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

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“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, or didn’t understand it well enough to take it seriously, and now you must play the most dreaded game of all—catch-up.

In How Did We Miss That?: How to Forecast the Next Big Thing, Amy Webb shows you how to avoid having to ask that frightening question. Successful business leaders seem to have a sixth sense about what's next; an uncanny ability to predict the next big trend or market development. But it's not magic. Webb teaches you how to spot today the signs of tomorrow's trends; specifically, the trends affecting your world—your market, your products, and your competitors. She demonstrates how the future doesn’t arrive fully formed, but rather emerges step-by-step, appearing first around the fringes of society. But that future is easy to miss unless you know where and how to look.

Books about the near-future, not to mention countless blogs, postings, seminars, and conferences, simply tell you what the author thinks is coming, leaving you to pick the prognostication you prefer. Amy Webb shows you where and how to look in the present for harbingers of the future. Her book is an invaluable resource for leaders of all kinds.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published December 6, 2016

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About the author

Amy Webb

4 books302 followers
Amy Webb was named by Forbes as one of the five women changing the world, listed as the BBC’s 100 Women of 2020, ranked on the Thinkers50 list of the 50 most influential management thinkers globally. She is the author of several popular books, including The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity, which was longlisted for the Financial Times & McKinsey Business Book of the Year award, shortlisted for the Thinkers50 Digital Thinking Award, and won the 2020 Gold Axiom Medal for the best book about business and technology, and The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is Tomorrow’s Mainstream, which won the Thinkers50 Radar Award, was selected as one of Fast Company’s Best Books of 2016, Amazon’s best books 2016, and was the recipient of the 2017 Gold Axiom Medal for the best book about business and technology. Her latest book, The Genesis Machine, explores the futures of synthetic biology. A lifelong science fiction fan, Amy collaborates closely with Hollywood writers and producers on films, TV shows and commercials about science, technology and the future. Recent projects include The First, a sci-fi drama about the first humans to travel to Mars, an AT&T commercial featuring a fully-autonomous car directed by Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow, and an upcoming film based on Amy’s hilarious and heart wrenching memoir about data, algorithms and online dating (Data, A Love Story). Amy is a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and has served as a Blue Ribbon Emmy award judge. Amy Webb “showed Comic-Con how it’s done” declared the Los Angeles Times, describing the 2019 main stage Westworld session she moderated with the show’s actors and showrunners.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 64 reviews
Profile Image for Monnie.
1,401 reviews762 followers
November 9, 2016
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 impression.

The author has developed a six-part process for forecasting - a way of evaluating new ideas being developed on the "fringe" (a.k.a. around the edges of society) that stand to affect us. Futurists, she says, listen to and interpret the signals that are "talking," looking for early patterns, or pre-trends. "Trends help us to understand change, which is an essential part of every organization's mandate," she writes. "Too often, leaders ignore the signals, wait too long to take action, or plan for only one scenario."

Descriptors like "probable," "plausible" and "possible" are used to generate concrete ideas about what's over the horizon. "We must think of trends as signposts that can illuminate the conditions we will likely encounter at some point in the future, even if that future is a century away," the author explains. "Organizations must track them if they are to create their preferred futures...seeing trends is a matter of looking for emerging changes at the fringe, within organizations, and in our societies."

In a nutshell, if it's possible to put it there, the book is about the importance of not being surprised by the future, offering a method for creating a path that leads to sustained success. Unlike some of the books mentioned above, it's not a list of what we can expect to happen in the next 10, 20 or 50 years; rather, it's a way to help ensure that organizations will be going strong throughout all those years to come.

Along the way, the author explains finer points such as the difference between something that's "trendy" and a "trend." No doubt it's a silly analogy, but if I interpret it anywhere near correctly, an Erector set is (or was) trendy, but the fact that children love to tear things down and build them up again is a trend that's likely to continue indefinitely. Harness your company's future to the first, and you may be out of business the minute a newer kid hits the building block; on the second, and you're likely to stay ahead of the curve.

Roadblocks to identifying the signals are discussed as well, such as the "duality dilemma" between left- and right-brain thinking (put another way, creativity vs. logic) and the need to look at things from both sides now. This I understand; I identify far more closely with the logic side, which most likely explains why I've enjoyed relative success as a journalist (just the facts, ma'am) but couldn't write a novel if my life depended on it. It's also, I'm thinking, one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much; everything is laid out in an orderly, easy-to-understand manner.

That includes, for the record, a glossary of concepts and terms and a chapter-by-chapter list of footnoted references at the end. Highly recommended for anyone interested in expanding leadership skills (or like me, simply interested in the topic).
Profile Image for Kelly.
589 reviews3 followers
January 9, 2017
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 committing to success leads to failure, Thomas Frey's Situational Futuring
Profile Image for Johannes Kleske.
8 reviews47 followers
October 5, 2018
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”).
Profile Image for Raghu.
385 reviews77 followers
April 16, 2017
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 ‘game changer’ and not just another business proposal. Once you believe in its potential, you still need the resources and risk-taking ability to back it and see it through. There does not seem to be any step-by step formula to accomplish all this and so, most entrepreneurs eventually go by ‘their gut feeling’. This book by the futurist, Amy Webb, tries to decode the process of identifying the next big thing and its possible trajectory in future. It attempts to provide guidelines to entrepreneurs and business managers as to what process they should adopt in order not to be left behind by the future.

Amy Webb’s thesis is that signals relating to emerging trends are always out there. But businesses are blind-sided by too much of focus on the present and do not think outside their frame of reference. Or they recognize it but cannot decide on acting upon it in time. Some of them act upon it in time, but do not plan for all the probable scenarios. They plan for just one among them and miss out when that scenario does not eventuate. Webb says that the future does not arrive fully formed overnight but emerges step by step. So, it is possible to forecast emerging trends. In this book, she outlines a six-step process to this end as below:

1. Visit the Fringe. The Fringe is that set of ‘unusual suspects’ engaged in work that is directly or adjacently related to your own interests of looking for the future of ‘X’.
2. Uncover hidden patterns which connect the fringe’s experiments to our fundamental human needs and desires. How do we identify these patterns? Webb gives six pattern identifiers that help to reveal trends. She calls it CIPHER, which is itself a cipher for Contradictions, Inflections, Practices, Hacks, Extremes, Rarities. The book explains each of them.
3. The patterns reveal a possible trend. We need to investigate and prove to ourselves that we identified the right patterns and that we can trust what we saw
4. Compute the trend's Expected Time of Arrival and direction
5. Estimate where the trend is heading, how fast and with what momentum? Then devise an action plan for the present
6. Pressure test the action plan against the trend to make sure your strategy is right

Each step is elaborated in one chapter with adequate examples from the tech world of today. Finding the ‘unusual suspects’ in the Fringe is illustrated by taking the examples of cloning of the sheep ‘Dolly’ and the gene-editing project named CRISPR. Finding hidden patterns is explained using Google’s GOOG-411 project which she says was not just an information service but a massive database collecting and learning from our voice queries. The assessment of the whether the pattern was the right one is detailed using what she terms ‘the Uber for X trend’. In her view Uber is more than an app. It is the wheel from which many technology trend spokes protrude: automation, the sharing economy, invisible infrastructure… The book goes on in a similar vein for the other steps as well. Just like ‘CIPHER’ is suggested for step 2, another acronym ‘FUTURE’ is suggested for step 6. FUTURE stands for Foundation, Unique, Track, Urgent, Re-calibrate and Extensible. This as well is explained in the book.

The author does not stop at applying her method to what has happened already in the past, like Uber and self-driving cars. She makes bold to look into the future with respect to the ‘Uber for X’ model. She applies her approach and says that Uber is not just a taxi-sharing service but a generic ‘transportation as a service’ model. Hence it can turn upside down all types of deliveries in future, say by 2040. It can encompass fully automated vehicles - cars, forklifts,combines - and can take us where we need to go, make warehouses more efficient, and do the majority of our work on the farms. It will revolutionize our agriculture by making it predominantly robot-enabled farms. Similarly, she calls the self-driving cars as a ‘generic autonomous travel trend’ and speculates how it will evolve in the future. She has projected what may happen in the next 12 months, 1-5 years, 5-10 years and so on up to a distant future of more than thirty years. One must applaud the author for these scenarios because she has backed up her thesis with concrete futures by applying her six-step process.

