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The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is Tomorrow’s Mainstream

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  424 ratings  ·  53 reviews
“How did we miss that?” is perhaps the scariest question for a business leader to face: it's the one that they have to ask themselves when one day they wake up to discover that a competitor or startup has just released something new that changes their world forever. If you're asking this question, it's probably too late: you didn’t see this important new development coming ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published December 6th 2016 by PublicAffairs
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Nov 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 impressio
Jan 08, 2017 rated it liked it
There were some good insights and examples in here. If someone was looking for a scenario planning framework, I'd suggest one like this: Wired Guide to Personal Scenario Planning, over the one in this book, which had a long-winded structure and at times seemed forced (i.e. steps fit into the acronyms CIPHER and FUTURE).

Some good works to read before or after this book: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Mark Andersen's work on pattern recognition, The Strategy Paradox: Why com
Johannes Kleske
This would have been a great book on trends research … 20 years ago. But in 2017/18, the notion of “forecasting” feels rather out of step with a volatile, complex and ambiguous world in constant change. Just take her final chapter on Magical Leap and compared it to the current critical reporting on that company (“vaporware”).
Apr 15, 2017 rated it liked it
It has always been the holy grail in Silicon Valley for engineers, entrepreneurs and Venture capitalists to spot the next big thing early in its inception. But then, the reality for most of them is that they get to know about it just like the rest of us, in spite of all the resources at their disposal. The reason often is that the next big thing also starts off in its early days as ‘just another idea’. It needs knowledge, insight and expertise in multiple areas to be able to see that it is a ‘ga ...more
Aug 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting book about discovering and following emerging trends as the move from the fringes of societies to the mainstream, mostly focusing on tech. The best part is near the end when Webb gives examples of AI and how important it is for humans to be good teachers because we ARE who AI will learn from. She also raises important ethical questions about human interaction and use of technology.
Nov 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Is your antenna in tune? Are you looking forward and trying to scan what the future may bring, or are you looking the other way and missing out on what may be the next competitive advantage, new trend or industry breakthrough? What signals are you scanning for?

This interesting book seeks to get you thinking about the future, trying to identify signals emerging from the fringes about future mainstream trends, demands and needs. Clearly it can be an inexact science with no guarantees, yet the auth
Paul C. Stalder
Insightful, compelling, and with plenty of fascinating examples. But Webb doesn't really accomplish what she seems to have set out to do. The title, and multiple sub-titles, suggest she wanted to provide a How-To manual for forecasting future trends. And the actual text betrays this same desire. Unfortunately, that is not the book that was written. What we have here is more a history of recent innovation. Sure, there are elements of forecasting present. You don't leave this book, however, feelin ...more
Akram El-Korashy
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
For regular followers of tech news/articles, the book may be largely redundant. I enjoyed it only slightly because of that.
Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
I bought this book for the final chapter - Reverse Engineering the Future - because that is something which has my interest. In all fairness, I felt that I ought to read all of the preceding chapters in order to establish the argument which the final chapter advances. I am afraid that I was disappointed.

The book isn't at all about reverse engineering the future, it is about how to become a better forecaster of future events. The two are different. In the latter, we start at the present, discern
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 2017-list
Had I not heard Amy Webb on an episode of This Week in Tech, I would never have picked up her book, The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is Tomorrow’s Mainstream (2016, PublicAffairs).

Had the first chapter not hooked me, I probably would have taken it back to the library and devoured one of the many novels on my pile.

What Webb proposes throughout the book is…well, it’s fun.

Especially if you’re a techie.

Even if you’re not a techie.

She begins, simply enough:

The future doesn’t simply arrive
Jan 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Having read a few other books by “futurists,” I can stay this one stands out because Webb provides the tools anyone can use to spot real trends and know when they are about to accelerate into a dominant force. I appreciated the real examples she provides to illustrate her process, which is a combination of inductive and deductive reasoning, in alternating turns.
Shannon Hall
Aug 07, 2020 rated it liked it
This was overall, fine. Some of the concepts were pretty interesting but it's not really my cup of tea. I read it for a media entrepreneurship class I was taking. ...more
Dec 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
What’s a legitimate trend versus what’s just trendy? This is the question Amy Webb wants to better equip us to answer using the general perspectives and specific thought processes laid out in The Signals Are Talking. Besides the occasional TED-talky-listen-to-me-and-your-world-will-be-forever-changed feel to the book, its most significant weakness may be the lack of an obvious audience. But, that’s really an issue for the publisher and publicist to worry about. Importantly, most readers who do f ...more
Uwe Hook
Jun 24, 2018 rated it liked it
This book gives the readers some insights on how to think like a futurist but barely attempts predictions about the future. There are some interesting predictions about drones in the beginning and a few tidbits about AR in the last chapter. However, Webb spends most of the book rehashing how various organizations/people were able to predict the future successfully. Nintendo and Uber are among those examples.
Brad McKenna
Feb 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Amy Webb is one smart cookie. Her title, Futurist, sounds like it was dreamed up by Isaac Asimov or some other giant of Science Fiction. But there’s nothing dreamy about her work. She gives great examples of how discerning the difference between a trend and merely trendy can lead to the downfall of a company she does this by asking questions and doing research. All the while sticking to her CIPHER methodology.

CIPHER stands for Contradictions, Inflections, Practices, Hacks, Extremes, Rarities.
Feb 07, 2018 rated it liked it
I heard the author in an episode of This Week in Tech and thought she sounded very interesting, and i was curious to see what book a futurist would write. (I have a bit of a professional interest in this, as I'm currently building Blundit, an expert accuracy tracker) But I was looking for a new book to read, and so ordered this.

