think it stems from my previous career in the fashion industry, specifically the magazine industry. I had a very long career in print media, so there’s always been a media aspect or component to it, [of tracking] social and fashion trends for magazines.”
“What made me realize I want to start my own business (we’re in our tenth year this year), is the fact that it was not so much the hand bags and the shoes that were interesting to me, but the social movement [related to it], such as the punk movement, grunge, etc. It’s the social dynamics that are really interesting to me.”
“When I started out, I did what most analyst companies were doing, which is consumer mindset, retail. But things in the last five years have shifted so spectacularly. We changed our mantra to Trends as a Business Strategy. It goes with the way I think strategically, but also looking at technology and business, and how humans are using technology, how these two converge and intersect. This was just an underlying passion, which I turned into another career and a business.”
What is the essential human trait behind trend setting? What and who sets the trends?
“At the moment, it really is technology. Technology is the fastest driver of change. We’re in a very strange period in history, especially [during] the last five years. If you think of our social media platforms, they are only about a decade old. We are approaching the knee of the curve, if you imagine a graph going from horizontal to vertical. We’re going so fast and adapting so fast, and companies, legislature, and governments are all struggling to catch up. We are essentially going into the Wild West, the no man’s land. And in contrast to that, change makes people nervous. With this exponential rate of change, you see why, around the world, there is conflict, disorder, and disruption. Socially, politically, economically and technologically, everything is in turmoil, because we’re going through such a huge part of the change.”
It’s the Wild West on fast forward, plus with us so afraid of change. It’s an important topic, change as a trend. We don’t like to embrace change and because of that we could get left behind.
“I speak to a lot of corporate companies, and I’m usually the bearer of bad news, to tell them that their systems are obsolete, or that they’re doing things the wrong way. There’re two reactions to the talks I give: people are either really exited or terrified. There’s no middle ground. But either emotion is good, because if you change your thinking then that’s good.”
“I generally start off my talk by saying I make you think differently. That preps them for something jolting, for something different. We’re in an era now that if you don’t embrace or adapt to the change quickly you will get left behind.”
“In terms of business, you will become obsolete if you don’t change, because the bus has already left, and you’ll be left scrambling and your competitors will jump in. Or if you just watch the world and do nothing, the generational gap will just get wider and wider. That is why I love what we do at Flux, because there’s always something new we are learning.”
How relevant is Africa and particularly Namibia within the global context of trends and innovation?
“Africa is really important coming into the 21st century. Everyone is saying Africa is rising now. I agree and disagree. I think midcentury is when things are really going to change.”
“On the African continent, sub Saharan Africa in particular, the mean age is 17. So you’ve got a very young continent. Couple that with where technology is going [and] you start to see a lot of things in Africa leapfrog. In terms of technology leapfrogging developed countries. Everything is now on mobile, so we bypass desktop computers. The third thing is that Africa doesn’t have the infrastructure or the funding which means you have to think differently, you have to make a plan, and just find a different way of doing things. That’s what funds the leapfrogging. You suddenly find a different way of doing things, without the big infrastructure that was the traditional way of doing things. The developed world is looking and saying, gosh how did they come up with that? But it just comes from very different needs and different resources.”
“If you look at that very young age, it means that by 2030, or toward the middle of the century, technology is going to be embraced by the young demographic. Those young people then are going to be the leaders, business leaders, of all the things that are driving the continent, and that’s when I think something special is going to happen. But the lead up to it in the next decade is also going to be exiting as well.”
It sounds really exiting. It’s definitely good news that Africans are becoming the trendsetters.
“It’s like a clean slate. The traditional pessimistic views of Africa, the dictators, corruption and those, they are all part of a generation that’s going to die out. We’re making a parallel [to the rest of the world]; if you look at the start-ups in California, you see the same thing in Africa. They’re all entrepreneurs. It’s really heartening for me. All of the new innovations are generally for the greater good.”
“Four years ago we [at Flux] changed our mantra to trends as a business strategy. Traditionally trends were more about a colour forecast or what was coming up next season [in fashion]. What we do now is look at things holistically. The presentation I’m going to give is The state we’re in. It has six pillars, from technology, to politics, to the natural world, eco concerns, to pop culture, and we frame it and show you that there is a link between all those things. It is essentially one big spider web and if you tweak one small part, the whole thing starts to reverberate.”
“I think what people understand (and I want to remind people of) that interconnectivity. We have such busy lives, and because you focus on your area of expertise or your industry, you forget that other factors influence what you’re doing. For example: Banting is quite big in South Africa (not eating carbohydrates), and it has completely changed the social landscape, restaurants, wheat prices, bread prices, and all of those kinds of things. We show people with the presentation what the connectivity is, and how trends can affect you, even if you’re not aware of them.”
Is that what people can look forward to learn then in your “The State We’re In” presentation?
“It’s more of a business presentation. It’s only being released in two weeks time, so it’ll have been out for a week when I introduce it in Namibia. It’s like an executive summary of what is happening in the world, a quick snapshot over different pillars and sectors that we link in. We themed this one The rise of the machines, because we’re getting to that state where machines are starting to affect people’s lives, people’s jobs specifically. I got asked 90% of the time in the last year when I gave these presentations, what is going to happen to my job, because machines are taking over? That is where we are. We look at global trends. People often say, Well, that isn’t going to happen to us here in the southern tip of Africa, and I say, don’t be so sure. As a result of that leapfrogging of trends, things happen much faster, the global village is hyper connected, and while things may seem futuristic, they are literally around the corner. It’s happening in Africa.”
Over the years you must have seen some incredible trends – which development did you personally find fascinating?
“That’s an interesting but a difficult question. The one thing I’m really fascinated about is the role of social media, and how fast that’s come through. Most social media platforms spawned in three years, so it’s literally about ten years old, but it’s already altered everything. It’s altered the retail industry, advertising, media. It’s giving people a different voice. You have pros and cons to that, as everyone has an opinion, and not everyone has the nicest opinion and now they can blurt out their opinion.”
“The next thing we are going to [move into] is the hyper visual social media platforms: your Pinterest, Instagram. We’re moving very quickly into this very visual way of communicating, not only in a social space but in a visual space as well.”
“The word that for me defines 2015 is Disruption. And the word that we use for 2016, which we used in 2014 and which is coming back (and is not very positive I’m afraid), is Disorder. There’s just so much disorder, there’s a lot of dust being kicked up, in terms of xenophobia, racial profiling, migrations, race relations; there are very interesting things happening, and its just the continuation of disorder and disruption.”
I’m sure those are some of the things that need to come about. Disorder precedes change, or rather, chaos precedes change.
“For me the dovetail word for Disorder is Opportunity, because there are unexpected opportunities. People see the old world order being lost, eroded and pushed aside, but there are new opportunities that need to be grabbed. So it’s not about putting your head in the sand and always keeping your head above water, you have to look [out for] the opportunities.
On 25 February 2016, Dion Chang will present his very latest trend forecast – The State we’re in 2016 – at the NTN of Namibia, merely one week after it is released by Flux Trends. Hosted by 99FM and Old Mutual, this event is set to be a wakeup call for everyone in the business industry, from retail to investment to communication. To secure your seat at this prestigious event you can purchase your ticket at the NTN or by clicking here : Stay Today – Dion Chang