Anticipating Trends Across Industries: A Case Study

Written by Hannes Combest on June 13, 2018

Many years of working in the association space, and two very different industries within it, have taught me a thing or two about using foresight to an association’s advantage. Now, with ASAE’s ForesightWorks, all of us have access to the resources we need to scan for trends and anticipate changes before they happen. What kind of impact can this future focus have on an organization? I have two examples from my career to share with you.

When I started working with the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), I became involved for the first time in thinking about the future and how it impacts organizations. Very early on in my career there, I attended a program called Golf 2020. At that point in time in the early 2000s, the golf industry was flying high. Everything was going in the right direction. But people were still concerned about the future of the industry, so they created a program for 2020 about trends that could impact us in the coming years. In hindsight, all those things came to pass: including multiple generations, and more women and diversity, in the workforce.

Unfortunately, golf didn’t come together as an industry to plan for these changes as well as we hoped. In 2017 more than 150 golf courses closed within a year. There was a lot of discussion and many good intentions, but this did not translate into cohesive action. How could they have prepared better?

I came to the National Auctioneers Association (NAA) as their Chief Executive Officer 10 years ago. What auctioneers do well is dispose of things people need to sell. If you’re trying to sell a home or arts or antiques fast, an auction is a great way to take care of that. But the industry was in the midst of change, with the rise of online technologies like eBay, and auction professionals were, like many people, often afraid of change. The Board decided to invest our time and resources in preparing for the future in a way that the golf industry did not - looking to the future to see what other things besides technology would be impacting the auction industry.

Several years ago, we created the Council on Future Practices. This Council looked at different trends occurring within the auction industry, online and off, including economics and government regulation. We developed recommendations for auction professionals based on these trends. The result was a strategic business plan called Pathways to 2020. We aimed to create a living, breathing document that would not lie unopened on people’s desks, but that would be integrated into board meetings and planning sessions. The document acts as a guide: we may not be able to see the future, but we can keep an eye on changes occurring and the impacts they will have. As we drew closer to 2020, we discussed creating an updated document of strategic plans. Using ASAE Foresight Works, we have almost finished creating this new Pathways document.

Foresight has become ingrained in the culture of the NAA. I see foresight as a fiduciary duty. Associations owe their members and their industry loyalty, care and participation. It is up to board members in particular to ensure that they leave the industry in better shape than when they started, and this can only be done using foresight. Foresight encourages your association to be proactive, not just reactive.