In the world of digital trend spotting, identifying the goose that lays the golden egg is an art. Knowing what ideas will find the right market fit takes time, resources, and a discerning eye. The key to finding the right trends is knowing just what it’s made of. Knowledge of what composes a trend is the first step in finding game changing ones.

Pop quiz, hot shot! Do you know when Wi-Fi was invented? Sure, the brand name “Wi-FI” and the devices used to transmit data wirelessly came into being in the last quarter of the 20th century. But at the beginning of the century, Nikola Tesla was already talking about sending text, images, and other information wirelessly. Before we had the internet, before we had computers, before Alan Turing, we had Nikola Tesla and the idea for Wi-Fi.

It’s no surprise that it would take almost a century for the idea to take hold, it took engineers years to figure out the actual technology. Nor is it surprising that the number of public Wi-Fi locations would double in five years at the beginning of the new millennium, once the technology worked it didn’t take long for consumers to recognize its usefulness. However, this isn’t the typical life-cycle of a digital trend. In fact, the life cycle of a digital trend will always be atypical, because the requirements of working technology, profitable manufacturing, and widespread adoption must all be met before it takes off.

Are You Trend or Faux?

In a market fraught with buzzwords, it’s difficult for executives to distinguish genuine trends from fads. With runaway technological innovation and thought-leaders flooding social media with both substantial and shallow ideas, separating real wings from wax wings gets overwhelming.

Identifying trends, maximizing their impact, and capitalizing on their success takes expertise and timing. In order for a trend to get off the ground it can’t just be a great idea like Tesla’s. A need and ability to apply the idea must exist too.

Take, for instance, near field communication (NFC) — the ability to send small amounts of information wirelessly through close proximity of devices. Samsung made a big deal about NFC data transfer in the debut of the Galaxy S4. The technology has existed for more than thirty years. And the idea is as old as Telsa’s Wi-Fi.

However, NFC has not lived up to expectations. Users are slow to adopt it, because many of the current applications tend to have a clunky and inconsistent experience. It is the application of an idea that makes a trend take flight. That isn’t to say NFC won’t be a lasting trend tomorrow. Innovative applications of old products develop all the time.

Staying Trendy

If so many trends’ wings melt in the sun and crash back to earth, why bother keeping track of them anyway?

Because ignoring any trend can be deadly — just ask any New York taxi company. Before ridesharing became an unstoppable force with Uber at the helm, it was just a trend. But now? No one is disputing that this trend took flight. Monitoring new ideas and gauging their momentum can mean the difference between soaring to new heights or crashing and burning while other companies whizz past.