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The Empathic Leap | Inside A Trend Forecaster’s Master Toolkit

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Sometimes it’s difficult to quantify the earliest trend signals. It’s an imaginative juggling act in many regards. Many people identify a keen intuition as a hallmark tool in trend forecasting, but I’d like to make a case for the importance of empathy in discerning future scenarios.

A quick internet search yields the following definitions of empathy:

1. the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings
2. the attribution to an object, such as a work of art, of one’s own emotional or intellectual feelings about it
[from Greek empatheia affection, passion, intended as a rendering of German Einfühlung, literally: a feeling in]

In much the same way that I can exhibit empathy for the successes and hardships of my friends and loved ones by imaginatively experiencing their feelings, I can use a similar empathic/imaginative technique to enter and evaluate possible future trends and scenarios. It’s a method of thinking and feeling “absent things”, and evaluating which of these absent landscapes, ideas and designs are most complimentary (or on the flip side, which are most at odds) with the prominent cultural, political and economic narratives.

As regular readers of this blog can attest, I’ve developed a fascination with Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland; specifically, some of his well-crafted dialogue between Alice and the Mad Hatter, and Alice and the Cheshire Cat. Carroll’s focus on “madness”, the “uncanny” and alternate nonsensical realities is a wonderful exercise for creatives and trend-forecasters-in-training. Take your world and turn it upside down. Go down the rabbit hole. Get tangled up, turned around, undone and broken apart. Examine the pieces. Then pull out that aptly named crazy glue, and start re-assembling. Do the same exercise with current events: break down the stories, unravel the characters and see what trends emerge along the way.

Susie Bubble is one of fashion’s favorite, modern-day “Alices”. Her whimsical style has garnered her legions of followers. I can think of no one else who better exemplifies Wonderland’s beautiful collision of a thousand different realities. Perhaps she too, converses regularly with a certain, sardonic feline.

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