But I have my misgivings. My problem with all the futurists is that they talk about all these massive changes in technology without providing sufficient analysis on their possible impacts on society. After all, all these trends affect the way we live, the way we interact with one another and the way we evolve. We have seen that society embraces technology that is good for it, for its convenience and for its ability to enhance the quality of our lives. Products like the telephone, TV, cell phone, PC are examples. So are services like Uber and Airbnb. But we have also seen that there is a push back when the technological change creates angst in society. There is a push back germinating now on possible social and cultural prejudices being encoded in the machine-learning algorithms which clear us for credit or a home loan. Genetically modified crops, nuclear power, stem cells and cloning have all been technologically quite ready for massive advances but they have been stopped in their tracks due to massive resistance in our societies. While talking about the ‘Uber for X trend’, author Webb talks about destabilizing the lives of millions of farmers and truck drivers as if they will accept it passively. As she herself says, the future does not arrive overnight. It comes in short steps. Having seen what happened to the industrial workers of the manufacturing sector as a result of automation and globalization, it is unlikely that the farmers and truck drivers would not act early on to secure their lives. This will consequently have a significant effect in the way the ‘Uber for X’ model would be allowed to evolve. Similar scenarios are possible in the self-driving car trend as well.

Historically, futurists have often gotten it wrong in accounting for society’s dynamic response to change and how this response impacts the ‘change’ itself. Futurists in the 1960s predicted a dire famine-stricken future for a poor India but they failed to factor in the determination of India to overcome obstacles after emerging free from a 500-year foreign occupation. Robert McNamara, the secretary of defence in the LBJ administration, is on record saying that one cardinal factor for the US losing the war in Vietnam was because of not factoring in the the will and determination of the Vietnamese communists to rid themselves of foreign occupation of their land at any cost. We are probably making the same mistake now in dealing with ISIS. The exponential rise in computing power, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality will impact our lives substantially as they unfold. It is important to consider what aspects of these technologies will be welcomed by society and what will be resisted. It is unlikely that they will all have a smooth passage as futurists like to believe.

The book’s analysis of the future is mainly discussed by concentrating on what is current in the digital world. Almost all the examples are from the Silicon Valley, like self-driving cars, the Uber model, Artificial intelligence, Augmented Reality and so on. So, it is not clear whether the author’s six-step method is easily applicable to path-breaking trends in other disciplines. Still, it is the first I have seen where a systematic approach has been laid out to keep pace with emerging trends. I would like to spend some time looking at ‘one future’ that is already upon us, research its past from inception and use Webb’s methodology to see if it can be applied consistently. I must say that the methodology suggested in the book is not that easy to apply though. It needs substantial expertise in the field we are interested in and also its related adjacent ones. It demands considerable analytical capabilities to gain confidence in the patterns that we identify in the trend as the correct ones. The author has done an excellent job of presenting her methodology.

Amy Webb deals with an important subject of our times - that of decoding the innovation that is happening in front of us and getting a handle on how to understand them and helping us see its impact on our future. We need books like this to aid us in navigating our fast-changing world today. I guess my only gripe is that most of the futurists are starry-eyed when it comes to the potential of technology emanating from the Silicon Valley. They fail to pay sufficient attention to the societal context in which all this happens and consequently present a one-sided future. But this has been a problem with futurists ever since Thomas Malthus.

Profile Image for Danilo Weiner.
181 reviews3 followers
March 20, 2021
A Amy Webb é uma super referência em futurismo, tendências e tecnologia. Dito isso, ao longo do livro você percebe seu cacoete de consultora, quando aplica suas metodologias para analisar cases de marcas e produtos que foram bem ou mal sucedidos; portanto nessa parte o livro cumpre bem a missão de mostrar que essas metodologias fazem sentido (obviamente alguns casos se valem do famoso "retrospective sense making" que tanto abundam na literatura técnica).

Como costumo ler livro técnico para, entre outras coisas, aplicar no meu trabalho e com meus alunos, é aí que o livro se desconecta um pouco com a realidade. Obviamente analisar tendência não é fácil: exige suor, olho aberto para tudo que está se passando - dentro e fora do seu mercado de atuação - e muita capacidade de análise, então não dá pra esperar fórmulas fáceis nessa área. Mas mesmo assim, a mensagem que ficou para mim é a seguinte: "olha essas metodologias! Quer saber mais? Me contrate".

