Weak signals in monitoring

Dynamic changes in modern world, modern life, require constant monitoring, constant awareness of changes in the environment in order to achieve sustainability of structures such as organizations and results of projects. And the sooner one becomes aware of change, the better one can prepare for using the emerging opportunity or avoiding emerging danger. Like in surfing, the surfer gets on the wave in an early phase and rides it when it becomes powerful. This also lights the subject from a different angle, i.e., weak signals are often seen as means to identify potential threats, but they can be as well used for timely identifying potential opportunity. So, it is essential to identify emerging change as early as possible. It makes concept of weak signals more and more important.

On the other hand, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to develop a methodology for identifying weak signals. Some opinions emphasize role of experts and that seems like a good starting point. Why are experts valuable? They have knowledge and experience. So, they already have deep understanding of the phenomena and know where to look for data and information indicating changes. When we analyze these benefits, experts seem to be a means to get what is really needed for detecting the emerging change timely and later for well-developed decision-making capacity, which is knowledge and updated information. So, experts may be very valuable in getting needed knowledge and information, resulting in decisions. They also can face stressful situation calmly, which is beneficial in conditions when the action is to be taken in short period of time and with limited information. Experience they have usually brings self-confidence (not arrogance) and capacity for well-thought reaction in short time in tense situations. We should keep in mind that experts are only one way for getting these values, there are also other ways, such as research, work of teams and networks, etc. which should be more explored from this point of view.

There is one more important category (that may or may not also be an expert), a decision maker. Namely, the longer one works on analyses and planning, the more one becomes aware of limitations of data in terms of early identification of future change. Data are useful, of course, but it should be kept in mind that data are just reflection of previous causes, which may no longer exist, or now function in different environment. So, in regard to getting information on what will happen, more than from experts, valuable information may come from decision makers. They know what they want and have means to realize that change. Also, they often have capacity to motivate people to contribute. Therefore, change which is in their focus is much more likely to create a change in reality, than some extrapolated event based on historical data.

Even if we can get weak signals on time, how do we filter what to take into account and what not to consider, how can we tell which signal is important and which is not? Again, methodology is very difficult, if not impossible, to create.

What can be done is to create an environment that enables and supports detection and use of weak signals. Encourage such behavior in the team (like psychological safety concept), set boundaries (following the idea of enabling constraints) to focus the efforts but eliminate obstacles to research and free thinking, and use safe to fail approach on signals that seem important. And see what happens. 

Inspired by The Flow System Training

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