Environmental Scanning, Flickr, YouTube, and photo blogs

by John Mahaffie on December 31, 2007

youtube-flickr.jpgEnvironmental scanning is a technique in which almost anything goes. Scanning simply means exploring the universe of information available to discover deeper insights about what is going on and what is changing in the world. It’s the core technique of foresight, and there is no substitute. But too often, people’s environmental scanning is too narrow. One way it is narrow is in depending mostly on the written word: traditionally print news sources, and more recently, electronic sources that are word based. What’s missing is the rich and evocative potential of images. Since people working in foresight cannot go everywhere and be everwhere, it’s powerful and important to open up an additional channel in environmental scanning that gives at least a flavor of change around the world, in different cultures, in different sectors, and in different social circles. Fortunately, there is a world of "eyes" out there, capturing pictures and videos that we can look at, think about, and use to help others think new thoughts. You can consider working to add the visual to your foresight efforts. For example:

  • Add image sources to your environmental scanning. There are dozens of "daily photo blogs" on different themes and, particularly, from different places. The authors monitor, among others, daily photo blogs from Shanghai, Ho Chi Minh City, Russia, Accra, and Sao Paulo. Adding the images to your regular scanning adds deeper insight on what is happening around the world.
  • Use more pictures in your presentations–you might even try a presentation that is all images. Most people will benefit, and some who are visual learners will much more reliably understand what you are trying to convey. Flickr is a great images source–you can’t go see everything yourself, but there are pictures from all over the world on Flickr. You can also sometimes get a sense of how others look at the world through what the people sharing images on Flickr show and say about their pictures. 
  • Carry a small digital camera whereever you go, or use your cell phone camera, and try to see signs of change. Some of the images will evoke a lot of ideas for you, and you can use them in your work and in conveying things to others.
  • Explore YouTube. You might take a regular look at the top videos there. Whether artful, amateurish, meaningful or ridiculous, the top videos meant a lot to a lot of people, and are worth at least a glance.

It may be that for those of us exploring the future, a picture is worth even more than a thousand words. Anything that helps us think more deeply is especially valuable to our efforts, and "going visual" will yield better foresight.

Update: Please see also this special page on environmental scanning.

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