If you like getting into the weeds on how to find good signals, this post is for you! Oftentimes you come across signals in the course of daily life, but other times you need to research signals on a specific topic. We were curious about how people did this. So earlier this year we surveyed the entire IFTF staff on their personal practices for searching out the best signals of change. Below are the highlights about how and where they look to gather signals - the essential building blocks of foresight.

Ways to search

  • Start with a broad search on a search engine or social media platform with something simple like "the future of X".
  • “Rabbit-hole”: When searching online, pick up on small details—terms, people, or organizations mentioned—and start a new search for each, and continue the process until you get to something captivating.
  • Try different filters for your search, such as All vs. News vs. Images (Google), Latest vs. Trending (Twitter), etc.
  • Use time limit filters to get the most up-to-date results.
  • Play around with your search questions: Try "Impact of [x] on the [future of x]”, such as “impact of climate change on the future of leisure”.
  • Test different search term combinations or questions until you find results which tell a good story.
  • Set up an RSS feed to aggregate new content from a variety of sources.
  • Ask people in your network to share links with you.
  • Look across a broad spectrum of domains: Social, political, economic, philosophical, environmental, scientific and technological, and — last but not least — artistic. Art is rarely considered, even though it can often provide powerful early signals of change.
  • Pay attention to conversations on public forums (i.e. Reddit) and take note of interesting discussion points that repeatedly come up in different threads.

Where to search (beyond your search engine)

  • Social media platforms like Twitter, Youtube, TikTok, etc.
  • Domain-specific email newsletters
  • Domain-specific Twitter lists and social media feeds from experts and futurists
  • Blogs from individuals and leading-edge organizations
  • IFTF’s Future Factors signals database
  • Recent papers published on Google Scholar
  • News aggregation apps like Flipboard, AP News, Pocket, or Feedly
  • Venture capital newsletters, which share investments in the latest products and services

Additional Tips

  • Read a lot, and read from diverse sources, including those that contradict your worldview.
  • Use search engines to find content on social media (i.e. search “witchcraft + Tiktok”).
  • Search for signals regularly: It’s best to have an ongoing practice and save your signals somewhere, like on a database, rather than trying to find signals all at once.
  • The more you do it, the better you get at it!
  • Use personal anecdotes as signals.
  • Seek out the fringe and “weird”.
  • Stay neutral and keep an open mind: Don’t pre-judge or dismiss signals too early.