One of the more valuable tools when attempting to anticipate future changes is to look for “weak signals.” As a professional futurist, I have developed a number of methods over the length of my career to help clients and audiences do this.
First, I begin by framing the future. This “frame,” however, is usually much larger than people expect. To set the stage, I introduce clients to the notion of exponential growth and encourage them to take a swim in the lake of tomorrow. Next, I work with them to develop a future bias and keep an open mind to what might be possible in the future. (Hint: Tomorrow’s possibilities frequently sound impossible today and this is why people must think far outside the box in order to pick up on many weak signals.) In short, I always remind them to think 10X, not 10%. Later, I work with my clients to develop scenarios that expand upon these weak signals.
Deciphering weak signals also requires new methods of thinking. To help clients, I often start with some situational unawareness training — that’s right “unawareness” training. Translating weak signals into “actionable intelligence” is all about “seeing what we are not seeing.” To do this, I instruct them how to embrace ambiguity by training their mind to view the world differently, and learning to see the world around us through the eyes of a child.
Some of the more enjoyable and intriguing methods I use to probe, expand upon and think about weak signals include: questioning assumptions; studying the back pages of the newspaper; dropping the past; exploring history; listening to the fringe; taking an anti-disciplinary approach to the future; and even looking for irony and listening to absurd-sounding ideas.