All Your Trend Are Belong To Us

Over the years I have frequently cautioned against becoming invested in the current hot thing that everyone is doing because the fad could pass quickly and you will have spent a lot of time and resources on something that is no longer viable.

One important thing I have never really been able to define is how to determine the difference between a long term trend and a passing fad.

Fortunately, Colleen Dilenschneider provides some intelligent guidance on the subject on her Know Your Own Bone blog. (my emphasis in green, rest is her’s)

So how can your organization figure out if something is a fad or a trend? A helpful trick may be to consider that trends inevitably affect some form of the organization’s engagement strategy, but fads usually influence tactics. This isn’t a fool-proof trick, but it can help your organization think strategically about the differences between both fads and trends.

For instance, social media use is a trend and that affects your engagement strategy, but selfies affect how you can carry out that strategy. Screaming “YOLO” and going gluten-free are things that folks may be doing these days – and, in order to remain relevant, your organization may benefit by embracing them for now. But these fads affect your organization’s tactics (and messages and programs), not its strategy. Data-informed management affects your strategy. Embracing transparency affects your strategy. The trend toward personalized interactions and programs thanks to our increasingly individually-tailored world is a trend and also deeply affects our strategies.

So by this definition, fads don’t really become trends in the same way ponies don’t grow up to be horses. (In fact, wanting a pony for your birthday is just a fad for most of us.)   But to confuse things, what social media tells you are trending topics are really just fads. (Whereas “all your base are belong to us” riffs are memes)

My advice in the past has generally been to wait, watch and evaluate whether something is going to endure and whether it is suited to your organizational goals and identity.  Dilenschneider takes a slightly different approach essentially saying it is okay to jump on the latest bandwagon, just don’t mistake it for an interstate shuttle.

Dilenschneider makes a valid point that it can be just as detrimental to be averse to adopting innovation as it is to waste time and energy chasing the latest fad.

If you have the time and resources, jumping into something knowing that it will be a short term project you will eventually discard can be useful in identifying new potential audiences and partners, and gauging your capacity to execute different sorts of activities. Essentially, something akin to rapid prototyping in software.

For example, you may never have considered the possibility of mounting performances or a festival in dance clubs. Yet over the course of playing with a lot of fads, you connected with demographics different from your core audience and had done some minor promotions with local bars. All this gave you the inspiration and confidence to do shows in bars.

Just remember though, this is an ideal outcome. It is very easy to become involved with a fad that becomes a long term detriment to your organization. Remember when Groupon was hot? Everyone was excited by it, but it became a nightmare for a lot of companies who lost money through discounting and never gained return business or loyalty. I know someone who still uses it regularly to find things to do, but never returns to a company unless there is another discount offer.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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