Profile Image for Paul C. Stalder.
351 reviews17 followers
October 12, 2019
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, feeling any better about your ability to spot and sift through trends. Instead, you have plenty of fascinating information on technological processes, change, and philosophy. The book is enjoyable, and teaches you plenty, but probably should have gone under a different title.
Profile Image for Mary.
226 reviews2 followers
August 5, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Darren.
1,193 reviews49 followers
November 8, 2016
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 author believes that you can easily learn how to identify these faint signals and then move to either being ready to capitalise on a developing situation or at least be ready for it. No being taken by surprise here. The harder part is possibly doing things with the gathered intelligence; that falls down to you...

As well as looking forward, the author examines cases of one-time leaders who managed to be toppled because they didn’t, or couldn’t, react to impending changes. Not everybody can be a global leader, of course, although many companies can still feed from the broader ecosystem and its requirements, if only they are ready for it. So learn by the mistakes or inaction of others.
There is a six-step process behind the author’s learning procedure, although it is far from a quick-fix, tick-box approach. You have to do a lot of research, analysis and maybe even change your way of thinking and working. The process is not a one-time process either, in itself, since once you have learned the new way of thinking and doing you will still have your ongoing intelligence-gathering and analysis activities to undertake as well as any possible implementation work. Reserve a lot of time, it can be a necessity on many levels.

Throughout the book there is a sort-of chatty narrative going on, which makes things a little easier on the mind, as a lot of useful, essential information is being disgorged from the book into your brain. It is a book that requires your focus, despite it being accessible and easy-to-read. At the end is an excellent glossary of concepts and terms that can be very helpful along with references for further and deeper reading.

Many people may try and fail with their attempts at looking into the future, through no fault of this book, yet those who persevere and succeed can stand to gain tremendously or, at least, be aware of changes that could lead to otherwise massive losses. Definitely a book to consider.

Profile Image for Akram El-Korashy.
16 reviews4 followers
February 4, 2017
For regular followers of tech news/articles, the book may be largely redundant. I enjoyed it only slightly because of that.
Profile Image for Stephen.
427 reviews23 followers
December 15, 2017
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 the key trends, estimate a timeline, check for possible futures, and then stress test that future state. With the former, we begin with a future event or a vision of a future state, and then drill backwards to the present to see what we have to do now in order to achieve that future state.

The author outlines her method of divining the future. It is heavily trend based. This means that it's weakness is that trends are not linear and may be blown off course. The author realises this, and makes allowance for reality to upset the direction in which the trends are heading. However, I was left thinking that this could be a flaw in the method used rather than a flaw in the data. If we had perfect data, would the method still have that flaw? The author argues not. I remain to be convinced.

I think that part of the problem concerns the subject matter of the book. Her belief can be summed up that "technology is the unilateral source of nearly all of the significant things that have changed the world in the past five hundred years" (P. 10). I'm afraid that she fails to substantiate that statement. Technology can't explain the Reformation or the Renaissance. It struggles to explain Colonialism or Imperialism. There isn't a dominant role for technology in the rise of Democracy. It may have enabled these things to happen, but it was far from being 'the unilateral source'.

There is much in this book that puts me off the American approach to futures work. In my view, technology is an important part of the work, but not a central and dominant part. It acts as an enabler, but not a primary cause. The other aspect of the book that I struggled with is the view that history started in 1492, and that geography consists of a single country. In this sense, the book is very unbalanced.

If you want an American centred view of the future as being represented by technology trends, then this book has much to commend it. If you want a more balanced and nuanced approach to the future, then this is probably one to avoid.

Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 11 books296 followers
July 6, 2017
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 fully formed overnight, but emerges step by step. It first appears at seemingly random points around the fringes of society, never in the mainstream. Without context, these points can appear disparate, unrelated, and hard to connect meaningfully. But over time they fit into patterns and come into focus as a full-blown trend: a convergence of multiple points that reveal a direction or tendency, a force that combines some human need and new enabling technology that will shape the future.

She goes on to describe an experience she had in Japan in 1997, where she was first introduced to mobile web browsing…long before it became something so ordinary that we barely talk about it (unless you’re in marketing, and then you obsess over mobile).

Signals is a book that, Webb explains, “contains a method for seeing the future. It’s an organized approach that, if followed, will advance your understanding of the world as it is changing.” She spends the next 10 chapters and 250-plus pages teaching you the forecasting techniques she uses in her career as a futurist.

Though no part of this book claims to be Catholic — indeed, is not at all Catholic — I couldn’t help but think that many of us — perhaps, in fact, all of us — should be reading books like this.

Webb’s approach is one of strategic thinking, a kind of thinking that the entrepreneurs and business leaders I’ve been working with for over two decades have long embraced. She’s outlined the exact steps she uses, and peppers the book with examples from both a looking-backward and a looking-forward approach.

I couldn’t help but smile as she outlined the cases for flying cars, or rather, the cases for not having flying cars. It became a shorthand conversation throughout the book, and I can’t say I minded it.

Do flying cars matter? No, not really. But how often are we blinded by the glitter of something like flying cars and lose sight of the very boring, very real, very obvious changes in the world?

Webb is challenging readers to see the future not as a big scary place, but as the next moment from now. The future, as it turns out, is something that’s not so shocking.

It makes me think, in fact, of a current commercial from CarMax. “I know this because I’m from seven days in the future,” the man on the screen says. At the end, after his monologue, he admits, “It’s pretty much the same,” referring to the differences between seven days and now.

But changes happen in small increments, gathering steam until it seems they suddenly take over: had you heard the “signals” that Webb teaches you to pay attention to, you would not have been so shocked (though you may be just as delighted).

How can we apply this to our lives? I can think of about 1000 ways, and rather than outline them, I would rather recommend this book and challenge you to read it for yourself. You might even want to highlight it, dog ear it, and come back to it later.
Profile Image for JP.
1,153 reviews38 followers
January 21, 2021
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.
Profile Image for Michal.
15 reviews2 followers
January 6, 2022
Great book. I feel that I have learned a lot + this is the first book in which I made so many highlights and notes on Kindle that I passed the Kindle limit of possible export and it was before reading halfway thru it.
Profile Image for Shannon Hall.
264 reviews5 followers
August 8, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Todd.
160 reviews7 followers
December 28, 2016
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 find their way to this intriguing book would find plenty to think about and many may find specific ideas/tools to actively implement. For those wanting to hear what the signals are saying, Webb provides three essential ideas/tools: (1) a method for forecasting future trends which, (2) involves identifying patterns in technology usage and, (3) encourages a dynamic that switches between broader and narrower perspectives. While developing her framework, Webb offers a variety of statistical tidbits to catch the reader’s attention and case studies to which she applies her methodology. Some of the analysis is a post-hoc overlaying of her approach to already played out or ongoing trends, but the ideas are every bit worth considering. Why? The rate of change is faster than ever and it is only getting faster. Whether you are a decision maker at your job, an investor, an educator or just someone who likes to keep up, tracking what’s next is going to get harder as it all goes faster. To illustrate this point, Webb offers rates of widespread adoption for three technologies: 30 years for washing machines, 15 years for color televisions and 8 years for smartphones. Or, consider the fact that in 1983, 46% of 16 year olds got their driver’s licenses while that number was down to 24% in 2014. This second set of stats leads into one of Webb’s most detailed case studies, Uber. How Uber came to be, where it may go and why other start-ups vying to the “Uber for X” are most likely to fail is considered in detail. Towards the end of The Signals Are Talking, Webb turns her attention to the social and ethical impacts associated with technology. As a teacher and parent concerned about the interplay between technology and work for my students and children, I found these parts to be the most compelling even as they played second fiddle to Webb’s primary focus on forecasting. All-in-all, a compelling set of ideas and ones I’m likely to return to again and again. I’m not entirely sure why I decided to pick this book up, but I’m glad I did.
737 reviews13 followers
June 24, 2018
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.
542 reviews3 followers
August 16, 2018
The tech topics used in this analysis of future trends should be well-known to most readers, while the concepts discussed are rather high level. The result is not overly engrossing. I wanted to be interested, but there just wasn't that much here to delve into.
181 reviews1 follower
August 18, 2017
Interesting concept but nothing I really could use to predict future events.
Profile Image for Simon Hohenadl.
229 reviews10 followers
November 6, 2018
Fun to listen to, but I found it neither well-structured nor particularly helpful.
Profile Image for Brad McKenna.
1,135 reviews
February 16, 2018
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. She shows how to use these six steps to evaluate something and be able to tell it’s a flash in the pan or a game changer. She cites Sony’s refusal to give enough credit to the complaints to changes it made to Playstation. And by doing so, a decade later they were hacked. She also cites Google’s Goog-411 service being used as a voice recognition collection that was to be used for something entirely different: the OK Google voice recognition. She also explains why flying cars are always popping up as something that’s coming but never gets there. Lots of fascinating examples of how to alternately look at the big picture and then get into the details.

