Global Brain (2.1)

Emerging Wicked Weak Signals

Every month on REFRAME Magazine, we tackle a Wicked Problem (a complex challenge that seems to grow worse with each attempt to solve it) and reframe it as a Wicked Opportunity (transformative visions of what is possible) by leveraging the tools within strategic foresight. We at The Futures School know that Wicked Problems are only seemingly impossible due to our outdated mindsets, and it’s up to us to Explore the emerging trends, values, and implications that we can potentially leverage to create more transformational opportunities.

Wicked Weak signals

Environmental scanning is the life-blood of Strategic Foresight. For that reason, we believe that you could never complete a scenario project and still call yourself a futurist if you routinely scan the horizons for trends, values, and implications. However, scanning is NOT typing into your search bar, “What is the future of X”. Doing so will only yield biased results from “experts” of the field you’re researching, not to mention the Google algorithm that is predisposed to filter out results it doesn’t think you’d be interested in.

Robust environmental scanning involves several key behaviors that are not difficult, but will improve your mindset dramatically. Work smarter, not harder.

Scan across domains

We at TFS often use the STEEP acronym to frame our scanning and ensure we are casting a wide net with our environmental scanning. STEEP stands for Social, Economic, Environmental, and Political. Our Wicked Opportunities trend cards employ the acronym WICKED: Worldview, Industrial Science, Commerce, Kedging, Environment, and Design. There are many other frameworks out there, but what is most critical is scanning the macro environment broadly so we don’t miss any potential disruptions or opportunities.

Scan for the heart

In our VUCA world, new trends seem to materialize overnight. How can we predict where society is headed if it’s ever-changing? The answer is with values. Values uphold systems, trends, and even our own behaviors. That’s why it’s crucial we scan from the Point of Origin: sensing the values that cause the trends to emerge. If we can see a trend, it is already well-into its life cycle. Great futurists scan for the value shifts that will later result in trends. Doing so will allow us to be the disruptors of our industry.

The Lifecycle of a Trend: Attempting to capitalize on trends once they are already in the public eye is a futile effort. To profit from an ever-changing world, our senses must be trained to identify trends much earlier in their life cycle.

Scan for the impacts

Scanning for impacts is what makes TFS futures intelligence superior. Trends do not simply “pop-up” and disappear into an abyss. They collide and mesh with other trends, disrupt multiple industries, and leave a lasting mark on how we think and behave. We developed the Point of Impact questions to systematically ask, “How will this trend impact how we govern?” or “Because of this trend, what goods and services will we produce and consume?”. Answering the Point of Impact questions allows us to predict trends before they exist in the social zeitgeist. Illuminating implications also fuels continual scanning even when it feels we’ve reached the ends of the internet. We used the Point of Impact questions every Map week in the previous volume of REFRAME.

Content One

Listen to this week’s podcast to Explore Wicked Weak Signals that cover the spectrum of this month’s issue: Zombie Apocalypse to Global Brain. Yvette and Frank end by answering one Point of Impact question in the context of one STEEP driver.

Download the transcript here.

Content two

We bookmarked the scan hits discussed in the podcast (along with other topical weak signals) in this Diigo Outline. Use this research to kick-off conversations about the Wicked Problem and Wicked Opportunity in your own organization!

The Outline includes hyperlinked articles that can be interpreted as weak signals for either Wicked Problem or Wicked opportunity futures. Each article has been highlighted, tagged, and described using futurist environmental scanning practices. Click an article to open it in a new tab.

This Diigo Outline can kick-start environmental scanning in your organization.