5 May 2022, 12:12 — 6 min read
Do you make time to observe and process what’s happening beyond your “must do’s” or are you measuring your daily productivity against a defined task list?
When was the last time you stopped to look twice at details that just don’t seem “normal” — that may even seem outlandish or inappropriate? Do you dismiss these as trivial, or as mistakes, or even as crazy, or do you ever consider whether they foreshadow something bigger?
Hindsight has limited value beyond pointing to missed opportunities. And, of the many truths reinforced by events of the past two years, one is certainly that evolutionary change can unexpectedly become revolutionary.
That’s why creating the capacity to spot, assess and sort the weak signals – the early indicators of disruptive change that can help us anticipate the future – is an imperative.
Of the many truths reinforced by events of the past two years, one is certainly that evolutionary change can unexpectedly become revolutionary.
Weak signals are easy to miss, for good reason
Weak signals are all around us, all the time. The challenge in recognizing them is precisely that they are weak.
An example of a discounted weak signal
In the early 2000s Citi Cards’ digital transformation team exposed cardholders to the idea of “tap and go” RFID technology as a means of payment with a small device attached to a keyring that would replace physical plastic credit cards. Their first use case: paying fares in urban transit systems.
The weak signal that stimulated this experiment was emotional and qualitative: Users’ intense, enthusiastic reaction to how they would feel commuting without having to pull out their wallet and fumble with malfunctioning “swipe” cards in crowded subway stations. To the innovation team, which I led at the time, the immediate emotional response, and the language people used to describe their feelings, signaled something potentially much bigger than the mundane daily experience of commuting.
Banking traditionalists were quick to dismiss the possibilities. They were attached to the primacy of the card as the form factor. Retailers, upon whom scale depended, resisted funding nominal technology upgrades to enable acceptance of a new form factor at the point of sale.
The prevailing attitude was “if it’s not broken don’t fix it.” After all, why change, when the current form factors — magnetic stripes embedded in plastic cards — performed virtually 100% of the time?
The result? Within a decade contactless payments became ubiquitous, with the pandemic acting as an accelerant. And upstarts able to spot the opportunity, who were not saddled with legacy ways of operating, entered the market, contributing to the erosion of financial institution’s customer relationships.
How to read weak signals of change
You don’t need a magician’s skills or a crystal ball to see weak signals. To get started, you only have to value and reward curiosity. Next, commit to a process that more closely resembles an ongoing anthropological journey than a traditional strategic analysis.
Follow these five steps to get started:
Spotting the weak signals depends upon active sensing of the environment, especially a passion for observing and listening. Asking questions is invaluable to detecting weak signals.
Also read: 8 Tactics to make questioning a superpower
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Posted byAmy J. Radin
Business Builder | Portable Expert | Marketing, Digital, Innovation | Speaker | Advisory Boards