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Wednesday, November 9, 2016


5 stars out of 5

Consider me mind-boggled!

But it's not for the first time. That happened somewhere around 1970, when I tried to wrap my head around Alvin Toffler's Future Shock (followed by The Third Wave and Power Shift. Then came books by John Naisbitt, such as Megatrends 2000, and Faith Popcorn's Clicking: 17 Trends That Drive Your Business And Your Life. Yes, folks, I eat this stuff up. And now, thanks to an advance copy in exchange for an honest review, comes this one - and it's made no less of an impression. 

The author has developed a six-part process for forecasting - a way of evaluating new ideas being developed on the "fringe" (a.k.a. around the edges of society) that stand to affect us. Futurists, she says, listen to and interpret the signals that are "talking," looking for early patterns, or pre-trends. "Trends help us to understand change, which is an essential part of every organization's mandate," she writes. "Too often, leaders ignore the signals, wait too long to take action, or plan for only one scenario."

Descriptors like "probable," "plausible" and "possible" are used to generate concrete ideas about what's over the horizon. "We must think of trends as signposts that can illuminate the conditions we will likely encounter at some point in the future, even if that future is a century away," the author explains. "Organizations must track them if they are to create their preferred futures...seeing trends is a matter of looking for emerging changes at the fringe, within organizations, and in our societies."

In a nutshell, if it's possible to put it there, the book is about the importance of not being surprised by the future, offering a method for creating a path that leads to sustained success. Unlike some of the books mentioned above, it's not a list of what we can expect to happen in the next 10, 20 or 50 years; rather, it's a way to help ensure that organizations will be going strong throughout all those years to come.

Along the way, the author explains finer points such as the difference between something that's "trendy" and a "trend." No doubt it's a silly analogy, but if I interpret it anywhere near correctly, an Erector set is (or was) trendy, but the fact that children love to tear things down and build them up again is a trend that's likely to continue indefinitely. Harness your company's future to the first, and you may be out of business the minute a newer kid hits the building block; on the second, and you're likely to stay ahead of the curve.

Roadblocks to identifying the signals are discussed as well, such as the "duality dilemma" between left- and right-brain thinking (put another way, creativity vs. logic) and the need to look at things from both sides now. This I understand; I identify far more closely with the logic side, which most likely explains why I've enjoyed relative success as a journalist (just the facts, ma'am) but couldn't write a novel if my life depended on it. It's also, I'm thinking, one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much; everything is laid out in an orderly, easy-to-understand manner.

That includes, for the record, a glossary of concepts and terms and a chapter-by-chapter list of footnoted references at the end. Highly recommended for anyone interested in expanding leadership skills (or like me, simply interested in the topic).

The Signals Are Talking: Why Today's Fringe Is Tomorrow's Mainstream by Amy Webb (Public Affairs, December 2016); 335 pp.

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