It's fine for what it is, but I was a bit bored, and only read maybe 2/3rd of it. The stated goal is to show people how to see the future coming, but it takes about 100
Burt K.
Jan 31, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: forecasting
I do not recommend you to read this book. It does not lay out the methodology of spotting future trends.

The steps of the methodology are presented in separate chapters. But each step is not devoted more than a paragraph of two, the rest is filled with cases that seem to fit the narrative just a little to good to be true.

On a positive note, I did appreciate the first step of the process and how it draws on network and graph theory. Pattern-spotting using "C.I.H.P.E.R." and proofing strategies usi
Jill Sansone
Oct 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Do you remember Goog-311, the information service one could use instead of dialing (in the old days) 411? But the REAL REASON Google developed it was to collect all our voices so as to create their upcoming digital assistant (it got to practice on a range of voices and idioms). Do you remember Blackberry's dominance of the smart phone market? How did they miss the boat and let the iPhone have so much of their US market? Why did Uber have trouble finding investors for the new frictionless car ser ...more
Oct 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
I like the methodology she came up with, however, I had issues with her examples and conclusions. I think her model has a lot of good points and factors, but could be prone to a lot of bias and subjectivity. I couldn’t help but compare the book to “Superforecasting: The Art And Science of Prediction” which is more scientific and I think a better description and proof of a working methodology, though focuses on more short term predictions whereas Webb is talking about macro, large scale, long ran ...more
Feb 17, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2021
I love the concept of futurism (and, information adjacently, environmental scanning) and I think the tools in this book are useful. That said, enough attention is not paid to the monumental challenges of racism, misogyny, and other giant problems that impact our past, present, and future. These challenges are acknowledged, to be sure, but not to the extent I think is necessary for a conversation on how we anticipate and build the future.
I like the different frameworks that Webb creates and I th
Samer Chidiac
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A detailed and comprehensive book and resource to look at the future from a Futurist point of view; with 6 steps that let you look and analyze the signals, ask the right questions and forecast the future using scenario planning and more; The book includes also analysis on some of the greatest trends and projects/companies from Google to UBER and how they played a role in shaping our future and more.

Amy Webb is well known for her exceptional way of scouting and making sense of the trends and pre
Oct 28, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book has a clear approach to trendwatching. I use it in a futurism class I teach. It's an easy read with quite some anecdotes and a lot of pointers on what the consider when developing future scenarios. However, at times the evidence that this actually provides business value is too thin. The Nintendo example is peculiar; Nintendo has been known for having excellent designers and innovating on a meaningful level. Did peeking into the future actually grant Nintendo that advantage? I was not c ...more
Samuel Lubell
May 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, book-club
I thought this was going to be a book on how to spot future trends by looking at what fringe groups are doing. The book does touch on that but is much more about a formula for evaluating trends to predict the near future. I'd be more impressed if the formula didn't seem very general and the examples seem like cherry-picking examples after they happened and applying the formula retroactively. For instance, if Sony had done what *every* company should do and installed protections against hackers, ...more
André Darmanin
Sep 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read Webb's book out of curiosity to understand what strategic foresight was all about. Being a futurist means going out on a limb by understanding the trends and making predictions to find those associations. Amy's book provided good examples of how certain technological innovations like Blackberry failed to see the trends. Understanding what new innovations like AI and AR are capable of doing are fascinating and scary at the same time.

Amy teaches a course out of NYU based on this book. A goo
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is immensely valuable for those of us in the tech or development fields, but I believe it should be required reading for policy makers and legislators who are often the arbiters of progress, for better or worse, and would be so well served to have a template for considering the consequences of policy. But as a tech-world denizen, I'm good and activated by the models she proposes for comprehensive, thoughtful, and, dare I say, ethical development. ...more
Mar 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A really useful look at how trend forecasting should be done in practice with lots of very practical advice (3 questions, 6 Steps, 7 Stages etc), plus Webb’s own CIPHER framework (Contradictions, Inflections, Practices, Hacks, Extremes, Rarities) to identify and validate trends. I read this on a Kindle, and took copies notes; if I’d read it as a physical book the pages would be well-thumbed by now.
Nick Mclean
For those interested in future forecasting or the innovation industry, there are some useful tidbits and interesting insights in this book. Some of the attempts to systematize observations get a tad silly and confusing, many of the stories highlighted are boilerplate for even amateurs interested in new tech. Still there’s are useful methods and ideas for those interested in cultural, marketing, business and tech trends. Good luck remembering how they all connect.
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recommended
The book is interesting, discussing how we (or business innovators) should be taking certain 'fringe' trends today more seriously in that they might just become the next major tech breakthrough. Amy's explanation seems solid, as she also provides analyses of the roots of current mainstream tech. The tech is both electronic/computer as well as biological/medical. Worth reading. ...more
May 22, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2021-reads
Pretty interesting analysis mechanisms for trend forecasting and fun examples (although I am a transpo nerd 🤓) but reading the book felt a bit like a slog. I’d recommend reading the intro and then just using the free tool kits from Amy Webb’s The Future Today Institute instead to learn the mechanisms.
Bari Dzomba
Some solid points but much of this book seemed like a summary of research from other authors. I didn’t like the table formatting in the kindle version. Why not just keep it the same size font as everything else? Overall so-so book.
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Amy Webb is a quantitative futurist and a bestselling, award-wining author. Her latest book is The Big Nine: How The Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity, a call-to-arms about the broken nature of artificial intelligence, and the powerful corporations that are turning the human-machine relationship on its head. 

She is a professor of strategic foresight at the NYU Stern Schoo

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