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Mod. 4.4 - Collecting Signals of Emerging Futures Part 2

Read quick summaries of the CIPHER technique of pattern-identification by Amy Webb and John Whittaker (shared below). The name is an acronym for several prompts that can help you both with scanning for signals and with starting to cluster them (into story-elements that will later inform your narratives of plausible/preferable futures).

On Your Own...

Continue (picking up from Activity 3.4) adding to your collection of signals. Use the Signals Gallery template Download Signals Gallery template to create your own (team) Signals Gallery.

  • Short introductions on 'what is a signal?' and 'how to record a signal?' are on slides 8 & 9 of the template.

  • Each signal you collect will be represented by 2 slides in your gallery (i.e., repeat slides 5 & 6 in the template for each signal); Ine with the title, a short, 1-2 line, description, images/media links, and any other notes on what signals means to you.

Submit an upload or link to your Signals Gallery via Google Slide Deck.


Amy Webb - A cipher is a helpful analogy for understanding how to decrypt patterns that emerge in the fringe. After many years researching how technology evolves, I have refined a model with a set of pattern identifiers that help to surface trends. Those identifiers are the basis for what I call CIPHER: Contradictions, Inflections, Practices, Hacks, Extremes, Rarities.

Contradictions. Two or more things succeed or fail simultaneously, when usually they would track in opposite directions. Or, things track in the same direction when typically the reverse would be true. Additionally, a node––an organization or individual––becomes connected to another node, when typically that connection has been shunned or prohibited in the past.

Inflections. When something happens to catalyze a great acceleration in emerging research. This might include: a sudden round of fundraising; the acquisition of a new company, product or team; the passing or defeat of legislation; an unanticipated natural disaster, market crash or act of terrorism.

Practices. When a new technology threatens the established orthodoxy. This might be a long-standing design exemplar (all phones have buttons), a mindset (people value their privacy), or a certain way of doing things (watching TV only on a television).

Hacks. When consumers or other companies are creating off-label uses for something such that it becomes more useful. Or, when someone finds an experience related to technology or digital media so frustrating that she builds something smarter, more intuitive and easier to use.

Extremes. When people are truly pushing boundaries in an attempt to break new ground. In many cases, they are pursuing research no one has ever attempted. Or they are theorizing new ways to build/ explore/ see/ manipulate/ replicate something that already exists.

Rarities. When something––a social movement, an object, a community, a business practice, a policy, etc.––is so unusual and unique it seems like a meaningless outlier, but it actually solves a fundamental human need. It could also be something that seems out of place but is succeeding, even if it is not the cause of disruption or transformation itself.


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