It’s pretty easy to keep track of the highly visible trends.  If we look at the rise in importance of the mobile phone, we’re swimming in data and perspective. It’s almost too easy to keep up.

However, often times, the most important trends — the actual game changers — are less obvious, rarely discussed and, as a result, they end up being more disruptive.  Said another way, they present leaders with a chance to innovate and separate themselves from their peers.

So I like silent trends and look continually for the game changers.

One that recently caught my attention relates to content consumption.  There is actually a silent revolution occuring right in our homes and in the workplace.

The trend relates to how we learn.  Here are three pieces of this trend to consider.

First, we know that kids under 18 generally consume content from three channels, simultaneously.  If you have a teenager, we see it everyday as they play a videogame, respond to text messages and go online to find tips on the game.  They are the leaders of “simultaneous learning”.   If we think of adults, we’re also changing.  The second key point is that 92% of Americans get their daily news from multiple platforms (Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and the Project for Excellence in Journalism 2010 survey).  The third point, also from Pew research, is that almost 60 percent of people get their daily news from a combination of online and offline sources.

Here are a few related observations I have that I’m going to study much more closely in 2011.

#1 — Unstructured & Structured Data are Aligning For Us — we often resign ourselves to think that unstructured data is unobtainable. This is actually wrong, since simultaneous consumers of content (Generation Z) will often provide structured data (online conversations) about the same topics they care about when they text.  We may be able to consume multiple sources, but our brains still stay focused on a single topic, so our habits are easy to track.

#2 – Media is Plural — the days of saying the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times has the most influence are no longer relevant.  Today, the question is which basket of media is most important to reach our customers.  In that basket, WSJ and NYT will still be there, along with Huffington Post, personal blogs and other content sources from video, images, data and more.  The question is how big is the basket and do you know what is in it for your customers?

#3 — Stories are Absorbed Over Longer Periods of Time — since we now read stories offline and online, we often do this over longer periods of time. We may start in the morning reading a newspaper, check on the same story online during the day and then search later in the evening or days later on the same topic to refine what we have learned, if we care.   Gone are the days where we read one story and stopped.  So newscycles are actually changing in length, breadth and in ways that are not as obvious as simply tracking how many news articles appeared…’s much more than that.

As you go forward, ask yourself these questions about how customers are consuming content you care about.

What are the “multiple content sources” that reach your customers most often?

Is their a hierarchy of importance and how do you know?

How wide and deep is your newscycle, if you look at all forms of consumption?

Are you analyzing via structured data what folks may be discussing in unstructured data and how do you know?

This is a massively important and silent trend.  Companies who figure this out will build advantage and their customers are likely to appreciate it.  More in 2011.

All the best, Bob