Like many others, the word trend has evolved and changed in meaning over time. Some 400 years ago trend meant “to run or bend in a certain direction” and pertained to natural occurrences like rivers, coastlines and mountain ranges. Some 150 years later it was adopted as a term for the way anything bends or its general course or direction. Today, and since about 1950, a trend has come to pertain predominantly to popular culture, fashion, and technology and means “a prevailing new tendency.”
The current definition of a trend has even been dissected and analyzed mathematically in an attempt to better understand how it occurs. Take this description, for instance, from an episode of the television show Numb3ers (notorious for explaining complex mathematical concepts in a straightforward and entertaining way):
“Consider a neighborhood where all the houses are painted white. And one day, one guy decides to paint his house blue. The next day his neighbor walks by, sees that color and says, ‘Hey, I like that color. I’m gonna paint my house blue.’ And let’s say that influences two more people each time. Now, even if people get sick of the color blue and decide to repaint their houses white, the blue trend will still grow. And now you have an epidemic of houses being painted blue faster than they’re being repainted white.”
As this example suggests, trends have much to do with our psychology. But they also have to do with time. Anyone that has ever attempted to get in shape or start eating right or quit smoking has most likely heard talk about developing good habits. Prevalent thought on the subject from the 1960s suggested that it took 21 days for people to stop or replace a bad habit with a good one. Although not definitive, more recent studies suggest that the human body needs two months to develop a habit that can be sustained. And a trend that cannot be sustained is merely a fad.
So, you may be asking yourself, as I have, is time the only difference between a trend and a fad? Whether it’s the pet rock, troll dolls, or fidget spinners, we’ve all seen a fad, watched it rise in popularity, and then fall out of favor. According to markschneiderdesign.com, “The easiest way to categorize a fad is one word: short-lived. Trends have a much longer lifespan than fads. In fact, they can continue to be fashionable for years and even decades. The primary difference between a trend and a fad is that trends have the potential to be long-term influencers on the market.”
In the article, “Fads vs Trends: How Organizations Can Tell the Difference,” Colleen Dilenschneider writes, “The increasing use of social networks is a trend (that connects us to one another). So is quitting smoking (which lengthens our lives), evidence-based medicine (that removes the guesswork in medical-related situations), and the use of mobile devices (that allow us to look up information in real time). These are things that have grown—and continue to grow—in market penetration. They solve problems. They represent new ways of life.”
So, now you may be asking yourself, how do we recognize a fad that will fade away and a trend that is here to stay, particularly if we can’t wait around to see? The best conventional wisdom is ambiguous at best, but one solid suggestion is to ask if it is a realistic tool for solving a problem? This might be said of the fidget spinner, definitely not the troll doll. But perhaps Quality can offer a little more than ambiguity, and definitely more specific to the quality industry.
Read “Printed Quality” and “Industrial IoT” in this month’s issue.
Enjoy and thanks for reading!