I recently interviewed Sheryl Connelly, Ford Motor Company's manager of Global Trends and Future. Call her "futurist" for short. Sheryl spoke with me about how she goes about "predicting" the future, and how it helps Ford develop and market its vehicles, and about Ford's latest report, "Looking Further With Ford: 13 Trends For 2013."
Q: I want to talk with you first about your job. What has Ford tasked you with doing?
A: What most people don't realize is that it takes three years to bring a vehicle to market, so even if we come up with some sort of breakthrough or innovation today, it may not resonate or be relevant by the time the rubber hits the road. And since we can't predict the future, what we do is track trends, in social, technological, economic, environmental and political arenas, because we think this will give us some insight into the forces that will shape consumers attitudes and behaviors. It's never looking at automotive; in fact we try to stay away from that for the work that I do, so we come up with the insights, and then I pass it off to the designers, engineers and the marketing teams, that take their subject matter expertise and turn it into something meaningful in terms of product offerings.
Q: So how do you track trends? Are you constantly on Twitter or how do you do it?
A: Well, I've been doing it for nine years, so it's gotten a little easier over time, but it's really about pattern recognition -- looking for recurring themes, and seeing things that re-emerge and starting to have an eye for something, what are the drivers behind this, why does this seem like it's going to be important, and will it have staying power?