Sarah Buxton, CEO of the Observer Effect
Following last week’s London Fashion Week Festival – countless new trends will have hit the catwalks. Whether it be leopard print patterns on everything or Christopher Bailey’s last ever, rainbow emblazoned Burberry collection, we’ll be guessing what lasts and what’s simply a momentary blip. It’s reminiscent of the now iconic Meryl Streep speech in The Devil Wears Prada, where she discusses the origins of trends; explaining to the clueless and dismissive Andy that the rather “lumpy” blue sweater she’s wearing began with a cerulean Oscar de le Renta collection and
“trickled on down onto some tragic Casual Corner where you no doubt fished it out of some clearance bin”
Trends, she professes, are set by the fashion industry.
Yet, though the fashion industry is of course filled with creative people with their own vision – do they really orchestrate the ebbs and flows of consumer fashion? From flower power to 90s grunge, trends don’t originate with the fashion industry and magically appear – the fashion industry looks to see what is already happening out there, and takes it mainstream.
The power of trends
Trends are quite simply significant changes in society that extend over many months or years. They have the ability to change what we wear, how we live or how we view the world. From #MeToo to Caturday – posting cats on social media on a Saturday. Trends emerge from a set of social, economic and political factors, they’re complex, and that’s before you consider that they are constantly reactive, growing to absorb the thoughts and expressions of small groups and individuals.
What’s striking is that trends are powerful and pervasive; even if individuals don’t think of themselves as fashionistas or early adopters, they are affected by them. From that avocado on toast they had for brunch, to the remote working policy introduced by their company’s HR team, everyone, on some level, is influenced by trends.
The importance of trends for business
Trends affect behaviour – and behaviour forms culture. Long-lasting trends affect how you think and act and more importantly, the kind of criteria by which you judge others. Trends affect cultural meanings and render some behaviours as normal and right, and others strange and wrong. So if we are trying to affect the culture in our company – how can we use trends to our advantage? How can we inspire people to choose the kinds of behaviour you wish to see prevalent in your company? And what can we learn from the catwalk about this?
Find the trend setters first
In trying to affect culture many companies might choose to start from scratch. Now for start-ups and newer businesses this can be easier – there is a tabula rasa, a blank slate to start from. But what if you are working with a legacy culture, one filled with different cultures from different departments, mergers and global offices, how do you start a trend that will unify them, so they will start behaving as one company?
Learn from the catwalk. First, find the trend setters. Identify the individuals or teams within an organisation that are already embodying the values and demonstrating the behaviours you want to see more of. It’s about championing and spotlighting their behaviours and stories and disseminating these through the rest of the organisation, re-telling them through internal comms campaigns, recognition awards and however else you might decide to get them out there.
The power of the individual
When we tell stories of others – especially people’s peers, we inspire people to create their own stories. When we share the stories of people who have behaved as individuals, who have made their own choices, even if those were against the cultural tide at the time. It reminds them that they too have a choice to get involved. To see real, long-lasting change, it’s about thinking on the individual level; for people to recognise themselves as individuals, and for leaders to consider the behaviours they themselves need to change and show, in order to influence those around them.
In conclusion, to see impactful, sustained trends in your organisation, you need to first identify the cultural traits you want to see – the trend you want to create -and look around you to see who’s already demonstrating these. You can then use your influence as a platform to spotlight their story and behaviours whilst simultaneously – and crucially – reminding your colleagues that they are empowered individuals who can choose to resist, or to be part of the change.