Activating Swan Sourcing

Activating Swan Sourcing

When people develop new futuring tools and methods I enjoy checking them out. Last week our Ōtautahi Futures Collective had a great discussion about one of the many tools developed by Sean Moffitt from the Grey Swan Guild. The tool is called Swan SourcingChasing Possibilities, Wild Cards and Extremes by Playing with the Roots of Discord. This method asks us to challenge our thinking and to start with a blank page full of potential. This is really hard, or as Sean puts it:

You simply aren’t going to find Grey Swan thinking while grazing with the establishment. You are going to have paddle higher and travel upstream from the world, away from the allure of the accepted, the comfortable norms and convenient half-truths.

You can check out more about grey swan thinking on the Grey Swan Guild’s website.

What we tried

After reading his post I was curious about the different components of the model and how they might fit together. In my experience, playing with a new idea is the best way to learn and to consider what works in your own context. Swan Sourcing has 12 different branches, divided into four categories: sources, lenses, tuners and framers. Our group shared ideas linked to each, using the simple table below. I added in some clarifiers in each of the categories and a framing question to focus our thinking.

The conversation meandered in many directions and the questions were useful catalysts. If you are trying out this tool I do recommend prompting questions to dig deeper and to connect with personal experiences.

Take aways

The group summarised their takeaways as follows:

  • Looking outside of your usual spaces for signals you may not otherwise be exposed to. Broaden info sources outside industry/your world views.
  • Explore tools to crowdsource, capture and organise signals
  • Be more deliberate about making ‘what if’ connections between different PESTLE ‘emerging risks/signal/trends’
  • Science fiction books as a way to expand imagination

Here is an example of personal takeaways that Matt Scott shared with his team members the next morning. It’s a great example of creating ripples of conversation and leading for change. Matt also adds that his reflections were richer by listening to the take aways from others. It reinforces my belief that futures is both a collaborative endeavour and a personal mindset:

1. Personal futures / world view
Every time I attend a Futures Thinking event, I catch a glimpse of my blind spot – that my world view is so narrow!
To be more effective in my Futures Thinking work, I need to evolve my personal world view to be broader, and unlearn my view of how I think the world is / should be.
2. Tuning sources for signals
I need to be more deliberate about tuning the sources for where I get my signals about possible futures.
Only following subjects that interest me, and opinions I agree with, creates an echo chamber that limits my exposure to the grey swans at the fringes.
By using a lens such as PESTLE (Political, Economic, Societal, Technological, Legal, Environmental) – I can ask myself, “where should I look for my signals about what is shaping the political future”?, “Who is the best person to follow for signals about legal futures?”, etc.
I need to follow signals outside of my own industry, that may have an impact on my work.
Maybe there is a way we can democratise / scale the scanning of signals at my organisation? The key to scaling signal sourcing will be in how we review, prioritise and take actions from the signals.
3. Seek resistance reading
To explore my own biases and assumptions, I need to expose myself more to opinions I don’t agree with.
There is enormous value in the discourse, discussion and healthy debate between two opposing views.
Being more comfortable with conflict allows being open to learning from opposing views.
4. Look for connections
A lot of the Futures work I do exposes possible futures in isolation.
What happens when you start combining different impacts, or multiple possible futures?
If this happens AND this happens… the impact magnifies!

I also introduced the group to app, which I am currently using as my scanning tool. The easy Newness plugin means I can link straight from my browser. I particularly like Newness because of its visual display. One of the group talked about an Ideas Vault in their business, a simple spreadsheet for ideas to be added, with periodic sensemaking and culling.

We also discussed resistance reading – pushing ourselves to explore beyond our current safe spaces and read/explore the thoughts of people we disagree with. Next step is to plan a Resistance Reading hui, where we each bring along a piece or observation that upsets us or makes us uncomfortable. Sitting in the uncomfortableness and exploring different world views will be a great fitler bubble exploding opportunity.

The Swan Sourcing method challenges us to make the “blank page sing.” I am not sure we managed that but we did intentionally explore the future and challenge our assumptions. By trying this new approach it did help me think more deeply about grey swans and how I might chase wild cards with more imagination. I went back to the article a number of times and learnt new things each time. I do suggest you read it.

The Ōtautahi Futures Collective is a great space to grow futures muscles together and also to link with others across Aotearoa and Oceania. reach out to join us.

How are you growing your thinking?

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *