Go back into the cobwebs of your schooling and remember science class and the Brownian Movement. It's a handy tool for understanding what is going on and what *may* be significant. Whenever I go to conferences, shows and their ilk, I try to keep scheduled meetings and plans to a minimum. Instead I walk around, talk to people, and see what is or is not interesting. You end up with a lot of useless information, but you do tend to get an early sense of trends and even find the occasional diamond in the rough.
A few weeks ago the local University had a conference with table tops showcasing the latest inventions (in search of a market). So off I went wandering around. O.K. there was a flying car, but I remember seeing that in Popular Science back in the 60's. There was one inventor who was demonstrating surround sound headphones. What was even cooler, is he had a patent. My first thought was recording studios and production houses (having some experience with that). But then I noticed a couple of kids playing video games. Well, all the bigs are coming out with new video consoles and looking for that edge. What would be a better fit than that? Then a week later I happened to be chatting with the "target market", my 16 year old nephew and he wants to know when he can buy them. Stay tuned. I have a VC to see.
Free form qualitative research can be extremely useful, but only when you operate outside of your comfort zone. If you always talk to the same people and read the same magazines, and scan the same blogs, pretty soon you will have a narrow view of the world. Not good in this day and age. Go wide, go unplanned. Interesting things will happen.