Chapter Three: The Slow Hunch of Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From started with a sobering look at clues and indicators we had that could have led authorities to stopping 9/11, but several human tendencies and lack of modern tools (or at least the lack of using them) resulted in the events that are now our history on that fateful day.
As I read this chapter, I kept thinking of its similarity to the concept of “weak signals” that we use in our futures work and scenario planning. The idea is that, with 20/20 hindsight, we are often incredulous that we didn’t anticipate a monumental change or trend that was about to happen given the multitude of small, weak indicators that pointed in the future’s direction. The trick in futures studies, of course, is to teach yourself to not dismiss seemingly insignificant changes in data, trends, growth, or decline as these often are small waves preceding a huge change.
Johnson told two anecdotes in this chapter that showed how some of our greatest minds (Darwin, Locke) counteracted the tendency to ignore weak signals by writing everything down (Italics are my own) in a “commonplace book.” He also described Locke’s elaborate method of indexing his entries so that he could find and aggregate ideas later. I couldn’t help but to draw similarities between Locke’s Industrial Age method and the tools we have now that allow us to blog, Tweet, and tag information for future study.
How is your organization capturing, storing, and tagging current weak signals? Are you able to discern trends and slow hunches that can point you in the right direction for the future?