A weak signal is typically a small innovation or disruption that has the potential to grow in scale and geographic distribution. A signal can be:
a new product,
a new practice,
a new market strategy,
a new policy,
a new technology,
a new event,
a local trend,
a recently revealed problem or state of affairs.
In short, a weak signal is s something that catches our attention at one scale and in one locale and points to larger implications for other locales or even globally.
Weak Signals are useful for people who are trying to anticipate a highly uncertain future. They tend to capture emergent phenomenon sooner than traditional social science methods and turn our attention to possible innovations before they become obvious. Unlike indicators, they often focus our attention at the margins of society rather than the core. In this way, they are more likely to reveal disruptions and innovations.
Scenario planning and social change expert Adam Kahane suggests that to master large and difficult challenges, leaders need to learn to act and empathize simultaneously.
Adam Kahane’s book Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change (Berrett-Koehler, 2010) opens with a quote from one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speeches, his last presidential speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “Power without love,” said King, “is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.”
Harvard Business School Professor John Quelch 8 point strategy.Companies should bear eight factors in mind when making their marketing plans for 2008 and 2009:
1. Research the customer. Instead of cutting the
market research budget, you need to know more than ever how consumers
are redefining value and responding to the recession
2. Focus on family values. When economic hard times loom, we tend to retreat to our village.
3. Maintain marketing spending. This is not the time
to cut advertising. It is well documented that brands that increase
advertising during a recession, when competitors are cutting back, can
improve market share and return on investment at lower cost than during
good economic times.
4. Adjust product portfolios. Marketers must reforecast
demand for each item in their product lines as consumers trade down to
models that stress good value, such as cars with fewer options.
Here are some links to further describe in detail some of the models, concepts and thought leaders I presented. Please feel free to post any comments as to what resonates with your work, practice and clients.
Why it’s important not to lose site of long-term goals during a recession. A case study about Lucent from Strategy + Business.
All industrial corporations face downturns
and periods of retrenchment. Successful strategists promote upturn
thinking even during the deepest downturns. Techniques such as crafting
an upturn SWAT team, implementing long-term strategic planning, and
requiring upturn thinking during restructuring help companies develop
their own Marshall Plan to stay one step ahead of competitors when
better times return.
Jeffrey Immelt, GE's CEO, has received a lot of publicity
recently for fostering "imagination breakthroughs" by encouraging
managers to think deeply about innovations that will ensure GE's
longer-term success. He has vowed that he will protect those working on
the breakthroughs from the "budget slashers" focused on short-term
success. Questions that this effort raises include: (1) Why so much
publicity? (2) Isn't "deep thinking" what leaders are paid to do? and
(3) Why do these kinds of effort require so much protection?
In their new book, Marketing Metaphoria, Gerald and Lindsay
Zaltman suggest some answers to the questions. In decrying the lack of
what they call "deep thinking" among managers and especially those
responsible for marketing, they suggest some things that get in its
Among them are:
(1) reluctance to take risk, especially when
short-term performance is at stake,
(2) the fear of disruption
resulting from "thinking differently and deeply,"
(3) the potential
psychological cost of changing one's mind resulting from deep thinking
4) the lack of information providing deep insights on which to
base deep thinking.
According to the Zaltmans, while nearly all research techniques
commonly used today probe humans only at their conscious level, the
subconscious (offering deep insights) really determines behavior, and
that explains why humans don't behave as they say they will, whether in
buying or other behaviors. As a result, for example, four in five
product introductions perform below expectations.
The Zaltmans expand on ideas they have been studying for some years,
namely that strategies of all kinds can be based on insights gained
from listening in a disciplined way for metaphors that relatively small
numbers of people (consumers, managers, public servants, etc.) use in
the course of extended, probing interviews.
In these interviews, the
object is to use "surface metaphors," like "I am drowning in debt," to
identify "metaphor themes," like "Money is like liquid," and the
associated "deep metaphor," in this case "resource." They claim that
just seven deep metaphors—balance (equilibrium), transformation
(changing states or status), journey (as in life), container (keeping
things in and keeping things out), connection (feelings of belonging or
exclusion), resource (providing survival), and control—describe 70
percent of our inner feelings.
The objective is to find deep metaphors
that individuals share in common (a true market segment or a basis for
resolving a confIict) rather than differences. If we would just take
the time to explore them we would be able to realize such things as
more substantial, farsighted, successful new product introductions
(such as the hybrid auto ten years ago at Toyota); more successful
conflict resolution; and more significant innovation, à la GE, in
This raises several questions:
Have the Zaltmans hit on a basic
problem of leadership and management today?
Are there appropriate
responses other than the one that GE is pursuing?
What is your
organization doing to combat the absence of deep thinking in
What are you doing to combat it in thinking about your
own life inside and outside the organization?
The ability of a group working iteratively and collaboratively to seek, model and put into place higher-order solutions. Time compression, systemic work-flow, dynamic feedback, individual creativity and collective creativity are core features of group genius.