Weak signals

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —March 17, 2006
Filed in Communication

There is a discussion on ActKM this morning about weak signals and Dave Snowden has relayed some observations he heard from Gary Klein this week which I thought I would share. Four things which are commonly believed yet are untrue about sensemaking:

  1. Sensemaking is basically ‘connecting the dots’ and fitting the pieces of the puzzle together
  2. Sensemaking builds up from data to produce a story
  3. People should avoid premature consideration of a hypothesis
  4. More data leads to better sensemaking (I’ve posted what Karl Weick’s thoughts on this)

Just trawling through my hard disk and del.ico.us and found these things people have said about weak signals:

“… we must regrind our lenses to monitor the periphery, that is, the edges of our business. At these edges lie our richest opportunities for value creation and our strongest protection against value destruction.” (Hagel III and Brown 2005: 10)

Roy Greenhalgh, from ActKM, provides the following references:

Weak signals were written about by Ansoff in the mid 1970s, and in 1990.  See Ansoff, Igor H, “Implanting Strategic Management” 2nd edition, 1990 Prentice Hall.

But a more readable paper is by Turo Uskali, which formed  his PhD submission. See Innovation Journalism, Vol 2 No 11 2005 or ISBN 1549-9049. Uskali reviews weak signals from a journalistic viewpoint, and discusses the four main categories of weak signals in his definition: feelings, uncertain signals, almost certain signals and exact signals.

Hagel III, John, and John Seely Brown. 2005. The Only Sustainable Edge: Why Business Strategy Depends on Productive Friction and Dynamic Specialization. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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