Some of the process stuff was above me. I’m not too good with open-ended questions. But I am very good at not being too proud to admit I was wrong. Although, for a real futurist doesn’t really make any predictions, it just analyzes trends. Since the majority of trends lately have been technology related, this book is very tech-heavy. However, the methodology can be applied to anything.

It was a fascinating look at why certain companies folded and others blew up. It wasn’t always the easiest read, analyzing trends and the trendy encompasses a lot of facets, but it was a good read.
Profile Image for Brian.
5 reviews
February 7, 2018
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 pages of anecdotes about cool technology before she gets into it, and when she does, it basically amounts to "think outside the box, and consider all of the surprising ways technology can develop." Since I was already familiar with the content of many of the tech stories (how Blackberry missed the boat, how other companies didn't) there wasn't much for me.

This isn't to say that "think outside the box" is a bad message, by any means, but I'm reminded of my experience when reading Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces: He quickly and concisely summed up the monomyth premise, then spent hundreds of pages listing examples (in Campbell's case significantly more dryly than Webb) supporting his thesis.

I guess the TL;DR on that is that there could've been more meat on the bones of the book.
Profile Image for Burt K..
3 reviews
January 31, 2018
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 using "F.U.T.U.R.E." did – as already pointed out by other commenters – feel contrived.

Instead of reading this book I would recommend reading Amy Webb's outline of her method in MIT Sloan Management Review and then proceeding to read Superforecasters, which is based on research and is much more thoroughly thought through.
Profile Image for Jill Sansone.
235 reviews3 followers
October 31, 2018
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 service?
Futurist Amy Webb is a creative thinker who can explain what we are likely to see in our futures by using past business/technology examples we can all understand. I look forward to using that helicopter pod service she envisions in the next 20 years (maybe that's the solution to Hoboken's parking problems).
36 reviews
October 23, 2020
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 range trends.

Still, it’s a very easy to read book and I enjoyed the last three chapters specifically. I’m definitely going to take her model and stress test it to identify any suspected weak points, see if I can come to two opposing conclusions for the same “x”, etc so I can be aware of any opportunities for subjectivity and bias.
Profile Image for Sarah.
162 reviews12 followers
February 17, 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 think they're useful. I just also think that it's just so much easier to draw conclusions about signals when we have hindsight. No matter how many frameworks we build and use to interpret the signals from the fringe, there will always be unexpected pitfalls. We'll never be able to futureproof ourselves from becoming Blackberry or insert other company failure here. The future is complicated.
Profile Image for Samer Chidiac.
Author 7 books9 followers
August 21, 2018
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 presenting how this would / may affect our lives and work today and the future.

The Signals Are Talking is a book that a futurist, marketer, technologist, entrepreneur, or simply a curious psychologist needs to read.
March 20, 2023
I expected more from this book.

I have been following Amy Webb for some time (at least 5 years), and this book disappointed me. It gave me too much information and at the same it felt like I got very little from it because it was so complex and difficult to apply.

The whole premise of the book is based on having access to the fringe, because that’s where you find trends. The fringe means researchers, radicals, extremes…and those people are not easy to come by unless you are deep in the industry you are exploring. It also takes a big understanding of the political and legal landscape, which is not easy to access either.

So interesting book, but maybe for an advanced reader who knows more about futurism and forecasting.
Profile Image for Jeroen.
1 review1 follower
October 28, 2018
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 convinced. Overall, the CIPHER method and fringe sketches are useful tools for designers and business shapers to spot trends, especially in relation to societal changes.
1,219 reviews6 followers
May 4, 2019
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, the author wouldn't have faulted them for being unable to predict that their Playstation policies and copy protecting their CDs would make them the special target of organized hackers.
Profile Image for Daryl Feehely.
55 reviews
June 26, 2021
This book describes a useful and wide-ranging process to follow when trying to identify, assess, & track technology trends. The broad strokes of the methodology are described well, however the subjective nature of the granular details of the assessments unfortunately don't lend well to being prescribed into a set of rules.

The author attempts to overcome this gap with a range of examples, some of which are now dated (e.g. Magic Leap), but do a good job at providing coverage of the process. In saying that, the author does describe unconscious learning as a large part of the process, which means the reader has to put in the work beyond just reading this book.
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