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How to Spot Trends for Business Innovation

The best entrepreneurs and leaders don't look inside, they look out. They notice the world around them, identifying changes -- in particular, problems that no one is solving. Change, as every entrepreneur knows, signals opportunity. Pay attention to some of the changes around you, and you'll find a rich source of new business ideas.

I've argued that noticing change is a better way to drive innovation than to depend on inspired soloists and geeks. So what are some of the changes you might notice if you took the time to step outside your office and absorb the world around you? Here are just a few observations to get you thinking: Dads are getting older. In 1980, 1 in 23 births were to men aged 50 or older. Twenty years later, that number was 1 in 18, and the number of new fathers aged 50 to 54 has gone up more than 10 percent. These older Dads have different tastes and preferences than young ones -- and, by and large, they're richer. They also read more.

Entrepreneurs are getting younger. More teenagers than ever before are starting their own companies. Doreen Marks started her manufacturing business, Otis Technology, when she was 16. Ben Cathers started his advertising business when he was 12. What are the consequences for their educational expectations?

There are more than 200 vacant Chairs of Entrepreneurship in U.S. universities. If there's a big talent shortage, does that mean the way an entrepreneur's education is provided will need to change?

In the U.S., 1 in 25 households is "linguistically isolated." This means households that consist of people who don't speak English very well. Most immigrants don't think speaking English is essential any more. What are the consequences of this growing language divide -- and the opportunities?

Most new clergy is female. Women students at divinity schools tend now to be in the majority. From a business perspective, this is a whole new market.

We all recycle more. Small apartments are getting cluttered. What to do with all that waiting waste?

Any one of these shifts contains product or business potential. And you only have to walk down the street to notice more of them. So get out of your office or cubicle and tell me: What are you seeing today?

Image courtesy Flickr user gerlos, CC. 2.0