Trending & Timing (How do you know when a product will hit its tipping point?)

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers” – Thomas J. Watson (IBM president) in 1943

Its disputed whether Thomas J. Watson ever said those words or not. But everyone makes fun of him today for the quote (or misquote as the case may be)!

The thing people forget is – Thomas J. Watson was correct for about 10 years after 1943! If IBM would have invested heavily in computers in 1943, they would have gone bust!

But IBM smartly waited till 1950s and 1960s. And became the first big company to become bigger by riding the computers bandwagon at the right time!

So how do you find when is the right time?

Derek Sivers (of CDbaby fame) recently posted an awesome video on his blog:

Spend the 3 minutes and 6 seconds to watch the video. Its an awesome video because we rarely get to see a movement starting out and gaining momentum in a 3 minute time frame!

If you see the video – you’ll see that the dance movement could have gone bust at any point in its first 1 minute.

  • A single guy dances for 22 seconds (but we don’t know how long he had been dancing before someone began to shoot that video)
  • Second guy joins at 22 seconds
  • Third guy joins at 53 seconds
  • Two more guys join at 1 minute 12 seconds
  • Three more guys join at 1 minute 15 seconds
  • And then we lose count as everyone joins the bandwagon

Most things that trend follow a similar path.

  • Founders start.
  • Geeks join in. (By geeks I mean people who know everything there is to know about the field. They are the tinkerers.)
  • Then we see the early adopters.
  • And then we see a few mavens join in (people who don’t attract huge crowds but attract the people who have huge crowds.)
  • And then we see the influentials.
  • Finally we see the huge crowds.

Sadly – most products and movements don’t survive till they reach the maven stage. But if you had to bet money on it, you can say with good accuracy that a product will trend and succeed only after it reaches and gains traction at the maven stage!

If you really want to be right with your timing on new innovations – don’t be an early adopter (because you’ll get burnt more times than not). And don’t follow influentials (because everyone else will be following them too – and so you won’t have any edge.) But find the mavens of your field. And follow them.

That is the only way you can stay ahead of the curve – ahead of your competition in your field.

(Of course – if you’re an investor – you need to be one step ahead of the mavens. And mingle with geeks. But keep a sharp eye out because not every idea the geeks tinker with will succeed.)

Action Summary:

  • Find the mavens of your field. Heed the mavens.
  • Notice when a product or a movement cross over from the mavens to the influentials.
  • As soon as you notice that – jump on the bandwagon yourself. And be ahead of the crowd that is sure to follow.


A few of my trending predictions based on following mavens in the IT field:

  • Shared hosting will be extinct. Cloud hosting will rule. Expect all the major hosts to jump over and invest in cloud hosting within the next couple of years.
  • Virtual currencies will become big and hot. Expect your favourite portal site or social networking site to come up with its own trading platform where you can earn and use a virtual currency. Facebook and Twitter apps will reward you with points which you’ll be able to redeem for real $$.

Which ideas do you think will trend soon?

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