Deciphering Weak Signals of Change

An inevitability every organization must prepare for is the future. Though organizations can shape their futures to a degree, they are more caught in the wave of future with everyone else. The future can not necessarily be controlled as much as it can be anticipated and navigated.  Strategic foresight tools such as horizon scanning provide organizations with a map in order to anticipate and navigate with.

Horizon scanning is used to identify change on the horizon that is coming by either confirming or disconfirming an organization’s strategic assumptions (Gary, 2012). Horizon scanning directs attention to the vortex of change at the periphery of the external environment (Gary, 2012). Due to the fact that effective horizon scanning deals with the margins of current perception (Gordon, 2008), it involves looking and listening for new ideas and practices that are straws in the wind of change (Gordon, 2008). Often, these ‘straws in the wind’ are so remote and in their infancy, they are classified as weak signals. In order to properly perceive weak signals, it is necessary to monitor publications and activities on the far reaches of the margins such as specialist publications, fringe publications, blogs, conferences, and media outputs outside of the mainstream (Schultz, 2006).

Three ways to properly handle weak signals are through confirmation, convergence, and parallax (Schultz, 2006). Confirmation scanning is the ongoing accrual of evidence from a variety of sources that creates a snowball of momentum that begins to indicate a trend of change. Convergence is the beginning of a paradigm shift where weak signal data initially challenges current scientific paradigms, but as more data is available, a new paradigm begins to emerge to replace the old one. Parallax is the convergence of multiple cultural viewpoints that point to the same conclusion not hindered by cultural filters.


Gary, J. (2012, September). Strategic Foresight Scanning Report – Minor Project 1. Regent University.

Gordon, A. (2008). Future Savvy: Identifying Trends to Make Better Decisions, Manage Uncertainty, and Profit from Change. AMACOM.

Schultz, W. L. (2006). The cultural contradictions of managing change: using horizon scanning in an evidence-based policy context. Foresight : The Journal of Futures Studies, Strategic Thinking and Policy, 8(4), 3–12.

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