KoiTip #23 - Scan the Horizon …

It is essential for every entrepreneur to keep “scanning the horizon” - seeing what is new in technology, business, and society as a whole.

It is not enough just to see some of the blips or dots on the radar though. You need to:

• collect many dots,
• connect the dots to see patterns, and
• project the dots, into different scenarios

Collecting Dots

The first job in scanning the horizon is to collect enough dots so that you can see patterns. Some people gather information primarily through conversations and listening to others, and some people rely primarily on reading. Whichever one you are, you’ll want to play to your strength while not neglecting the other modality. (It also helps if you have a partner with the other modality to complement you).

If you’re a listener, then you will want to make sure you have coffee with many interesting people and attend good conferences. Be sure to spend time with a wide range of people who are very different from each other.

If you’re a reader, there are two routes open for gathering lots of dots: Twitter and RSS feeds.

Twitter is easy, but you get a lot of fluff with the good stuff, and it all arrives interleaved and mixed up. A far better route is to subscribe to RSS feeds (baffled already? read this) with a reader like Feedly to follow lots of interesting blogs. I use Feedly to follow about eighty blogs across a wide spectrum of topics. I scan through around five hundred blog post titles a day, and read about thirty stories.

The really interesting articles are stored in Evernote. Over the past years I’ve built up an Evernote database of some 50,000 articles, all tagged, with subjects ranging from AR and Bitcoin to world affairs in the Middle East.

(UPDATE: I no longer recommend Evernote - rather look at Notion or Apple Notes, or Zoho Notebook which is free; avoid OneNote, which gets very little love from Microsoft)

Connecting the Dots

As you listen and read, patterns begin to appear. This is an emergent process with an element of “magic”. It doesn’t thrive in very structured, digital environments - which is why I use Austin Kleon’s idea of having two desks - one for working with paper and pens and paints, and another for doing digital work, often transcribing and refining the ideas that have emerged at the other desk.

Once you can see patterns and ideas, move them around, connect them, and store them with the free XMind mind mapping programme. All my creative work is ultimately captured and refined in XMind.

Projecting Your Dots into Alternate Futures

You have your emerging trends and developments now. You can start to see how they will play out - if everything else stays the same. But what if it doesn’t???  What if Israel attacks Iran?  What if quantum computing can crack all encryption one day?  What if Bitcoin replaces national currencies?  What if another depression leads the 99% in America overthrow the 1%?  What if climate change dramatically accelerates?  What if net neutrality vanishes on the Internet and startups who cannot pay for prioritised traffic are frozen out?

Being aware of a range of backdrops for the future is the final step in scanning the horizon. Look at broad scenarios like the Dinokeng Scenarios for South Africa and learn how to do scenario planning for your venture, and … read lots of science fiction!

I hope these “dots” help you work…